MLB Playoff Races: How I Anticipate Each Division Winding Up
With a month remaining in the season, I offer up my predictions for the remainder of the season. I attempt to identify which team will win the division and how the rest will shape up.
Some teams made it easy for me, as at least 10 will probably be mathematically eliminated within two weeks.
Other division races were tougher.
For the close races I try to pinpoint why the team in first is in first, why the team I had expected to win the division is in third and so on.
On the second-to-last slide I list end-of-year standings according to how I expect them to finish. On the last slide, I made an admittedly arbitrary prediction of how the playoffs might unfold, according to the teams I expect to make it there.
For that, I didn't put a whole lot of analysis into it. I just used what I know about these teams and how the playoffs work. Then, I went with the first result that popped into my head and remained there for longer than a few seconds.
Keep in mind that the best team on paper can lose a short series. Don't take those predictions too seriously, I fully expect some of them to be wrong.
Tampa is 8.5 games behind the Wild Card Yankees and while collapses and hot streaks do happen, the fact that they are the lesser team on paper staring up at (arguably) the two deepest, most talented teams in the game, makes it highly unlikely.
Tampa almost certainly won’t win the division. To count on monumental collapses by both New York and Boston is a tall order.
San Francisco didn’t have much of a lineup last year either and these Rays can pitch. David Price, James Shields, Jeff Niemann and Jeremy Hellickson have combined for over 650 innings of sub-3.50 ERAs. Their bullpen is better than anyone could have expected, but their lineup lacks the dynamic pop of the Yankees and Red Sox.
The Rays will win 87 games if they play .500 baseball, the Yanks and Sox will be at 87 within a week and a half. With 17 of the Rays’ remaining 28 games against Boston, New York, or Texas, they have their work cut out for them.
Toronto and Baltimore are all but out of it.
The Orioles are three Yankee wins and two Red Sox wins from being mathematically eliminated. The Blue Jays are too good to be a fourth place team, but being 15.5 games back, they’re all but out of it.
As far as who wins the division, it’s a toss up.
Boston has handled the Yankees mightily this year, but both teams have pounded everyone else. The fact that the two are neck and neck has to do with how even they are across the board.
The Yankees need to maintain the surprisingly effective starting pitching they got off the scrap heap last winter. The Red Sox need to stay healthy.
I give the Yankees a slight edge when it comes to hitting and the Red Sox a slight edge in the rotation. The bullpens are comparable, New York run the bases better and Boston plays better defense.
In a potential playoff meeting, I place the odds at 50-50. For the stretch run, I’d say about the same.
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Since the Wildcard is almost certainly going to come from the East, teams should be fighting to win this division and I think they know that.
Detroit currently leads the division, five games ahead of the second-place White Sox.
Massive underachieving by Chicago and Minnesota, as well as Justin Verlander’s Cy Young-worthy campaign, has put Detroit in this position.
The Tigers have obvious weaknesses. Their team ERA is 4.15, worst out of any team above .500 by a margin of 20 points. Beyond Verlander, the rotation is subpar and the lineup has outperformed itself.
I would not be altogether shocked if Chicago catches Detroit. Though Chicago draw fewer walks than Detroit, they strike out far less and are significantly better on the basepaths and in the field. Significantly poor luck has silenced the bats of Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, and this bad luck has probably resulted in them trying too hard.
They have a deep rotation, with Mark Buehrle who keeps the ball on the ground and walks no one, Jake Peavy who has been solid of late and could dominate a lineup on any given day, Philip Humber who has seemingly learned how to pitch (thanks to whoever taught him the cutter) and John Danks and Gavin Floyd who are quality hurlers, though not aces.
Their bullpen has depth and dominant strikeout stuff. They certainly can catch Detroit.
The Indians are a nice story, but they’ve regressed somewhat and I’m not surprised.
The trade for Ubaldo Jimenez, who is as erratic as he is talented, was not the best investment.
Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Masterson and Michael Brantley were nice developments, but Shin-Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore aren’t playing like they can, which thins the ranks somewhat.
