Throughout the week, teams around Major League Baseball all completed their 100th game of the season. As teams pass that threshold, signaling there are only 62 games left for those hoping to make it to the postseason. In that race for the playoffs in the two leagues, two different patterns are starting to emerge.
In the National League, eight teams have legitimate shots at the playoffs, while the bottom seven are seemingly out of the race and will likely be “sellers” at the upcoming trade deadline.
1. San Francisco Giants (57-45, 1st in NL West)
The Giants started the season at 42-21, and led the NL West by 9.5 games on June 8. They then lost 14 out of 18 to fall into a tie, but have since rebounded, winning seven of their last 10 to regain a 1.5 game lead. This franchise which won the World Series in 2010 and 2012 (there seems to be a pattern here; it’s 2014), takes the top spot in the NL, although they are actually a half game behind the Brewers for the best record in the league, as no one is pulling away from the pack at the top, and they have a better record on the road (29-20) than at home (28-25). They are also 8-2 in extra inning games.
2. Milwaukee Brewers (58-45, 1st in NL Central)
Like the Giants, the Brewers got off to a hot start, including an early 10-game winning streak, and sat at 51-34 on July 1, leading by six and a half games in the NL Central. A seven-game losing streak before the All-Star Break dropped them into a tie, but their current four-game winning streak has given them not only the best record in their division, but the NL. They have a 12-5 record against the NL West, the second best mark in the league, which has helped propel them to a three-game lead in the crowded NL Central race.
3. St. Louis Cardinals (54-47, tied for 2nd in NL Central)
The defending NL champions got off to a rough start (by their standards), falling to 19-20 after a 17-5 loss to the Cubs on May 12, but have played better throughout the summer months, catching the Brewers briefly, and currently trailing them by three games. The Redbirds have had their share of injuries, but have therefore been able to show off their pitching depth. If it weren’t for a 5-9 record in interleague games, the Cardinals might be at the top.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers (56-47, 1st in NL Wild Card, 2nd in NL West)
Like last year, the Dodgers fell well behind the division lead at the start, falling nine and a half games behind the Giants on June 8. Also like last year, they got hot in June and were tied for the division lead by June 29. They have fallen back out of first by a game and a half, although they aren’t playing poorly; the Giants are just playing superbly. The team does currently hold the first NL Wild Card spot, despite a 3-8 record in extra inning games.
5. Washington Nationals (55-44, 1st in NL East)
The Nationals are getting healthy again, and it shows, as they have won 14 of their last 20 games, passing the Braves for first in the NL East, currently up by a game and a half, holding a 28-17 mark in June/July. Pitching is the key, as they have allowed just 3.5 runs per game, which is second in the league. Like the Dodgers, they have struggled in extra innings, going just 3-8.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates (54-47, tied for 2nd in NL Central)
After game one of a May 18 doubleheader in New York, the Pirates sat at 17-25 and nine games behind the Brewers, and had been written off by almost everyone, even with 120 games remaining. But never underestimate the power of a callup from the minors; in this case, Gregory Polanco. Since his June 10 arrival in the big leagues, the Pirates are 24-14, and last year’s playoff darlings are back in the race, closing within two and a half games of the Brewers. Against the NL Central, the Bucs are a poor 22-30, but are 26-10 against the rest of the NL.
7. Atlanta Braves (55-47, 2nd in NL Wild Card, 2nd in NL East)
The Braves have led the NL East off and on for much of the season thus far, but currently find themselves a game and a half behind the Nationals. Looking at their season closely, there haven’t struggled in any certain type of game (other than against the NL West, at 8-11), but aren’t overwhelming in any category either. This streaky team, which has a nine-game winning streak, and a seven-game losing streak, will have to play well to catch the Nats, although they currently hold the second NL Wild Card spot by a half game over the Cardinals and Pirates.
