Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Suddenly more horses in the race as they come down the stretch


National League
Major League Baseball took a gamble in the off-season adding another wild-card spot in both the National and American Leagues. The theory was with an extra spot, more teams would be involved in the race the entire season and therefore more fans would be able to keep hope alive for the post-season. Well the idea has worked to perfection! The reward for winning the division is still in place, as those teams automatically get into a full playoff series. The wild-card spots with just 20 games to play are holding the attention of six teams in the American League and seven in the National.

On the National side, the Atlanta Braves appear to be a just a tomahawk chop away from one of the spots in the one-game playoff. After last season’s complete collapse missing the playoffs, the Braves hold a five game lead over St. Louis in the loss column, for the top wild-card position, which would give them home field advantage in the contest. Although they’d dropped two straight as of this writing, there are no signs of a fold in 2012. Atlanta has won seven of its last ten, although they still must face A.L. East division leader Washington three times and travel to red-hot Philadelphia for a three game set. The Cardinals own the second spot but by no means are the defending champions guaranteed to hold on. St. Louis has dropped six of its last ten games including ace Adam Wainwright getting beat by the Padres on Tuesday night in San Diego. The Red-Birds road record is six games under .500 for the year and of their six series remaining, three of those are away from Busch Stadium, the most important, starting on Thursday at Dodger Stadium. On the Cards side however down the stretch they do get to face both Houston and the Chicago Cubs. Los Angeles sits just one back of the Cardinals and the four-game set could basically separate the two teams for the remainder of the race. The Dodgers however have been struggling to score since the trade that brought them the services of slugger Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto and the injured Carl Crawford. Los Angeles is just 6-10 since the deal with Boston and has fallen six games behind the San Francisco Giants in the N.L. West. Over its last four games the Dodgers are just 1 for 24 with runners in scoring position, which has been their doom to this point. The road to winning the second wild-card spot is not an easy one. Los Angeles must deal with St. Louis at Chavez Ravine and then series at division leaders Washington and Cincinnati, not to mention three series against N.L. West teams, San Diego, Colorado and the Giants where they are just 28-34 this season. Since returning from a 7-3 road trip in Miami, Pittsburgh and Atlanta the Dodgers have scored just 66 runs in 20 games putting them 26th in runs scored overall which has been the squad’s undoing. In order to take the second wild-card spot the Dodgers will have to start hitting like their line-up is capable during the final 20 games. Two and a half back of the Cardinals sit the Pittsburgh Pirates. For the Bucs it’s been another 2nd half shipwreck. Pittsburgh led the N.L. Central at the all-star break and since then has gone 24-32, putting them 13 back behind the Reds in the division. They don’t appear to be gaining back any momentum having lost their last five games, finishing a series against the Reds on Wednesday. With series against the charging Brewers, Reds and Braves in their final 20, it’s not looking good for the Bucs. Pitching has been the main culprit of Pittsburgh’s demise as just A.J. Burnett and James McDonald remain their only hurlers sporting a record well above .500. Two teams that were long out of the conversation but have made a charge down the stretch run are Philadelphia and Milwaukee. The Phillies actually became sellers at the trade deadline, shipping Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton to the Dodgers but kept their rest of their starting pitching intact. Philadelphia has come alive by getting hitters Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz all back from injuries. During their run the Phils have won 17 of 23 including six in a row heading into the series finale against the Florida Marlins on Wednesday. With the push the Fightin’s sit just four games behind St. Louis, with a realistic shot as long as the Cards, Dodgers and Bucs continue to stumble. Maybe the biggest obstacle in the Phillies comeback will be the six remaining against first place Washington and three against Atlanta. Of all the wild-card teams, the Philadelphia pitching staff is the one that could win two-thirds of their remaining games all by themselves without much offensive help. Anytime you can win games on pitching alone, you are in business. How Milwaukee finds itself back in the chase is a mystery. The Brew Crew is now an even .500 at 71-71, for the first time since April 24th, and has also won seven of its last ten and 19 of their last 26, tohttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif pull to within four games of the Cardinals. Milwaukee’s offense has woken up as they now lead the National League in runs scored at 678, while outscoring opponents 541 to 471 in the first seven innings per game. That allows the Brewers bullpen to handle business which it has. Over the last 30 days the Milwaukee relievers check in at 14th in earned run average at 3.47, not to mention 27 shutdowns against nine blown saves. Four relievers John Axford, Jose Veras, Francisco Rodriguez and Brandon Kintzler all sport ERAs of fewer than 3.00 during the run. With a four-game series remaining at Washington along with another at Cincinnati and then a tough Padres team heading to Miller Park to close the season…. The Brewers will need to play near perfect baseball to grab the final wild-card spot.

