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Playoff Spots Hotly Contested in Baseball Postseason

By Yong-yi Zhu

COLUMNIST

October is fast approaching, and so is the baseball postseason. The outcomes of most divisions are decided, but there are still hotly contested playoff spots to be taken.

The best race in the American League is the one between the Yankees and the Red Sox. Francona’s Sox have put together quite an impressive run since August started. What looked to be a race to the Wild Card for the then average Red Sox has turned into a 2.5 game deficit between themselves and the Yankees.

The Yanks have not helped their cause. They did not make a trade for Pitcher Randy Johnson. They have not pitched well in this stretch. And Kevin Brown didn’t use his best judgment when he broke his left hand against the clubhouse wall.

On the other hand, the Sox have really picked it up, winning 10 straight and sweeping Anaheim and Oakland in the past two weeks. They might even be considered the favorite to win the AL East division at this point, despite only being in contention for the Wild Card earlier on. They have better pitching than the Yankees, and many of their injured players, including Trot Nixon and Pokey Reese, have come back recently. The loser from the AL East race would most likely take the Wild Card.

On the other hand, the AL West is still a mess as Texas, Anaheim and Oakland are within five games of each other. They still have a ton of games left against one another; Oakland plays Texas 7 times, Oakland plays Anaheim 6 times, and Anaheim plays Texas 7 times. Clearly, this race is far from over.

The division winners of the National League appear to all be in stable situations: Atlanta, St. Louis and Los Angeles all have significant leads on their closest division rivals. In fact, St. Louis can clinch the NL Central sometime this week.

However, the Wild Card race is a much hazier picture. All of a sudden, what originally appeared to be a three team race between the Cubs, Giants and Padres, has produced two additional contenders in the Houston Astros and Florida Marlins. The Cubs and Giants have alternated leading the NL Wild Card race most of the season while the Padres have clung on for third place.

The Giants have clung together with nearly nothing. Barry Bonds is still tearing up pitchers’ hearts, but that’s about all. Their starting pitching outside of Jason Schmidt has been inconsistent. Their bullpen is not provided much relief. It is amazing how they have hung on with this little.

The Padres are the team on the rise, and if they do not make it to the postseason this year, they will still be formidable next season. Houston has created a sudden charge by winning 12 in a row. However, after that good stretch, they have lost three out of four to the mediocre Pittsburgh Pirates. The Astros are quite an enigma. They look great on paper, but have not played with the expected success.

The Florida Marlins are also hot. In fact, over the last two weeks, the only things able to stop them have been a combination of hurricanes Frances and Ivan. However, it will be tough for the Marlins in the weeks to come because of their grueling schedule. Because of Frances, the Marlins missed an entire weekend series, which they are trying to make up as they go. In addition, because of Ivan, they will have to play a series against Montreal at US Cellular Field (home of the Chicago White Sox), with the Marlins as the home team. They will not have a single off-day until the end of the season and will also have several double-headers to make up for the lost games. This will be terribly taxing not only on the position players, but more so for the pitchers.