There is just over a month left in the MLB season, and the race for a playoff spot is heating up. With 162 games on each team’s schedule, the MLB season is a marathon – not a sprint – but time is running out, and if teams are serious about taking a shot at a World Series title, now is the time to pick things up.
Can the Washington Nationals continue their fairy-tale run into the postseason? Will Saturday’s blockbuster trade help boost the Los Angeles Dodgers into the playoffs? Can the Chicago White Sox hang on to their slim division lead? Will the Cardinals claim a wild-card spot for the second year in a row?
Below, Sporting-Times.com answers these questions and more by predicting the 10 playoff teams of 2012.
American League East
With 34 games left to play, the New York Yankees sit atop the American League East, holding a 3.5 game lead over the surprisingly-strong Baltimore Orioles. The Tampa Bay Rays also lurk just 4 games back, meaning the drive for a division title is far from being in the books for any team. However, the Yankees are perennial playoff contenders, and with the recent return of ace pitcher CC Sabathia from the disabled list, there is no reason to think the Yankees will falter down the home stretch.
Sporting-Times.com Prediction: Yankees win the AL East
American League Central:
The American League Central is the most closely contested MLB division as of Tuesday, Aug. 28. The Chicago White Sox are holding a slim two-game lead over the Detroit Tigers, and with the Kansas City Royals 15 games back, this is clearly a two horse race. The White Sox recently swept the Yankees and the Seattle Mariners to hold off a surging Detroit team in the standings, showing that they mean business. This weekend, the White Sox will play the Tigers in a three-game series that could decide the division winner. While Chicago has held a lead in the division for most of the year, the Tigers were the preseason favorites to win it, and with a month to play, you have to figure they will pull things together in time to come out on top. The Tigers are nipping at the heels of the White Sox, and it’s only a matter of time before they chomp down on those socks completely.
Sporting-Times.com Prediction: Tigers win the AL Central
American League West:
Never say never, but the chances of the Oakland Athletics catching the Texas Rangers are slim to none. The Rangers hold a comfortable 5.5-game lead in the AL West with a month left to play, and they are on a mission to make it to the World Series once more. The Rangers almost went all the way in 2010 and 2011, only to lose the World Series both times. Ron Washington and his squad would love nothing more than to make amends with a world championship in 2012. Not to mention, Josh Hamilton is a spectacular player even when he isn’t in a contract year. With millions of dollars on the table, Hamilton is doing everything he can to turn some heads. Look for Hamilton to lead the Rangers into the postseason once more.
Sporting-Times.com Prediction: Rangers win the AL West
American League Wild Card:
For the first time ever, two teams from each league will be granted a wild-card playoff spot in 2012 (it used to be just one). These two lucky teams will then face off in a one-game playoff showdown to see who will move on to the best-of-five Division Series. In the American League, Baltimore and Oakland currently hold those two coveted spots, with Tampa Bay just a half game back and the Tigers only one game out. Also in contention are the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (4.5 games back). If the Tigers do catch Chicago in the AL Central, look for the White Sox to hang onto their playoff hopes by clinching a wild-card berth.
Sporting-Times.com Prediction: White Sox, Orioles secure wild-card spots
National League East:
The Philadelphia Phillies have reigned supreme over the National League East for five straight seasons, but this year, the Washington Nationals made it known that they’d had enough of the Phillies. The Nats vowed to not only take back their park from visiting Phillies fans, but also (and more importantly) the team wanted to challenge for the division title. Most baseball experts figured it was just another case of “all bark and no bite” sports trash talk, but the Nationals have backed up the lofty expectations they set for themselves at the start of the year. Washington currently holds a 5-game lead in the NL East, while the Phillies have floundered and sit 16.5 games back. The second-place Braves are hoping to catch the Nationals, but even if Washington does shut down superstar pitcher Stephen Strasburg, expect the Nationals to hang onto the division lead for the duration of the season.
Sporting-Times.com Prediction: Nationals win the NL East
National League Central:
If the St. Louis Cardinals have any hope of repeating as World Series champions, they need to pick up the pace or they risk missing the playoffs altogether The Cardinals currently sit 6 games behind the Cincinnati Reds, and there’s no Albert Pujols around to help them make up that ground. Fortunately for Cardinals fans, St. Louis has posted a 7-3 record over its last 10 games, while Cincinnati has put up a mediocre 5-5. Even so, will there be enough time for the Cardinals to go on another miracle run? The Pittsburgh Pirates are having a stronger-than-usual season and trail the Reds by 9 games, but that’s probably too great of a gap to overcome this late in the season. Look for the Cardinals to set their sights on a wild-card spot, rather than an NL Central title, as the Reds claim division victory.
Sporting-Times.com Prediction: Reds win the NL Central
National League West
As of Tuesday, the San Francisco Giants are clinging to a 2.5-game division lead over their “Golden State” rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, it’s going to be pretty hard for the Giants to keep their heads above the water and finish the season as National League West champions. After Los Angeles pulled off a stunning trade on Saturday to acquire All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett from the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles became the instant favorite to win the division. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the move is being called “the biggest baseball trade since Babe Ruth went to the New York Yankees.” Of course, San Francisco also bolstered its lineup, acquiring Hunter Pence at the July 31 trade deadline, but it simply isn’t going to be enough. The additions of Gonzalez, Crawford, and Beckett in Los Angeles come less than a month after the team acquired 2008 World Series champions Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton from the Phillies. The trades have the Dodgers primed to win their first NL West title since 2009.
Sporting-Times.com Prediction: Dodgers win the NL West
National League Wild Card:
If the Giants do fall out of the division lead in the NL West, expect them to be strong contenders for one of the two NL Wild Card spots. That leaves the Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves to fight for the second and final wild-card position, as both teams currently hold a wild-card spot. However, there are a few other teams in the mix, as well. Don’t count out the Pirates (3 games back), the Arizona Diamondbacks (7.5 games back), or even the Phillies (10 games back). Remember, the Cardinals were 10.5 games out of the wild-card in August 2011, only to go 23-8 to end the season and clinch the NL’s final playoff spot. They went on to win the World Series, by the way. Right now, the Phillies are in better shape than the Cardinals were at this point last year: 10 games back from that same wild-card spot. Can the Fightin’ Phils go on a similar tear to finish the year and pull off the seemingly impossible? As the Cardinals showed last year, it’s really not that impossible, but don’t hold your breath, Phillies fans.
Sporting-Times.com Prediction: Giants, Cardinals secure wild-card spots