Have you glanced at this weekend’s schedule? Do you realize what this weekend could mean for baseball? Have you noticed how important this weekend is to so many teams that are trying to make it to the postseason?
The playoff picture is far from being certain. The only teams that appear to be a shoe-in at this point are Texas, Washington and Cincinnati, because their division leads are so large so late. That leaves 7 remaining playoff spots up for grabs. And, how many teams are fighting for them? – no less than 12! And, that’s just the teams that are within 3 games of either the Wild Card or their division (or both). There’s certainly nothing that says the Diamondbacks, Brewers or Phillies couldn’t go on a winning streak, and catch up at the end of the season (a la St. Louis & Tampa Bay last season).
With so much on the line, it makes this weekend that much more exciting. There are 4 match-ups this weekend between playoff contenders, and 7 of the 8 teams could be fighting for their postseason lives. Let’s take a moment to look at each series:
Yankees vs. Orioles: Technically, this series began last night. And, oh what a beginning it was. In front of a sold-out crowd in Baltimore, the Orioles were out to a 4-0 lead by the end of the first inning. It was a 6-1 lead going into the 8th, and the Yankees bats woke up, scoring 5 runs to tie the game. That easily could have knocked the wind out of this Baltimore team, but they came roaring back to score 4 of their own, to win the game 10-6 on the night they unveiled the new Cal Ripken, Jr. statue. These two teams are now tied (again) for the division lead, going into the weekend. Anything less than a weekend sweep, and there will only be a 1-game lead for either team at the end of the series. But, should either team walk away with a 3-game lead, they may have put the proverbial steak in the heart of their opponent. Neither of these teams has an especially tough road ahead after this series – just 6 of 22 games against winning teams for the Yankees (though they also have 6 remaining versus Boston, which gives the Red Sox the opportunity to make something of the end of their terrible season), and 9 of 22 for Baltimore. A 1-game difference might not be such a big deal with a very winnable schedule ahead. But, if either team comes out of this with a 3-game advantage, they can almost stamp their ticket for the postseason.
Tigers vs. Angels: These two teams are within 1/2 a game of each other in the fight for the Wild Card. Granted, they both are looking up at Oakland and Baltimore/New York, but this series could make a big difference in whether or not they have any chance beyond this weekend. The pitching matchups clearly favor Detroit: Scherzer (15-6) vs. Santana (8-11), Verlander (13-7) vs. Wilson (11-9), and Sanchez (7-11) vs. Greinke (13-5). Greinke has been on a roll his last 3 starts (1.66 ERA), but Santana and Wilson have been terribly inconsistent. And, while Verlander’s record might not show it, he’s still one of the best in the AL. One question often is asked in a late-season series like this – who needs it more? And, I would have to say the Angels need to win this series more than the Tigers do. Detroit is closer to winning their division than they are the Wild Card (only 1 game behind Chicago). And, Detroit only has 7 of their remaining 23 games against winning teams. Meanwhile, LA will play 13/22 games against playoff contenders, including 6 against the beast that is Texas. If Detroit takes two out of three (or more), don’t be surprised if this is the beginning of the end of the Angels’ playoff push.
Rangers vs. Rays: The Rangers are awfully close to being able to put it in cruise control. With the best record in the AL, and already being nearly 30 games over .500, they could play just below .500 the rest of the way, and still end up with 94 wins – which would be enough to virtually guarantee you a spot in the playoffs, if not enough to win the division. The Rays, however, need to keep up their winning ways. There’s no question who needs to win this series more. And, this is just the beginning for Tampa. They still have 6 games against the Orioles, 3 against the Yankees, and 4 against the White Sox, left on their schedule. As great as it has been to see them close the gap to just 2 games between them and the division leaders, they have a tough road ahead. But, if they can navigate through the remainder of their schedule, and make it into the postseason . . . watch out for the Rays, because they will be the definition of a team that got hot at the right time.
Dodgers vs. Giants: Ah, the memories this should bring to mind for those who can remember the heated rivalry that once was Dodgers/Giants. The two former New York teams that both moved to the West Coast after the 1957 season. But, the sunny California weather certainly never made this rivalry pleasant. Since I’m not on the west coast myself, I can’t speak to the level of rivalry that exists today between these two clubs, but I know it certainly doesn’t get the publicity it once did (in spite of websites like http://www.tommylasordaistheantichrist.com). The Dodgers have made some big-time moves this year in an attempt to get into the playoffs. Unfortunately, it hasn’t resulted in the wins they needed. They enter the weekend still 4.5 games behind the Giants for the division. And, while they’re only 1.5 games out of the Wild Card race, they have a tough road ahead, playing 13/21 games against playoff contenders (3 more with the Giants, Reds, & Nationals and 4 against the Cardinals). And, since the Giants’ remaining schedule is essentially a “Who’s Who” of NL West cellar-dwellers, I’m going to say that anything short of a sweep by LA, and the Dodgers can forget about winning this division. At that point, it will be time to hope for a Wild Card spot.
What an exciting, and potentially table-turning weekend of baseball we have ahead of us! Hope you get to enjoy it!!