Take a look at the AL East standings – the division is blatantly up for grabs. As of today, September 8th, of the five teams in the division, three have a legitimate shot at winning it, one has a puncher’s chance, the other is Tampa Bay.
The four teams, Blue Jays, Orioles, Red Sox, and Yankees, are all within 4.5 games of each other. They are all talented ball clubs with damaging flaws. And they are all playing each other up and down the East coast over the next 3 weeks.
This is going to be one helluva race.
I opened up my trusty Boston Globe sports section today, took a glance at the standings page, and saw this:
I can’t recall a pennant race this wide open and with this many teams still in it this late in the season. And look at how they are all playing over the last 10. Nobody wants it – or is good enough to pull way. It’s times like these that I appreciate the division-heavy schedule, 19 games a year against each AL East team.
This season seems to be particularly back-loaded with intra-East match-ups as well. I love how it seems like these teams have been beating each others’ brains out all summer, but there is yet more to come.
The first-place Red Sox have 23 games left to play. All 23 are against AL East opponents – all. That is flat out silly. Good silly really, but still silly. Talk about having fate in your hands. The Red Sox finish up a road trip in Toronto this weekend then come home for a three-gamer with the O’s, followed by four with the Yankees (who blundered badly in trading away their veteran talent too soon). They hit the road again on the 19th for four in Baltimore, three in Tampa and three in New York. They finish the regular season with three against, guess who, the Blue Jays. These three games could decide the division.
The Yankees have it almost as rough. They finish up a series in the Bronx this weekend against the Rays, then the Dodgers come to town for three inter-league games. After that it’s all AL East; Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, Sox again, and then they close in New York against the O’s.
The Orioles (who are doing their patented late summer fade, a trick they learned from Toronto after the Blue Jays were done with it) have only their current series in Detroit to play and a home three-gamer with Arizona late in the month as any kind of respite from AL East battles.
Everybody’s favorite to win it, the Blue Jays, have the Red Sox in town this weekend then the Rays. They swing out West for a week to face the Angels for four games and then Seattle for three. They finish – Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox.
I don’t care how you want to parse it, however this plays out the winners will have earned it. Nobody is getting a cake walk. Isn’t this what we want? To make the playoffs you have to beat the best teams in the final weeks of the regular season. You have to slug it out, over and over again, to truly let the cream rise to the top. Or is it just a battle of attrition – last man standing wins?
Whatever it is, I love it.
Of course I want my Sox to win the division, even if they have to duct tape their manager’s mouth closed so he won’t screw it up somehow. They have the bats, leading the majors in runs scored with 764, and they have the starting pitching (didn’t think I’d say that 3 months ago) with David Price and Rick Porcello pitching brilliantly. If they can scratch through without their bullpen blowing leads every other game, and the above duct tape situation is in place, they will win the division. They certainly should finish with at least one of the wild card spots.
The Blue Jays can mash the ball and pitch, making them the most balanced of the group. They are seventh in the league in runs scored with 675, third in home runs with 198, and second in the AL in staff ERA 3.86. That’s balance. But they just got swept by the Yankees!?
So how good are the Yanks then? Not very, actually. In what may be the worst example of timing in Yankee history, the decision by the brass to sell at the trade deadline, dumping Aroldis Chapman, Carlos Beltran, and Andrew Miller, was drastically premature. They’ve clawed their way back into it, riding a high powered by catching phenom Gary Sanchez, 30 games, .348/.423/.713 with 11 home runs, 9 doubles and a sky-high 1.136 OPS. The kid is only 23 and has Gotham by the curlies. ‘Sanchize’ I’ve heard him called. (Does New York have to do that -chize thing to every good Latino player?)
The Orioles are slip-sliding into oblivion, again. After carrying the division for large chunks of the season, injuries to their pitching staff are catching up to them. Their stacked lineup with Manny Machado, Mark Trumbo (league-leading 41 home runs) and softball slugger Chris Davis (.229, 188 Ks, 35 HR) can score in bunches, but probably not enough to overtake the Sox or Jays.
hallelujah! A pennant race in the East. Four teams, three playoff spots, and they all have to go through each other to get to the post-season.
They say baseball is a marathon, not a sprint – it’s a sprint now.
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