[Who knew Commissioner Bud had allowed the regular season to slop into October? Despite a day-dream contemplating how the Rockies were going to fit 32 games into 30 days, never did it occur to me to click-on those little arrows pointing to the right on each team’s schedule page. Thanks to Mike Raysfan for catching my oversight. The piece below is revised to reflect the additional 3 games being played in October.]
Thanks also to OrangeRocks for his scouting report on the Orioles.
The Baltimore Orioles crept to within 2 games of the American League East leading New York Yankees on Sunday when Mark Reynolds hit two homers and Randy Wolf picked-up for ailing Chris Tillman for an 8-3 victory in the Bronx. Delmon Young hit a tie-breaking, three-run homer in the sixth to propel the Detroit Tigers over the Chicago White Sox and into a tie for 1st in the Central. The Oakland Athletics swept Boston for their ninth straight to hang within range of West leading Texas. Baltimore would like to swap spots with the Yankees for the division over the wild-card lead. Detroit and Chicago are further behind for the wild-card than for the division. The A’s have tied New York for the 2nd best overall record in the AL.
As Colorado fans enjoy a little late season success mixed with enticing auditions and a pinch of spoilerism, 15 other teams, half of the total, have 70 or more victories and find themselves in contention as the races heat up on Labor Day.
Divisional Championships have become more valuable with the addition of second wild-card teams. Years past the wild-card entered the play-off tournament relatively equal with the division winners. Today however entrance demands a victory in the one-game, all-for-nothing, waste-your-ace play-in game that makes its first appearance in 2012. The system strengthens the reward for success over the 162-game regular-season marathon.
The division races in the National League are more settled. Washington has pulled-out to 6 1/2 over the Braves and the Reds have essentially put a lap between themselves and rivals St Louis and Pittsburgh. The recently fortified Dodgers hang at the edge, 4 1/2 behind the Giants.
The schedule does not favor an LA run at San Francisco. But the Dodgers do get a final shot at the Giants October 1-3. There is also a 3-game series in San Francisco next weekend. The Giants are entirely within the NL West for September. Beyond the Dodgers series their remaining opponents are out of contention. They have 9 games against 3rd-place Arizona, 6 versus 4th-place San Diego, and 7 against the Rockies. Los Angeles on the other hand faces wild-card contender St Louis in 4 games at Dodger Stadium starting September 13, then goes on the road for 3-game sets with the presumptive Central and East champion Reds and Nationals.
In the AL East Baltimore has a fighting chance to overtake the Evil Empire. The teams’ remaining schedules are similar. The O’s and Yankees meet for the last time for 4 at Camden Yards in Baltimore starting Thursday. Both teams have 6 remaining versus contending division rival Tampa Bay, 7 against 4th-place Toronto, 6 with last-place Boston, and 3 with West contender Oakland. The Rays’ marginal shot at the division is diminished further by its schedule. In addition to the 12 contests against Baltimore and New York, the Rays have 3 with the Rangers and finish with 4 on the road at Chicago.
The Tigers and White Sox meet a final time for 4 games starting September 10 at erstwhile Comisky Park in the Windy City. Otherwise neither team’s remaining opponents favor one or the other. Each have 3 games with the West-leading Angels in Anaheim and home-home 3-game sets versus Minnesota. Both have home-homes with division rivals Cleveland, and Kansas City. Detroit faces West contender Oakland for 3 starting September 18 and the Sox have 4 with Tampa Bay starting the 27th.
Out west the A’s have come out of nowhere to challenge defending league champion Texas with overall steady play and this late August surge that’s continuing in September. The schedule is cruel to the upstarts, however. Although it contains 6 against the Mariners, it is otherwise rife with contenders LAAo’A, Baltimore, Detroit and New York. But the Athletics get two head-to-head chances to catch the Rangers, with 4 in Arlington September 24-27, and 3 to close things-out starting October 1. Texas also has a home-home with the Mariners, but gets 4 in Kansas City starting today and 3 versus Cleveland at home to offset remaining tests against the contending Rays and Angels.
Oakland and Baltimore lead the 5-team AL wild-card race that includes Tampa Bay, Detroit/Chicago, and LAAo’A, all within 3 1/2 games of qualifying. The Angels’ remaining schedule is every bit as tough as those of the Rays and A’s, featuring 7 match-ups with Oakland and 6 with Texas to go with 3 against the Tigers and White Sox. The Orioles and Detroit/Chicago face the least treacherous paths to October.
In contrast to the AL, none of the National League wild-card contenders are also in realistic division title fights. The Atlanta Braves, who ran parallel about 3 games behind Washington for much of the season prior to a recent fade, hold the top spot with the World Champion Cardinals 3 games behind. The Dodgers and Pittsburgh are the other contenders, LA 1/2 and Pittsburgh 1 1/2 behind the Cardinals. The Pirates get 3 head-to-head in Pittsburgh versus the Braves October 1-3. Atlanta, wary of the epic fade that doomed them in 2011, has a fairly easy go to the finish. The season-ending series with the Pirates and one with Nationals the weekend of September 14 are its only matches with contenders over the distance. The Braves welcome the Rockies to Turner Field for a 4-game set this morning. St Louis and Pittsburgh both get large doses of Astro, Met, Brewer and Cub meat. The Cards have 4 games against the Dodgers in Los Angeles and 3 each versus the Nationals and presumptive division champion Cincinnati at home, while the Pirates have home-home 3-game sets with Cincinnati and the season finale with Atlanta. It looks like a toss-up between St Louis and Pittsburgh, with LA doomed by its more challenging to-do list.
So relax if you’re in the Queen City and the Nation’s Capital. Perhaps sit by the dock of the bay in San Fran. The rest of us better look sharp. It scripts as a hell of a finish.