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Baseball Postseason An Indian Summer?

Pheiffer: Red Sox Won’t Win AL Wild Card

By Rory P. Pheiffer

SPORTS COLUMNIST

Well, it’s been a long summer for many of you baseball fans, especially you Red Sox fans who are slowly but surely seeing their wildcard hopes slip away. The season is not yet over though: the Red Sox have twenty games to make-up a two game deficit in the wild card race with two teams ahead of them. The wild card races in both leagues, as well as a few divisional races, should provide for some good baseball action in the final few weeks of the season.

AL WEST

The Yankees and White Sox pretty much have their respective divisions wrapped up, but the same cannot be said for the Seattle Mariners. They currently hold a two game lead over the Oakland Athletics. Neither team has played particularly well as of late, but chances are this race will be decided in two weekends when the two teams clash at Safeco Field for a four game series.

When all is said and done, I look for the Mariners to defend their field, and their lead, in the division. Seattle’s experienced line-up, with the likes of Edgar Martinez, Ricky Henderson, and MVP candidate Alex Rodriguez should remain more solid down the stretch than the younger Athletics. Besides lacking experience, the Athletics still have an eleven game road trip ahead of them that sends them from Tampa Bay, to Baltimore, and then to Seattle without a day’s rest in between. This will leave Oakland tired and will lead to a less than stellar finish to their long baseball season.

AL WILDCARD

Mathematically, there are many teams that could potentially qualify for the American League wildcard spot, but realistically it will boil down to the following four teams: Cleveland, Oakland, Toronto, and Boston. In the closing weeks of the season, many of these teams are facing off so this should make things very interesting.

As I already touched on earlier, the Athletics still have a very tough road trip ahead, and as they wear down late, so do their chances of making it to the playoffs via the wildcard. Cleveland and Boston square off eight times in the next ten days, including two doubleheaders at Fenway Park. If anybody remembers reading my articles last spring, I said Cleveland would get their revenge against the Red Sox in the end. I still see no reason why they should not.

Cleveland has looked strong lately, winning 15 of their last 23 since being swept in Oakland back in the middle of August. Boston, on the other hand, was just swept by the Yankees at home and dropped six of ten in their homestand overall.

Two doubleheaders in two nights against Cleveland also reveal a further problem for the slumping Red Sox: pitching. This situation means less pitching for Pedro and more work for an already injury-depleted bullpen. I’m sorry to say it BoSox fans, but the Red Sox’s only game this October will be its season finale against the Devil Rays on the first.

This leaves the Toronto Blue Jays, who have perhaps the toughest schedule of all of the wildcard contenders. Toronto’s next nine games are against the division leading White Sox and Yankees. If they some how break around even during those nine games, they still should have a shot at the wildcard, especially since they close the season with a three game series at Jacobs Field. If baseball writers have their way, the American League wildcard will be decided in these final three days.

I don’t think it will come down to that though, because the Indians should have the wildcard pretty much wrapped up by then. They’ll take two of three in the final series for good measure, but by then they will already be booking their flight for New York, where the Cleveland Indians will be meeting the New York Yankees in the opening round of the playoffs.

NL EAST

Of all the teams competing for a playoff spot, nobody has been slumping worse than the New York Mets. They have dropped eight of their last eleven. Atlanta has not looked much better, dropping recent series to the likes of Cincinnati, Houston, and Montreal. What makes this race even more intriguing is that they face each other six more times before the season is up, so each of those games is going to mean a lot. The winner of this battle will likely host the Cardinals in the playoffs, while the loser will be left to fight for the wildcard, and if victorious, will head out to California to face the hottest team in baseball, the San Francisco Giants. In the past month the Giants have runaway with what was at one point a three team battle for first by winning 22 of their last 29 games.

Who will take first in the East though? Well, it’s either team’s title for the taking. Neither team has been decisively dominant in their meetings thus far, and I suspect they will either split or have a one game difference between the two of them when they face each other in the coming weeks. So that leaves the rest of their games outside of their six against each other. There I have to give the edge to the Mets, as they face Milwaukee, Montreal, and Philadelphia, none of which are contending for a playoff spot.

Atlanta faces Florida, Arizona, Montreal, and Colorado, which overall have better records than the Mets opponents. However, once again experience plays a key role when it comes to these late season games, and you do not get any more experienced than the Braves. Look for the Braves to close the season with a sweep of the Rockies (Colorado is atrocious on the road) and grab the pennant from the Mets at the very end.

NL WILDCARD

The NL wildcard has managed to sort itself out a bit in the past week or two. Currently the Mets are sitting atop a five game lead for the wildcard over the Diamondbacks. Los Angeles, Colorado, and Cincinnati are all lurking about eight games back or so and would need a tremendous comeback in order to make a run at getting into the playoffs as a wildcard.

Of these three teams, I think the Dodgers have the most talent to pull it off, but I don’t believe they actually will. Instead the wildcard will more than likely be the loser of the Braves and Mets battle. Granted the Braves and Mets will be beating each other up in efforts to win the division, the D-backs by no means have easy games the rest of the way. The Mets do not face anybody tough outside of the Braves in the closing weeks.

Arizona is not so fortunate, as they are staring down twelve games on the road in eleven days. Nine of those twelve are against baseball’s two best home teams, the Giants and the Rockies, so the likelihood of Arizona finding much success in that stretch is not so good. Couple that with remaining home series against Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Atlanta (all teams above the .500 mark), and Arizona’s chances of snatching the wildcard spot away from the Mets are about none. Take the Mets to prevail in the constellation prize after dropping the league in a tight battle with the Braves.