Monday, August 24, 2009

Predicting the AL and NL Wild Card Races

With just over a month left, the playoff races are beginning to take shape.

The division races are fairly clear: Yankees, Angels and one of Tigers/White Sox in the American League, and Phillies and Cardinals in the National League; surprisingly it's the Dodgers who may have the most tenuous hold on their division lead in the NL.

The Wild Card races, however, are a bit harder to predict.

When the Yankees are so likely to win the East, why does the Wild Card race matter?

For two reasons: a) if the AL Wild Card winner comes out of the Central or the West, that will likely be the team the Yankees play in the first round, and b) The Wild Card winner has played in--and won--a fair few of this decade's World Series.

So, let's go through the teams in most contention:

American League

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have to be considered the favorite just because they've held the position for so long, but that doesn't mean they are a good choice to be favorite.

They made their biggest move early in the season with a 12-game win streak, but right now their starting rotation is mostly "Josh and Jon and then there are bombs". Getting Wakefield back should help, but not if Beckett keeps pitching like he did in his last two outings.

The good news is that the offense has stepped it up quite a bit--but there's only so much an offense can do.

Texas Rangers

The darlings of the AL this year, they're finally doing it with pitching. Derek Holland and Scott Feldman have been revelations. Head to head, they took two of the last three that they played with Boston, but the one loss came when the night's closer, Frank Francisco, blew the lead.

If they make the playoffs, Ron Washington is probably a shoo-in for manager of the year.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays are still paying for the slow, 2007-Yankees-like start to the season and may now have too much to overcome. They are only three games back, but they are trailing two teams and their pitching hasn't been as good as it was last season. Trading Edwin Jackson away does not seem to have been a great decision, speaking mildly.

There's certainly hope, though, and unlike the Rangers, this group has postseason experience.

National League

Colorado Rockies

Once again, they've taken on a veneer as a team of destiny. The division isn't out of the question for this group, and if they did take it, it would be a come back even bigger than the 1978 Yankees--just to give an idea as to what the Rockies have done already.

We still aren't quite sure how Jason Marquis is doing it, but somehow he's found a way.

San Francisco Giants

When both Lincecum and Cain are on, they are probably the best 1-2 in baseball. The problem is, outside of Pablo Sandoval, they basically have zero offensive support. Yes, pitching wins championships, but you can't win every game 1-0, which is pretty much what the Giants have had to do all season.

Given how poorly the Giants have played in recent years, the fact that they are this good this year has been especially remarkable. If only they had that little more bit of offense...

Atlanta Braves

Four-and-a-half games out, it's not exceedingly likely the Braves make the postseason, but it's also far too soon to count them out entirely.

Like the Giants, they have the pitching but not necessarily the hitting--that is, until they decide to give Heyward a shot...