There’s an old saying in baseball that pennants aren’t won in May, but can be lost. August, however, is when the true picture begins to form. The trade deadline has passed, and now we know which teams are heading on to pursuing glory in October. So let’s take a look at where baseball stands as we head into the final stretch.
In the American League, things are pretty settled already. In the East, the Red Sox have won 76 games and lead the Yankees by 6 ½ games, which puts them on a record-setting pace to win as many as 113 games. The Yankees are keeping things interesting, but several significant injuries all but assure that the Red Sox will win the division unless they completely collapse.
The Central Division has the Cleveland Indians out front by 10 games over the Minnesota Twins and the rest of the division, so the Cuyahoga warriors should be back in the playoffs. And in the West, the Houston Astros are perfectly setting themselves up to defend their World Series title from last year.
Probably the most interesting race in the American League will be the Wild Card race. The New York Yankees should probably land in one of the two spots. The real battle is shaping up between the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland A’s. Personally, I think it’s great that two teams that were mired in the bottom dwellers of baseball have now climbed into contention.
For pure entertainment, however, the National League is where you will see some true pennant races. In the Western Division, the Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies are all within a game of each other. The Dodgers went all in on the trade deadline and have arguably the best team in the National League on paper, but they’ve struggled to get ahead of the upstart Diamondbacks and Rockies. Even the Giants, who openly discussed selling off some of their best players (Andrew McCutchen among them) at the deadline are only five games behind the leaders.
In the Central Division, the Milwaukee Brewers were leading the division for most of the season, but the Chicago Cubs have rounded into their old championship form and are now sitting on top of the division. Adding Cole Hamels in a trade with the Texas Rangers won’t hurt their chances to get back into the postseason. Not far off the pace, the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals seem to be two teams heading in opposite directions. The Pirates were buyers at the deadline, picking up pitcher Chris Archer and seemingly (and amusingly to Pirates fans) trying to stay in the race despite being 7 games back. The Cardinals, meanwhile, were sellers at the deadline and have the look of a team that is selling off its parts to retool for the future including a dealing Tommy Pham to the Rays for minor league prospects.
Finally, in the East Division, two upstart teams have been going neck and neck with each other all season. Neither the Atlanta Braves or Philadelphia Phillies were expected to be competing for the division, but as of August 2nd they are within a half game of each other and both were very active in trade talks. The team everyone thought were locked into the postseason was the Washington Nationals, who came within a day of selling of all-star right fielder Bryce Harper before the team manager Mike Rizzo declared him off limits. The Nationals look like a team that might make some noise in the final two months; they obliterated the Mets the day after the deadline, 25-4, in a game where the Nationals had 26 hits and only had two innings where they didn’t score. To their credit, the Mets didn’t walk anyone during the game, and didn’t commit a single error. Mets superstar Jose Reyes came into pitch and gave up two home runs late in the game. Interesting tidbit from the game: Nationals reliever Shawn Kelley gave up a homerun to the Mets in the ninth inning after being told by the umpire to slow down his pace; after which he slammed his glove on the ground in frustration. Oh, those poor Mets. But Washington may be rounding into form at the right time.
So where do we head from here? Here are my predictions for the rest of the year.
AL East: Boston Red Sox
AL Central: Cleveland Indians
AL West: Houston Astros
Al Wild Cards: New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners
AL Pennant Winner: Boston Red Sox
NL East: Philadelphia Phillies
NL Central: Chicago Cubs
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Wild Card: Milwaukee Brewers, Arizona Diamondbacks
NL Pennant Winner: Chicago Cubs
So, you’re World Series winner? Look for a classic seven game series between two long time winless franchises with the Red Sox returning to glory this year. (Truth be told – I’m a hopeless, lifelong Phillies fan and have been for all 53 years I’ve spent on this earth, and you better believe there’s a part of me thinking, “Hey, if the Eagles can win a Super Bowl…”)
This season’s pennant races are shaping up to be incredibly interesting. So while you’re contemplating pumpkin spice returning for the fall, take August and September to appreciate the glory that pennant races can be. They don’t call it the Fall Classic for nothing.