As the summer has heated up, so too has the playoff race in Major League Baseball.
Teams have now gone through the July 31 trade deadline, are tweaking their 25-man rosters for their playoff pushes, and are looking at players who clear the waivers until Aug. 31 (most notably being Colorado Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes). These teams will be looking to get the right formula to make a strong run at the playoffs to be one of the 10 teams with a chance at obtaining the coveted World Series trophy.
At this point, teams are either all in or looking at what they can manage out of this year. There are just five spots in each league to make the playoffs and only two ways to get in: winning a division crown or wild card.
This year has shown us that the game of baseball can be very strange at times. For example, at this moment the best five teams, by record in order, are: the St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers. The National League has four of these teams, with all but Kansas City. Three of these teams are even in the same division with St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Chicago all being from the National League Central.
In the National League, if the playoffs started today the top seed would be the Cardinals, the No. 2 seed would be the Dodgers, the No. 3 seed would be the New York Mets and the Pirates would host the Cubs for the wild card game. The winner of the wild card game would move on to face St. Louis in the divisional round, with whoever winning that series meeting either the Mets or Dodgers in the National League Championship Series and a chance to play for the World Series.
Going back to how baseball this year is strange, look at the third- and fourth-best teams in baseball. Both would get a wild card, and the fourth-best team even has to go on the road. Look a little closer at it, though.
The best team in baseball also gets shorted due to having to play either the third- or fourth-best team in the division series. When playing a wild card, you expect it to at least be worse than most of the division winners. In the National League, bizarrely, both of the wild cards are better than the leaders of the National League East and West divisions.
The Dodgers and Mets are looking to win their divisions with weaker teams, meaning they need one fewer game to play to advance to the NLCS than the better-record wild-card teams. This is only in the National League, and we haven’t even talked about the defending World Series champion, the San Francisco Giants, who are a handful of games out of the second wild card.
The National League has a lot of other storylines as well, with the other two division races.
The East has been between the Washington Nationals and the Mets all year. The Mets have taken over at this point, but if the Nationals can string some victories together they can make a run for it. Plus these teams still have six games remaining on the schedule against the other.
The National League West is having a very typical year as of recent. The Dodgers lead the division, but only by a couple of games over the Giants. These two have been going at it all season; both teams have the right pieces to make a late-September run. These two teams have seven games left against each other.
The American League may not have as many teams in the top five, but they do have some good storylines, too. Kansas City starts it off by running away with the best record in the league, as well as in the American League Central. The American League East, which started out the year as the “American League Least,” has come into form with New York Yankees leading the Toronto Blue Jays by a shred of a game. They also have seven games left between one another.
The American League West is slowly turning into the most talked about division in the league. The West features the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels in a back-and-forth battle this summer. Houston sits atop right now with a slight lead over the Angels.
This season still has a lot to offer with October baseball just around the corner. Teams that might be viewed as a non-contender at the moment could go on a surprising run all the way to and through the playoffs. As we work our way into September and the air gets a little colder, look for MLB to be heating up into the 2015 playoffs.