MLB wild card races heating up

As October draws near, the race for the final Major League Baseball playoff spots is heating up. Four teams will get the chance to make the playoffs as wild cards when the season ends. Each race is within four games for both the National and American Leagues, so the final week of the regular season will be crucial for the teams in contention.

The new wild card format, adopted by the MLB in the 2013 season, allows for two wild card teams from each league to play for one playoff spot. This one game playoff determines who will make the divisional playoff series. There are six teams currently in contention for the four remaining wild card spots. The races are close, and will be heavily dependent on the team’s performances in the final week of the regular season.

The American League

The wild card race in the AL is by far the closest, where three teams are within a game and a half of each other. The three teams, Kansas City, Oakland, and Seattle, have had their ups and downs throughout the season but will each be competing for a playoff position.

The Oakland Athletics, who once had the best record in baseball, were almost guaranteed to win their division after making some heavy duty moves at the trade deadline to strengthen their pitching staff. The addition of starters Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija helped the A’s dominate their opponents from the mound. Their lineup, while not the best in the league, is still getting it done as power hitters like Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss continue to produce.

But towards the end of the summer, the A’s have struggled. They have given up their lead in the AL West to the LA Angels, who have since secured themselves a playoff spot. Dispute their struggles in September, the A’s are still clinging onto the second wild card spot.

On the other hand, the Kansas City Royals have finished the summer strongly, riding an eight-game winning streak to the top of the AL Central. Their run began in August, battling the Detroit Tigers for first place in the division. The Tigers prevailed, but Kansas City was able to hold onto the wild card, as they are a half game up on the A’s for the first wild card spot.

The Royals will have to lean on their pitching staff to help them through the final weeks. Veteran James Shields leads the team in innings pitched with 214.1 and has a record of 14-7. The offense has been effective lately, with right fielder Nori Aoki batting .565 in the last week.

The best storyline in the AL this year has been the Seattle Mariners. While the Mariners have not been a division leader at all this season in the AL West, they have surged since their slow start in April and May to put themselves within one game of the second wild card spot. A solid pitching rotation featuring Cy Young candidate, Felix Hernandez is backed by a solid lineup featuring Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, the latter of whom leads the team with 23 homers on the season.

As for who will come out of the AL as the wild card team, it is a toss up from here. The Royals is in Detroit facing the division leading Tigers. Both Oakland and Seattle are playing mediocre teams in the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros respectively, so there could be some lead changes in the next few games. As for the wild card team from the AL, Oakland has the best shot. Their rotation is solid and backed with veteran and young talent, and they have the offense to match.

The National League

The NL is not as close as the AL race, but there were a few surprises. The Milwaukee Brewers, who lead in the NL Central until August, when the team lost 11 games in a 12 game stretch, and have fallen behind in the NL wild card race. A disappointing season for the Brewers, who were the first team in the majors to win 20 game this season, achieving that feat on April 28th.

The San Francisco Giants have consistently been one of the top teams in the NL, winning the world series twice in last five years. This season, the Giants have been battling the LA Dodgers for the lead in the NL West since May. San Francisco currently have a two-game advantage in the wild card race with Pittsburgh. The Giants are backed by a solid rotation with catcher Buster Posey leading the offense in every category except hits. San Francisco is not out of the division race, they are two and a half games behind the Dodgers.

The other wild card spot in the NL is held by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Bucs have had a mediocre season until the summer, where they worked their way to second place in the NL Central. They have stayed there ever since, occupying the remaining NL wild card spot. The Pirates playoff hopes rest on the health and production of center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who leads the teams in all offensive categories except batting average. There is no standout pitcher for Pittsburgh, so the offense will have to carry the team to the playoffs.

Since the Pirates lack the pitching staff to carry them through the playoffs, the San Francisco Giants will most likely win the NL wild card. The Giants have the playoff experience, and their strong pitching will carry them past the Pirates in the one game wild card playoff.

Anything can happen in the final week of the season, and it will be interesting to see who hold on to win the AL wild card. The playoffs are coming, and the road to October is not short on storylines

 

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