Here we are in the final week of the regular season. It’s amazing how fast it’s gone. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that the Brewers were world-beaters and the Angels were toast. Nearly every team has played 155 or 156 games, yet the playoff field is far from settled.
Some races seemed destined to go down to the wire, and some, like the AL wild card, are more intense than expected. Regardless, the last week of the MLB season figures to be loaded with big games.
Aside from the AL East, NL East and AL West, there’s plenty up for grabs this week.
NL Wild Card
It’s pretty much over. The Giants and Pirates are tied and both have a four-and-a-half game lead over Milwaukee. It seems all that’s left to decide is who will finish with the better record and get to play at home. But… is it that crazy to think the Brewers could sweep both Cincinnati and the Cubs? San Francisco and Pittsburgh seem to have manageable schedules but this is worth keeping an eye on.
This is the biggest one-and-a-half-game lead I can ever remember in baseball. It doesn’t even really feel like Kansas City is in the divisional race. Detroit came to Kansas City and took 2-of-3 this weekend, pretty much putting the stamp on their division title. While the Royals are focused on getting into the postseason for the first time since the days of yore, Detroit will cruise to the finish with seven games against Chicago and Minnesota.
For a while this seemed like it was going to be a wild four-team affair. Then Cincinnati collapsed under the weight of a team-wide injury/slump bug and Milwaukee regressed to the mean, more or less. Even a few weeks ago it seemed like Pittsburgh/St. Louis would be a fight. But now the Cardinals have a three-game lead and seven games against the Cubs and Diamondbacks on the schedule. Barring any miracles, St. Louis will win the NL Central for the second year in a row and eighth time in 15 years.
AL Wild Card
This is probably the most interesting of the races. You have an Oakland team that should have clinched by now, but have had one of the worst team-wide slumps in recent memory. The Royals are fighting to end an impossibly-long playoff drought (29 years?!). A rejuvenated Seattle squad is looking to end a drought of their own (13 – time flies, man). And some other teams remain lurking in the distance.
The A’s may really come to regret finishing 2-4 against Philadelphia and Texas this week as their next opponent is the first-place Angels. The Angels may start resting players and begin focusing on October – that’d be an incredible break for Oakland — and Oakland does get another shot at those last-place Rangers to close out the season. Thing is, the Rangers seem intent on losing the first overall pick as they’ve won eight of their last nine games.
The good news – Oakland has a two-game lead on Seattle and a half-game lead on Kansas City. The bad news – they should have wrapped things up two weeks ago. They’ve been awful in August and September. This would be the ideal time for Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson and co. to snap out of their collective slumps. Otherwise, they’ll join the 2007 Mets, 2011 Braves and 2011 Red Sox on a list of ignominy.
Can you hear that? It’s the Royals fan base holding its collective breath. If breath-holding and sigh-of-relief-breathing were actually audible, Kauffman Stadium would rival Century Link Field as the loudest places on Earth. It’s been 29 years since Kansas City has played meaningful games in October. That was four presidents ago. An entire generation has passed since Kansas City last made the playoffs.
The Royals have to play their final seven games on the road, but that road isn’t overly tough. They’ll first take on the Indians – who sit just 3.5 games back of the Royals – but avoid the buzzsaw that is Corey Kluber. Then they’ll travel to Chicago to take on the White Sox, who might as well be in the offseason anyway.
Meanwhile, Kansas City should feel pretty comfortable with their 1.5 game lead in the wild card because…
It’s been overlooked, but Seattle’s not playing particularly well during this stretch run either. While the Royals haven’t been great these past few weeks and the A’s are mired in an extended free fall, the Mariners are 11-13 over the past 24 and have lost nine of their last 14. And the schedule won’t be especially kind to them. After traveling to play four in LA and then three in Houston, they’ll travel all the way to Toronto to take on the Blue Jays in a four-game set. That’s 11 games in 11 days in three different time zones. They’ll finish off against Los Angeles, who really should be resting starters and preparing for October by then.
Hmmmmm… This three-game set against Kansas City should be legitimately interesting. They have to sweep to realistically have a chance. If they do, they’ll head to Tampa Bay with a real shot at sneaking into the playoffs.
Ever pay a bunch of money for something you don’t use enough? Imagine paying over $400 million for your team to not make the playoffs in back-to-back years. (You’ll know what this is like soon enough, Mikhail Prokhorov.)
AL: Baltimore, Detroit, Los Angeles, Oakland and Kansas City
NL: Washington, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and San Francisco
(But not before Milwaukee and Cleveland are heard from.)