Major League Baseball has gotten a major facelift that even Nick Cage and John Travolta would have to pay homage to this year. A sport that, rightfully to an extent, is bogged down by an image of being as exciting as a root canal narrated by the Clear Eyes guy is now vibrant and pushing the limits of competitive balance. Just last night alone, there were 11 games on the schedule and all of them had an impact on the postseason picture. It’s coming down to the wire, and there’s no time to rest or relax leading into it, because there are an astonishing 16 of 30 clubs still qualified for the playoffs today.
While there are three divisions and one wild card clinched in the National League already, heading into the last weekend of the year the picture is far from set. The entire American League scene is wide open, with the “safest” margin of difference belonging to the Texas Rangers, with a comparatively huge three-game cushion in the AL West.
In the National League, there are no less than five teams in firing range for the last Wild Card spot, and it’s about to be tense as a bar of soap in a jail shower this weekend to sort out who holds it down. The St. Louis Cardinals’ 3.5-game lead can’t feel anywhere near as comfortable as it looks.
With that said, the heat being turned up is turning up the pressure cooker to some crazy high levels. So high that the perch the already clinched squads sit on better not get to comfortable for them, or they’ll get caught slipping and fall off of it. As the last two years, with the runs of the San Francisco Giants in 2010 and the shove by the Cardinals last fall, prove, whoever enters with the most fight has a more than fighter's chance of throwing the last punch.
So with that said, it's time to introduce TSFJ’s measuring mark for squads headed into and throughout the playoffs: the Momentum Meter. Baseball is a game of strategy, of inches and the moment, but it’s also undeniably about riding the wave as well. Sometimes the tide is set back in April; sometimes it takes sail in October. Either way, whomever’s riding it right at the moment is the team to be reckoned with in the MLB playoffs.
At the risk of potentially being embarrassed later on, I’m not counting teams I feel are waiting to be eliminated, so on that note I’m going to go to the mathematical formalities of eliminating the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks. As for everybody else, here’s how it’s stacking up headed into a pretty important weekend around the cornered spectacle setting up fall baseball.
1. Atlanta Braves: The Braves may be in the best position of anybody. They’re playing great baseball, and they are already assured of having at least one playoff game at home with their choice of their ace, Tim Hudson, or baseball’s can’t miss kid in Kris Medlen (starter of 22 straight Braves’ wins) on the hill. Prosper.
2. San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey and company are sitting in great position right now. They’ve clinched their division and get to finish up with a few teams that are fresh off having their seasons swept away in Arizona and San Diego. Rest up, and be merry.
3. Baltimore Orioles: There's no team in the game with better timing than the O’s, and they are the singular reason why the Yankees are the lowest seeded division head on this list.
4. Detroit Tigers: The Tigers are coming on and always have Justin Verlander in the hole for a big start to clinch the AL Central. They are picking up steam in a major way by just being in the right place at the right time, and that’s half the battle this time of year.
5. Texas Rangers: They’ve never been in real danger of losing the AL West and have a comfortable 3-game lead with the A’s and Angels splashing their arms to stay afloat. Now they just have to get, and stay, healthy, between Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton at the same time.
6. New York Yankees: They’ll be in one way or another, but they have to play every inning of the year as hard as they can due to the unrelenting pressure the Orioles are applying, which may haunt them well into October.
7. Washington Nationals: They have the best record in the NL … for now. If the Nats want to guarantee home-field advantage throughout the rest of the year, they’ll have to hold off the Phillies, Cardinals and the Phillies again, which isn’t the easiest way to get prime October seating.
8. Cincinnati Reds: The Reds have nothing to worry about, but closing the season in St. Louis versus a Cardinal team that will still be playing for its season is a tough way to finish up when resting up should be the order of the year. But really, they don’t have to match anybody.
9. Chicago White Sox: Could there possibly be a worse time for a 3-7 slide? The Sox have done a commendable job of staving off the Tigers, but the season is 162 games, not 156, and now they have to fight from behind, even if it is just one game.
10. St. Louis Cardinals: They are in a fight to hold back three teams off their heels and have to do so against the Reds and Nationals. That’s more like a fence than a hurdle to protecting their grasp on the last ticket to the postseason.
***The Danger Zone***
11. Milwaukee Brewers: While the Cardinals are battling baseball’s two best teams to break into October, the Brewers are facing the Astros and Padres. They may need to thank the scheduling gods at the end of this week, but they still have 3 games of ground to gain. Meaning they have to win at least four of their next seven, with losses outside their control playing in as well.
12. Oakland A’s: The A’s are fighting to hold on with an overachieving squad and a young staff that has lost its two best veteran starters in Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson for the rest of their push.
13. Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers are fighting but have both ground to make up on the Cardinals, as well as a Brewers team eye-to-eye with them that has a couple of pretty favorable matchups as well.
14. Los Angeles Angels: One of the most confounding teams of the year is barely treading water, and it’s nearly mathematical for them at this point. They could nearly go undefeated for the rest of the way and still be edged out. Like the Dodgers, not quite money down the drain, but not quite reaching the bank either.
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