And Down the Stretch They Come!by Aaron Gleeman
September 26, 2005
As we begin the final week of the 2005 regular season, the big story around baseball is how tight many of the division races are. The Cardinals have already clinched another NL Central championship, but the other five divisions are still in various states of doubt. In particular, the AL East and AL Central look like they'll come right down to the wire with exciting finishes.
While we're in for some great baseball, I can't help but wonder if it could be better. Fans are constantly told that the Wild Card adds drama to September and certainly that has been the case in past seasons. However, the Wild Card may be taking drama away this time around. Without the Wild Card, the Red Sox and Yankees would be battling for one playoff spot in the AL East, and the White Sox and Indians would be battling for one playoff spot in the AL Central. With both sets of teams finishing the season with series against each other, we could be in for two good, old-fashioned pennant races.
What we have instead are two tight divisional races that ultimately only mean something to the one team in four that doesn't make the playoffs. The Indians could complete one of the most dramatic comebacks in baseball history by overtaking the White Sox in the AL Central ... and Chicago could still advance to the postseason as the Wild Card. The Red Sox and Yankees could enter their season-ending three-game series at Fenway Park this weekend deadlocked and one team could take two out of three to win the division ... and the other team could slide into the playoffs as the Wild Card.
Instead of the Yankees and Red Sox battling for the AL East and the White Sox and Indians battling for the AL Central, what we essentially have is the loser of those two matchups battling it out for the fourth playoff spot. There's drama in that, obviously, but there's also quite a bit of letdown involved as well. Imagine how much Sunday's games in Boston and Cleveland could mean, and now imagine how much less they'll mean when one team can simply fall back on the Wild Card as their ticket to October.
With that rant off my chest—and realizing that without the Wild Card there wouldn't be three divisions per league to have races in—here's what we've got with one week to play ...
AL EAST W L GB REMAINING SCHEDULE Red Sox 91 64 --- TOR (4), NYY (3) Yankees 91 64 --- @BAL (4), @BOS (3)The Yankees are at a disadvantage here. While playing four games against the Orioles (70-85 overall, 23-45 since the All-Star break) is an easier task than facing the Blue Jays (76-79 overall, 32-35 since the All-Star break) four times, all of New York's seven remaining games are on the road. Not only are the Yankees just 38-36 on the road compared to 53-28 at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox are 50-24 at home.
If both teams stay with their current rotations, it'll be Chien-Ming Wang (8-4, 4.02) versus David Wells (14-7, 4.48) in Game 1 of their season-ending series, Randy Johnson (15-8, 3.90) versus Curt Schilling (7-8, 5.89) in Game 2, and Mike Mussina (13-8, 4.20) versus Tim Wakefield (15-11, 4.09) in Game 3.
AL CENTRAL W L GB REMAINING SCHEDULE White Sox 94 61 --- @DET (4), @CLE (3) Indians 92 64 2.5 TAM (3), CHW (3)The Indians blew a big game against the Royals yesterday afternoon. After Kansas City closer Mike MacDougal blew a one-run lead in the top of the ninth to make it a tie game, the Royals got a leadoff single from shortstop Angel Berroa and first baseman Joe McEwing (yes, I said first baseman Joe McEwing) bunted him over to second base. With one out, catcher Paul Phillips hit a deep but fairly routine fly ball to center field, which Grady Sizemore promptly lost in the sun.
Sizemore actually tracked the ball enough to be in the exact spot where it landed—in fact, it hit him. He immediately threw his hands up in the air—the international sign for "where the heck is the ball?!"—and watched in disgust (and probably in pain) as Berroa scampered home with the game-winning run after it bounced off him. The White Sox finished off the Twins 4-1 shortly after that, so the loss dropped Cleveland to 2.5 games back in the division.
Any game at this point is crucial, but Sizemore's error really cuts down on Cleveland's chances of being within striking distance for that final series of the season. If they take two out of three from Tampa Bay and Chicago splits their four-game series against Detroit, that would leave Cleveland two games back entering the final series. In other words, they would have to sweep the White Sox to win the division, because taking two out of three would leave them a game back. If they had won yesterday afternoon, the same scenario would leave them needing to take just two out of three to tie.
AL WEST W L GB REMAINING SCHEDULE Angels 89 66 --- @OAK (4), @TEX (3) Athletics 85 70 4.0 LAA (4), @SEA (3)Sadly, Oakland's loss to Texas last night makes this barely a race. The A's are four games back with just seven games left to play, although the fact that the two teams open up a four-game series in Oakland tonight leaves room for things to get interesting. The Angels can clinch the division by simply splitting the four-game series, so the A's must win at least three out of four just to make the final weekend of the season matter.
AL WILD CARD W L GB REMAINING SCHEDULE White Sox 94 61 --- @DET (4), @CLE (3) Indians 92 64 2.5 TAM (3), CHW (3) Red Sox 91 64 3.0 TOR (4), NYY (3) Yankees 91 64 3.0 @BAL (4), @BOS (3)The odd thing about the way this season is playing out in the American League is that the Angels hold the largest division lead entering the final week, yet have the fifth-best record in the league. They have the most margin for error, but also have no chance of slipping in as the Wild Card if they lose the AL West.
Basically, the three teams with the best records from the four listed above will advance to the postseason, along with the AL West winner. Chicago is clearly in the best shape, because they can blow their lead in the AL Central and still be in a very good position to win the Wild Card. Perhaps it's just the Twins fan in me talking, but I don't like that one bit.
Of course, over in the NL the Wild Card has created some drama where there otherwise wouldn't have been any. St. Louis has been cruising in the NL Central for weeks already and, barring major collapses, Atlanta and San Diego have locked up the NL East and NL West. That leaves Houston and Philadelphia fighting for the Wild Card in what figure to be the only meaningful games left on the NL's schedule.
NL WILD CARD W L GB REMAINING SCHEDULE Astros 85 71 --- @STL (2), CHC (4) Phillies 84 72 1.0 NYM (3), @WAS (3)While I'm sure the fans in Houston and Philadelphia are happy to have something to root for this week, my problem with the Wild Card is that one of these two teams is going to win 89 games and advance to the postseason. Now, admittedly the Padres are going to win the NL West and they'd have to play for another month to get to 89 wins. Still, when creating some drama between the Astros and Phillies also comes along with lessening the impact of two great division races in the AL ... well, it makes me sad.
Of course, it's nothing a one-game playoff or two Monday couldn't help me get over.
Aaron Gleeman is a freelance writer whose work can also be found regularly at AaronGleeman.com, Fox Sports, Rotoworld, and Insider Baseball. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions via e-mail.