The Good, the Bad and the Intriguing of the MLB Playoff Race

Author: Sam Gemini

MADISON – October is nearly here, and the race to the MLB playoffs is as riveting and turbulent as we’ve seen in years.  Let’s recap what has happened this season and get ready for the drama of the postseason.

The Good

What better place to start than the best team in baseball – the San Francisco Giants.  A complete and utter surprise, the Giants got off to a roaring start and haven’t looked back. They’ve held first place in the NL West for virtually the entire season; there were a couple of days in early April when the San Diego Padres were in front, but since then San Francisco has been in control.  The Giants are second in all of MLB in home runs this season, which is astonishing considering their home ballpark is one of the most difficult home-run parks in baseball.  But don’t book the division title yet because the Dodgers are nipping at the Giants’ heels – but more on that later.  

Also surprising, the Milwaukee Brewers sit with a double-digit lead in the NL Central with a win percentage over .600. The Brewers were certain division contenders going into the season, but hardly anyone expected them to be in this elite tier.  Their starting rotation is the best in baseball with not one but two Cy Young candidates in Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff.  They also boast an elite bullpen with the unhittable closer Josh Hader.  With all these superstar arms, this team is built for a deep October run.  

In the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays are at the top of the ladder, and nobody knows anything about them.  I can tell you this: While I don’t know any of their names, the Rays have stashed the most versatile and complete collection of pitchers in baseball – from openers to starters to relievers – and all of their stuff is electric.  

Meanwhile, the Houston Astros have been quietly in complete control of the AL West for the entire season.  Think what you want about them; I’m not writing an editorial – I’m just providing the facts. Their guys have been there and done that, and this Houston team will be an extremely difficult out in the playoffs. The Astros are at the very top of the league in fielding percentage along with the Rays, and this translates very well to the postseason. The Chicago White Sox will face a formidable test in the division series against Houston. 

The Bad

The bottom-feeders of the league are comprised of most of the usual suspects. The Arizona Diamondbacks went through multiple stretches where it appeared as if they would never win again; the Baltimore Orioles are the worst team in baseball and, having recently embarked on a 19 game losing streak, are 43.5 games behind the Rays. At home, the Colorado Rockies are one of the best teams in baseball – on the road, they are one of the worst; and don’t forget the Pittsburgh Pirates, who will likely outdo Sidney Crosby and the Penguins for the lowest-scoring team in the city.  

One uniquely bad team this season is the Chicago Cubs. This team was in first place over halfway through June before an eleven-game losing streak effectively ended their season. Since then, they have been extremely difficult to watch. Completely out of it at the trade deadline, the Cubs purged their roster, dumping almost the entire core and the good bullpen pieces. Tepera and Kimbrel to the White Sox; Chafin to the A’s; Rizzo to the Yankees; Báez to the Mets; and Bryant to the Giants. From the ashes emerged a roster full of career minor-leaguers, and the miserable final two months ensued. A couple of these old rookies have shown promise: Patrick Wisdom, who was called up in May, is on pace to easily break Kris Bryant’s Cubs franchise record for rookie home-runs; Frank Schwindel was just named National League player of the week after being crowned NL rookie of the month in August.  It is truly unbelievable how this Cubs team plummeted into a pile of rubble that left ex-Cub shrapnel scattered across the United States. The future is uncertain for the North Side’s great new stash of prospects obtained on that fateful trade deadline.

The Intriguing

There are some unbelievable division-title and wildcard races in both the National and American Leagues.  On the American side, the AL East is the Thunderdome. Four of the five teams are elite, and Tampa Bay sits on top with the best record in the AL. The three clubs behind the Rays are the teams to pay attention to: The Boston Red Sox held first place for most of the season until they went into a complete nose-dive in August, falling well behind Tampa Bay. The Yankees, on the other hand, blasted themselves up the standings with two monster deadline acquisitions in Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, leading to a thirteen-game winning streak that sent them far ahead of the Red Sox. Since that winning streak, the Evil Empire has lost thirteen of seventeen, getting swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in four games at Yankee Stadium; the Jays – who have one of the most powerful lineups in MLB – had been heating up, and this massive series sweep has allowed them to leapfrog both Boston and New York, adding yet another AL East team to the high drama of this wildcard race!  

Meanwhile, the American League West has thrown a couple of contenders into the ring in the Oakland A’s and the surprising Seattle Mariners, making it five teams within three-and-a-half games of each other.  September is sure to provide plenty of chaos and drama in the American League, with the series between the Red Sox and the Yankees in the final weeks of the month looming over everything.

The National League is, if possible, even more wild; a ferocious arms-race between San Francisco and Los Angeles at the trade deadline saw the Giants add superstar third-baseman Kris Bryant and the Dodgers gain Trea Turner and future-hall-of-fame pitcher Max Scherzer, topping off their payroll at a comical $275 million.  The Giants have the best record in baseball but are only two-and-a-half games ahead of the Dodgers, who have the second-best record.  

The battle for the last wildcard spot in the NL is becoming increasingly congested with no team able to take control; Surprisingly, the St. Louis Cardinals have moved into sole possession of the second wild card spot half a game above the Cincinnati Reds and one game above the Padres.

The remaining weeks of the season are sure to provide a remarkable finish, leading into the unique kind of intensity and anxiety that can only be created by the MLB playoffs.