The Detroit Tigers are two games back in the AL Central.
Adding an extra wild-card spot in each league was intended to give more teams a chance at the playoffs and generate more late-season excitement.
That objective has definitely been accomplished, as at least six teams have a chance at qualifying for the postseason as we head into the final two weeks of the regular season. (The Detroit Tigers are another team in playoff contention, but are too far behind in the wild-card standings and need to win their division.)
But will any of the teams still in contention for a playoff bid actually be able to overcome their current deficit in the standings? None of these clubs are closer than two games to a wild-card spot. That's not an insurmountable margin with 13 to 14 games remaining in the regular season. But it is a gap that needs to be closed nonetheless.
Here are the seven teams that are alive in the playoff chase with two weeks remaining on the 2012 schedule. At least four of them still have a realistic shot at qualifying for the postseason. However, it's just as likely that these clubs won't be playing past Oct. 3.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have been on the fringes of the NL playoff race since August.
But in looking at the standings, the D-Backs are right there with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies for an outside chance at the league's second wild-card playoff spot, 4.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.
Arizona hasn't surged back into the race the way the Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers have. Kirk Gibson's team is 8-7 thus far into September. But winning three of six games from the San Francisco Giants and sweeping a two-game series from the Los Angeles Dodgers helped boost them into playoff contention.
The D-Backs have a very favorable schedule through the final two weeks of the season with two series against the Colorado Rockies and a three-game set vs. the Chicago Cubs. But overcoming a 4.5-game deficit and four teams ahead of them in the standings is going to be extremely difficult.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are largely responsible for muddying the NL playoff picture, going 4-13 in September and letting the Arizona Diamondbacks, Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers into the race for the league's second wild-card bid.
The Brewers have directly pounded the Pirates down the wild-card standings, winning five consecutive games (as of Sept. 20) in head-to-head matchups.
For the second consecutive season, Pittsburgh took a major slide in the second half of the season. The Bucs are 26-37 since the All-Star break, long ago falling out of contention in the NL Central. In September, a wild-card bid slipped from the Pirates' grasp as well.
With the right additions (a left fielder and starting pitcher, for example), Pittsburgh should contend in the NL Central again next season. But will anyone believe they can sustain any success in the second half, or will their failures repeat themselves?
The Philadelphia Phillies have been one of September's surprise teams, surging into playoff contention to salvage what looked like a lost season.
Charlie Manuel's club was one of 2012's biggest disappointments for the first five months of the season, but a 12-5 record thus far through September pushed them into the NL wild-card race.
The Phillies got as close as three games from that second wild-card spot, but losing three of four games vs. the Houston Astros last week likely derailed their playoff chances.
Philadelphia has a tough schedule through the last two weeks of the regular season with two series against the Washington Nationals and a three-game set vs. the Atlanta Braves. The Phillies are a combined 12-17 against those clubs, the top two teams in the NL East this year.
The Milwaukee Brewers likely went into September looking more toward next year than a strong finish to this season.
Had general manager Doug Melvin knew they would be 2.5 games out of a wild-card spot with two weeks remaining in the regular season, would he have traded Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels? Maybe not, but making that deal was probably best for the Brewers' future.
A 13-4 record during the season's final month has made Milwaukee an improbable playoff contender, powered by another MVP-caliber performance from Ryan Braun.
The Brewers have made the most of their wins, beating the teams ahead of them in the wild-card standings. As of Sept. 20, Milwaukee has beaten the Pirates four times, taken two of three from the Cardinals and swept a three-game set from the Braves.
If the Brewers can get through a seven-game stretch against the Nationals and Reds successfully, maybe this playoff thing can really happen for them.
Just two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL's second wild-card spot, the Los Angeles Dodgers still have a chance to make the playoffs during the season's final two weeks.
However, a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds this weekend (Sept. 21-23) is a pretty imposing obstacle. The Dodgers have been a decent road team this season with a 37-37 record away from Chavez Ravine, but the Reds have the best home mark in the NL at 47-28.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals get to play the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros over their next seven games.
Clayton Kershaw would certainly help the Dodgers' playoff chances, but the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner might not be available to pitch the rest of the season as he struggles with an injured right hip.
Without him, it's difficult to imagine the Dodgers overtaking the Cardinals in the wild-card standings.
The Detroit Tigers were a consensus favorite to win the AL Central before the 2012 season began. Going into the final two weeks on the schedule, however, the Tigers are fighting for their playoff lives, two games behind the Chicago White Sox for the AL Central lead.
Detroit is five games back in the AL wild-card standings, so there's no safety net. If the Tigers don't win the AL Central, they won't make the playoffs.
The schedule is favorable for the Tigers in their final 14 games of the season with two series against both the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals.
Detroit has a combined 14-9 vs. those clubs this season, but hasn't typically played its best when facing teams they should beat. That will obviously have to change for the Tigers to overtake the White Sox for a division title.
Miguel Cabrera is doing his best to push the Tigers into the postseason, hitting. 373 with a 1.223 OPS thus far into September. But will that be enough to help make up a two-game deficit this late in the season?
The Los Angeles Angels looked like a strong contender to win a wild-card playoff spot and perhaps even the AL West title coming into the 2012 season.
After adding Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to what was already a playoff contender, the Angels looked like a team capable of winning the World Series. But an 8-15 start in April was a significant setback to overcome.
The Angels went on to add Zack Greinke before the July 31 trade deadline, giving them a virtual All-Star starting rotation. But a disappointing 13-15 record in August phased them out of the AL playoff picture.
As of Sept. 20, the Angels are 3.5 games behind the Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles for a wild-card playoff bid in the AL. That gives them a chance during the final two weeks of the regular season.
However, the Angels have to play the Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers in seven of their last 13 games, which doesn't make for an easy path to the postseason. Can six games against the last-place Seattle Mariners give the Halos the help they need?
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