Major League Baseball and Its Wide Open Races

Phil GardnerContributor IIIMay 25, 2011

It’s the end of May and the playoff races are still anybody’s to take.  Eighteen teams are still within striking distance of first place, and not a single division appears to have a team with a rock solid advantage. 

Any team projected to walk to the playoffs has had a difficult go at things so far.  In the American League, the east is a five-horse race. The west has two games separating first place from last and the central has a Cinderella team looking to stave off the big lineups down below. 

The National League has tight races in every division, and daily changes in the division leaders. This has to be one of the most exciting starts to the season any can remember.

The Yankees find themselves in first place, narrowly in front of Boston and Tampa.  Boston has climbed all the way back from their terrible start, and Tampa has done the same behind the strength of outstanding pitching. 

Of the top three teams, none are without their difficulties.  Boston has a shaky back end of the rotation. New York has a streaky lineup that is either a kings feast or a third-world famine and Tampa has outstanding starting pitching to counterbalance their less than impressive lineup. 

Behind the top three, Jose Bautista is slugging the Jays to contention, even the Orioles find themselves within 3.5 games of first.

In the central the Indians are out front, but you wonder how long they can keep teams like the Tigers caged up.  They have some players with a propensity for injury, as well as a young team who is seemingly coming together.  Whether it’s the real deal remains to be seen, but they’re off to a fantastic start. 

Who would have predicted the Indians would be the most stable team this far into the season?

In the west, the Rangers were hit hard by injuries, including league MVP Josh Hamilton.  Now that he’s rejoined the team, they find themselves only 2 games in front of the last place team in the division. 

Will Josh be the boost that gives them some separation in the division, or will wins still be hard to come by in a very strong American League? 

The Angels will be without Kendrys Morales for the season, but still have a solid team, along with manager Mike Scioscia, who always finds a way to compete.  Even the Mariners are competing on the strength of a string of outstanding performances by the starting pitchers. 

The AL west is always tight, but this year seems absolutely choked up.

In the NL, every single division has at least three teams fighting hard.  Even the Phillies, with one of the greatest rotations ever assembled, are only one game ahead of the Marlins. 

The Rockies and Giants are trading blows in the west; both teams with talented young players.  In the central, the race is as close as we predicted, with the Cardinals, Brewers and Reds all trying to survive injuries and ineffectiveness long enough to stay at the top.

It’s been an extremely exciting start to the season and the trade deadline is already looking to be interesting in how teams go about their business.  A team like the Indians probably would have been sellers at the trade deadline by the preseason predictions.

Now they have to decide whether to hold onto pieces like Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, or   risk their future by not moving players who might break down from injuries. 

Teams like the Phillies might get creative and move a piece like Brad Lidge who could free up some payroll in exchange for another bat.

It was a winter of budget stretching. 

The Red Sox and Phillies are some of the teams who spent far more than their normal budgets. the Yankees clocked in at their usual $200+ million that their inherited owners are shy about extending, and other teams are just dead set in spending small to work on their prospects they’ve spent years developing. 

We also have financially unstable teams in the Mets and Dodgers, neither of whom will be able to make a splash this summer. 

This July, teams will be either holding onto their pieces much tighter, or else willing to get creative and move names you would have never expected.  But it probably won’t be the same scuttling of the small market ships that we’re used to seeing in past seasons.

Cast your bets now on who’s going to come out on top.  But right now, the game is still churning, and almost every team in the game still has an outstanding shot at winning.