With less than two weeks to go in the Major League Baseball regular season, the pennant races are alive in both the American and National leagues. While some divisions appear locked up, there are some first-place and wild-card slots that are very much up for grabs. Here, I’ll discuss some of those tight races, and offer some bold predictions about who I feel is going to surprise people in these last days of regular-season competition.
The Seattle Mariners are going to snap their 15-year postseason drought
The M’s had a terrific start to the season, and appeared headed for the playoffs before a swoon in July and August that saw them fade to their usual .500 position. For years now, Seattle has struggled with an inconsistent rotation that, though headlined by Felix Hernandez, offers few challenges to batters as a whole. However, a big reason for the mound struggles has been the lack of offense in Seattle. Well, the Mariners are on fire at the dish in September, and the production is coming from throughout the lineup. Veteran Seth Smith smoked two homers for the Mariners on Sunday in a win over Houston, and former prospect Nori Aoki has flat-out produced in his return to the majors. The top half of this lineup right now (Aoki, Smith, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz) is pretty scary, but this team has to keep hitting, because a crucial series with the Blue Jays is playing out as I write.
The Boston Red Sox will finish with the best record in the American League
I guess I’m biased, but how can you sit idly and not recognize the fact that the AL East race is completely out of hand right now? The Red Sox just swept the Yankees in four games for the first time since 1990, effectively eliminating the Yankees from postseason contention. Hanley Ramirez won AL Offensive Player of the Week honors for his 5-homer, 12 RBI performance last week. Dustin Pedroia seems to get a hit during every other at-bat, and Mookie Betts and David Ortiz continue to have MVP-caliber seasons. I’ll fall flat on my face if one of these two does not win MVP when all is said and done. The Sox have work to do to beat out the Rangers and Indians for the American League’s top spot, but if they continue their plate prowess, it shouldn’t be a problem for the Fenway nine.
The San Francisco Giants are going to miss the postseason after entering the All-Star break with baseball’s best record
It’s a sad state of affairs in the Bay Area, where the Giants have been completely out of sorts in the second half. This team’s boasting point was its bullpen, but the late-inning pitching has been anything but sharp over the last two months. There’s also a brow-raising lack of power on this team–Brandon Belt leads this team with 15 homers with just days left in the season. It’s safe to say that Giants fans are missing the 73-homer days of Barry Bonds, juice or no juice! Note: This means that the Giants’ streak of World Series titles during even-numbered years will be snapped at three (2010, 2012, and 2014).
The Kansas City Royals will put together a ferocious rally that will ultimately fall just short
I loved the way this Royal team started to rally several weeks ago, but they’ve struggled in September. K.C. entered Monday sitting 4 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot, so a last-minute rally is certainly possible. After all, this team went from rags to riches in 2014 (well, almost riches) with an offensive outburst led by what I believe to be the deepest lineup in the American League. Ultimately, as I said, this team waited just a little too long to get their mojo back. Advantage, Seattle, Detroit, and Houston.
The Chicago Cubs will struggle as the season winds down
Let me be clear–this could be a very good thing for fans from the North Side. I believe that Joe Maddon will decide to sit some of his stars, especially his starting pitchers. The big advantage the Cubs have this year, as opposed to last year, is their punctuality as far as clinching the division. They did it with 16 games to play. Last year, the Cubbies were forced to play a wild-card game with Pittsburgh for the right to move on to the NLDS. Due to playing so many crucial games, guys like Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester were simply not the same. This year, Maddon can sit those guys as they wrap up home-field and prepare to take another crack at the Billy Goat curse. If this isn’t their best shot at getting the goat off their back (or a black cat, or Steve Bartman), I don’t know what is.
David Ortiz photo courtesy of Boston Globe