If the 2012 MLB Regular Season ended today, the following teams that haven't clinched just yet would be going to playoffs:
New York Yankees (AL East Leader), Chicago White Sox (AL Central Leader), Texas Rangers (AL West Leader), Baltimore Orioles (AL Wild Card), Oakland Athletics (AL Wild Card), Atlanta Braves (NL Wild Card), St Louis Cardinals (NL Wild Card)
Along with those seven, these three teams have already made playoffs:
Cincinnati Reds (NL Central Champions), San Francisco Giants (NL West Champions), Washington Nationals (NL East Leader)
Let's say things remain this way for the final stretch run of the regular season and these are the teams that make it into the big show, I will list one player for each team, the "x-factor" if you will, who has to come through in order for their respective team to advance further into October.
The franchise leader with four postseason wins, Tim Lincecum was a hero for the World Champion San Francisco Giants in 2010.
However, 2012 hasn't been so kind to Lincecum, who had an MLB worst ERA of 6.42 with a 3-10 record at the All-Star break in July.
He was able to turn things around in the second half, winning three out of four of his last starts, improving his overall stats to 10-14 with a 4.91 ERA.
The Giants will need him to carry that high level of performance into the playoffs with fellow front-end starting pitchers Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.
The Cincinnati Reds prized First Baseman Joey Votto collected 14 home runs before the All-Star break.
However, since returning from the disabled list that kept him out for part of July and all of August, he hasn't hit a home run.
Lack of power aside, since his return from the DL, he managed to reach base in exactly half his plate appearances (34 of 68) including 17 walks.
The Reds may not need power from Votto, but getting on base and driving in runs may be just enough to power the big red machine deep into October.
A kid who will only turn 20 this October, Bryce Harper is looking to have the biggest birthday present a young man could ask for—advancing to the National League Championship.
Even without Stephen Strasburg, the Washington Nationals' solid rotation shouldn't have many problems keeping opponents off the scoreboard.
With key defensive plays from players like Harper, along with clutch hits and run support, the Nationals should get to the next round in the playoffs or even further.
Barring a comeback from the Milwaukee Brewers or Los Angeles Dodgers, it seems the Atlanta Braves will be playing a one-game Wild Card playoff with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Being from the Atlanta area, I would be dumbfounded if the Atlanta Braves didn't go with their hottest flamethrower at the moment, Kris Medlen.
It seems likely that will happen since the Braves have lined up their rotation to set up Medlen for the potential Oct. 5 Wild Card game.
A Cy Young candidate for sure, Medlen is an amazing 9-1 on the season with a ridiculous 1.51 ERA and a 108/22 strikeout to walk ratio.
If Medlen can get the Braves through their potential Wild Card game, it sets up the rotation perfectly for their NLDS opponent.
The St. Louis Cardinals team leader with 17 wins, Lance Lynn may have pitched his last game of the regular season on Monday.
With a potential Wild Card game against the Atlanta Braves on October 5, Lynn could be used as the starter opposite Kris Medlen of the Atlanta Braves.
In doing this, the Cardinals would be going with a pitcher who has been reliable down the stretch, winning four of his last five starts, and would set up Kyle Lohse to begin the NLDS series if they were to win.
Also, like Medlen, Lynn could be used in an NLDS Game Three or Four on four or five days rest.
With a sizable lead in the American League West, the Texas Rangers seem to be headed to the postseason by winning their division.
Josh Hamilton has been a huge part of their success, hitting 42 home runs and collecting 124 RBIs heading into play on Tuesday.
However, an eye ailment kept Hamilton out of play last week. They will need a healthy Hamilton in their lineup to power the offense in the playoffs or they could be looking at a first round exit.
Hamilton is looking to build on his postseason numbers. He already has 33 postseason games under his belt, all with the Texas Rangers, where he collected six home runs and 22 RBIs.
Unlike the National League's Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago White Sox aren't blessed with a rotation where they can go to a third or fourth guy for a potential one-game playoff.
This, in turn, makes Chicago front-end starter Chris Sale the easy choice for the most important piece of a White Sox playoff run.
Entering play on Tuesday, the White Sox hold a skinny one-game lead on the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central standings.
Fortunately for the White Sox, they look to be safe from playing a Wild Card game since it seems that neither of the two Wild Card teams in the AL will come from the Central.
Unfortunately, if they want to get in they are going to have to hold off the powerful Detroit Tigers, whose roar may blow the socks off of this Chicago team and take the final spot.
However, the White Sox have the lead with a week left, and it is their division to lose.
If they do make the playoffs, they will need their No. 1 starter Sale to continue his success into October.
After Sale, the White Sox rotation is bleak to say the least. However, with a strong offense and a group of hungry players, the White Sox have all the makings of a Cinderella-type run.
Entering play Tuesday, the Oakland Athletics are indeed on the American League bubble with a mere two-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels and three games on the Tampa Bay Rays.
All eyes should remain on Cuban sensation Yoenis Céspedes if the Athletics make it to the dance.
Turning 27 in October, the rookie Céspedes connected for his 21st home run on Monday.
Aside from his power, Céspedes leads the team with a .290 batting average and has hit safely in 11 of his last 13 games.
Céspedes is no slouch on the base paths as well, collecting 16 stolen bases on 19 attempts.
He should be fun to watch if the A's hold on.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Buck Showalter's Orioles seem to be headed for the 2012 MLB Playoffs.
If the season ended today, they would have locked up one of the American League Wild Card spots.
However, they are just 1.5 games behind the powerhouse New York Yankees in the American League East and would much rather get into the postseason without having to deal with a one-game playoff on October 5.
Taking nothing away from the players who have been on the Orioles roster the entire season, the 19-year-old prospect Dylan Bundy has been called up for something bigger than he yet realizes.
After a crazy 19-inning game last week, the Orioles called up the youngster in what seemed to be an opportunity to give the bullpen some much-needed depth and rest.
However, he didn't pitch until this past Sunday against the Boston Red Sox.
Bundy was brought into a key situation with a runner on second and one out in his MLB debut and retired the two batters he faced in what was just a one-run game.
Some people seem to think Bundy will be sent back down before the playoffs begin, but I can't help thinking that there is more to this and he could be a huge factor in the playoffs.
I don't see him starting a game, but as a setup man along with Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson, his work could be critical.
The New York Yankees are clinging to a 1.5 game lead in the American League East with the Baltimore Orioles refusing to go away.
I am a firm believer in pitching being a very important component of an MLB playoff team succeeding in October.
With that being said, I do not have much faith on the Yankees' rotation heading into playoffs.
In turn, the Yankees are going to have to win games the hard way this postseason and outscore their opponents in what will most likely be high-scoring contests.
With the World Series Championship monkey off his back, who else but Alex Rodriguez would be the key factor in the postseason success of the Yankees?
Rodriguez, who missed most of the second half with a thumb injury, looks to get the sour taste out of his mouth from the past two postseasons in which he was the final out for the Yankees.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Rodriguez was the first player in MLB history to strike out for his team's final out in consecutive postseasons. Go figure.
Hitting third or fourth for the Yankees this post season, Rodriguez has got to be just as clutch as he was during the 2009 playoffs or a lot of eyes and boos will turn towards him.
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