Making the Case for Why Each MLB Contender Will, Won't Make the Playoffs

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 21, 2012

Making the Case for Why Each MLB Contender Will, Won't Make the Playoffs

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    With less than two weeks to go in the 2012 Major League Baseball season, things are almost as uncertain now as they were way back on Opening Day.

    As I'm sitting here writing this, there are four division leaders leading by five games or fewer. Between the American League and the National League, there are eight teams within six games of the second wild-card spot.

    So by my count, that makes 18 teams still fighting to play in October. Translation: Over half of MLB's 30 teams are still in this thing!

    You can chalk this madness up to the extra wild-card spot if you want. What's for sure either way is that much is going to be decided in the next two weeks. Here's hoping you like high-pressure baseball (and of course you do).

    Over the last few days/weeks/months, I've written plenty about why certain teams will make the playoffs when all is said and done. I've also written plenty about why certain teams won't be making the playoffs. 

    What I aim to do today is to address both sides of the coin in one fell swoop. For the sake of total fairness—and to have a few kicks on the side—here's a look at why each contender in MLB will make the playoffs, and why each one won't make the playoffs.

    And away we go.

    Note: Most stats are current as of the start of play on Thursday, Sept. 20, and they come from unless otherwise noted. The Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals will not be included in this discussion, as they've already clinched playoff spots. 

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Why They Will Make the Playoffs

    The Diamondbacks may be the most overlooked contender in baseball. If they are, that's because they have yet to make a move. All they've really done is hang around...and hang around...and hang around...

    They're not to be underestimated, though. The D-Backs have won eight of their last 13 games, and their key offensive players happen to be swinging the bats very well at the moment.

    Justin Upton, for example, already has more homers and as many RBI in September as he totaled in the entire month of August. Aaron Hill is hitting .305 this month. Miguel Montero has an OPS over 1.000 this month.

    Their pitching has also done well in September, posting a 3.63 ERA. Trevor Cahill and Ian Kennedy, in particular, are both pitching very well.

    Also, just take a look at their schedule. The D-Backs have seven games remaining against the hapless Rockies and they get to play three games against the Cubs. They haven't made a move yet, but all the chips are in place for them to finally make one.

    Why They Won't Make the Playoffs

    But let's face it, the Diamondbacks aren't going to make a move. They're threatening to make one now, but they've threatened to make a move about a million times this season. To date, they've remained stuck in "just you wait" mode.

    Besides, as good as Cahill and Kennedy have been, Wade Miley, Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs have all been beatable this month. To boot, J.J. Putz has an ERA over 6.00 in September.

    And as good as Upton, Hill and Montero have been, the D-Backs rank 10th in the National League in runs scored this month. That's not going to get it done.

    Furthermore, why should we take it for granted that the D-Backs are going to beat up on the Rockies and Cubs? Combined, they're just 9-8 against Colorado and Chicago this season.

    We should recognize the Diamondbacks for what they are: a sub-.500 team that's just lucky to be in this discussion.

Atlanta Braves

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    Why They Will Make the Playoffs

    Isn't it obvious? I mean, have you gotten a glimpse at this Kris Medlen guy?

    All Medlen has done in his 10 starts since joining Atlanta's rotation is put together an 8-0 record and a 0.76 ERA. Opponents are hitting a mere .195 against him with a .251 slugging percentage.

    In addition to Medlen, the Braves have Tim Hudson, Mike Minor and Tommy Hanson to throw at opponents. Paul Maholm has had issues, but he's also solid for the most part.

    Offensively, the Braves have the most overlooked superstar in the NL East in Jason Heyward, and Chipper Jones is proving this season that he can still hit. He may be too old and too rickety to play everyday, but he wants to win and you get the sense that the Braves want to win for him.

    It helps that they get to hand leads to Craig Kimbrel when they get them. He has a 1.10 ERA and an MLB-high 16.48 K/9. For my money, his fastball-slider combo is the best in baseball.

    Down the stretch, the Braves play the Marlins, Mets and Pirates. Game, set, match.

    Why They Won't Make the Playoffs

    You just never know when it comes to the Braves. They've generally been good this season, especially in the second half, but they've also been prone to mini losing streaks. It's not unheard of for them to randomly lose three and four games in a row.

    One such losing streak between now and the end of the season could cost the Braves their chance to win the NL East title. A longer losing streak—say, five or six games—would give the teams chasing them in the wild-card hunt a chance to knock them down a few pegs.

    And goodness knows there are plenty of teams chasing the Braves in the wild-card hunt. The Cardinals aren't too far behind the Braves, and there are five teams within five games of the Cardinals.

    I'll grant that the Braves shouldn't collapse. They're a strong team with a nice balance of pitching and offense.

