It’s August 3rd so let’s take a look at what to expect for MLB playoff races during the next two months .
In the AL East, the Red Sox lead the Yankees by just one game, but the Yankees are up seven games in the Wild Card race. Cool Standings gives the Sox a 97.3 percent chance of making the postseason while the Bronx Bombers have a 97.7 percent chance. Tampa Bay? They are 10 games back in the Wild Card and have just a 1.3 percent chance of playing baseball in October.
The AL Central boasts zero teams with a positive run-differential (yikes!). The race is tight though as Detroit leads Cleveland by three games. Of course, that’s a decent chunk and gives the Tigers much better odds to make the playoffs than the Indians have (61.3 percent vs. 24.4 percent). In the past two months though, Cleveland is 21-32. To put that in perspective, Kansas City was 22-32 in that time. Yes, the Indians just acquired Ubaldo Jiminez but there’s still a lot of questions around his velocity. Given the Indians performance the past two months, a 24.4 percent chance of making the playoffs seems generous.
In the West, there actually is a good race. Texas and Los Angeles are just a game apart. The teams have gone back and forth all year, but Texas upgraded its bullpen at the deadline while the Angels did nothing. Cool Standings gives Texas 62.7 percent odds at reaching the postseason while the Angels have just a 39.0 percent chance.
So in the American League, I only see the AL West as a real playoff race. Detroit is going to pull away and Boston and New York will battle for the AL East, with the loser earning a playoff berth via the Wild Card. That’s pretty weak overall.
But, we still have the National League.
The NL East isn’t much of a race with the Phillies running away with things, up eight games already and sporting a 99.6 percent chance of making the playoffs. Luckily for second-place Atlanta, the Wild Card is up in the air, with the Braves leading by just a game and a half in the moment.
The most interesting race in baseball lies in the NL Central where Pittsburgh’s amazing run is already coming to an end. The Pirates took over the division lead briefly but have lost five in a row now and are at an even .500 record on the season. So the race is going to come down to the Brewers and Cardinals. However, this may end up being less of a race than it seems. While the Brewers did very little at the trade deadline, the Cardinals traded away talented outfielder Colby Rasmus and didn’t get much in return for this season. St. Louis is just 24-28 in June and July and actually made themselves worse at the trade deadline. That doesn’t seem like a team ready to make a charge at the division title. While Milwaukee hasn’t been that much better, they have won 30 of 54 games in the past two months. In the end, Cool Standings gives the Brewers a 46.5 percent chance at the playoffs and the Cardinals a 41.3 percent chance. My take? The Cardinals odds should be lower.
In the NL West, the playoff race is real. The Giants and Diamondbacks are tied with 61-49 records and also sit tied for second in the Wild Card, a game and a half behind the Braves. The teams have had similar records the past two months. San Francisco, though, added Carlos Beltran at the deadline while the D-Backs only were able to slightly upgrade their bullpen with the acquisition of Brad Ziegler. Advantage Giants, but I expect this one to come down to the wire.
The loser of that has a shot at the NL Wild Card but the Braves also made a splash at the trade deadline by acquiring Michael Bourn. Of the Braves remaining 51 games, 29 are against teams at or below .500. Atlanta is 33-20 in the past two months and deserves higher odds of making the playoffs than Cool Standings gives it at 66.1 percent.
So, yes, the National League has a couple of races right now and the NL West will be close until the end, but I don’t see the NL Central or NL Wild Card coming down to the final couple of days.
At this point last year, five of the six division races were within two games. This year? Just three and that includes the Sox/Yankees race where both are all, but guaranteed a spot in the postseason.
So where did all the parity go? Well, you can start with the Sox, Yankees and Phillies being way above any other teams. Add in a second tier of teams that includes Milwaukee, Texas and Atlanta who have the pieces to be better than the rest and that leaves just the AL Central and NL West as legitimate races (and just one team in those two divisions combined has a positive run differential).
It’s too early to call many of these “races,” but many are shaping up to be easy victories before they even get going and that’s a shame, because coming down to the final couple of games to determine a playoff spot after a grueling season is fun to watch. Hopefully my expectations will be wrong and we’ll get a couple of pressure-packed, do-or-die games at the end of September.