Here is a scary thought – The last place Mariners are only five games back of making the playoffs with less than 30 games to go.
That scariness is only rivaled by the fact that the Oakland A’s would actually be in the playoffs if they started today. That would be the same Oakland A’s that wrote off this season to build for 2014. Scariest of all, however, might be the Pittsburgh '19 losing seasons' Pirates, who are a half-game out of one of those playoff spots as well.
Everyone remembers the excitement of last year, with four teams fighting for the final two playoff spots on the last night of the season. Now, with some adjustments made by Bud Selig which allows one more Wild Card from each league, this year is turning into a regular old battle royale. With parity and double the Wild Cards now available, there are even more teams in the hunt. There are 11 teams fighting for four spots. Currently, seven teams are within five games of one of the Wild Card slots.
In the American League, the Rays look comfortable at the top. The A’s slipped into the second spot on Wednesday. The Orioles, Tigers and Angels are nipping at their heels; each are within two games, with the Angels only 3.5 back. The Mariners have won 15 of their past 16 and got themselves into the conversation by only being seven games behind the A’s.
The Angels -- and by extension, the whole AL West -- are turning into baseball central. All four teams are in the race. The storylines are getting equally exciting.
Angels manager, Mike Scioscia, is starting to feel the heat of the hot seat. Many pontificators picked the Angels to compete for the World Series. Instead, they are in third place, outside looking in and Albert Pujols just hurt his hammy. The A’s lost their veteran ace (and winningest pitcher) Bartolo Colon to PED suspension. The Mariners lost the heart and soul of their team, Ichiro Suzuki, only to go on a few winning streaks afterwards.
The rest of the field isn’t lacking for excitement. The Orioles brought up the second coming of A-Rod in the young Manny Machado. The Tigers have the same expectations of the Angels but somehow have flown under the radar. Their signing of Prince Fielder nearly matched the Angels' efforts with Pujols, and Miguel Cabrera’s MVP push matches Mike Trout’s.
The National League is not hurting for a throwdown either. Entering the thunder dome are the Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers, Pirates, and Diamondbacks. Atlanta is comfortably behind the Nationals as well as ahead of the Wild Card hunters. The Cardinals decided to try a new approach this year and surpass the pack earlier. They moved into a half-game lead Wednesday over the Dodgers and the Pirates. Hanging around and defying expectations is Arizona.
Adding to the intrigue are the San Francisco Giants; losing their top bat, Melky Cabrera, to drug cheating, will probably bring them back into the pack. But how far? If they only drop a few games, then they only switch with the Dodgers. If they free-fall, the Pirates could benefit and take over the second playoff spot. That is if the Cardinals don’t spoil their NL Central rival.
Considering the Cardinals were 10.5 games back at this point last season, then the field in the National League expands to include the Brewers, Phillies and and Mets; they are all not likely to make much noise down the stretch but considering they have an extra playoff spot to contend for, who knows?
Regardless of who finally gets a playoff lottery ticket, it will be a hell of a bloodthirsty ride this upcoming final month. Let the fighting begin!
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