Of the eight playoff spots, a great majority look to be locked up, despite over 40 games left to play. However, there is some excitement left in the regular season. Exactly 15 teams are at .500 or better, meaning that there are quite a few teams still in contention. Which races will be the most competitive down the home stretch?
(all standings are as of Tuesday night)
The NL East looks to be the least interesting race to watch. The Phillies have run away with the division, and have the far-and-away best record in the Majors at 78-42. Their nine game lead looks pretty insurmountable, regardless of who they (and the second-place Braves) play the rest of the way.
As of Monday morning, Baseball Prospectus’s Playoff Odds and Coolstandings.com both have them as locks to make the postseason (100% and 99.9%, respectively). Cool Standings gives the everyone else in the NL East a 2.6% chance to pass the Phils and win the division, while BP gives the same teams a 2.2% chance.
Really, for all intents and purposes, the AL Wild Card and AL East are the same race. The Red Sox are 0.5 games behind the Yankees in the East, but 9.0 ahead of any other team in the Wild Card race. So, whichever team falls to the other still makes the playoffs. Cool Standings puts both teams chances’ to make the post season above 98%, while Baseball Prospectus has them both at or above 99.5%. Cool Standings gives every other team in the AL a 2.2% chance to take the Wild Card; Baseball Prospectus is even more skeptical, at 0.7% (and, to top it off, BP gives the Rays 0.6 of that). Unlike the NL East, though, there are at least two teams alone at the top competing, rather than one.
The AL West is the last division that I would consider a lock, despite the fact that there are other playoff contenders with bigger leads. Yes, they have two more series against the Rangers after this one, but the Rangers already have a 6.0 game lead, and that doesn’t look to shrink. The Rangers, overall, are the better team this year; for example, while the Angels have outscored their opponents by 7 runs all year, the Rangers have outscored theirs by 118. Cool Standings give the Rangers the edge in winning the division, to the tune of 90.4%. BP is even more overwhelming in its odds, at 92.9%.
The Cardinals are seven out in the NL Central, and seeing their chances shrink fast. But they do have six games against the Brewers to try and turn it around. The Brewers have a slight scheduling advantage, as the only teams they face that are still in contention are the Cardinals (6 games) and the Phillies (4 games). The Cardinals have the same match-ups, plus a three game series in Atlanta, which could make the Wild Card a little more intriguing.
Cool Standings give the Brewers an 86.4% chance at the NL Central, and the Cardinals, 11.9%. Baseball Prospectus puts the odds at 91.1% and 8.8%. The Brewers overall playoff odds stand at 88.5% (CS) and 92.2% (BP), while the Cardinals trail at 19.9% (CS) and 14.6% (BP).
The NL Wild Card looks to be a little more interesting, if only because there’s an extra team involved. The Braves lead the Giants by 6.0 and the Cardinals by 7.0. The Braves probably have the toughest schedule of the three, moving from the Giants (2 more games) to the Diamondbacks (3 games), with the aforementioned series against the Cardinals and two series against the Phillies (6 games). The Giants play two series against the D-Backs (6 games), and have two series against the Astros left, which should make their path a little easier.
Still, this is still likely the Braves’ race to lose. BP gives them an 86.2% chance at the spot, while Cool Standings puts them at 83% favorites. Both methods put the Cardinals a distant second for the spot.
The NL West is particularly interesting, in that it’s a clash between the old guard (last year’s champs the Giants) and the up-and-comers (the Diamondbacks). And the two appear evenly-matched. BP likes the Giants as the division favorite, 72.4% to 27.4%, while Cool Standings flip-flops them, 73.5% to 25.6%. The teams play six more games against each other, and after their current series against playoff contenders, the D-backs have a series in Atlanta. It is worth noting that the Giants have been outscored this year by their opponents.
As a side note, this is the only division where I would (rationally*) bet against a favorite; I would pick Arizona as the most likely NL West representative this October.
*Of course, as a Cardinals fan, I have to pick them in the Central until they’re officially eliminated.
The AL Central is the closest race, as the leading Detroit Tigers only have a 2.5 game lead as of this writing. It’s also the only division with more than two teams in the running (Cleveland is in second, and the White Sox trail the Indians by 1.5 games), which is what gives it the slight edge in excitement. It is worth noting, however, that the overall quality of the baseball is dragging a little: the Indians are the only team in the division that hasn’t been outscored by opponents, and even that’s only by two runs.
The White Sox are the only one of the three facing a contender out of the division, with one series against Texas left. That, combined with their .500 record, probably leaves them third in the division as of this moment. The other important series include three three-game sets between the Indians and Tigers, three series totaling nine games between the White Sox and Indians, and two White Sox-Tigers series totaling seven games.
BP (63.1%) and Cool Standings (53.6%) like the Tigers as the favorites. Cool Standings puts the Indians second, with a 32.4% chance of making the post season, while BP puts them third at 12.0%. The White Sox are obviously the exact opposites, with 24.6% odds on BP and 14% odds on Cool Standings. None of the three are near the Wild Card, so it’s the division or bust for these teams.
With no clear front runner and a plethora of inter-division games left, this is clearly the most exciting race left (even if none of the teams can score more than their opponents).