September 1, 2014

There’s a mad dash to make baseball playoffs

Eleven teams still have dreams of making the postseason.

Score another win for parity.

With a month left in the major league baseball season, more than half of the league’s 30 teams have a shot at the postseason. The wild card races are filled with contenders, six teams within five games of the American League lead and five teams within two games of the National League lead.

The Los Angeles Angels, with the best record in the big leagues, are trying to leave the Oakland A’s in the dust in the AL West, and the St. Louis Cardinals lead the Milwaukee Brewers by one game in the NL Central.

It should make for some fun scoreboard watching as the final month of the season unfolds.

Here’s how the divisions look and who has a chance to still be playing in October:

American League


Los Angeles Angels (83-53)

On Aug. 10, the Angels were four games behind the Oakland A’s. Since then, they’ve gone 15-4, including a four-game sweep of the A’s over the weekend and lead the West by 4 1/2 games. The Angles have the best record in the majors despite losing two of their starting pitchers (Tyler Skaggs and Garrett Richards) to injury in the past month.

How they got here: The Angels’ high-priced lineup has been producing and a rebuilt bullpen has helped take up the slack from the loss of Skaggs and Richards. The Angels are just deeper 1 through 9 than any other team in the league.

Down the stretch: They play the bottom teams in the division (Houston and Texas), which they’re already 20-7 against, a combined 11 times, and have a four-game set against last-place Minnesota. The final two weeks they meet Seattle, a team they’re 5-7 against, seven more times and play at the reeling A’s three more times. Despite the recent sweep, Oakland is still 8-7 against Los Angeles.


Kansas City Royals (75-61)

The Royals’ game with the Indians was postponed in the 10th inning on Sunday night (with KC trailing 4-2), which left them a half game ahead of the second-place Detroit Tigers. The suspended game will be finished on Sept. 22 at Cleveland. The best young outfield in baseball, led by Alex Gordon (.280, 18 homers, 63 RBIs) has helped the Royals hit .263 as a team, third best in the big leagues. They’re a smart-hitting team and have the fewest strikeouts (803) in the league, 126 fewer than the next closest, Oakland.

How they got here: After being swept at home by the Astros in May and falling four games below .500, they went on a 10-game winning streak in June, the longest in the big leagues this season and the longest for the club in 20 years. KC hasn’t made the playoffs since winning the 1985 World Series, and after more than a decade of morbid finishes, the Royals hope to return to the postseason.

Down the stretch: It’s not going to be easy. The Tigers, although slumping, are only a half game behind, and the teams meet six more times. The Royals finish the season with a seven-game road trip at Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox. After three against the Rangers, KC has a three-game set at the Yankees and host the Red Sox for three next week.


Baltimore Orioles (79-57)

They have the largest division lead in the majors, 81/2 games ahead of the Yankees. Baltimore is tied with Kansas City for the best road record in the American League (39-29) and have a league-best 12-5 record in extra-inning games. They’re 20-11 over their past 31 games.

How they got here: They have one postseason appearance in the past 17 years (2012), thanks to the past AL East dominance of the Yankees and Red Sox.

Down the stretch: They hoped to bolster their bench strength in September with Sunday trades for left-hitting outfielder Alejandro De Aza from the White Sox and left-hitting utility player Kelly Johnson from the Red Sox. After a three-game set vs. the Reds, the O’s finish with 23 games against East opponents, including a seven-game road trip to end the regular season at the Yankees and Blue Jays.

Wild card

Nine teams, including the division leaders, are in the hunt to win one of two wild card berths. Oakland is the current leader, with a 4-game lead on the Tigers, who are still within striking distance of taking the Central Division title. But if the Tigers falter, Seattle, Cleveland, New York and Toronto are within striking distance.

National League


Los Angeles Dodgers (77-61)

The Dodgers lead the Giants by two games and rank among the top four in National League in hitting (.260) and pitching (3.30 ERA). With Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw (16-3), plus Zack Greinke (13-8) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-6), the Dodgers could intimidate most playoff opponents.

How they got here: The Dodgers’ lead on the Giants has slipped from six games to two since Aug. 12 after an 8-8 stretch, but the Dodgers have hung in first place since July 26. The Giants spent time in first throughout the first half of the season.

Down the stretch: Besides hosting first-place Washington for three games this week and six crucial games against the Giants, they have nothing but losing teams on their schedule in September. They begin a 10-game road stretch, which includes three at San Francisco on Sept. 12.


St. Louis Cardinals (74-63)

Their 5-4 comeback win against Pittsburgh on Monday put the Cardinals alone in first place for the first time in 2014, one game ahead of Milwaukee, which had at least a share of first since April. In fact, the Brewers led by as many as 61/2 on July 1 but a 1-11 stretch allowed the Cardinals to sneak back in. And a six-game losing streak, including a loss Monday, has the Brewers trending down.

How they got here: The offenses are fairly evenly matched, but the Cardinals have a slight advantage with their pitching.

Down the stretch: The teams meet seven more times, including a four-game series in Milwaukee beginning Thursday. The Pirates remain close enough that if both struggled down the stretch a three-way race could develop.


Washington Nationals (78-58)

The young talent the Nationals have been stockpiling may be ready to show up in the postseason. Sluggers Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth give them plenty of knock. But it’s their pitching staff and second-lowest ERA (3.13) that sets them apart.

How they got here: They’ve built a steady lead since the All-Star break and have four starting pitchers with at least 130 innings and a sub-3.49 ERA.

Down the stretch: Have six games against the Braves, but have 18 games against sub-.500 teams and finish with a seven-game homestand.

Wild card

Four teams, including the Central’s Cardinals and Brewers, are lurking just behind the Giants. Atlanta and Miami, while seemingly too far behind to catch the Nationals, still have chances of earning a wild card spot.

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