8. Cincinnati Reds (51-50, 4th in NL Central)
The Reds are last among the probable playoff contenders, and even that is a feat after dropping as many as eight and a half back in the division race at one time, and sitting six games under .500 on May 29. Their 28-20 record within the NL Central is the best in that tight division, helping them to get within a game and a half at the all-star break. They currently sit six games back, as they try to get back to October and play more than the one playoff game they played in a year ago.
9. New York Mets (48-54, 4th in NL East)
The “best of the rest” is a Mets team that hasn’t stopped playing hard, despite currently sitting seven games out of the playoffs and eight and a half back in the NL East. Despite being on no one’s list of playoff contenders, they have won six out of 10, 11 out of 20, and 16 out of 30, almost playing themselves out of the title of trade deadline “sellers”. Almost.
10. Miami Marlins (48-53, 3rd in NL East)
The Marlins began the year as surprising contenders, leading the division by a half game as late as May 8, and being tied for the lead as late as June 8. Since then, they are 15-23, and have fallen into this second category of NL teams. Although they are currently just six and a half games back in the Wild Card, and eight back in the division, While their home/road splits aren’t as radical as they were earlier in the season, they are 28-24 at home and 20-29 on the road.
11. San Diego Padres (45-56, 3rd in NL West)
The Padres began the year cautiously optimistic that they could be a dark horse playoff contender, but by June 22, GM Josh Byrnes had been fired. This is in spite of leading the NL in runs allowed, giving up just 3.4 per game. The key factor in their lack of success is offense, scoring just 3.1 runs per game (which is the worst in the NL by over half a run), and an absolutely abysmal team batting average of .216, with only one starter hitting over .247 (Seth Smith at .293). And that player at .247 (Cameron Maybin) was just suspended 25 games for a failed drug test. With all these issues persisting in San Diego, the Padres sit 11.5 games back in the NL West, and have already traded Chase Headley and Huston Street.
12. Arizona Diamondbacks (44-58, 4th in NL West)
Last year, the D-Backs led the NL West for much of the first half, eventually finishing second with an 81-81 record. This year has not been at all similar. It started with a 1-7 record after eight games, and it hasn’t gotten better. They were 3-15 at home in April, and by the end of May had fallen 15 games out of first. They are currently 13 games back. This is a team with some good players, pieces that may be very attractive to the trade deadline’s “buyers” next week. That home record hasn’t improved much; it’s now 21-33.
13. Philadelphia Phillies (44-58, 5th in NL East)
While no one necessarily expected the Phillies to contend, this one is, at least to me, a head-scratcher. The Phillies have a high payroll, strong veteran leadership, and several budding young talents which they have drafted and developed through their farm system. And yet, they are last in the NL East, 12.5 games behind Washington, and are easily deadline sellers. Perhaps the most telling stat is that they are around .500 on the road with a 24-26 record, but at home they have lost nearly two out of every three, with a 20-32 mark.
14. Colorado Rockies (41-60, 5th in NL East)
A case could be made for both the Rockies and Cubs to be last on this list, but I’ll give the Rockies a slight edge for 14th. It isn’t because of anything the team is doing on the field; they’ve lost 23 of their last 30 games to fall 15.5 games back in the NL West, after being surprisingly close at Memorial Day. It’s because of the excellent individual season Troy Tulowitzki is having. The shortstop leads the league in batting average (.340), on base percentage (.432), and slugging percentage (.603), to go along with 21 HR and 52 RBI, all with nearly as many walks as strikeouts. He is threatening to become the first MVP from either league to play on a last place team since Alex Rodriguez on the 2003 Texas Rangers.
15. Chicago Cubs (41-59, 5th in NL Central)
It appears the Cubs streak of not winning a title since 1908 will continue. A team that was widely picked before the season as the worst in the NL struggled from the start, and by April 29 they were 8-17 and already 11 games behind the Brewers. It hasn’t gotten much better since, as they have fallen 15.5 games back, and the team recently traded their two best pitchers to Oakland (Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel). The good news on the North Side of Chicago is that they have some tremendously talented prospects cutting their teeth in the minors, and that the Cubs should use that talent to be competitive again in the not too distant future.
