The great race to October

It’s the final sprint to the finish as the MLB regular season wraps up this weekend with the playoffs awaiting.

I call it a sprint, but for us fans it is often long and filled with exultation and anguish depending on if our team came up with a late inning rally that will carry them into the playoffs or if they looked flat in a loss or blew a lead late.

As the finish line approaches, the field looks to be coming together. With the Mariners stumbling to three games out of the wild card hunt and a few other teams awaiting mathematical elimination, some of us are finally starting to feel safe. There is still a lot at stake, namely the chance to avoid an anything-can-happen one-game Wild Card game and advance to the Division Series all by winning the division.

The Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Angels and Washington Nationals are all safe in this regard, their divisions clinched as they fight for the top seed and corresponding home field advantage. 

Other teams like the St. Louis Cardinals with their two and half game lead and the Los Angeles Dodgers with their three and a half game lead simply need not stumble before the finish.

The most intriguing race is in the AL Central where the free spending superstar laden Detroit Tigers who seemed ready to run away with things earlier in the year are clinging to a one-game lead over the Kansas City Royals whom they have handled in head-to-head matchups this year.

As a Tigers fan myself, it blows my mind that things are this close. I look at an offense that ranks in the top-three in runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage and I wonder how they are fighting not only to win the division, but to make the playoffs. To me the offense has been streakier than it should be, but it all comes down to Justin Verlander pitching like a fringe starter and David Price looking slightly less dominant than the pitcher the Tigers traded for.

Kansas City meanwhile isn’t flashy, but all they need to do is stay on their feet and win their last two series and they should outlast the Mariners and keep the pressure on Detroit.

Both teams have managed to set up their aces – Max Scherzer for Detroit and James Shields for the Royals – to pitch the Wild Card game on normal rest.

Opposing them would likely be the Athletics’ ace Jon Lester. No matter who wins the Central, that game will be must see TV. Even a tiebreaker game between wouldn’t likely spoil it since I don’t think either team would waste their aces on three-day’s rest with the Lester matchup looming.

My guess right now is for the Tigers to pull it out, but a tiebreaker wouldn’t surprise me either. At this point in the year a one game lead can mean everything. Still a winning streak or a losing streak to close out the season is definitely within the realm of possibility

No matter who squeaks into the last AL spots, the Angels look to be the favorite, but as I look at them, they, like every other team have their weaknesses. The Athletics and Tigers might have the best starting pitching, but the Tigers bullpen is the leading cause of heart attacks in Michigan and Oakland enters what is normally a pitcher’s postseason with a low team batting average

On the NL side, I like Washington’s starting rotation, but I think the Dodgers might have the most complete team to make it to the series. Plus, they’ve got the best pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw. 

In the meantime, I’m just enjoying the thrill of every pitch counting and listening to postseason excitement in the voice of play-by-play announcers. It just gets better from here.

Standings as of 9:40 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22.