Football is back. Woo! ESPN, CBS, and most of the other major news outlets across the United States are celebrating the rebirth of the NFL and what is sure to be a spectacular upcoming season. But people forget that September isn’t just about football, it’s about playoff races. Baseball heats up, coming to boil in September just as the NFL pan gets placed on the stove for warming.
Baseball is still here! It’s still going on! Not only is baseball still going on, it’s getting good.
Here’s a rundown of MLB playoff predictions:
American League Locks
With Boston and Detroit holding their divisions hostage, the East and Central respectively, it appears that – barring a major collapse by either team – those divisions are locked up. Boston has 7.5 games on Tampa Bay and Detroit has 5.5 on Cleveland.
AL East Pick: Red Sox
AL Central Pick: Tigers
Out West, the Athletics and Rangers battle for the top spot as Oakland maintains a 1.5-game lead. The Athletics are built – pitching, good defense, timely hitting – to win games. The Rangers finish the season with a tough schedule. They have to take on the Athletics, the Pirates who have a lot to prove after being swept by the Cardinals last weekend, the Wild Card-leading Rays and the Royals, who are heating up and in the playoff hunt. Contrastingly, the Athletics only tough competition is Texas. Oakland also gets to play the painful-to-watch Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (twice each!) and finishing up against the abysmal Seattle Mariners. The Athletics not only have a better team, but a more favorable schedule.
The Wild Card is, as the cliché goes, anybody’s ballgame. With Texas a lock, Tampa Bay (78-64) owns the second spot to lose. Four teams are within leap-frogging distance however as Baltimore (2 Games Back), Cleveland (2GB), New York (2.5), and Kansas City (3.5) are all vying to dethrone Tampa Bay.
Cleveland, by far, has the easiest schedule and Baltimore, along with Tampa Bay, has the bumpiest road ahead.
The Indians hitting and pitching are mediocre however and it’s difficult to trust a rotation where the “Ace” is Justin Masterson and the number two pitcher’s name is Ubaldo Jimenez. Also, their best hitter is batting .282 (Kipnis) and no one on their roster has over 17 dingers. Eliminate Cleveland.
The Yankees are also tough to count on as their pitching ranks 26th in MLB in ERA since the All-Star break. While Alfonso Soriano has been knocking the ball all over the yard, he only bats around four times per game. But their pitching can’t keep up – eliminate New York.
Baltimore hasn’t gotten much out of their deadline acquisition of Bud Norris and their pitching continues to slide since the break as their 20th-ranked pitching and Chris Davis’ cooling has corresponded with the team’s slide at the dish. Playing the tough divisional foes such as the Sox, Rays, and Yankees for 14 out of the last 20 games cuts them from the hunt.
And we’re down to two! Kansas City, the furthest back, and the Rays, the current leader, have the best chances to win the Wild Card.
You can never discount the Rays, who have a potent rotation of David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Chris Archer. Their veteran leader Evan Longoria has a big deal with the team and wills his team to win, now. The team is batting .256 – 13th in the American League since the All-Star break – has struggled as of late, going 3-7 in their last ten games. Their road record during this 2013 campaign sits at a sub-par 34-38 (as opposed to their 44-26 home record), plus they play nine games on the road in September, including a six game intra-division road trip to conclude the season.
Since the Rays continue to struggle and play a majority of their games on the road, which leaves the door open for KANSAS CITY! Choo Choo! You’re going to miss the bandtrain (which has been since updated from the bandwagon – which is so 1850)! Kansas City plays 12 of their last 18 contests on the road this season – which is okay because they’ve been better on the road so far than at home in Kaufman Stadium. The league’s hottest team since the break for the midsummer classic, 3rd in pitching and 4th in hitting, they will continue to torch through the American League and win the second Wild Card spot. They also mix their still-up-and-coming-but-not-yet-established young stars like Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, and Salvador Perez with seasoned veterans Ervin Santana, “Big Game” James Shields, and Jeremy Guthrie. Having a 40-save guy in Greg Holland at the end of the bullpen doesn’t hurt either.
Picks: Texas and Kansas City
Though the Boston Red Sox get former Ace Clay Bucholz back tomorrow night against the Rays after three months on the DL, something says they might be peaking too early. After scoring 54 runs in 4 games against the Tigers and Yankees, the offense seemed to be lethal. Scoring at will was great as the Red Sox rolled through two tough AL opponents, but the fact that towards the tail end they started winning 12-8 and 13-9 says their bullpen might be failing. The same goes for the streaky Mike Napoli who hit a blistering pace during early September and has a tendency to fall, and fall hard. The Red Sox may be hitting stride at the exact wrong time.