The All-Star Game is over. The American League has won again, and now is when Major League Baseball gets really fun. Games become bigger. The trade deadline approaches. Some teams hanging near the .500 mark have to decide whether to try to add a veteran in an attempt to win it all, or dump them for prospects to try and win the future.
When baseball season comes down to the very end, there is arguably no more exciting game in any sport. Pressure mounts with each inning. Baseball, with its built in timeouts between the action, lends itself to tension building. Here are some of the big story lines since games have resumed:
The American League East is a four-team race. Entering Thursday, Boston leads Baltimore by half a game and Toronto by one. Meanwhile the New York Yankees, who are still in between wanting to buy and should-be sellers, are six games off the pace. They’re five games back of the second wild card as well, leaving the door opena��ever-so-slightlya��that they won’t sell as much as they probably should. They’re the Yankees, after all. They’re not quitters! Or something.
In the American League Central, the Cleveland Indians are arguably baseball’s biggest surprise of the season. As of Thursday, they hold a 7.5-game lead on the Detroit Tigers, a nine-game lead on the Kansas City Royals, and a ten-game lead on the Chicago White Sox. And sure with that second wild card being a possibility, it’s hard to count all of them out. But as far as the division goes, it appears to be Cleveland’s to losea��though they will need to address their offense.
In the West, the Rangers’ lead is down to three-and-a-half games over the Houston Astros, but they are still well enough ahead of Seattle (6.5). A case could be made that out of the 15 American League teams, only four of thema��LA, Oakland, Tampa Bay, and Minnesotaa��are out of the playoff race. If Texas continues to struggle (2-8 in their last 10), we could be looking at the AL West coming down to the final day of the season again.
In the National League East, the Washington Nationals lead the Miami Marlins by 5.5 games with the Mets right behind Miami (6.5). With Washington, we’ve seen them falter quite spectacularly before; will they again? Is this the year Miami puts it all together and at least clinches a wild card berth? Keep in mind they’ve done the majority of their damage with Dee Gordon out (suspension) and a fairly thin starting rotation. One pick-up could make all the difference, while speaking of thin, the Mets cannot stay healthy at the moment.
In the Central, the Chicago Cubs once very safe lead has been trimmed to a still pretty safe seven games over the St. Louis Cardinals and nine over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The race isn’t as one-sided as it once was, yet it could still be out of reach. Don’t think the Cardinals and Pirates will approach the rest of the season that way, however. There are only so many wild card spots, after all.
Out West, the San Francisco Giants lead the Los Angeles Dodgers by 4.5 games. Of the 15 National League teams, there are arguably eighta��but more likely sixa��still in the race. The Giants are trying for their fourth World Series title this decade, and despite a poor post-All-Star break start, are very much among the favorites. Can you imagine a Cubs/Giants NLCS?
So much is still wide open. If the Indians can get to the World Series and face the Cubs, it would be a battle between teams without a championship since (at least) 1948 and another that has waited 40 years longer than that. How great would that be?