Pennant races heat up after Labor Day

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, August 30th, 2019

 

 

 

Image result for michael young rangers                                                                                 BY DIC HUMPHREY                                                                                                                                             DHUMPHREY24@GMAIL.COM

ARLINGTON, Texas – It’s Labor Day weekend, and for Major League
baseball, the landscape changes.  The long season is no longer a
marathon…it’s a sprint as all the teams have fewer than 30 games
left to play.  In addition, the rosters expand, as most of the minor
league seasons will be finished by the end of the weekend.

Baseball on the field changes as there are more pinch runners and
pinch hitters available, not to mention even more pitchers available.
As for the pennant races, there are precious few in the American
League, but still a host of potential playoff teams in the National
League. Here’s a look at the races going into the final month

AMERICAN LEAGUE
For starters, you can put down Houston and New York as division
champions in the West and East. The Yankees hold an 11 game lead over
Tampa Bay, while Houston is nine games in front of Oakland.  It will
take a collapse of epic proportions to keep either of these teams from
winning their divisions.

The big question for New York and Houston is which one ends up
with the best record to have home field advantage in the playoffs.
What does it matter?  Two years ago, these two teams met in the A.L.
Championship series, and the home team won every game. Houston had
home field advantage and got to the World Series, while New York’s
season was over…..then had home field advantage over the Dodgers and
went on to win the World Series.

The question then is how far will these teams go to secure home
field advantage?  They will certainly be jockeying their starting
rotations down the stretch to be ready for the playoffs.  For sure,
they don’t want to go into the playoffs with a tired bullpen.  There
will be decisions to be made even after they have wrapped up their
division championships, as they juggle the desire to win games with
the need to prepare for the playoffs.  After Thursday’s games, the
Yankees held a one game lead over the Astros for best record in the
A,L. and a one-half game lead over the Dodgers for best record in
baseball.

The Central Division has been a delightful race over the second
half of the season.  Minnesota surprisingly stepped out to a strong
start and has at times held as much as an 11.5 game lead over
Cleveland. The Tribe closed to a virtual tie earlier in August
largely due to a healthy roster…they got players back from the
injured list, while Minnesota put some key players on the list.
However, Minnesota has weathered the storm to get back to a 3.5 game
lead (four in the loss column) going into the weekend.  This race will
likely go down to the wire.

Cleveland is hoping to get pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Coppell
grad Cory Kluber back.  Carrasco was treated for Leukemia earlier this
summer.  He is expected to be back next week when the rosters expand
and will start in the bullpen.  Kluber’s initial injury – a broken
bone in his forearm – has healed, but he is now dealing with an
oblique injury.  The Tribe has lost Jose Ramirez to a broken hamate
bone, which is a big blow to the offense.  The addition of these two
top notch pitchers will go a long way to bridging the gap left by
Ramirez’s injury.

The Indians and Twins have six games remaining between them,
three in each city.  They both have problems, so the division
winner is likely the one that best deals with the challenges those
problems present.

As for the two Wild Card berths, it’s basically down to a three
team race.  Tampa Bay, Oakland and the team that doesn’t win the
Central (Cleveland or Minnesota) will get the Wild Card spots in some
order.  Current standings have Cleveland with a 1.5 game lead over
Oakland for the two Wild Card spots.  Tampa Bay is just a game behind
Oakland.

Boston is marginally still in the running, but it’s unlikely they
get there. The Red Sox are 5.5 games behind, and have to pass two of
those three teams. Plus, they have lost their number one starter –
Chris Sale – for the season. When the season began, last year’s World
Champions were a strong favorite to repeat.  They got off to a
miserable start, and surprisingly, it’s not gotten much better.  They
are clearly one of the most disappointing teams in baseball this year.

NATIONAL LEAGUE
The Dodgers are the clear favorite to win the National League
pennant and return to the World Series. They hold a 19 game lead over
the second place Diamondbacks in the West division.  Their magic
number to clinch the division championship is already in single digits
– nine to eliminate Arizona and seven to eliminate third place San
Francisco.  They are looking to win more games than Houston or New
York to secure home field advantage in the World Series.

After the Dodgers though, there is virtually no team that looks
to be assured of a playoff spot.  The closest to a certainty is the
East division leading Atlanta Braves.  They have a comfortable 5.5
game lead over Washington, but their magic number is still in the 20’s
with 27 games left to play.  The Braves have a marvelous young player
nucleus and should be good for a number of years.

Washington goes into the weekend in second place, 5.5 games behind
the Braves.  However, they are a scary team.  Their top three starting
pitchers are Max Sherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin.
That’s as good as it gets for playoff baseball.  They have combined to
go 34-16 so far this year.  With those starters, they have the
capability of overtaking the Braves in September, and even if they
don’t, and settle for a Wild Card berth, they can beat anybody in a
short series.

The Phillies join the Red Sox as one of the most disappointing
teams in baseball.  They trail the Braves by double digits, and of
course have to pass both Atlanta and Washington to win the division.
That’s mathematically possible, but it ain’t going to happen.
That leaves the race in the National League Central, which has
been the most contested division race all season.  At mid-year, all
five teams were still in the hunt.  At this point, the Reds and
Pirates have dropped out, leaving the Cardinals, Cubs and Brewers to
fight it out.

The Cardinals sit in first place now as one of the hottest teams
in baseball.  They have won eight of their last 10 games.  The Cubs
aren’t going away anytime soon.  They suddenly have Yu Darvish as
their hottest pitcher, a huge boost to their starting rotation that is
headed up by Jon Lester and Cole Hamels, both of whom look weary from
the long season.

Milwaukee is scuffling as the calendar flips to September.  They
have fallen 5.5 games back in the division.
The Wild Card race though is really up in the air.  Six teams are
within five games of getting one of the two Wild Card spots.
Washington is in the number one slot 2.5 games ahead of the Cubs.  The
next four teams with a chance to overtake one or both are the
Phillies, Diamondbacks, Mets and Brewers. The Giants are marginally
in the race seven games out of the second Wild Card spot, but with a
lot of teams to pass.

It will be a fun September as there will be numerous head-to-head
competitions between teams in a race.  This weekend finds two such
N.L. matchups:  Brewers at Cubs, Mets at Phillies.  In the American
League, the Indians are at the Rays, and the Athletics are at the
Yankees.
RANGER NOTES:
• Texas will honor Michael Young before this Saturday’s game against
Seattle.  Young’s number 10 will be retired.  There is a likely
traffic nightmare.  In addition to the Rangers playing at 7:05 PM,
Auburn and Oregon are playing at ATT Stadium with a scheduled 6:30 PM
kickoff.
• After this weekend’s series against Seattle, the Rangers have
just four games remaining against teams with losing records.  Those
four games are in Baltimore beginning next Thursday, September 5.  The
rest of the opponents are the New York Yankees for six games, Tampa
Bay for three, Oakland for six, Houston for two and Boston for three.
• Nick Solak reached base with a hit or a walk in each of his first
ten games since being called up from AAA Nashville.  That’s a new
Ranger record eclipsing the eight straight games that Nomar Mazara
reached base in 2016. Willie Calhoun was passed over for the opening
day roster, and is now up with the Rangers for the second time this
season. He’s hitting .284 with 16 home runs in 57 games going into
the weekend. In Thursday’s batting order, Calhoun batted third and
Solak fourth, perhaps a sign of things to come.

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