American League Playoff Race Heats Up As Season Draws to A Close

Alex Hall  Managing Editor

Matt Bacon  Sports Editor

With a week and a half and only eight games left in the regular season, the  MLB American League playoff race is hotter than ever. All three divisions as well as the two wild card positions still remain up for grabs.

In the AL East, the New York Yankees and the upstart Baltimore Orioles are currently duking it out for the division title. With Buck Showalter’s club only a game and a half behind the Yankees, both teams are facing similar schedules down the home stretch. Both teams have eight games remaining, six of which come against division rivals in the Blue Jays and the Red Sox.

Both the Orioles and the Yankees have had recent hot streaks cooled down by losses, with Baltimore losing back to back games in a double header against Toronto. The upward trending Tampa Bay Rays are also still in the picture, sitting only five games behind the first place Bronx Bombers thanks to their six game winning streak. A sudden collapse by either team could allow the Rays to sneak into the playoffs.

Perhaps the biggest issue facing the Orioles in their hunt to make the playoffs for the first time since 1997 is the dreaded injury bug. Baltimore saw outfielder Lew Ford injure his groin last weekend while pitchers Jason Hammel and Randy Wolf are far from returning to the diamond.

The AL Central features the tightest race in the entire MLB. The Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers are currently tied for first and have been slugging along at a .500 pace for the last couple of weeks. The White Sox are sure to have a harder time clinging to first place, as four of their eight remaining games come against the surging Rays, while Detroit only has to face their bottom feeder division rivals Kansas City and Minnesota.

This late in the season both the Royals and Twins have got to be at an all-time low as far as moral goes which should make them easy pickings for Detroit.  The Tigers two remaining opponents currently sit outside the top-15 ranked batting teams in the Majors which could spell dominant numbers for Justin Verlander and the rest of Detroit’s pitching staff.

Out West, the division is currently lead by the Texas Rangers. While they have the biggest division lead of any team in the American League, the Oakland Athletics still have a shot at climbing out of their four game hole. Even though this is the widest race in the AL, it may prove to be the most exciting, as the two teams will face each other in four of their eight remaining games. If the A’s can manage to take three of those four, or sweep the series, they will be in an excellent position to steal the division from Texas.

To see such a small-market team like the A’s beat out a big-time spender like the Rangers would be entertaining for any non-Texas fan to watch.

The two wild card spots in the American League are currently held by Baltimore and Oakland. Including the current division leaders, there are eight teams still in the running to grab those two remaining spots.

The Los Angeles Angels and the Rays have the best shot at stealing the last two spots from Baltimore and Oakland, being two and half and three games behind respectively. While the Angels take on the last place Mariners for five of their eight remaining games, the Rays have a much tougher schedule. After wrapping up their current series against the Red Sox, they go on to finish their season against the White Sox and the Orioles, two great teams still in the thick of the playoff race.

The Angels have an easier schedule than Tampa Bay and have far more firepower on offense than the Rays, Orioles or Athletics.

With rookie superstar Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo all legitimate home-run threats each time they enter the batters box paired with their solid rotation, it would be nothing short of a disappointment for Los Angeles if the team missed the postseason.

In contrast, the National League divisions are all but decided.  The Central Division has been clinched by Cincinnati, and the West by San Francisco.

In the NL East, the Washington Nationals are tied for the best record in the league and hold a four game lead over the Atlanta Braves. Even though this race is the only relatively close one, it will have no effect on who makes the playoffs seeing as the Braves have already clinched one of the wild card slots.

The remaining wild card slot is currently held by the St. Louis Cardinals. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Philadelphia Phillies who all have distant shots seizing the final playoff spot in the National League. LA and Milwaukee both sit four and a half games out.  St. Louis, however, is showing no signs of letting up, riding a four-game winning streak. And while the Brewers have a relatively easy schedule to finish off the season, the Dodgers must take on NL West leading San Francisco for their last three games.

The final weeks of the regular season in every sport are exciting to watch. As anticipation for the playoffs builds, the number of teams that will move on to the second season are slowly whittled down. This is the time of year where the boys are separated from the men. The best part is that the excitement and intensity displayed now will be nothing compared to the playoffs, when those men face off for the ultimate prize.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons