By Woody Paige
This is baseball at its best.
In mid-September, when there are chases, races, fresh faces and cases to be made for 16 clubs to reach the postseason.
The American League still has 10 – count ‘em – 10 teams vying for five spots. In the National League, the Cubs have clinched a division title for the first time since 2008, leaving Five For Fighting (a group which produced these lyrics: “”A time to buy and time to lose . . . a battle for everything’’).
Who’s in: The Cubs, for certain, and the Rangers, the Indians, the Nationals, unless all hell or the Tigers break loose.
Who’s in the hunt: Dodgers, Giants, Mets and the Cardinals in the National League, and the Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, Yankees (of all people), Tigers andMariners all have legitimate chances in the American League.
Who’s hanging on for dear life: That would be the Marlins, Pirates, Royals and Astros.
Who’s out: The White Sox and the Rockies and the other dregs of baseball.
Let’s dismiss Miami, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Houston. They fired and fell back, and the late-season misery soon will be over.
The Nationals and the Dodgers will hold on to join the Cubs as division winners.
So that leaves the Giants, the Cardinals and the Mets scrambling for the two wild card in the NL. The race in the American League for the East is too close to call. The Red Sox have such a slim lead over the Blue Jays and the Orioles. The Rangers are sure things, and Cleveland obviously looks like the division championship is soon ahead.
The Giants were the best team in baseball before the All-Star break and the worst team since. The Cardinals have never won more than five in a row, but they also haven’t lost more than five in a row.
The Mariners are trying to come, and Houston and Kansas City have gone.
Who’s in the best place to win the divisions and the wild cards?
The Cubs have two possible Cy Young winner and two MVP candidates, and one great opportunity to run away with the best record in baseball. But, remember, the American League will have the extra home game in a best-of-seven World Series, thanks to the All-Star game.
Los Angeles and Washington will win the other two divisions in the National League.
Even though the Dodgers lost in Phoenix Thursday night, they’ve got three more against the woeful Snakes, then six at home against the Giants and the Rockies, three on the road with the Padres and a finale against the Giants. That looks like 10 more victories, a 92-70 record and the National League West.
The Cubs will win at least 103.
The Mets, with 87 victories, are at home for 10 straight against the Twins, the Braves and the Phillies.
They finish with trips to Miami and Philadelphia.
The Mets can’t catch the Nationals, but how you going to keep them out of the playoffs as a wild card with that schedule? They could get to 99.
So the Cardinals, with 77 victories (same as Mets), and the Giants, trying to survive with 78, must look at each other up close for the next three days. The Giants won the opener of the series in San Fran. Then the Cardinals are in Colorado for three and in Chicago vs. the Cubs. They finished at home against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. These weekend games by the Bay are critical for both.
After the Cardinals, the Giants finish in the division with two home-and-home sets with the Dodgers and road series at the Rockies and the Padres.
I’m going this way: Cubs, Nationals, Dodgers, Mets, Cardinals. The Giants have better pitching, but the Cardinals are the better road team.
In the American League it’s to be Texas, Cleveland and Boston. And I think the Orioles and the Blue Jays take the two wild card spots. The Yankees youngster won’t hold up until the end, and the Mariners just don’t have enough time left, and the Tigers have the veteran experience, but are too flakey.
Who’s to lose?
But this is the best.