The Tenth Inning – Week 22

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The Tenth Inning – Week 22 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>


By Mike Ivcic

With Labor Day upon us, it’s time to focus attention squarely on the six division races, since capturing a division title is now of much greater importance. Below is a breakdown of each division and a prediction for each division’s winner.


AL East
Yankees (76-57)
Orioles (74-59) 2 GB
Rays (73-61) 3.5 GB
After losing two of three to the Orioles, the Yanks now find themselves in a dogfight. The Rays have a knack for coming back to reach the postseason, and because the schedule at the end of the season is weighted so heavily towards division games, it’s a stretch to think all three teams will make the postseason. While everyone that’s not a Yankees fan is rooting for either Baltimore or Tampa, it’s also a stretch to think New York won’t make the playoffs in some form. I’ll go with chalk here, but it doesn’t mean I won’t also root to be wrong
Winner: Yankees

AL Central
Tigers (72-61)
White Sox (72-61)
The Tigers are the better team, as they proved this weekend. With Verlander and Scherzer leading the way, the Detroit rotation is the one no one wants to see in the postseason – and it also means they have a great shot to win a one-game playoff, should the need arise. The Tigers offense is also better than Chicago’s, but the biggest key is experience. The White Sox don’t have a ton of it when it comes to postseason playoff races, but Detroit reached the ALCS last season and seems poised to make another run this year.
Winner: Tigers

AL West
Rangers (79-54)
Athletics (76-57) 3 GB
Angels (71-63) 8.5 GB
Texas was expecting a race in the AL West, but they were expecting it more from Los Angeles than they were from Oakland. But the A’s have now won 9 straight and are now 33-13 since the All-Star break. The A’s problem could be their schedule – outside of six game with Seattle, Oakland plays Los Angeles (7), Texas (7), Baltimore (3), Detroit (3), and New York (3). The Angels, meanwhile, may be too far back to make a run at the division and will need a huge boost just to get into the wild card hunt.
Winner: Rangers

AL Wild Card
Athletics (76-57)
Orioles (74-59) 2 GB
Rays (73-61) 3.5 GB
Tigers/White Sox (72-61) 4 GB
Angels (71-63) 5.5 GB
The A’s have a decent lead, which is good since they have a fairly difficult closing schedule. I can’t envision a way that both the Orioles and Rays reach the playoffs, especially with the final three games of the year against each other. It might seem unrealistic now, but given the relative weakness of the rest of the AL Central, I’m actually going with both the Tigers and White Sox to make the playoffs.
Winners: Rays and White Sox

NL East
Nationals (81-52)
Braves (75-59) 6.5 GB
It may seem like a big lead now, but remember the Nationals are willingly giving up at least four starts from their best pitcher during the stretch run. Once Stephen Strasburg is shut down, the Braves will see their outside shot at catching Washington get just a little bit easier. The crucial series will be September 14-16, when the Nats visit Atlanta. If Washington can leave Turner Field with at least a four game lead, it’ll basically bring this division to a close.
Winner: Nationals

NL Central
Reds (82-53)
Cardinals (72-62) 9.5 GB
Pirates (70-63) 11 GB
This race is pretty much over, barring another huge rally by the Cardinals. This time, though, St. Louis has a playoff berth already in their sites and is a whole lot more concerned with fending off the Pirates and Dodgers. Meanwhile the Reds are battling the Nationals for home field in the NL postseason, which might get significantly easier in a week when Strasburg disappears for the rest of the year.
Winner: Reds

NL West
Giants (76-58)
Dodgers (72-63) 4.5 GB
The blockbuster trade orchestrated a week and a half ago has led to average results (5-5) for the Dodgers. The missing factor in the deal, however, was that it came on the heels of a sweep at the hands of the Giants. LA gets two more cracks at SF – this coming weekend at AT&T Park, and the final three games of the year at Dodger Stadium. LA needs four of those six to catch the Giants – and I just don’t think they can pull it off against San Francisco’s great pitching.
Winner: Giants

NL Wild Card
Braves (75-59)
Cardinals (72-62) 3 GB
Dodgers (72-63) 3.5 GB
Pirates (70-63) 4.5 GB
Like the A’s in the American League, the Braves have the inside track on hosting the one-game wild card playoff. Unlike Oakland, Atlanta should actually be able to keep their lead. The second spot is left for the other three teams, and while I would love to see the Pirates end their playoff drought, that’s not the smart choice. It’s more likely that, with Rafael Furcal’s injury, the Cardinals will cede their position to the Dodgers and end their NL pennant title defense.
Winners: Braves and Dodgers

Playoff “Dead” List
September 3 – Boston Red Sox – Another team that’s probably been done for a couple weeks finally joins this list. Trading Gonzalez and Beckett will obviously benefit this organization in the long run, but they also did make themselves worse this year and eliminated any chance of getting back into the playoff race. They may not even be a contender next season, but with some young, talented players and lots of payroll flexibility, it won’t be long before Boston sees another winner.
August 27 – Miami Marlins
August 20 – New York Mets
August 13 – Cleveland Indians
August 6 – Philadelphia Phillies
July 30 – Milwaukee Brewers
July 23 – Toronto Blue Jays
July 16 – Kansas City Royals
July 9 – Oakland Athletics
July 2 – Colorado Rockies
June 25 – Seattle Mariners
June 18 – Houston Astros
June 11 – Minnesota Twins
June 4 – Chicago Cubs
May 28 – San Diego Padres

Three series to watch this week…
1) NYY @ TB (9/3-9/5) – After losing two of three to the Orioles, the Yanks now have a crucial seven-game road trip to Tampa and Baltimore. They can either finally pull away and cruise in the AL East, or possibly give up their lead and force themselves into a four-week pressure-cooker to end the year. They’d definitely prefer the former.
2) LAA @ OAK (9/3-9/5) – The Angels are basically in do-or-die position now, with 3.5 games separating them and Tampa and 5.5 games behind the A’s. Oakland’s trying to channel their inner 2002, while LA will need to pull off a similar run to that of the Cardinals last year to turn around the most disappointing season in baseball.
3) HOU @ PIT (9/3-9/5) – Why are the Astros included here? Because they’ve been one of the worst second-half team in baseball history. Also because they’re playing the Pirates, and Pittsburgh is just a game and a half out of the wild card. If you’re looking for a team to get behind over the final month, the Pirates edge the Orioles as the league’s best story.

If the season ended today, the playoff teams would be…
National League
1. Washington Nationals
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. San Francisco Giants
4. Atlanta Braves
5. Saint Louis Cardinals

American League
1. Texas Rangers
2. New York Yankees
3. *Chicago White Sox
3. *Detroit Tigers
4. Oakland Athletics
5. Baltimore Orioles
* Detroit and Chicago would have to play a one-game playoff to determine the AL Central champion.

Check out my weekly column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday and the weekly “Power Rankings” every Friday, only at

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