And down the stretch they come

Chris Duprau

It’s now September and what looked at one point to be a season full of boring races has turned into an all out sprint to the finish.

Three of the six divisions are tighter than four games and each league’s Wild Card berth is still up for grabs. With so much uncertainty out there, allow me to tell you who’s in, who’s out and who’s got what it takes to make it to October.

The American League has been a rollercoaster ride for the past month. The Cleveland Indians, doing their best “Major League the Movie” impression, got to within a game of the first place Twins in the Central early in August and then proceeded to fall back to 10.5 games back at the beginning of this week. The Twins have since taken a firm grasp on the division, holding an eight game lead on the White Sox and have pretty much made their reservations for the postseason.

The AL West has been a three-horse race all year. Anaheim, Oakland and Texas have each spent time in first place this year. Texas has remained in this race using mostly smoke and mirrors. Without one true ace, though, the Rangers’ dream ride was bound to end as they enter the week eight games behind.

Anaheim and Oakland, on the other hand, have been hotter then a Tri-Delta slumber party. Each team went on impressive streaks at the end of August, and although I’m giving the edge to Oakland because a) they have outstanding pitching and b) I just really like Oakland, the team that finishes second in this division will still make a strong push at the Wild Card.

Now although I said that Oakland and Anaheim were playing great baseball, they both hit a roadblock named the Boston Red Sox.

Beantown has been going crazy as the Sox come on stronger then a double shot of Bacardi 151 at lunch. What seemed like a insurmountable lead by the Yankees has been trimmed to two and a half games in the now very exciting AL East.

Even though I’m a Mets fan and I’ve woken up just about every day of baseball season for the past 10 years thinking, “I hate the Yankees,” I cannot say that they are going to fully collapse. Even if they do collapse, the Sox hold a four game lead in the Wild Card, so the Yankees would probably still get that. But imagine how great it would be if they missed the playoffs. I’m giddy just writing that statement. Go Sox!

In the National League, the Braves and Cardinals have each all but clinched their respected divisions. The Braves defied all expectations and made it to the playoffs yet again. Partially thanks to a weak division and partially thanks to the fact that the Phalling (not Phiting), the Phillies have put together a disappointing showing greater than or equal to the “Hulk,” the movie. It boggles the mind how the Braves manage to do this every year. They’re like Kevin Costner; you keep on thinking eventually he’s going to stop making movies, but people keep on casting him.

The Cardinals on the other hand are just really, really good. When your lineup has Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen and Larry Walker in it, I don’t think it’s possible for you to be bad. These guys are my pick to win the whole enchilada.

The NL West is the only good division race in the National League. The Dodgers, despite pulling off a very questionable trade with the Marlins, are firmly holding on to first place. San Francisco rose from the dead earlier in the year and have basically been surviving thanks to arguably the two best players in the game at their positions, Barry Bonds and Jason Schmidt. With these two players, they’re making a run at the division and the Wild Card.

San Diego has been a feel good story for most of the year, especially when you consider they were the second worst team in baseball last year. They’re young and have been fun to watch, but I think they’ll have to wait for next year to break into the postseason.

I like the Dodgers to win the division when all is said and done but they might be draining Gagne the Great’s arm. They will make the postseason, but the only way they’ll do some damage in it is if Adrian Beltre continues his ridiculous MVP season (which by the way happened in a contract year), and they find some way to get the bullpen back to its mid-summer level.

Finally, to the most exciting race not involving the Yankees or the Sox.

Yup, that’s right, the NL Wild Card. Five, count them five, teams are within two and a half games of each other. It’s a good old fashioned free for all. Last man standing wins.

Florida, San Diego, San Fran, Houston and the Cubs are all chasing that final playoff berth. Right now, the Cubs are in first place and hold a half-game lead over San Francisco. Who’s going to win this? The team that gets hot last.

The Marlins have gotten back into the race by playing the Mets seven times in the past 10 games. I’m pretty sure the Bad News Bears could get hot playing the Mets seven out of 10 games. Houston, who was also left for dead, has caught fire thanks to Roy Oswalt throwing like the Roy Oswalt of two years ago.

I have to say, though, I really think the Cubs will end up winning this. To borrow a phrase from the current poker craze, the Cubs, their fans and the entire North side of Chicago are “all in.” They’re holding pocket aces with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, and if they don’t make the playoffs, I’m not sure Cubs fans will survive the end of fall, much less the winter.

With a little over 20 more games to go, all those months of watching, cheering, crying and yelling have come down to this.

Buckle your seatbelts and hang on. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.