During the All-Star break, 11 of 14 teams were viable candidates for the postseason. Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles were all division leaders with the following tight Wild Card race:
Minnesota . . 48-38 GB
Baltimore . . 47-40 1.5
New York. . . 46-40 2.0
Texas . . . . 46-40 2.0
Cleveland . . 47-41 2.0
Oakland . . . 44-43 4.5
Toronto . . . 44-44 5.0
Detroit . . . 42-44 6.0
So now it’s about 50 games until the end of the regular season, and the face of the Wild Card race has changed a bit. The A’s began surging. The Orioles began reeling. Tampa Bay stayed the same. Who’s left in this thing?
Eliminating the obvious: Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Seattle
Detroit is 6 games under .500, 20 back of Chicago and 8 1/2 back of Wild Card leader Oakland/Los Angeles. After dropping 3 straight to the Indians at home (two of those they had leads and lost them) and trading closer Kyle Farnsworth for two promising pitchers, the Tigers are reloading for next year, so they’re out.
Baltimore fired Lee Mazzilli, their pitching has spiraled downward, and oh by the way their slugger is shrouded in steroid controversy (and I’m not talking about Sammy Sosa). And if today’s injury suffered by Sidney Ponson lingers, they have no chance. They’re out.
As much as I love the small market teams like Minnesota, they haven’t been making good moves. Bret Boone turned out to be a waiver bust, plus home run thief Torii Hunter is out for the season and everyone this side of Lew Ford is on a dismal slump this month. As much as I love that pitching staff and bullpen, they’ve fallen 7 games back in the Wild Card after possessing the lead by 3 games. It’s tougher to climb back up, and the competition ahead is much tougher. Sorry Cullen, but they’re out.
Yes, Toronto still has an outside chance. This weekend home series against the Yankees could have been a big statement in that division. It’s a team with Roy Halladay and nobody else famous, and Halladay’s hurt. The Blue Jays are the epitome of Jan Brady this season. Nobody’s talking about this team, yet they’re only 5 1/2 games out of the Wild Card. The coming week’s schedule features two teams down on their luck — 4 hosting the Tigers and 3 at the Orioles. If the Jays have any chance of staying in this, they need to win 6 of those 7. If and only if they accomplish that, they’re 61-55 and in — barely. Otherwise, they’re out.
Texas lost a series to Tampa Bay. They’re sitting 7 1/2 back of both Oakland and Los Angeles, and they’re tied with Toronto and Kenny Rogers is still on suspension. Plus, their upcoming schedule isn’t too inviting: 10 games, all on the road, against Boston, New York and Cleveland. Despite picking up Phil Nevin and bringing up Steve Karsay from AA (what the hell was he doing down there in the first place?), while their record hasn’t gotten much worse, it hasn’t gotten better, and that’s not a good sign. They’re out.
Cleveland was was not a team that started out good at all. But they began playing to their potential in June and now see themselves 4 1/2 back of the Wild Card. And to take a page out of Woody Paige’s philosophy, “Look at the schedule, jabroni!” They will not play Boston, New York or Los Angeles for the rest of the season, and have one series each with Oakland and Chicago. Watch out, they’re very much in.
You know you want to count New York out. It’s the fun thing to do. But they’re the underdog here. Of course, if Boston didn’t win the World Series last year we would be saying it’s only a matter of time before their 3 1/2 game lead dissolves. But the Yanks still have some tough series ahead of them: 2 against Chicago, one at Oakland and two against the Red Sox. It may be those series against Boston — one of them the final games of the season — that could determine who wins that division, and the other team may not have a Wild Card to fall back on. It’s sad to say it, but never in the year did I count them out and yet they’re still in.
League Leaders: Boston, Los Angeles/Oakland (tied for the lead, the other would get the Wild Card.)
Locked in: Chicago. 13 games ahead. You do the math.
NL soon to follow. Futon Report soon to be your home page.