As much as I think Jim Thome deserves a World Series ring, I don’t see them making the playoffs. Certainly it could happen given that they’re only 5.5 games out, but if anyone catches Detroit, it’ll be the White Sox.
These teams mostly face each other over the final month of the season, with no team having a significantly easier schedule than the rest.
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Texas, who many thought were strong enough to be perennial division winners for a while, have a 3.5 game lead over the second-place Angels.
The Rangers have the better lineup by far.
The two teams are close in just one offensive stat: stolen bases. This is with the Rangers seven ahead, probably only because they get on base more often.
The Angels pitch better with a team ERA 31 points better than that of Texas. The Angels’ rotation is 32 ERA points better, due to their better walk rates and more favorable home ballpark. The Angels have Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, a scarier duo than C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando, even though the Rangers are back end of the rotation.
Add Ervin Santana to this mix, who has been about as good as Haren, and the Angels have a clear advantage.
This advantage is diluted by their woeful offense.
The Rangers hit about as well as anyone. Their .276 average is better than everyone’s except for Boston, but they are free swingers and are less likely to wear out a pitcher than the Yanks and Sox.
Still, right now they are just competing against the Angels.
This Angels team is impatient and has struggled to score runs for their aces. Texas scores more than enough runs for their pseudo-aces and they have the better bullpen. The two teams meet seven more times this year, and it could come down to the wire, but the Angels have a slightly more favorable schedule.
This is the division race I would feel most uncomfortable betting on, but I still like Texas a bit better.
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The Phillies are in a similar position to the AL East leaders. Besides being likely to win their division, they are almost guaranteed a playoff spot. They’re 7.5 games ahead of Atlanta who, in turn, have an 8.5-game stranglehold on the Wild Card lead.
I never expected any of them to content so I can’t say I’m betting on a Rocktober-like run.
As expected, Philadelphia is easily the best-pitching team in baseball.
As good as Atlanta are on the mound, Philadelphia boasts (probably) two of the top five starters in the game, (probably) three of the top ten and Roy Oswalt and Vance Worley, who are probably the best fourth and fifth starters in baseball.
This unprecedented rotation depth and a lineup that puts runs on the board despite being remarkably brittle, makes them an easy team to bet on. They have no off days remaining and will play two double-headers. Atlanta will have a more managable schedule but it’s not an easy one.
I still think the Phillies will pull away with the division title.
Atlanta are no slouches, in fact they might very well be the second-best team in the league. Their rotation is deep and though they lack the sparkling ERA the Phillies team has, they keep the ball on the ground and would be a scary group to meet in October.
The Phillies have a better lineup, perhaps partly due to their home park, but they strike out about four percent less often and have comparable walk rates.
I would be extremely surprised if Atlanta passes Philadelphia in this division and fully expect both teams to be playing October baseball.
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This has been one of the more interesting divisions this year.
The Reds have regressed some.
The Cardinals have been good despite the devastating loss of Adam Wainwright for the year.
We shouldn’t be too surprised about Milwaukee’s 9.5 game lead. The duo of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in the lineup is among the best in the game and the rotation is headed by three very good arms in Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.
There is lineup depth beyond the two big bats. As I mentioned, rotation depth beyond the three arms, and the bullpen is solid. The lead they have gives them a nice cushion and they are, perhaps, the most complete team in their division. They play alarmingly better at home than on the road, and the rest of the schedule is full of ups and downs.
I think they’ll hold on and win the division, but the margin will be less than their current lead.
I’m not a believer in Pittsburgh or Cincinnati. Being 18.5 games out, the Pirates are all but eliminated.
The Reds, 13.5 games out, won’t make up that ground either. Their pitching was vastly overrated last year and though they score runs, they don’t have the depth to leapfrog the two teams ahead of them.
The Cardinals have a shot, but it’s not a great one.
I love the middle of their lineup, but not the rest of it. The rotation is good but Milwaukee’s compares well. Their bullpen is enviable, but I just don’t think it’s enough. Besides their 9.5 game deficit in their division, they are also second to Atlanta in the Wild Card hunt. However, their 8.5 game deficit will be tough to overcome.
