As we inch one week closer to October playoffs division leaders are getting more untouchable. With the exception of the AL East and the NL West most division leaders are 5+ games up on the team behind them. Being that far ahead of your competition only makes it that much more difficult for opponents to catch up, it also makes watching the winners a little less interesting since they don’t have as much at stake. As a result, what is heating up is the Wild Card race and that is where my attention will be directed this week in baseball.
Both divisions have a hot Wild Card race going on and there is still plenty of baseball to be played. I know a lot of fans think that the one game Wild Card playoff is silly, but it can make or break a playoff berth which is what makes it exciting. Without that one game playoff the Chicago Cubs would not have been able to shock the baseball world by making it all the way the National League Championship Series last year. They had 97 wins, one game back of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs came in, won the one game Wild Card, and went on to beat the division winning St. Louis Cardinals in 4 games.
The NL Wild Card race right now is between the Miami Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Pirates, and Cardinals. The Dodgers currently lead the pack and are 2 games up on the 2nd place Cardinals. This week the Cardinals play the Mets and the Dodgers play their division rival San Francisco Giants. Both these series give these teams opportunity to make moves in the race for the payoffs. The Dodgers currently sit ½ game behind the division leading Giants. They meet 2 more times this season and it could come down to the wire. This series might as well be a the NLCS to these teams so it will definitely be worth a watch. An additional bonus is the Vin Scully will be announcing since the Dodgers are the home team.
The 2015 NL Champion New York Mets have been struggling to maintain relevance in the Eastern division amidst having a number of injuries. They still have a chance to make a run for the Wild Card, but at this time it seems doubtful. The Cardinals play them this week and it’s a perfect opportunity for them to overtake the Dodgers or Giants (pending the result of their series). Although Cardinals pitchers have not been as dominant as they have been in years past, almost all with an ERA over 4, the offense has made up for their shortcomings. The Mets have the opposite problem. Their pitchers have been solid, almost all with an ERA under under 3.5 but they have a serious issue with offense. The Mets picked up Jay Bruce at the trade deadline hoping he would add a pop to the lineup, but so far he has barely crackled.
On Sunday, the Marlins finished out a sweep of the Pirates and pushed them to 1.5 games back in the Wild Card. This week both the Marlins and Pirates play interleague series; Marlins play the Kansas City Royals and the Pirates play the Houston Astros. The Royals and the Astros have similar records but right now the KC is on an 8 game win streak and are catching up to the Detroit Tigers. Similarly, the Astros are slowly catching up to the Seattle Mariners. What does that mean for the Marlins and Pirates? It means wins will not come easy. Even though many people tend to discount interleague play, at this time of the year every game counts and all these teams are playing for October.
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