In the American League, 13 of the 15 teams are within seven games of a playoff spot, with, in my opinion, ten of them having legitimate shots to not only make the playoffs, but be a threat to go deep once they get there. Another difference in the two leagues is the superiority of the teams at the top in the AL, while no one is threatening to be a 100-game winner in the NL.
1. Oakland Athletics (63-38, 1st in AL West)
The A’s are the consensus “best team in baseball” as the Moneyball story continues. While the team doesn’t have any superstars (although you could make a case for Yoenis Cespedes), they are the best unit of players the game currently has to offer. They have the best record in the game, three games ahead of the Angels for both that title and the AL West lead, while sitting six games better than the best record in the NL. Oakland is tied for first in the AL in both runs scored per game (5.0) and runs allowed (3.4), a stat which should suit them well in October. Additionally, the A’s are 34-17 at home, 29-21 on the road, 10-6 in extra innings, and 10-2 in interleague play. This is quite a team.
2. Detroit Tigers (57-42, 1st in AL Central)
The Tigers have been strong from the start, leading nearly wire-to-wire thus far in the AL Central, with that lead currently stretched out to seven games, easily the largest in baseball. They are attempting to win their fourth straight division title, which would extend the longest active streak in the game. While we’re used to the Tigers pitching leading the way, it is their offense that has made the difference, averaging 4.8 runs per game. Interestingly, the Tigers are around .500 at home at 26-25, but are 31-17 on the road, and their 17-11 record in one-run games is the best in the league.
3. Los Angeles Angels (60-41, 1st in AL Wild Card, 2nd in AL West)
The Angels have the second best record in baseball, but if the playoffs started today, they would be stuck in the one-off Wild Card Game because they’re in the same division as Oakland, currently trailing in the AL West by three games. The money the team has spent in free agency over the last few years is finally beginning to pay off, as are the excellent players they are bringing out of their farm system, with the best all-around player in the game, Mike Trout, among them. They have won 22 out of their last 30, and are 33-9 against teams under .500, all thanks to an offense that produces 5.0 runs per game, tied for the best in the league.
4. Baltimore Orioles (56-45, 1st in AL East)
Buck Showalter is, somehow, doing it again, leading the AL East with an Orioles team most didn’t expect to be in the hunt. A big part of their surprise season is Nelson Cruz, the $8 million, last-minute free agent signing (what a bargain), who has hit 28 HR, ranking second in the majors. Baltimore led the division early in the season, as late as may 20, before falling six and a half on June 6. Going 26-16 since, they have taken a three game lead, although everyone around the AL East knows that it won’t be easy, as it never seems to be in, perhaps, the most covered division in the game.
5. Seattle Mariners (53-49, 3rd in AL West)
The Mariners were one of the more active teams in the offseason, most notably adding Robinson Cano in free agency, but many didn’t expect them to contend this quickly. However, there are a lot of good, young players who are now prime and ready for a possible run at the playoffs. They stayed around the .500 mark for the first two months, dipping under .500 as late as May 31, and while they’re only 26-21 since (nothing overwhelming), that stretch is enough to get them to within a half game of the second AL Wild Card spot.
6. New York Yankees (53-48, tied for 2nd AL Wild Card, tied for 2nd in AL East)
Another team that made a free agency splash was the Yankees, although they haven’t necessarily been the offensive juggernaut they had hoped to be. Their pitching, however, has been hit hard by the so-called “injury bug”, which most recently bit ace Masahiro Tanaka. Hovering at or around .500 for much of the year, they have never been more than six games back, and currently sit three back and tied for a Wild Card spot. The Yanks are actually under .500 against the AL, at 40-41, but a 13-7 record in interleague play has them well within the pennant race.
7. Toronto Blue Jays (54-49, tied for 2nd AL Wild Card, tied for 2nd in AL East)
Tied with the Yankees for the last playoff spot are the Blue Jays, who haven’t been to the playoffs since Joe Carter’s World Series-winning homer in 1993. This team of sluggers started 38-24 and had a six game lead in the AL East on June 6. While they are 16-25 since, they have won five out of seven since the All-Star Break, proving they will be in the race in the second half.
