(Sports Network) - There's less than four weeks remaining in the baseball
regular season and plenty of uncertainty remains as to which teams will make
The American League race has to be the most engaging with a few divisions
still up for grabs (AL East and AL Central) and at least five teams vying for
one of the final two wild card spots.
Major League Baseball expanded its playoff system once again, giving two
additional markets the chance to experience postseason play each year, and the
AL is taking full advantage.
For starters, the New York Yankees have lost grip on the AL East lead and are
now tied with the Baltimore Orioles for division authority. The Yankees are
yearly playoff contributors, and this season should be no different. They
currently sit atop the wild card standings with Oakland, but the Tampa Bay
Rays, Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers are competing for a chance to play
deep into October.
A three-game difference between five teams will make the end of the regular
season more enjoyable. Of course, there are the bottom-feeders who thrive on
playing spoiler, and it will be the case again before the regular-season
finales on Oct. 3. Misery enjoys company, right?
Detroit is still alive in the Central race, sitting one game behind the
Chicago White Sox, and will play the current division leaders in an upcoming
four-game series from Sept. 10-13. A preseason favorite to win the division
and possibly represent the Junior Circuit in the World Series, the Tigers have
one of the best pitchers in baseball (Justin Verlander) and two of the premier
sluggers (Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder). Manager Jim Leyland understands
how important pitching is, having skippered in the bigs for quite some time.
"Our pitching is going to be the thing that'll hang us in there ... not that
we can't hit, because we can," he said. "But at the end of the day, you have
to stop the other team and give yourself a chance to win. I'm a firm believer
in that. Normally on our team, if you've got a nine-inning game and you only
give up three runs, I think on our team we're supposed to win that game."
Leyland hopes the philosophy rings true on his club's upcoming road trip which
includes stops at Anaheim, Chicago and Cleveland. This weekend's series with
the Angels signifies major playoff implications, as the Angels are just one-
half game ahead of the Tigers in the wild card standings. Much like the
Tigers, the Halos have big games on the horizon against Detroit and Oakland.
Anaheim is just 2 1/2 games behind the Athletics for one of the final
postseason berths, and just swept them in three games at the Coliseum with
three straight solid outings from starters C.J. Wilson, Zack Greinke and Dan
The news wasn't all so good out with the recent shoulder issue for staff ace
and AL Cy Young Award candidate Jered Weaver, who will miss his next start
because of right shoulder tendinitis. If Weaver, who was nailed by a line
drive against Seattle, has problems as the playoff race heats up, the
confidence level will drop tremendously for the ball club.
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto reiterated how valuable Weaver is.
"He's extremely important to what happens to us today, tomorrow, next year and
the year after," Dipoto said. "I don't think that we were taking lightly, just
to make sure that he was in a good spot. I'll let you know how relieving it is
when he's back out there, but for the time being, we're just going to give him
a little blow, skip him this time through the rotation and hopefully get him
back on track."
On top of having Wilson, Greinke and Haren, the Angels can rest their cap on
Ervin Santana, too. Santana has the least amount of wins among the rotation,
but is still a viable option every five days.
There's no pity for the Rays and their grueling schedule that includes
matchups with the AL West-leading Rangers, Orioles, Yankees and Red Sox. Tampa
Bay can still grab the AL East lead in the near future with only a two-game
deficit, and is 1 1/2 games off the pace in the wild card. The Rays won the
wild card over Boston last season, but winning the East would be an ideal
scenario since division champions will receive at least two days rest before
the Division Series. Wild card winners will most likely have to throw out
their ace in an elimination game.
It's similarly chaotic in the National League playoff race.
Milwaukee, Philadelphia and the New York Mets have a snowball's chance in the
desert to make a run, as each club is seven, eight and nine games,
respectively, out of the picture. Can the Brewers make a push just seven games
off the pace? Maybe, but they'll have to spring ahead of five teams jockeying
If the season ended today, Atlanta and St. Louis would cash in, leaving
Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Arizona on the outside looking in. The Braves
have to hope for a monumental collapse by Washington in order to grab the NL
East lead, while the story line is identical for the Cardinals in the Central.
The biggest surprise in all of the NL breakdowns is Pittsburgh. Absent from
the postseason since their last .500-or-better season since 1992, the Pirates
are even with the Dodgers at 1 1/2 games behind the wild card leaders.
Starting pitcher A.J. Burnett is a big reason for Pittsburgh's rise from
mediocrity. Burnett is 15-5, and he hasn't won that many since 2008 when he
registered 18 wins in his final season with Toronto.
"It doesn't matter if I win 20, 19, 18 or whatever," Burnett said. "I'm just
trying to win ball games for this club; that's all I try to do every time. A
win for me just means the team is one game closer to our goal."
Arizona came out of nowhere to win the NL West last season and Kirk Gibson's
club is hoping for some of the same magic to reappear. That could be too
arduous a task since the Diamondbacks are in the midst of playing 25 games in
a row against division opponents and have just four wins in the past 13
contests. But then again, Arizona was counted out last September and look what
With the East and Central pretty much wrapped up by Washington and Cincinnati,
respectively, the West is winding down to a two-man race between San Francisco
and Los Angeles. The Giants are 4 1/2 games up on the Dodgers, a club that is
hoping an in-season spending spree will make a difference. The Dodgers can
make up some much-needed ground in a three-game series at San Francisco this
weekend and will play 14 of the next 18 games away from home.
The congested races in both leagues is what makes baseball America's pastime.
It's what brings fans to the stadium in droves and television ratings through
An abundance of intrigue remains for the last month or so, and it's only going
to get more appealing with each passing week.
The Sports Network