Down the Stretch they Come

With a month left in the 2010 MLB regular season, 4 out of the 6 divisions in baseball are still up for grabs, as well as both wild card berths.  The Texas Rangers pretty much have the American League West wrapped up with a healthy 8.5 game lead over the Oakland A’s while the surprising San Diego Padres have the NL West all but won with a 6.5 game lead over the San Francisco Giants.  Barring a collapse of epic proportions these teams have their playoff ticket punched.

That leaves 6 playoff spots open for the taking among 10 teams.  There is nothing more exciting than a chase for the pennant in baseball.  This September will no doubt produce some serious drama.  Here is my take on what is ahead of us for the rest of the season.

A note about the percentages I used in figuring out what the probability is of the teams making the playoffs: there is absolutely no mathematical thought behind my theories.

THE AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays are in a tie for the division lead with the Red Sox 5.5 games back.  All three of these teams play each other 6 times setting the stage for a playoff like atmosphere before the playoffs even start. 

The Yankees have to be the favorite to win the division simply because they are the Yankees, but they are no doubt a flawed team.  Alex Rodriguez is on the disabled list, the starting pitching has question marks galore outside of CC Sabathia, and Lance Berkman has been awful.  But even with these flaws they still have the best closer of all time.  When “Sandman” comes on at Yankee Stadium the game is over. Mariano Rivera continues to dazzle over all these years with just one pitch, breaking bats left and right.  The Yankees also know how to win with players like Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada.  They have an MVP candidate in Robinson Cano and a gold glover in Mark Teixeira.  I believe the Yankees will make the playoffs but they will need to find some pitching outside of CC and Phil Hughes.

YANKEES CHANCES OF MAKING PLAYOFFS: 85%

The Tampa Bay Rays refuse to lose and have been keeping pace with the Yankees.  Their pitching has been unreal and they have the best road record in baseball. The Rays have a solid five man rotation featuring Cy Young candidate David Price and supported by Matt Garza, James Shields, Jeff Niemann, and Wade Davis.  The weakness for the Rays comes in their offense as they are among the bottom dwellers in team batting average in all of baseball, not having one.300 hitter on the team.  That is trumped by having one of the best managers in the game in Joe Maddon. When it comes down to the end, I think the Rays and Sox will be in a dogfight for the wild card berth. But I believe that the Rays will get their playoff ticket punched.

RAYS CHANCES OF MAKING THE PLAYOFFS:  65%

Somehow, some way the gritty Boston Red Sox still find themselves in contention for a playoff berth.  They have been without two thirds of their projected starting outfield for pretty much the entire season, without their two perennial MVP candidates, and getting mediocre pitching from John Lackey and Josh Beckett.  Yet here they are with a Cy Young candidate of their own in Clay Buchholz, overachieving players in Darnell McDonald, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, and Billy Hall.  The Sox will need their bullpen to be strong down the stretch and can get away with a weaker offense because their starting pitching is that good.  The main question is if the deficit is too steep to overcome at this point in time.  They have a weekend series coming up with Tampa that they must win at least 2 out of the 3 games.

RED SOX CHANCES OF MAKING THE PLAYOFFS: 35%

THE AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

The Central is a two horse race with the Minnesota Twins currently up on the Chicago White Sox by 3.5 games.  They will play each other just 3 more times this season.  The White Sox have a tough schedule playing Boston 7 times and the Yankees three times. Meanwhile, the Twins have a cake schedule the rest of the way only playing the Rangers 4 more times.

Help is supposedly on the way for the White Sox in the form of Manny Ramirez.  It is widely known throughout baseball that the White Sox will put a claim on him.  I doubt his addition will be enough to help the Sox leapfrog the Twins for the Central Division banner because the Twins schedule is just to easy the rest of the way. 

