Playing Spoiler: Five Non-Contending Teams That Will Affect the Playoffs
As of August 16, thirteen teams find themselves within six games of a playoff spot.
So while Boston, New York, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Chicago, Texas, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco, and Colorado will relish playing each other, that doesn't mean they should glaze over the rest of the schedule.
I'm sure Mets fans remember their own personal playoff spoiler. In both 2007 and 2008, the Mets were eliminated on the last day of the season by the Florida Marlins, who had nothing to gain in the game but the sweet satisfaction of ending New York's playoff hopes.
Which cellar-dwelling teams will have that same feeling this year?
Here are five who hope to keep their division rivals home this October.
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Current Record (as of August 16): 51-66 (15.5 GB)
Remaining Games vs. Contending Teams: 13
Don't look now, but something's brewing deep in the heart of Texas.
Since unloading franchise stars Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, the Houston Astros have been an entirely different team. A better one.
On July 29, when they traded Oswalt to Philadelphia, the Astros were 42-59, sitting in fifth in the National League Central. Since then, they've gone 9-7, vaulting over the Cubs into fourth, and they're now closing in on the Milwaukee Brewers.
Their offense, which was the worst in the National League for much of the season, has come to life since the Oswalt trade, and is now averaging 5.6 runs per game, up from 3.6 prior to the deal. The new offensive attack is led by rookie Chris Johnson, who is batting .365 with six home runs and an unreal OPS+ of 153.
While Houston won't put together enough of a surge to upend Cincinnati or St. Louis, they will have a say in which team comes out on top.
Toronto Blue Jays
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Current Record (as of August 16): 63-55 (9 GB)
Remaining Games vs. Contending Teams: 29
Location, location, location.
That's what kept the Toronto Blue Jays home in October since 1993, when Joe Carter famously vaulted the Jays to their second consecutive World Series title.
But playing in the American League East, home of the Yankees and Red Sox, not to mention the upstart Rays, has had Toronto playing second fiddle ever since.
At the top of the AL East, New York, Boston, and Tampa Bay are competing for two playoff spots. Each of the teams has at least two series with the Blue Jays left. The division-leading Yankees square off with Toronto three times.
While the East is clearly a three-team race, the Jays are no slouches either. With a potent offense that includes home run leader Bautista, and a solid pitching staff, the Sox, Yanks, and Rays may all be dreading face-offs with the Blue Jays.
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Current Record (as of August 16): 47-72 (24 GB)
Remaining Games vs. Contending Teams: 31
The crotalus atrox, or diamondback snake, is a venomous pit viper species found in the U.S. and Mexico.
Come September, teams in the National League West want to avoid a different kind of Diamondback, lest they become snakebitten.
Lying in the desert, the Arizona Diamondbacks have been a sleeping giant. While the rest of their division is within ten games of a playoff berth, Arizona sits 24 games behind division-leading San Diego, and 20 games out of the Wild Card.
It's not what many would have predicted for a team with their high-octane offense, which is the definition of the phrase "swinging for the fences." This year, Arizona leads the league in strikeouts and is second in home runs.
The Diamondbacks have three players with at least 20 home runs, but also five with 100+ whiffs, including strikeout king Mark Reynolds. When this team starts connecting with pitches, they will start winning more ballgames.
In a division where four teams have playoff aspirations, all of whom must face the Diamondbacks, don't be surprised if one or more find their luck running dry in the Phoenix desert.
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Current Record (as of August 16): 42-77 (30.5 GB)
Remaining Games vs. Contending Teams: 25
The team with the worst record in the American League affecting the playoff race?
Don't scoff. These aren't the 2009 Baltimore Orioles. These are the 2010 Orioles—Part Three.
After going 15-39 under Dave Trembley, and 17-34 under Juan Samuel, the Orioles hired fame franchise rebuilder Buck Showalter, and have been a different team ever since.
They've gone 10-4 under Showalter, scoring 4.6 runs per game, and averaging more than one home run per game. The Orioles are on fire right now, and with upcoming match-ups with Boston, New York, and Tampa Bay, Baltimore could have a serious impact on the AL East race.
In fact, such success is not unprecedented under Showalter. Although he's only made the playoffs twice, two of his teams won a World Series the year after he left. The Texas Rangers, who he last managed in 2006, seem destined for a playoff berth this year.
Although the Orioles may have to wait a few years for Showalter's hard work to pay off, the Buck may stop in Baltimore for one AL East team this season.
Kansas City Royals
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Current Record (as of August 16): 49-69 (19 GB)
Remaining Games vs. Contending Teams: 19
For one of the most miserable franchises in sports, the playoffs are once again very far away.
However, Royals fans may take solace in the hope that their team will eliminate one of their division rivals' postseason chances.
Although they're currently tied with the Indians for last in the AL Central, Kansas City is third in the American League in batting average, and fourth in hits. Somehow, they're still only scoring 4.08 runs per game, well below the league average of 4.46.
One reason for their scoring drought is that despite all those hits, the Royals have grounded into the second-most double plays, behind Minnesota. Royals pitchers have also given up the second-most runs per game of any American League team, ahead of only Baltimore.
Still, once the Royals start stringing those hits together, they could be a Royal pain in the neck for the AL Central leaders.