8. Tampa Bay Rays (49-53, 4th in AL East)
After a 24-42 start which gave them, at the time, the worst record in the AL, the biggest question around the Rays was not if David Price would be traded, but where he would land. But the Rays are 25-11 in the 36 games since, and have won 16 out of 20 and 8 out of 10, climbing within seven and a half games in the NL East, and four and a half in the Wild Card. According to Baseball Prospectus, their odds of making the playoffs are 11 times better now then they were at their lowest point on June 10.
9. Cleveland Indians (51-51, 3rd in AL Central)
After hosting last year’s AL Wild Card Game, the Indians got off to a slow start, at 24-30. While they are not likely to win the AL Central, sitting at seven games behind Detroit, their 27-21 record since has gotten them back into the Wild Card race again, as they are currently two and a half back. Cleveland is 10 games over .500 at home, and 10 games under .500 on the road, resulting in a current record right on the .500 mark.
10. Kansas City Royals (51-50, 2nd in AL Central)
Like Toronto, the Royals last playoff berth was the year they won their last World Series, in 1985. On June 18, the Royals led the AL Central by a game and a half, with a record of 39-32. Since, they have fallen back to around .500, going 12-18 in that period, but they are just two back in the Wild Card. Things might be different if they weren’t struggling so much in one-run games, at 12-20.
11. Boston Red Sox (47-55, 5th in AL East)
The defending World Series champions are threatening…to become the worst defending champs since the 1998 Florida Marlins. While these Sox won’t be as bad as that 54-108 Marlins squad, something is missing from the drive and spirit the team had a year ago, and whatever it is has been missing from the start. While they were over .500 as late as May 14, an ensuing 10-game losing streak and another 5-game losing streak a week later had the season doomed by mid-June. A 17-25 record against the AL East doesn’t help, and they have fallen nine and a half games back in the division and six and a half back in the Wild Card, staying even that close after a recent five-game winning streak.
12. Chicago White Sox (49-54, 4th in AL Central)
The White Sox have been, as predicted, a somewhat mediocre team, although they have played 33 games as a team at or above the .500 mark. The team sits ten games back in the AL Central but only five back in the wild card. The Sox have the major league leader in homers in rookie Jose Abreu, who has hit 29 of them, and have a marginally better record against teams over .500 than against teams under .500.
13. Minnesota Twins (46-55, 5th in AL Central)
The Twins were picked by most to be where they are, last in the AL Central. However, they weren’t in last from the beginning. On May 21, they were 23-21, and sat five games behind Detroit. Since, they have become the team most expected, going 23-34, falling to 12 games out in the AL Central and seven back in the wild card. The Twins are over .500, at 16-15, against left-handed pitching, but are 20-30 against righties on the season, while going 19-16 in the division, but 27-39 against everyone else.
14. Houston Astros (42-60, 4th in AL West)
The Astros, with their wealth of young talent and a rich farm system, have as bright of a future as anyone, and that started to show early in the season. While they never threatened to win their division, they briefly threatened the .500 mark, with a 32-38 record on June 14. While they are 10-22 since, and have fallen 11.5 games back in the wild card, they are 11-11 against the AL Central, but they play in the West, where they are 18-28, and 21.5 games back.
15. Texas Rangers (40-62, 5th in AL West)
I hate to admit this, but I picked this team to win the AL West. With Yu Darvish leading the pitching staff, and the offseason additions of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo to a team that fell one game short of the playoffs a year ago, such a pick was warranted. But unforeseen circumstances have hurt this team tremendously, particularly injuries, as the team has lost more games than anyone else to the DL, and have fallen to 13.5 games back in the wild card and 23.5 back in the division. While they are 11-10 against the AL Central, they are 29-52 against everyone else, and have lost 25 out of 30.