WHITE SOX CHANCES OF MAKING THE PLAYOFFS: 15%

The Twins have gotten great pitching this season from Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing.  Joe Mauer has hit .411 since the All Star break and they have gotten great seasons from Justin Morneau and Delmon Young which should surprise no one.  Barring a collapse, the Twins should cruise into the playoffs warding of the Chicago White Sox.

TWINS CHANCES OF MAKING THE PLAYOFFS: 85%

Projected American League Playoffs:

Yankees v. Twins

Rays v. Rangers

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Right now the Phillies are 2.5 games back of the Atlanta Braves.  If history tells us anything, it is to not discount the Phillies and to not have much confidence in the Braves.  The two teams square off 6 more times including a season ending 3 game series in Atlanta.  The Phillies are tied with the Giants for the wild card and have a one game lead on the Cardinals.  It amazes me how open the National League is right now.  Anything can happen!

The Braves have a solid lineup getting Martin Prado back from injury, acquiring Derek Lee from the Cubs, and stud rookie Jason Heyward.  But going forward I feel the Braves have weak pitching after Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson.  They can’t afford to lose games like they did last night being up 9 runs.  Billy Wagner and Jonny Venters have been solid out of the bullpen.  The schedule is favorable to the Braves as they only have 10 games left against contending teams.

CHANCES OF BRAVES MAKING THE PLAYOFFS: 35%

The Phillies have a cake schedule the rest of the way facing the Braves 6 times and the Padres 3 times.  Other than those teams, they play the dregs of the National League.  The Phillies may have the best “playoff type rotation” in the NL with Doc Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.  The only question mark in Philadelphia is the reliability of Brad Lidge.  He can be great or he can be terrible.  The Phightin Phils are healthy and are destined to do damage come October.

PHILLIES CHANCES OF MAKING THE PLAYOFFS: 80%

Cincinnati is my adopt a team out of the National League.  I tend to grab a team to get behind if the Red Sox fall behind.  This year it is the Reds.  How can you not love this team? They have the National League MVP in Joey Votto, a huge comeback season for Scott Rolen, and exciting players in Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, and Drew Stubbs.  Mike Leake is the rookie of the year at the top of their rotation with Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto behind him.  Factor in the managing expertise of Dusty Baker and what is not to love?  They have only 3 games left against their closest competition in the Central, the Cardinals and an easy schedule the rest of the way.

CHANCES OF THE REDS MAKING THE PLAYOFFS: 85%

The Cardinals sit one game out of the wild card lead and 3.5 back of the Reds.  How the Cards aren’t cruising into the playoffs without a worry in the world is beyond me.  They have 2 Cy Young candidates in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter and some guy named Pujols and Pujols is battling Votto for the triple crown!  The Cards have a tough schedule from this point on facing Atlanta, San Diego, and Cincinnati.  I think that the Cards have the talent to get there but they will need to take at least 7 out of the 11 games they have against the aforementioned teams.

CHANCES OF CARDS MAKING THE PLAYOFFS:  60%

San Francisco has Tim Lincecum pitching not up to his potential with a 11-8 record and an ERA near 4.  Yet are still striking distance of the Padres.  I have pretty much anointed the Padres as champions of the NL West; but I failed to realize that the teams do have 7 games left against each other.  Pitcher Johnathan Sanchez predicted that the Giants would win the division and were going to the playoffs.  The problem here is who is Johnathan Sanchez? a 9-8 starter with an ERA near 4. I firmly believe that he jinxed their season by ignorantly opening his mouth.  The Giants do have my favorite “new” ballpark in baseball but that’s about it.  I am writing of the Giants as being no threat to San Diego or the wild card due to a lack of offense and no pitching after Lincecum.

GIANTS CHANCES OF MAKING PLAYOFFS: 20%

ALSO WITH HOPE: ROCKIES (15%),  DODGERS (10%), MARLINS (7%) METS (5)

NATIONAL LEAGUE PLAYOFF PREDICTION:

PADRES VS. CARDINALS

REDS VS. PHILLIES

 

 

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