With just two weeks to go until the MLB season ends, we have a fairly clear picture of who could make the playoffs. If we were still in the old playoff format, the NL would already be just about decided, with Washington, Atlanta, Cincinnati and San Francisco making it to the playoffs.
With the addition of the second wild-card team, both leagues have many more teams looking to squeeze into the playoffs thanks to that final spot. In fact, roughly half the teams in the league are still in it.
Playoffs are never the goal, though; the goal is to make it to the World Series and win it. Which teams are the front-runners and which are long shots to make it to the big dance?
I hate putting the Rays last among everyone, which I'm only doing because they are now four games out after going 1-5 against the Orioles and Yankees. As a result, they have a very slim chance at making it to the playoffs.
If they actually make it there though and defy the odds, they will rocket up this list, as their rotation of David Price and company could win a series against anyone. Or at least David Price can (he was the lone win in the 1-5 slate).
The Detroit Tigers are in a similar position as the Tampa Bay Rays. On paper, they have the potential to make a deep run and should be running away with the AL Central.
Despite Cy Young/MVP-caliber years by Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, they can't seem to get things going—three games behind the White Sox might end up being too much.
The Baltimore Orioles have been going on willpower all season long. Their starting rotation has been mediocre despite an elite bullpen, and they seem to get wins out of nowhere.
Adam Jones and others are providing great power with the bats, and they could make a splash. Still, heart and a bullpen can only do so much; the starting rotation is just not playoff quality at all.
Despite having the edge in the AL Central and only needing to hold off the Tigers to make the playoffs, they do not strike me as a team that can make a deep run.
Jake Peavy has struggled in the playoffs in the past, and Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are in their first season as full-time starters. Factor in the bullpen's recent struggles and even a potent lineup wouldn't be able to match up with teams like the Yankees or Rangers.
That being said, given some of the other shockers in the league, the White Sox could do better than expected.
For those keeping track, yes, there will be three AL West teams in the top four. It wasn't how I planned it, but it worked out that way. On paper, the Angels should be in the top three, but I can't rank them higher since they are on the outside looking in right now.
Albert Pujols and Mike Trout lead a lineup that compares well to the best in the league, and they have a good three man rotation in Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Zack Greinke. If the bullpen can hold on another month and bring them to the playoffs, they should have a good run.
I still feel strange even calling Oakland a playoff team, let alone considering them one of the favorites to make it to the World Series, especially after figuring they would be awful this year. Well, having the second-best pitching staff in the AL helps.
As long as you have an elite pitching staff, you can afford a bad lineup so long as a few players get hot. The Athletics have that in Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes, so if they can make a few key hits, the A's should continue their Cinderella run.
The Texas Rangers have won the American League the last two years, so the surprise comes from them not being first, especially since their lineup is as elite as ever.
While that is true, their rotation leaves much to be desired. Colby Lewis will not be available for the playoffs, which leaves Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish and Ryan Dempster leading the team. The bullpen is great, but if the Rangers exit early, it will be due to the starting rotation.
On paper, the Yankees have the talent to make the World Series, as they do every year. They are nearly a lock for the playoffs as long as they don't collapse, and they've been there before.
The CC Sabathia/Hiroki Kuroda combo is one of the best to start a playoff series in the majors, and they have a good bullpen and great lineup on top of it. The only weakness may be the team's batting average, but that shouldn't be an issue if the pitching remains steady as it has been all season.
The gap between the first wild-card spot and the second (Braves and Cardinals) is quite large. The gap between the Cardinals and a few other teams, however, is much smaller. The Brewers, Pirates, Dodgers and even Phillies have a very small chance of squeezing into the playoff picture.
I'm lumping the three that are around .500 (Phillies, Pirates, Brewers) as a group since they would have to not only hope for the Nationals to sweep the Cardinals at the end of the season, but for the Astros to be competitive in their six games.
That is a tall order to fill, and that's not even counting their own matchups.
The Dodgers, unlike the earlier three, are only a game behind St. Louis, so they at least have a realistic chance to catch the Cardinals. Playing the Padres and Rockies late in the year helps too.
While their pitching rotation has been great, their lineup has been tough to watch. It has been riddled with injuries, and while pitching is what matters in the playoffs, only one player is on pace to play 140 games (Andre Ethier).
The Atlanta Braves are still a young team, but they have evolved since last season's collapse. Craig Kimbrel and the bullpen are dominant, and the outfield of Jason Heyward and Michael Bourn give the team a great power-speed combo.
The issues at shortstop and the iffy starting rotation, however, keeps them from cracking the top four. Kris Medlen has been lights-out, and Tim Hudson's been decent, but they don't have enough aces to do too well in the playoffs.
The San Francisco Giants have a great pitching staff as usual, but what helps them on this list is that Tim Lincecum's ERA since August is under four. If he has finally bounced back, then that makes them that much tougher.
They have a well-rounded lineup even without Melky Cabrera, and while the lineup isn't outstanding, they have some great pieces like Buster Posey who could lead a deep playoff run.
The St. Louis Cardinals may be without Albert Pujols, but they also only have the second wild-card spot. Had this been last year, they would nearly be out of the playoff race.
They squeaked into the postseason last year though, and ended up winning the World Series. With a great lineup and a starting rotation that has been there before, it may not be the team that won the World Series last year, but it's not that far off either.
The Cincinnati Reds have been having a dream run this year. Even when Joey Votto went down to injury, they seemed to get even better as the weeks went on.
Johnny Cueto has had a Cy Young type season, and everyone that has needed to step up has done so. If they can get a run going now that Votto is back, it's easy to put them in the NLCS and possibly the World Series.
Had this been a month ago, I would have had the Nationals as the front-runners. That being said, now that the Stephen Strasburg situation is official, are they still the favorites?
They still have a top-tier pitching staff with Gio Gonzalez leading the charge. The outfield has finally shown up with Bryce Harper's arrival, and other hitters have been great lately.
Despite losing Strasburg, the rest of the team is elite enough that they could still make it to the World Series without too much difficulty.