The playoff race is very close to September, and these are the 13 teams that are either guaranteed or close to (within 3 games) one of the 8 playoff invites:
- White Sox
- Red Sox
(The Twins are 5 1/2 back of the Wild Card ... go on a run and I'll include you in this. Plus I said the Mets were out, and I still believe that, but for the purposes of this post I'll include you since you're only 2 games behind Philly)
Let's look at perhaps the most crucial element of a playoff team's chances: the bullpen. In a playoff race as tight as this, a bad bullpen could be a divisional rival's best friend. If a team can't hold a close lead, not only will a team lose a couple extra games, but momentum can get sucked out of the clubhouse faster than a Kyle Farnsworth fastball.
Starting with teams with the worst record:
San Diego Padres. It never hurts to have the active leader and 2nd-all time in saves (Trevor Hoffman) as your stopper. This year he is 33-for-35 in save ops. Behind him are 5 solid relievers, only one of which has an ERA higher than 4: Scott Linebrink, Antonio Otsuka, Chris Hammond, Rudy Seanez and Paul Quantrill. Since this team won't be able to score 10 or hold a team to 2, they will have close games in the postseason and will need to count on these 6 to hold the other team to one run for every three innings they pitch. And with a bullpen ERA of 3.48 so far — putting them 2nd in the NL in that category — this team shall not be counted out once they make the playoffs.
Washington Nationals. While the team has taken a bit of a dive since the All-Star Break (yeah, they're in last place now), they're still much in contention for the Wild Card, and you can't blame closer Chad Cordero. Going into the All-Star game with 31 saves, he has added 10 more plus lowered his ERA from 1.13 to 0.96 (note: it's hard to lower a 1.13 ERA!) The rest of the 'pen, like Cordero, was unheard of prior to this year: Hector Carrasco, Gary Majewski, Luis Ayala and Joey Eischen. They solidified that 'pen with a veteran middleman with a couple of WS rings: Mike Stanton, whom the Yankees threw away earlier this year. Livan Hernandez ought to count as a reliever as well, since when he pitches, the pen gets the night off.