Tuesday, August 21, 2012

MLB Races to Watch Down the Stretch

As we come out of the dog days and baseball heads into the stretch run, I'd like to highlight some of the more interesting races/storylines to pay attention to over the final six weeks of the season. With a few hotly contested division races and the addition of the second wild-card spot creating some extra intrigue, there is plenty of interesting baseball to watch, even as we wait for the Phillies' season to mercifully end around these parts.

AL Central
Currently the White Sox lead the Tigers by 2 games. It's somewhat of a surprise that Chicago has maintained a lead this late into the season, as the Tigers made themselves the favorite with the offseason acquisition of Prince Fielder. The Tigers are loaded with talent, having an MVP candidate in Miguel Cabrera and Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander.

The White Sox have stayed right with the Tigers with the resurgence of Adam Dunn and his 36 homers, the consistency of Paul Konerko, and the steady play from Alex Rios and Alejandro De Aza, as well as the surprise pitching of Chris Sale. The two teams have seven games left against each other, a three-game set in Detroit and a four-game set in Chicago in mid-September. The Sox are 4-7 against the Tigers this season.

NL West
The Giants currently own a half-game lead over the Dodgers. San Francisco has thrived despite the struggles of Tim Lincecum because Tim's fellow pitchers have picked up the slack. Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong have been quite impressive, all posting sub-3.00 ERAs. The offense has been supported by a juiced-up Melky Cabrera, who is now serving a 50-game suspension, but Buster Posey has returned to form and Pablo Sandoval has been steady as well.

The Dodgers made a splash at the trade deadline by adding Shane Victorino and Hanley Ramirez. Matt Kemp is a stud if he can stay healthy, and Andre Ethier is solid. The pitching has been steady but not spectacular, anchored by Clayton Kershaw. The two teams play the second of a three-game series tonight, with the Giants winning last night, then play six more times this season, including a three-game series in L.A. to end the season that could be real interesting.

Wild Cards
The NL Central and AL West races were looking real interesting just a few weeks ago. The Pirates were right on the tail of the Reds, as they look to end a 20-year playoff drought, but the Reds have opened up a 6.5 game lead. Not insurmountable, but not particularly tight either.

In the AL West, the Angels were threatening the Rangers while also trying to hold off the surging A's. Well Texas's lead stands at 6 over Oakland, who's managed to overtake the Angels, while the Angels sit at 9.5 back. All this brings us to the wild card races, which have added intrigue this season with the addition of a second spot in each league.

First the American League. The AL race sees five teams within four games of the two wild card spots. Tampa Bay and Baltimore are tied for the lead and currently hold the wild cards. The A's are a half-game back, the Tigers 1.5 game, and the Angels 4. That should make for some interesting baseball down the stretch as the Orioles and Rays see each other six more times, as do the A's and Angels. It's nice to see some different teams in the mix too, namely the Orioles and A's.

In the National League, one of the major storylines the whole second half of the season has been whether or not the Pirates can keep up the pace and finally make a postseason appearance after 20 unproductive seasons. Well, they currently hold one of the two spots, tied with Atlanta. The Dodgers are a half-game back, the Cardinals are 1.5 and the Diamondbacks are 5 back. All of these teams face at least two of the other teams in the remaining schedule. Perhaps the most interesting of these series will be the Pirates and the Braves to close out the season. I'm kind of hoping the Pirates pull it off, not because I particularly care about them ending their drought, but because I want to see Andrew McCutchen play under the bright lights of October. [Editor's note: Also, screw the Braves.]

Enjoy the rest of the season, tune in to some games you normally wouldn't, check out the talents of some players you normally wouldn't and see how this shakes out. Oh, and for you eternal optimists out there (which I am not), the Cardinals were 10 or 10.5 games out of a playoff spot last season on August 27th. They obviously went on to win the World Series. The Phillies currently sit 10 games out of a playoff spot. Just saying.

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