The Mariners find themselves 21 games out of first place today, with 22 games left to play. Not to be Debbie Downer, but I don’t think their playoff prospects are looking very good.
Unfortunately for MLB, that’s a trend. The month of September, as we all know, can be the second-best time of the year as divisional races go down to the wire, often accompanied by wide-open wild card competition involving multiple teams.
This year, however, the top teams have simply run away and hid, leaving this month almost void of compelling races before the best time of the year arrives: the postseason in October.
The only true race remaining — and just a couple of weeks ago, when the Rangers took the first three games of a four-game series in Anaheim, it looked to be over — is in the AL West. The Rangers have gone 8-10 since that aforementioned series, while the Angels have gone 12-5. Suddenly, just 2 1/2 games separate the two teams, who close the season with a three-game series in Anaheim.
That could be electric, but unfortunately, such moments of electricity will be hard to find. Oh, sure, there’s the Red Sox and Yankees locked in a back-and-forth battle for supremacy in the AL East. That would be epic, except for the fact that the loser of that race is well in control of the wild-card race. The Red Sox, currently 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees, lead the Rays by seven games in the wild card, while the Angels are 7 1/2 back. History has shown that being the wild card is no hindrance to postseason success — as the Red Sox themselves showed in 2004 when they finished a close second to the Yankees in the AL East and ended their long World Series drought.
The Red Sox and Yankees still have three games to play out of the seemingly 50 times they meet this year (actually, just 18). That final series will take place Sept. 23-25 at Yankee Stadium. Oddly, the Mariners will insinuate themselves into the AL East race next week when the Yankees come to Safeco Field for three games, Monday through Wednesday. The Mariners have two more left with the Angels (tonight and tomorrow), and six still to play against the Rangers, who have to be wondering if they’ll get two Anthony Vasquez starts, like the Angels did.
In the AL Central, Detroit has won 14 of 19 to take control of that division by 7 1/2 games over Cleveland. In the NL West, the Diamondbacks have won 11 of 12 to open up a seven-game lead on the Giants. In the NL Central, the Brewers have gone an incredible 30-8 to blow away the field and go ahead by 10 1/2 games over St. Louis. And in the NL East, a 24-9 stretch by the Phillies has allowed them to maintain an 8 1/2 game lead on Atlanta, which in turn has an 8 1/2-game lead in the wild-card race on both St.Louis and San Francisco.
Those races aren’t quite over yet, but it’s not looking good for a bunch of tight finishes. Which makes you wonder, naturally, about Commissioner Bud Selig’s proposal to add a second wild-card team in each league. If that were in place this year, the Rays and Angels would be locked in a tight race in the AL for the second wild card, while the Giants and Cardinals would be in a dead heat in the National League. Four more teams would be involved, but would it be worth it to further dilute the playoffs? I’m not sure, but I do know that if they do go to a second wild card, I would strongly favor the proposal to have the two wild cards meet in a one-game playoff. As we’ve seen in several recent games to settle divisional ties, a one-game, loser-out format is a tremendously exciting and tense affair. And while some would say that a 162-game season shouldn’t be determined by one game, just think of how the prospect of such a quick and arbitrary ouster would put immense importance on winning your division. Suddenly, the outcome of the Red Sox-Yankees race would be far more meaningful, and the stretch drive would have much more juice.
This whole extra wild card notion is something to ponder — and with so few pennant races developing in September, we have a lot of time to do so.