American Leauge
Major League Baseball took a gamble in the off-season adding another wild-card spot in both the National and American Leagues. The theory was with an extra spot, more teams would be involved in the race the entire season and therefore more fans would be able to keep hope alive for the post-season. Well the idea has worked to perfection! The reward for winning the division is still in place, as those teams automatically get into a full playoff series. The wild-card spots with just 20 games to play are holding the attention of six teams in the American League and seven in the National.

On the American Side, there is standing room only at the top for both wild-card spots. The surprising Oakland A’s continue to hang in there as their impressive 38-17 second half mark, has included seven, nine and five game win streaks. How have the underpaid, young Athletics gotten it done? The help of a season long 11-game road winning streak is one strong point. They continue to sit in the middle of the pack as far as runs scored and slugging percent, both 18th overall in baseball. Oakland’s team ERA is also just 3.40 but they could struggle down the final 20 games on the hill with both Bartolo Colon (steroids) and Brandon McCarthy (injury) gone for the remainder of the season. The biggest obstacle Oakland might have to overcome however is their schedule. The A’s get no nights off as their remaining series include Baltimore, at Detroit, at New York, at Texas then finally Seattle and Texas at home. It will be real tough for an over-achieving Oakland team to not tail off over the final three weeks of the season. Tied with the A’s are both the Yankees and Orioles with Tampa Bay just two games behind the leaders. Of course only two of them will eventually compete for the wild-card as one will win the American League East. Both the O’s and Rays have played much better baseball over the second half then the Bronx Bombers. Baltimore has made up an eight game deficit while Tampa has closed the gap from 8.5 to just two games since July 13th. Mark Reynolds has led the Baltimore charge over the last 11 games driving home 17 runs while blasting nine long balls and scoring 11 runs himself. David Price continues to be a killer on the hill for Tampa Bay. In 27 starts, 21 have been quality starts while he’s won 17 and lost just five with an earned run average of 2.54. The Yankees have been battling not only the O’s and Rays but themselves as well. New York has dropped 16 of 23 over the last three weeks and now has slugger Mark Teixeira on the shelf with a calf injury. The Yankees still however possess the best hitting team of the three. With Alex Rodriguez back in action along with Derek Jeter, a struggling Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson along with others, the Yankees have to be the favorite to win either the east or capture a wild-card spot. Baltimore is by far the scrappiest of the three teams. The number of one-run victories for the O’s can attest to that but they are missing outfielder Nick Markakis from the line-up. He is done for the season with a thumb injury and that could end up being a deal closer. Tampa sports the most consistent pitching staff of the three teams and they also possess post-season experience that Baltimore doesn’t have. New York faces Tampa in one more series while the O’s and Rays also scare off one more time to end the season. Just two and a half games back and lurking are the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Mike Scioscia’s team has won 15 of their last 20 to get back in the race when it appeared they were finished. The Halos pulled off the run because pitching ace Jered Weaver has remained automatic with a record of 16-4 while C.J. Wilson continues to plug away with 20 quality starts. Offensively all of the Angels big dogs are barking at the plate as they now have six players with double-digit homers and four players driving in over 75 rbis. Rookie Mike Trout fits into both of those categories as he continues to make a serious case for both rookie of the year and the American League MVP. Anaheim does face the Texas Rangers six more times down the stretch run along with hosting the Chicago White Sox in a three game series. They don’t play the game on paper but the Angels have to be one of the favorites to grab a wild-card berth and make the post-season, overtaking Tampa, Baltimore and Oakland with the Yankees winning the A.L. East.

View the Complete NL Wildcard Standings Here.

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