Recently, I've done a succession of long-winded posts on politics and the upcoming election, and while that topic is most definitely an inportant one for the future of Arizona, there is something equally as important (to me) going on: baseball. We're only about 2 weeks away now from the first of the statistical "eliminations" of teams from potentially making it to the playoff races this October, and I wanted to break down where things stand.
First, a little terminology refresher: every year baseball statisticians calculate something known as the "elimination number" for every team. This is the number of wins for the first-place team in the division plus the number of losses for the team in question needed to mathematically eliminate them from the possibility of winning a division spot or wild card spot in the playoffs.
An example: in the American League East, the New York Yankees currently lead the division with a record of 70 wins, 43 losses (113 games played total). The Baltimore Orioles have a record of 40-74 (114 games played total). Since there are 162 games in a season, there are just 49 games for the Yankees left to play (48 for the Orioles). If the Yankees lose every game from here on out, and the Orioles win every game from here on out, the Yankees would end up with a record of 70-92, and the Orioles would end up with a record of 88-74. That's a difference of 18 wins. Thus, if the Yankees are to eliminate the Orioles from the possibility of winning the AL East, the Yankees must win 19 games. 19 is therefore the Orioles "elimination number." (Alternately, if Baltimore LOSES 19 more games, the effect would be the same, and they would be eliminated. Also alternately, if the Yankees wins plus Orioles losses over the next several games add up to 19, the Orioles are eliminated.)
Here are the current standings, as of August 10th:
American League East
New York Yankees: 70-43 - E# not applicable
Tampa Bay Rays: 69-45 - E# 48, 1.5 games behind
Boston Red Sox: 66-49 - E# 44, 5 games behind
Toronto Blue Jays: 59-54 - E# 39, 11 games behind
Baltimore Orioles: 40-74 - E#19, 30.5 games behind
In the AL East, the likely winners of the division stand to be the Yankees or Rays, depending on how the two teams are able to play the last month and a half of the season. Surely, the Yankees are always a formidable opponent going into September, and the Rays may just have to settle for winning the Wild Card in the American League this year. Don't count out the Red Sox as well, even though they've been wracked with injuries to almost all of their key players this year. The fact that they're still just five back doesn't preclude a big final push if they can get lucky. The Blue Jays and Orioles are pretty much done for this year.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: 64-50, E# not applicable
Minnesota Twins: 64-50, E# not applicable
Detroit Tigers: 55-59, E# 40, 9 games behind
Cleveland Indians: 47-67, E# 32, 17 games behind
Kansas City Royals: 47-67, E# 32, 17 games behind
Among the closest races right now is the White Sox-Twins rivalry for the AL Central division. Both teams have been rolling all year, and both have an equally good chance of making the playoffs, but only one will. Given that they'll be playing each other in seven more games this year, and against division rivals like the Tigers and Royals two or more weeks out of September, this race will come down to the wire, I think. I'm still betting on the Twins to take it down, though.
American League West
Texas Rangers: 65-48, E# not applicable
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 59-57, E# 41, 7.5 games behind
Oakland Athletics: 57-56, E# 42, 8 games behind
Seattle Mariners: 44-71, E# 27, 22 games behind
This race is something of a runaway for the Rangers, and barring some sort of nuclear meltdown by them or a miracle in Los Angeles, they'll take the pennant. And not for nothing, either. They've played great baseball this year and certainly have a shot to make it to the Series.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: 66-48, E# not applicable
Philadelphia Phillies: 63-50, E# 47, 2.5 games behind
Florida Marlins: 56-56, E# 41, 9 games behind
New York Mets: 56-57, E# 40, 9.5 games behind
Washington Nationals: 49-65, E# 32, 17 games behind
Again, it's a two-horse kind of race in the NL East, with the Braves just up on the ever-dangerous Phillies. And with Chase Utley set to come off the DL, you never know how the Phillies may take off. They were everyone's pick again to re-repeat at the World Series, you know. That said, The Braves put up a very solid lineup and pitching staff against their challengers, with rookie Jason Heyward leading the way. But considering they face the last-place Nationals and Pirates and sub-.500 game winning Mets and Marlins a combined total of 20 games in September, they certainly get the chance to pad their stats by playoff time. I'd love to say I predict the Phillies to recapture the pennant, but I'm seeing the signs point to the Braves here. Phils have a real shot at the Wild Card, though, so don't count them out.
National League Central
St. Louis Cardinals: 64-49, E# not applicable
Cincinnati Reds: 64-51, E# 48, 1 game behind
Milwaukee Brewers: 53-62, E# 37, 12 games behind
Chicago Cubs: 48-65, E# 34, 16 games behind
Houston Astros: 48-65, E# 34, 16 games behind
Pittsburgh Pirates: 39-73, E# 26, 24.5 games behind
The most contentious race right now belongs to the Cards-Reds rivalry in this division. After the Reds' Brandon Phillips mouthed off about the Cardinals, the two teams met with fisticuffs in the first inning of last night's game. Tonight, the Cardinals answered back, completing a sweep of the Reds and taking over sole possession of first place in the NL Central. Considering the schedules these two teams have, they only meet up once in September, but the Cardinals seem to have the tougher schedule. I'm counting on the Reds to pull things back together and make a final push for the pennant.
National League West
San Diego Padres: 65-46, E# not applicable
San Francisco Giants: 64-50, E# 48, 2.5 games behind
Colorado Rockies: 59-54, E# 44, 7 games behind
Los Angeles Dodgers: 59-55, E# 43, 7.5 games behind
Arizona Diamondbacks: 46-69, E# 29, 21 games behind
Ah, the NL West... bastion of close, close playoff races the last few years, and this one is no exception. The Rockies and Dodgers have slipped a bit of late, but 7 or 8 games back is still semi-doable, especially in this league. The Padres own the NL's second-best record (to the Braves) and have been the surprise of the year in all of baseball. There's really no reason they shouldn't win the division without a lot of trouble, but given the Rockies' recent propensity for late-season comebacks and the Giants being behind a mere 2.5 games, nothing's a given yet. Except that the Diamondbacks are out of it, that is.... Yeah.
I expect that the Yankees, Twins, Rangers, and White Sox will make the AL playoffs, while the Braves, Reds, Padres, and Cardinals will fill out the NL. It should then be a Yankees-Rangers ALCS versus a Padres-Braves NLCS, with the World Series being Yankees against Padres. Yankees win (again) in 5 games. Just my 2-cent predictions.