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The hunt for October baseball

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What teams will make the playoffs? This post shows projected pitching match-ups for the rest of the season, projected playoff teams, and hypothetical Wild Card and Division Series match-ups -- and outcomes.

Will Felix Hernandez be smiling come October?
Will Felix Hernandez be smiling come October?
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

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):

Team W L W% rW rL fW fL fW%
Angels 92 55 .626 8 7 100 62 .617
Orioles 88 59 .599 9 6 97 65 .599
Tigers 81 66 .551 10 5 91 71 .562
Athletics 81 66 .551 9 6 90 72 .556
Mariners 80 66 .548 9 7 89 73 .549
Royals 80 66 .548 8 7 88 73 .547
Indians 76 70 .521 8 7 84 77 .522
Blue Jays 76 70 .521 7 9 83 79 .512
Yankees 75 71 .514 7 9 82 80 .506

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:

Team W L W% rW rL fW fL fW%
Nationals 83 63 .568 10 6 93 69 .574
Dodgers 83 64 .565 10 5 93 69 .574
Giants 82 65 .558 8 7 90 72 .556
Cardinals 81 67 .547 8 6 89 73 .549
Pirates 78 69 .531 9 6 87 75 .537
Brewers 77 71 .520 8 6 85 77 .525
Braves 75 72 .510 8 7 83 79 .512

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:

Date Away Home SP SP Date Away Home SP SP
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:

ALDS Away Home SP SP NLDS Away Home SP SP
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:

Year Player
2013 David Ortiz
2012 Pablo Sandoval
2011 David Freese
2010 Edgar Renteria
2009 Hideki Matsui
2008 Cole Hamels
2007 Mike Lowell
2006 David Eckstein
2005 Jermaine Dye
2004 Manny Ramirez
2003 Josh Beckett
2002 Troy Glaus
2001 Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling
2000 Derek Jeter

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.