20-Game Dash – Breaking down the MLB’s wild run to the finish line


by Derek Franks

With most teams having just 20 games left to play, it isn’t exactly clear who’s the real deal, who will fall short and who will mess everything up even if they don’t make it to the postseason.

We love the darlings of the NL Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates, this year’s Cinderella Story. They just secured their first winning season in over 20 years. And they’re definitely a contender this season. While a division title will be tougher to reach, a playoff spot looks almost certain. Who they’re chasing? The good ole Red Birds in St. Louis, right where they usually are this time of year. The Cincinnati Reds—my pick to win the NL this season—are still right there making things interesting.

The rest of the NL’s divisions are pretty much a lock. Atlanta is arguably the best team in baseball. And everyone’s pick for a pennant this year, Washington, is still technically alive but have a lot of ground to cover. This season’s hottest team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, clearly front runners in the West, it will be up to the other surviving teams to duke it out with those Central teams for wild card contention.

The AL is less clear. Defending AL champion Detroit remains atop the central, with Cleveland trying to be the wildest of wildcards this year. And The Red Sox are surprising everybody. They hold tightly onto the league’s best record with the Rays, Yankees and Orioles chasing and all still very much alive. Texas and Oakland are fighting a very tough battle for the AL west, a race everyone should keep their eye on.

Only 5 teams from each league will have a shot at the Fall Classic once it’s all said and done, meaning that these teams will be putting everything on the table as this wild season comes to a close.

And wild it has been. We’ve seen teams stumble, slide and flat out collapse. We’ve seen clubs go on impressive runs and heroic winning streaks. And through it all, we have one of the tightest races in recent memory. Now as teams turn toward the finish line in this epic free for all dash for the post season, let’s break down all the possibilities.

How the break down goes:

We’ve divided them into three categories: Real Deal’s (basically a shoe in for the playoffs), Contenders (teams that will either make the playoffs or keep others from getting there) and Pretenders (teams that are likely too late to the party)

Real Deals:

Boston Red Sox – Pencil in Boston to be playoff bound. They surprised many this year, pulling to the league’s best record currently and while teams are chasing, they have the buffer of two wild cards and are getting A-games from the rotation and the batting order. It would take a monumental collapse—one even worse than their 2011 self-destruction.

St. Louis Cardinals – The Cards are always going to be there at this time of year. Despite being ice cold not to long ago, it appears they will playing in October. If you talked to me a few weeks ago, I would have said, “This time they might finally be doing themselves in.” And yet here they are. And can we really ever count them out? Adam Wainright appears to be back in form and Michael Wacha will be an added bonus in the rotation. At this point, I put the Cardinals over the other two competing teams in this division to for sure be there, whether it’s a division title or a wildcard.

Atlanta Braves – Atlanta’s play as of late has been lackluster and may be a show of their true colors when they play in the post season. But don’t forget how impressive they were during that record run of wins earlier this summer. They’re potent at bat and the rotation is as good as any in the league. It’s hard to predict how they will do in the playoffs. But we can be sure they will be there.

Detroit Tigers – Detroit hasn’t had the stellar season I expected from them and they certainly aren’t making me feel very confident about picking them to win it all. But we know how they perform in the post season and, with Matt Scherzer just owning it on the mound this year, the Tigers could very well see a World Series once more. And having the likely Cy Young winner benefits you exponentially once it comes to playoff time.

Pittsburgh Pirates – For a team used to collapses, it would take a miracle for them not to make the post season. So I’m putting them as a virtual lock. The Pirates remind me a lot of the 2010 Texas Rangers, one that is very stable in both the rotation and the batting order and that has what it takes to play for the World Series following years of turmoil.

The Contenders:

Texas Rangers – This team is just back and forth. They’re hot—just when they need it most. And then they’re cold—just when they don’t need it. They aren’t playing bad baseball, but Oakland is red hot. So, mediocre play isn’t helping their cause. While both teams seem to be playoff bound, the Rangers would like to avoid the fiasco they had last year, folding the division title and then missing out on the main wild card, thus forcing them into that dreaded “play-in” game. With the Rays and Royals ahead, their schedule is only slightly tougher than Oakland’s, finishing the year with the Astros and Angles.

Oakland Athletics – If Oakland keeps playing the way they are now, they will win the division, regardless of what Texas does. They couldn’t ask for an easier schedule, with cupcakes like Houston and Seattle making up their entire remaining games.

Cincinnati Reds – My pick to win the NL is still in good shape, but this is not the time to stumble. Catching the division title isn’t out of the question, but a wildcard is more likely.  Still, I’m about 99% certain they will be in the playoffs. They’d have to probably drop all of their remaining games to miss out.

Tampa Bay Rays – Catching Boston for the division is almost out of the question. But I think this team has the best chance at locking down a Wildcard. Once the hottest team in the league, they’ve sort of been in purgatory since late July. It will take winning some games to lock it down for sure.

Baltimore Orioles – Still very much alive, Orioles need to win a mass majority of its remaining games to catch the Wildcards. It’s still in the realm of possibility, but the odds are not in their favor. But with division games left, Baltimore can certainly cause chaos in this race as the season closes down.

Cleveland Indians – Only Baltimore has worse chance of the contenders to make the playoffs. They will have to win most of its games and hope that Texas, Oakland or Tampa have disastrous collapses to close the year—and those teams’ schedules don’t favor that possibility.

The Pretenders:

New York Yankees —I’m calling the Yankees at about a 5% chance at making the playoffs. It’s just not their season.

Kansas City Royals – KC’s efforts this year have certainly been valiant. Keep this team on your radar for years to come. Even though they are likely out of it—I’d give them a 2-3% chance to make the post season— a winning season will likely happen and give them a lot to look forward to in the near future.

Washington Nationals – Everyone picked them to win the division and almost everyone picked them to win the NL. And they have spent the whole season proving everyone wrong. It’s just too far out of reach. Better luck next year.

Arizona Diamondbacks – If Arizona can win 18 of its final 20 games and make it to the playoffs, I’m going to pick them to win the World Series. It’s not going to happen.

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