Just one week ago, I wrote a blog post about the dearth of pennant races this season, and then went off to Boston for my daughter’s wedding.* Lo and behold, in the ensuing week, things have tightened up considerably. Suddenly, we have a race for the AL wild card, where Tampa Bay’s five-game winning streak has coincided with a five-game Boston losing streak (which included a three-game sweep by the Rays) to close the Red Sox lead to a mere three games. I can personally vouch for the fact that Red Sox fans are beginning to panic. Listening just a bit to the sports talk shows in Boston this past week, and talking to a number of die-hard Sox fans, I got the distinct impression that remnants of pre-2004 fatalism has returned to the Nation. The Angels, in addition to still being within range of the Rangers, are now just 5 1/2 out of the wild card.
*I want to thank everyone for their kind thoughts and well-wishes. It’s truly appreciated. The wedding was fabulous. We are lucky enough to have a wonderful daughter and a new son-in-law we couldn’t think more highly of.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, have closed to within 4 1/2 games of stumbling Atlanta in the wild-card race, and are even within 6 1/2 of the Brewers, who aren’t quite as comfortable as they were a week ago. But the Brewers play nothing but teams with losing records the rest of the way (Rockies, Reds, Cubs, Marlins, Pirates) while the Cardinals, in addition to games with the sub-.500 Pirates, Mets, Cubs and Astros, have a four-game series at Philadelphia.
But one race which hasn’t tightened is the one for third place in the AL West. Quite the opposite. It looked for a bit like the Mariners had a chance to escape last place in the division, which would have provided a very small measure of satisfaction in another dismal season. When they went into Oakland for a three-game series on Sept. 3, they trailed the A’s by just 2 1/2 games. A sweep would have gotten them out of the cellar. But instead, they were swept by the A’s to start a stretch where they have lost nine of their last 12.
The result: the A’s hold a six-game lead over the Mariners, who seem destined to finish last for the sixth time in the last eight years. Considering they play in the only four-team division in baseball, which includes one team with one of the lowest revenue streams in the game, it’s not a pretty picture.
With 15 games to play for each team, Oakland’s magic number is 10 — any combination of A’s victories and Mariners’ defeats totaling 10, and the Mariners will be ensured another basement finish. Considering the M’s still have two with the mighty Yankees, and six with the first-place Rangers (sandwiched by three at Minnesota), it doesn’t look promising for a last-minute surge out of last place. Then again, the A’s have five with the Angels, three with the Tigers and three with the Rangers before coming to Seattle to end the season with a three-game series, so you never know.
Yes, I realize that the difference between finishing hopelessly out of the divisional race while ending up third or fourth is minimal. But there is still something symbolically significant about finishing last, particularly when it has become such a familiar residence for the Mariners. The other bit of standings intrigue down the stretch involves the jockeying for draft positioning, dubbed by reader Jack Lattemann “The Bottom-Feeder Standings.” Here’s how they read now:
1. Houston 50-97 —
2. Baltimore 58-88 (-8 1/2)
3. Minnesota 59-87 (-9 1/2)
4. Seattle 61-86 (-11)
5. Kansas City 62-86 (-11 1/2)
6. San Diego 63-85 (-12 1/2)
As you can see, the Astros are on the verge of wrapping up the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft, while the Mariners still have a shot at drafting second overall for the third time in the last four years.
Hey, when you’re 25 games under .500, you take your intrigue where you can get it.