The dog days of summer are gone and the top teams are getting ready for the playoffs or making a final push to clinch a spot.
This season has seen the top teams open enough of a gap over the middle of the pact that the final three weeks of the season won’t have a lot of drama involving teams fighting for a playoff spot.
The American League
We’ll start with a look at the American League since it is more competitive. The AL West is the closest and has three teams that still have a chance to sneak into October. Houston is currently trailing the Texas Rangers by a game and a half, and Houston is three and a half games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels who are trying to make a final push to reach the wildcard position. Houston has been one of the surprise teams this year after struggling for multiple seasons. However, after a fast start their lead in the division has been completely erased, possibly due to fatigue from their young core that has got them this far into the season.
The Rangers are trying to make a full recovery from finishing last in the division last season. The Rangers faced an unusual amount of injuries, especially to key players. They set an MLB record for most players used in a season using 61 different players. Having Prince Fielder return as well as the pitching of Yu Darvish and Derek Holland has helped Texas return to a playoff contender. The Angels are being led by MVP candidate Mike Trout, and Albert Pujols bouncing back to the player he was in St. Louis. The lack of a true ace will hurt the Angels and most likely prevent them from reaching the playoffs.
In the east the Blue Jays and Yankees are only separated by three games and both have 17 games to play. The Blue Jays are leading currently and have the benefit of hosting a three game series with the Yankees, which will be the last series the teams play this season. Both teams have the benefit of playing lots of divisional games to end the season. Although the east is usually one of baseballs top divisions this season has seen Boston, Baltimore and Tampa Bay all struggle for various reasons.
The loser of the AL east will most likely host the wild card game because they should both finish strong. As well, the Yankees have a three and a half game lead on the Houston Astros for the top wild card spot. Both teams will be fighting for the division though to avoid the luck involved in a one game elimination scenario against the other wild card team. Also both teams would want to avoid the Royals until the conference series if possible.
Although the Kansas City Royals have gone 2-8 over their last ten games, they still have a 9 game lead over their closest challengers, the Minnesota Twins, in the central. The Royals have a two game lead on Toronto for the best record in the AL which would clinch them home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Only four of the Royals’ last 19 games are against teams with winning records, so they should be able to secure the top seed for the playoffs.
The final AL wild card spot will most likely end in a battle between the loser of the AL west battle, (Houston and Texas) and the Minnesota Twins. The Twins are only one and a half game behind Houston for the second wild card spot. Minnesota is another young team, like Houston, that started strong and many experts predicted would eventually collapse and fall out of the playoff picture. But with only three weeks left they are still in the hunt. Thanks to All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier and young starts stepping up such as Miguel Sano and veterans such as Joe Mauer, the Twins have a chance. With a weak schedule compared to their competitors, the Twins should be able to make the playoffs and will most likely play the Yankees in Yankee stadium in the wild card game.
The National League
The National League is lacking in close playoff races, but there is still a close race in the central division, which will most likely be sending three teams to the playoffs.
With San Francisco seven and a half games back of the final wild card spot, it is likely that St. Louis, Chicago and the Pittsburgh Pirates will all make the playoffs. St. Louis (91-54) and Pittsburgh (87-58) have the best records in all of baseball. After a starting strong the Cardinals have been chased down by the Pirates and the winner of the division will most likely possess home field advantage through the NL playoffs. The Cubs are only seven games back of the Cardinals so they could win the division. With the Cubs playing four more games against the Pirates, as well as the Pirates playing St. Louis three more times, anything is possible.
The other divisions in the NL will likely not finish as close. In the East, behind the strong pitching staff of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGromm, Noah Syndergaard, Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon, the Mets have built a seven and a half game lead over the Washington nationals. The Nationals have been led by MVP candidate Bryce Harper, but have dealt with a large amount of injuries that have prevented them from building momentum throughout the season.
In the west, the Dodgers are once again headed towards another postseason berth. With a seven and a half game lead on the defending champion Giants, the Dodgers should be able to comfortably make the playoffs where they will hope they can finally reach the world series. With Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke being two of the top pitchers in all of Major League Baseball, the Dodgers should be a threat in the postseason. With both the Dodgers and Mets playing weak schedules down the stretch, the battle for home field advantage in a divisional round series between New York and Los Angeles will be close, and I give a slight advantage to Los Angeles due to experience ,and the Mets decision to rest their ace Matt Harvey due to injury concerns.
While many of the spots are already determined, the last three weeks will still feature many battles involving teams trying to secure home field advantage, as well as a division title instead of merely a wildcard spot.
** This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Jon Niese **