The Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves, and Oakland Athletics all clinched their divisions this weekend. The Red Sox clinched the AL East win they won against the Blue Jays on Friday Night. The Braves clinched the NL East and the A’s clinched the AL West when the teams chasing them, the Nationals and Rangers, both lost. The Braves and A’s both proceeded to win their games to put an exclamation point on their titles. The Dodgers clinched the NL West on Thursday, as referenced in a previous post.
While 4 of the 6 divisions in baseball have already been decided, the Central division in both leagues are still up for grabs. However, the only real race is in the NL Central as the Tigers magic number to clinch is down to 2, with the Indians 5 games back with 7 remaining. The NL Central has been the best divisional race for the entire season. Currently, the Cardinals lead both the Reds and Pirates by 2 games. This week, the Cardinals will play the Nationals, a team that is playing well. If the Cardinals struggle in these games, this race very well may be decided during the season’s final games, next weekend, as the Pirates and Reds both play teams that have long since been out of the playoff race, before they play each other this coming weekend in Cincinnati while the Cardinals take on the Cubs at home.
In the meantime, races that had been heating up for the Wild Card in both leagues cooled down over the weekend. Earlier in the week, 6 teams were within 3 games of the AL Wild Card’s two playoff spots. Now, the Rays hold the first Wild Card spot by a half game over the Indians. The Rangers are within range to threaten either the Rays or the Indians, 1.5 games behind Cleveland for the second spot. The other three teams who were so close have all had tough losses at some point over the weekend, while the Rays and Indians keep winning. That leaves the Royals, Yankees, and Orioles at 3.5, 4, and 4.5 games back, respectively, with only 6-7 games left.
The NL Wild Card race is very close to being over, as the Reds and the Pirates are tied for the two spots, with the Nationals now 5 games back. The magic number of both the Reds and Pirates is down to 2. As previously mentioned, the Nationals play the Cardinals this week, in St. Louis, before they head out west for the final weekend in Arizona against the Diamondbacks. While the Nationals are playing very well lately, either the Reds or Pirates would have to also play extraordinarily poorly (probably a 6-game losing streak) to give the Nats any shot, and I just don’t see that happening.
The races that don’t influence who gets in the playoffs but do affect seeding and home-field advantage in the playoffs are the races in each league for the best record. In the NL, the Braves at 92-63 have a 1.5 game lead over the Cardinals, with the Dodgers 2.5 GB, and the Reds and Pirates 3.5 GB (although they have to win the NL Central to be eligible for home-field advantage). In the AL, the Red Sox at 95-62 lead the Athletics by 1.5 games and the Tigers by 3.5 games. Home-field advantage (hosting games 1,2, and 5 in the Division Series or 1, 2, 6, and 7 in the Championship Series) can, as we’ve seen before, play a pivotal role in determining the outcome of a series. Due to the American League’s victory in the All-Star Game, the AL Champion will have home-field advantage over the NL Champion in the World Series.