St. Louis has a quality team, but the talent is too concentrated in too few of their players.
There’s no reason to even mention Houston, but somehow I think it might be rude not to, given that I’ve mentioned every other team at least once.
The Cubs, who I expected better of, are just about out of it as well.
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The Giants seem to be fading and Diamondbacks have become unlikely division leaders.
With a six-game lead this late in the season, they’re putting pressure on the Giants who can, of course, pitch their way back into the mix. Unfortunately, the Giants’ lineup took a hit with Buster Posey’s injury and Aubrey Huff’s ineffectiveness.
Even last season, it took some timely hits from unlikely contributors to get them through October and I’m not expecting lightning to strike twice.
The San Francisco squad will pitch exceptionally well through the next month, but I’d sacrifice a little pitching for a team that can score runs from time to time, like Arizona can. The emergence of Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson for Arizona is combined with a talented lineup and the best defense in baseball.
Like in many of the other division races, the division leaders are the best teams on paper. I don’t think it’s a fluke that Arizona is in first place.
The Rockies have let me and my pre-season predictions down. At 13.0 games back, they’re going to have to go on another of their September runs and it’s never safe to bet on that for any team.
I fully expected to be wrong about some of my predictions, given what I know now, Arizona is the best team in the division. Their defense alone has saved their pitchers 56.6 runs this year. Given that, that’s forty runs better than what the Giants can boast, and that the D-backs can hit.
I’m thinking San Francisco’s chances of repeating are growing smaller by the day.
While The Giants have a shot at the Wild Card, it’s a small shot. They’re nine games back in that race and will need to win the division to play in October.
The Dodgers are in third place, 12 games behind Arizona, and like the Cubs, I expected more. I thought this might be one of the better teams in baseball and was expecting at least three teams to finish above .500.
The Rockies have been let down by their pitching, again putting my pre-season expectations to shame. This was supposed to be the year Jason Hammel made a name for himself.
The Padres are one of the weakest teams in baseball and might not even have the talent to catch Colorado, barring some luck.
Division Races Predicted
To take a somewhat boring stance, I predict each division finishing in almost exactly the same order they're in now. The only difference is I had one fourth place team overcome the third place team in that division. I imagine there will be more that changes, but I couldn't pinpoint one race that I fully expect to reshape itself over the last month.
TEAM RECORD GAMES BEHIND
Boston 99-63 -
New York 99-63 - (Wildcard due to losing the season series)
Tampa Bay 86-76 13.0
Toronto 78-84 21.0
Baltimore 66-96 33.0
TEAM RECORD GAMES BEHIND
Detroit 87-75 -
Chicago 86-76 1.0
Cleveland 81-81 6.0
Minnesota 71-91 16.0
Kansas City 67-95 20.0
TEAM RECORD GAMES BEHIND
Texas 91-71 -
Los Angeles 88-74 3.0
Oakland 72-90 19.0
Seattle 68-94 23.0
TEAM RECORD GAMES BEHIND
Philadelphia 103-59 -
Atlanta 95-67 8.0 (Wild Card Winners)
Washington 76-86 27.0
New York 75-87 28.0
Florida 72-90 31.0
TEAM RECORD GAMES BEHIND
Milwaukee 92-70 -
St. Louis 85-77 7.0
Cincinnati 82-80 10.0
Pittsburgh 74-88 18.0
Chicago 72-90 20.0
Houston 56-106 36.0
TEAM RECORD GAMES BEHIND
Arizona 93-69 -
San Francisco 83-79 10.0
Los Angeles 78-84 15.0
Colorado 76-86 17.0
San Diego 70-92 23.0
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Red Sox over Tigers in 4.
Yankees over Rangers in 4.
Diamondbacks over Braves in 5.
Phillies over Brewers in 3.
Yankees over Red Sox in 6.
Phillies over Brewers in 5.
Phillies over Yankees in 6.