...And Down the Stretch They Come!
The famous horse racing call is an appropriate description as Major League Baseball winds down its six-month regular season with four division titles and two wild cards still to be determined. The postseason horses are on the board in the American League but there is a stakes race in the East in which the betting public anxiously awaits the finish while holding onto their exacta tickets.
In the meantime, the tote board is working overtime in the National League as all three claiming races and the wild card are up for grabs. The Mets, Cubs, and Diamondbacks are in front by a length or two but the Phillies, Brewers, and Padres are going to the whip as they try to overtake the lead pony in each of their respective divisions.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST TEAM W L PCT GB Comments Red Sox 90 63 .588 - Lug Yankees 88 64 .579 1.5 In the Money Blue Jays 77 75 .507 12.5 Show Orioles 64 87 .424 25 Checked Devil Rays 63 90 .412 27 Untried
Red Sox-Yankees. Yankees-Red Sox. Does it really matter? You bet it does. These rivals are playing for first place, possible home-field advantage, and pride. It looked like Boston in a breeze at the clubhouse turn but a sweep at the hands of Toronto has turned this race into what could amount to a photo finish.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL TEAM W L PCT GB Comments Indians 90 62 .592 - Handily Tigers 83 70 .542 7.5 Hung Twins 75 77 .493 15 Evenly White Sox 66 86 .434 24 Washy Royals 65 86 .430 24.5 Scratch
For those of you with blinkers on, the Indians and Angels now possess the best record in the majors. Cleveland effectively put away Detroit during a three-game sweep with C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, and the bullpen leading the way. With three games in Kansas City on the final weekend, the Tribe may take the opportunity to position its rotation for the ALDS against either the Red Sox or Yankees.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST TEAM W L PCT GB Comments Angels 90 62 .592 - Lock Mariners 81 70 .536 8.5 Faltered A's 74 80 .481 17 Eased Rangers 70 82 .461 20 Under Wraps
The Angels were tested by the Mariners last month but met the challenge head on with a sweep in Seattle. The placing judges have been reassigned to the AL East as the Halos gallop to the finish line.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST TEAM W L PCT GB Comments Mets 84 67 .556 - Prep Phillies 82 70 .539 2.5 Closer Braves 79 73 .520 5.5 In Hand Nationals 68 84 .447 16.5 All Out Marlins 65 87 .428 19.5 Distanced
With 10 of its last 11 games against Washington and Florida (and the other a make-up game at home vs. the Cardinals, who most likely will mail it in), the Mets can thank the stewards for what should be a hand ride over the next one-and-a-half weeks. The Phillies (Fillies?) have a favorable schedule as well, facing the Nationals in seven of their final 10 contests.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL TEAM W L PCT GB Comments Cubs 80 73 .523 - Blanket Finish Brewers 78 73 .517 1 Extended Cardinals 71 80 .470 8 False Favorite Reds 69 83 .454 10.5 Also Ran Pirates 66 86 .434 13.5 Steadied Astros 66 86 .434 13.5 Breakdown
Consider Chicago as the favorite to take the NL Central. The Cubs will not play a playoff-bound team the rest of the regular season while the Brewers will be jockeying for position against the Braves and Padres with the latter running as hard as possible in search of their own postseason berths.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST TEAM W L PCT GB Comments Diamondbacks 86 67 .562 - Overlay Padres 84 67 .556 1 Stretch Runner Rockies 80 72 .526 5.5 Solid Horse Dodgers 79 73 .520 6.5 Winded Giants 67 85 .441 18.5 Taken Up
Only the Giants have been mathematically eliminated but the NL West is really a two-horse race between the Diamondbacks and Padres. Both teams are odds-on choices of making the playoffs, either as the division champ or the wild card representative. With six games remaining against Arizona and San Diego, Colorado is still in control of its own destiny and can't be ruled out quite yet.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD CARD TEAM W L PCT GB Comments Yankees 88 64 .579 - Romp Tigers 83 70 .542 5.5 Bobble Mariners 81 70 .536 6.5 Pocket
Either the Yankees or Red Sox will *win* the wild card in the American League. Think of it as a consolation prize for not winning the AL East. And let's not kid ourselves here that it will be anything more than that. Sure, Boston won the World Series as a wild card in 2004 but capturing a title for the first time since 1995 would be the next best thing for the perennial runners-up in the AL East.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WILD CARD TEAM W L PCT GB Comments Padres 84 67 .556 - Front Runner Phillies 82 70 .539 2.5 Place Rockies 80 72 .526 4.5 Maiden Dodgers 79 73 .520 5.5 Lunge Braves 79 73 .520 5.5 Driving
If the Padres don't win the NL West, look for them to take the allowance race. San Diego has won six in a row and has a three-game edge over the Phillies. The Rockies, in order to have a realistic shot at the wild card, will need to sweep the Friars when these two division rivals face each other this weekend. The Dodgers and Braves are all but out of it at this point.
How would you handicap the AL East, NL East, NL Central, NL West, and NL Wild Card? Let's see who can be the best tout.