The coming of fall means many things. School is back in session, pools are closing and the leaves are beginning to change from green to many shades of orange and red. Fall is also the most exciting time of the year for baseball fans because it means that the playoffs are right around the corner. The National League features a handful of teams that are hoping to still be playing once the calendar turns to October.
One such thrilling division is the NL East. The Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets have been vying for the top spot in the division almost since the season opened, and it looks like the race is going to come down to the wire. Through Tuesday night’s play, the Mets are up just 2.5 games on the Phillies. Philadelphia did just what it had to do when the two teams met head-to-head in a three game series last weekend, taking two of three games from New York in its home stadium to keep the pressure on the division leader. Although the Metropolitans have lost veteran closer Billy Wagner to a Tommy John surgery-serious elbow injury, both New York and Philadelphia have the personnel to be as strong offensively as they are defensively. The battle for the NL East title looks to be one that is going to come down to the wire.
The race in the West is just as exciting with one team rising as one team is slumping at the worst possible time. After weekend play, the Los Angeles Dodgers held a 2 game lead over second-place Arizona Diamondbacks. Although the Dodgers snapped an eight-game win streak Monday versus the Padres, they have proven that they are able to put together a series of wins, a skill that the Dodgers will have to put to good use come postseason play. While L.A. put together a string of wins, Arizona has made a streak of the negative variety. The Diamondbacks lost all three games versus the Dodgers over the weekend and added to this pattern with a loss to the Giants in the opening game of their series. Despite their recent struggles, however, Arizona is very much still in the hunt for the Western title.
While things on both coasts are far from being settled, the NL Central looks to be slightly more decided. The 2007 NL West champion Chicago Cubs look poised to keep their title. The Cubbies currently have a 4.5 game lead over second place Milwaukee. The three-game series against rival St. Louis that ends tonight should be an interesting one for Chicago. The Brewers are currently leading the wild card race and will be looking to keep up their strong play, so any faltering by the Cubs could lead to an exciting race in the Central as well. — K.S.
As the weather cools down, the days get shorter and September ticks away, several teams find themselves still in the hunt for October. Teams in the American League are still fighting for control of the division, the wild card slot is still up for grabs and some unfamiliar faces are still in the midst of the action.
The AL West is the only sure division, as most teams have less than 20 games left on the schedule. As of Sept. 7, the Los Angeles Angels are in full control of the division and have a 17-game cushion over the second-place Texas Rangers. With pitching that will always keep them in games, a swift and consistent defense to back whoever is on the mound, a batting lineup full of pop and an ability to play small ball, the Halos are a favorite to lift the World Series trophy at the end of the season with lights out closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez throwing the last pitch of the season.
The two teams still competitive in the AL Central are suddenly losing games at the worst time in the season. The Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins are fighting for the lead of the division, with Chicago sporting a 1-game cushion over its division rivals. In a season riddled by injuries and a cloud of uncertainty looming over the health of All Star third baseman Joe Crede, Manager Ozzie Guillen hopes that the big bats of his aging superstars, designated hitter Jim Thome and outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., will be enough to propel the ChiSox into the postseason and deep into the playoffs.
In the season after the blockbuster trade where former Twins lefty ace Johan Santana was sent packing to the New York Mets, the surplus of young talent that arrived is already paying dividends. However, with some ground to make up, the inexperience of the Twins is starting to creep up in the form of blown leads and defensive miscues. Veterans Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan will have to keep the young group together if they are going to make a postseason run.
Many baseball fans had one question on their minds this season: “When will the Tampa Bay Rays fall off?” A blend of speed, power, youth and experience has proven to be a solid foundation for Tampa Bay, as the Yankees and Red Sox both find themselves looking up, along with the rest of the AL East. However, the BoSox are still putting up a fight in an attempt to keep their division crown.
With an American League packed with powerful teams, rotations and lineups, it should come to no one’s surprise that the division and wild card spots are coming down to the wire. — C.M.