Predicting MLB's Best Playoff Races the Rest of the Way
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With a little more than 60 games to go in the 2012 MLB season, it's safe to say that only one division will not have any excitement in the final weeks of the season.
The New York Yankees are currently up eight games in the American League East, and I honestly don't see any of the teams in the division catching them.
However, when you look at the rest of the divisions, the biggest gap between first and second is four games (AL West).
The homestretch is going to be exciting, and what happens in the next month is going to tell us just how exciting the final month of the season is going to be.
Here's a countdown of the top playoff races the rest of the way.
6. National League Central
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Andrew McCutchen should be in the MVP discussion and has been the leader for the Pirates, giving them their first winning record this late in the season since 1992.
The Reds have done things with consistency, even as injuries have occurred.
The injury to Joey Votto has hurt, and it could open the door for the Pirates to make up those three games over the next few weeks.
The Cardinals have dealt with the loss of Albert Pujols, but to make up the same distance they did in last year's wild-card run is going to be very tough.
I believe the Reds will be in the playoffs, regardless if it's as a division winner or as one of the two wild cards.
The Pirates are looking strong, but there are still three series left against the Reds to see what they're made of.
They will finish the season at home against the Braves, which, if the standings stay the same way, will also be the wild-card matchup.
5. National League East
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The Washington Nationals are one of the biggest surprises in the big leagues this year.
With Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper leading the charge, the Nats haven't faded since the beginning of the year.
The Atlanta Braves, on the other hand, have been in multiple playoff races before, so this isn't a new thing for them.
The Braves have dealt with the roller-coaster effect of the pitching staff, as evidenced by their need to acquire a starting pitcher before Tuesday's trade deadline.
This race will be interesting down the stretch and will be something to keep an eye on.
Will Strasburg actually be shut down due to an inning's limit? Who will step up if he does?
Can the Braves' pitching staff be more consistent in the fourth and fifth spots?
By the time the two teams meet in Washington Aug. 20-22, the race will be even closer and more intense.
4. American League Central
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Now, Indians fans may not be happy with me to not include them, but I don't see them even coming close to winning this race.
The White Sox just traded (via Scott Powers of ESPN) for Francisco Liriano and have gotten an offensive boost from recently acquired Kevin Youkilis.
The Tigers were the favorites coming into the season with the signing of Prince Fielder.
But, outside of Justin Verlander, the pitching staff hasn't been great. The jury is still out on the acquisition of Anibal Sanchez, but it should still be interesting to see how he adapts to the American League.
3. American League Wild Card
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The wild card is wide open in the American League.
Currently, there are eight teams that are still in the hunt, with the Indians being the furthest out at five games.
The Athletics and Angels both lead the standings but are also in contention in the AL West.
The Tigers are one game out, with the Rays and Orioles two games out. The Red Sox and Blue Jays are also close, which is going to make it an interesting final two months.
Right now, the favorites have to be two representatives out of the AL West, but if they just beat up on each other, the Tigers, Rays and Orioles can slip in there.
2. National League West
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The Giants currently lead the division by one game but have played two less games, so there's the potential to add another game to that lead.
The Dodgers are in search of a pitcher after acquiring Hanley Ramirez, and the Giants might be in search of some help too before the deadline.
Could the season-ending series in LA be what decides the division champion?
The one problem here, is that the loser of the division might not even make it into the playoffs with how strong the Braves and Pirates are playing.
So, this could literally be win or go home.
1. American League West
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This is going to be the most exciting race of the year.
Oakland is the surprise here, but if I would've known how good Yoenis Cespedes was going to be, I would've thought better of them at the beginning of the year.
The Angels just acquired Zack Greinke, according to ESPN, and seem to have an unstoppable rotation.
The Rangers, on the other hand, just continue to go on and do what they do. They've been to the World Series two straight years, and they're looking to make it back there again.
In the last month of the year, the Angels and the Athletics meet seven times, the Angels and Rangers meet six times and the Athletics and Rangers meet 10 times.
It should be an interesting last month.