Monday, September 19, 2011

Wild Card Races Heating Up

Ten days ago, everything was pretty much locked up. The Phillies and Red Sox were cruising to their preseason anointing of meeting in the World Series. The Braves bullpen was absolutely unhittable. The Giants' lack of hitting finally caught up with them as they plummeted in the NL West. Now with 10 days to go in the regular season, the AL and NL Wild Cards are not so sure anymore. The Red Sox running John Lackey and Tim Wakefield out there every 5 days finally slowed the team down, and as of this post they hold a mere 1.5 game lead for the wild card spot, after losing the first game of a doubleheader to the lowly Orioles. The Sox have lost 10 of their last 14 games, including 3 out of 4 at home to the team chasing them, the Rays. Tampa Bay has managed to overcome dumping the top 4 salaries of their 2010 ALCS team and has ridden the back of a once again young, stellar rotation into a dead heat for the final playoff spot. Their road goes through the Yankees for 6 games whereas Boston only has to face the O's 6 times, so it should be interesting.

In the other league, the Braves have pretty much been in cruise control in the NL Wild Card spot since about June, largely behind their superb rotation and back end of the bullpen. But now, Jurrjens and Hanson are on the DL, Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson have been awful, and the 7-8-9 combo of O'Flaherty-Venters-Kimbrel may have finally reached their innings limit. These young arms seem to be out of gas and have blown quite a few games in the past few weeks, although Craig Kimbrel did recently break the single-season save record by a rookie. Their season officially took a turn for the worst when they were swept by the Cardinals, and now have seen their wild card lead dwindle to 3.5. And right on the Cards' heels are the Giants, who all of a sudden learned how to hit and have won 8 in a row. With the Brewers and D-Backs faltering a little in the past week, it's all starting to come together for an exciting September.

I personally think that the Rays and Cards can both catch their respective wild card leaders. The Rays are the hottest team in baseball right now and they have the best starting staff in the AL. I actually hope that both the Rays and Cards make it. I'd love for the Brewers to get another crack at St. Louis after they beat them 5 of the last 6 meetings, if for no other reason than to hit Pujols with a couple pitches square in the back. Then after the Brewers sweep them, Albert can go home and do what he does best - not hustle and stare at homeruns, which in this case would be hit by the Crew. And as for the Rays, I mean come on who doesn't root for the Rays? Joe Maddon is awesome and the team is still as fun as ever (seen above wearing letterman sweaters on the train to New York). I think this season's postseason chase is a great example of why expanding to 2 wild card teams per league would be a terrible idea. If there was a 10-team playoff, we'd already know who was in like 2 weeks ago and there would be no thrilling September baseball.

I'll post my postseason predictions next week, along with hopefully a proclamation of the Brewers winning the NL Central! And PS - congratulations to Mariano Rivera for breaking the all-time saves record with his 602nd today at Yankee Stadium.

Brewers 90-63, +6.5, magic number 4 (3 @ Cubs, 3 v. Marlins)
Reds 74-79, -16.0, eliminated (3 v. Astros, 3 @ Pirates)
Twins 59-93, -29.5, eliminated (1 @ Yankees, 3 v. Mariners, 4 @ Indians)

Erik - 15
Peter - 39

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