As the baseball season winds down, everything Major League Baseball wanted by adding another wild card playoff spot after the 2011 season is coming to fruition. Several races will come down to the final days, and in one case, very possibly the last day. In another, I see a long winter of recrimination and second thoughts over how a season went awry.
This is how I see the American League finishing (records through Friday, September 12th):
rW=remaining wins rL=remaining losses, tW=total wins tL=total losses, Wild Card team in bold
***Important note--there is a suspended game between the Royals and Indians that needs to be completed***
This Google Docs spreadsheet explains how I determined the finishing records and shows the remaining schedule for every team along with the projected pitching match-ups as well as my guess for the outcome of the game. It also allows you to reach your own conclusions as well as track to see how good my guesses are.
In my mind, the Angels and Orioles are basically set, giving both teams the luxury of adjusting their pitching rotations in order to best set themselves up for the playoffs. Conversely, the Tigers, A's, Royals and Mariners will have little flexibility since every game they play will have importance, and the lack of off days doesn't help. With the AL Wild Card game being on Tuesday and the ALDS beginning on Thursday, there will be few opportunities to shuffle and re-arrange rotations.
The race is close enough that a tiebreaker game might be required, and the rules for determining home field advantage can be found here. If the powers that be wanted to replicate the last day of the 2011 season by adding another wild card spot, they achieved their goal and also proved why adding a sixth spot would actually diminish the excitement. If there were six playoff spots, the AL playoff teams would be essentially set, barring some unforeseen run by the Indians, Blue Jays or Yankees, and the playoff teams could play very safe, very bland and very set-up-for-the-playoffs games. Five teams seems like just the right number.
The National League looks like this:
It's a little more settled, but settled won't mean satisfactory for Brewers fans. For the team that was flying high through most of the season to finish barely above .500 and two games out of the fifth playoff spot when they were tied for the top spot on August 19th might be too much to bear and could cost some people their jobs. When the Brewers went on their extended difficult streak, they squandered away the cushion they had built up over the season. Good teams can overcome five-game losing streaks, but going 3-16 rarely turns out well.
This creates the following wild card match-ups:
|Tuesday, Sep 30||SEA||@||OAK||Elias||Gray||Wednesday, Oct 1||PIT||@||SFG||Locke||Hudson|
Winning team in bold
In both cases all four teams won't be able to set up their rotations to their advantage, and I think home field will carry the day. I'm much less certain about the Giants because after Madison Bumgarner their starting pitching has been less than stellar, but if they can shuffle their rotation to use him in the Wild Card I'd be much more confident. They'll have little chance of catching the Dodgers to win the NL West and should have a comfortable cushion over the Pirates for the last wild card spot, so this could be possible as every game won't be precious like it will in the AL. However, this carries the risk of not having Bumgarner available until the fourth game of the NLDS.
This is how the Divisional Playoff Round would set up:
|Thurs, Oct 2||OAK||@||LAA||Lester||Weaver||Fri, Oct 3||SFG||@||WAS||Vogelsong||Strasburg|
|Fri, Oct 3||OAK||@||LAA||Samardzija||Shoemaker||Sat, Oct 4||SFG||@||WAS||Peavy||Roark|
|Sun Oct 5||LAA||@||OAK||Wilson||Kazmir||Mon, Oct 6||WAS||@||SFG||Fister||Bumgarner|
|Mon, Oct 6||LAA||@||OAK||Rasmus||Gray||Tues Oct 7||WAS||@||SFG||Zimmermann||Hudson|
|Wed, Oct 8||OAK||@||LAA||Lester||Weaver||Thur, Oct 9||SFG||@||WAS||Vogelsong||Strasburg|
|Thur, Oct 2||DET||@||BAL||Verlander||Chen||Frid, Oct 3||STL||@||LAD||Wainwright||Greinke|
|Fri, Oct 3||DET||@||BAL||Scherzer||Norris||Sat, Oct 4||STL||@||LAD||Miller||Kershaw|
|Sun, Oct 5||BAL||@||DET||Gonzalez||Porcello||Mon, Oct 6||LAD||@||STL||Haren||Wacha|
|Mon, Oct 6||BAL||@||DET||Tillman||Price||Tue, Oct 7||LAD||@||STL||Ryu||Lackey|
|Wed, Oct 8||DET||@||BAL||Verlander||Chen||Thur, Oct 9||STL||@||LAD||Wainwright||Greinke|
Winning team in bold
Take the pitching match-ups with a grain of salt as I suspect there will be shuffling of all staffs to take the off days before and after the Wild Card games into account. I'm going completely out on a limb in the AL, choosing underdogs in both races, and consequently teams without the home field advantage. The A's have done absolutely nothing to justify this confidence in the past couple of months, but I tend toward superior pitching when push comes to shove. The loss of Garrett Richards hasn't slowed down the Angels, but in a short series I like the A's pitching more. The same holds true for the Tigers -- while the Orioles starters have pitched very well, and I certainly don't discount the ability of the Tigers' bullpen to blow any lead, their starting pitching is hard to pick against.
The NL seems easier to pick as I think the better teams are more readily identifiable, and in my opinion the Nationals and Dodgers have superior pitching and hitting. I'm much more confident selecting the Nationals, since the Cardinals have shown they're an extremely resilient team in October in the past couple of years, and their pitching is nothing to dismiss lightly and will take the Dodgers to the limit.
There are so many variables that go into winning the World Series as to make predictions beyond pointless. There will be players who shine in these last weeks and in the playoffs that no one predicted, which is why postseason baseball is so exciting. This is the list of the World Series MVPs going back to 2000:
|2001||Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling|
It's an eclectic mix of Hall of Famers, solid players, and some who simply rose up and performed at precisely the right time. Just about every prediction in this post will be wrong in some manner, but it's still fun to see how the pieces might fall. In my next post, I'll reveal my League Championship Series match-ups and predictions and will make my World Series predictions next Monday. Why wait until the end of the month to do it?
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Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.