    Then again, we didn't see their collapse coming last year, either.

Baltimore Orioles

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    Why They Will Make the Playoffs

    The Orioles are going to make the playoffs this year because the baseball gods are on their side. That's really the only rational explanation for all their success this season.

    Many people, myself included, figured that the O's would be lying in ruins by now. They were getting by for a long time despite bad starting pitching and a disappearing/reappearing offense. They seemed to be powered by Buck Showalter's willpower alone.

    Baltimore's success these days is slightly less baffling. They have a 12-6 record in September, and they lead the American League with 99 runs scored this month. Their team ERA in September is 3.52.

    We've already seen the O's get good production out of 20-year-old rookie Manny Machado. They went back to the well on Wednesday, calling up top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy. If he takes to the majors like Machado did, the O's are going to steamroll everyone they come across.

    They already were going to do that, of course. Ahead of Baltimore lies 10 games against Boston and Toronto and three games against a fading Rays team. It could not have been drawn up any better.

    Why They Won't Make the Playoffs

    You want to know how I know that the Orioles are overachieving?

    Just take one look at their Pythagorean record, which you can find over at It says they should be 73-76, not 85-64. There's a 12-win difference between their actual record and their expected record, largest of any team in baseball by a mile.

    So statistically, the Orioles are basically the luckiest team in all of baseball. If you've cared to notice them this season, I'm guessing you don't really need numbers to tell you that.

    So here's a question: At what point does their luck run out?

    If it runs out at any point in the next two weeks, the O's will be screwed. They're sitting pretty now, but their four-game lead over the Angels in the wild-card race is one that could quickly evaporate.

Chicago White Sox

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    Why They Will Make the Playoffs

    The White Sox aren't lacking in star power. They have a former Cy Young winner in Jake Peavy in their starting rotation, and the middle of their batting order consists of Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn.

    But it's the guys around the stars who make the White Sox such a good team. They're a much deeper team than they get credit for.

    A.J. Pierzynski is having a better season than a lot of people realize, as he's already set a new career high with 26 home runs. Alex Rios has been resurrected in Chicago. This month, they're getting excellent production out of Dewayne Wise and Gordon Beckham.

    The White Sox may not have the biggest division lead to play with, but they scored a crucial victory when they beat the Detroit Tigers on Monday to push their lead to three games. That's exactly the kind of lead that they're consistent enough to hold and exactly the kind of lead that the Tigers are too inconsistent to overcome.

    Chicago's remaining schedule should help them hold it. There are some rough games mixed in, but it should have no trouble in the six games it has remaining against the Indians.

    Why They Won't Make the Playoffs

    Yes, the White Sox are hanging on.

    But barely. They're just a game over .500 in September at 9-8 and just five games over .500 since the All-Star break. They played their best baseball back in May and have sort of been treading water ever since.

    And despite the fact they should be able to beat them, the White Sox are having a devil of a time against the Royals these days. They've played them 11 times since the Aug. 1, and the Royals have won eight of those games.

    This doesn't exactly bode well for the White Sox, as they prepare to play seven of their last 13 games against two contending teams in the Angels and the Rays. Making matters worse is the fact that two members of their starting rotation have ERAs over 6.00 this month.

    If the White Sox want to make the playoffs, they have a lot of shaping up to do in the final two weeks of the season.

Detroit Tigers

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    Why They Will Make the Playoffs

    Haven't you heard? Miguel Cabrera is the MVP of the league! 

    The dude is hitting .333 with 41 bombs and 130 RBI. If he hits one more home run, he'll be tied with Josh Hamilton for the AL lead and will have the Triple Crown in his sights.

    And did I mention that he's getting better? Cabrera has an OPS over 1.700 this month. That's juiced-up Barry Bonds territory!

    Oh, and Prince Fielder is also good. He has 27 homers of his own, and he's hitting over .300 with 101 RBI.

    And let's not forget about the team's pitching staff. Justin Verlander is a stud. Doug Fister is high in the running for the honor of being the most underrated pitcher in baseball. Anibal Sanchez has been money lately. Max Scherzer is hurt, but he'll be back and blowing hitters away in no time.

    Sure, maybe the Tigers have underachieved this year, but they won't be underachieving in the next two weeks. The rest of the way, it's only the Twins and the Royals, and they stink!

    Besides, the Tigers have the MVP! Did I say that already? If I did, it doesn't matter because HE'S THE MVP! ROAR!

    Why They Won't Make the Playoffs

    Let's be honest. Watching the Tigers try to win the AL Central this year has been like watching a seven-foot basketball player who can't dunk.

    All you can do is sit there and yell, "Why can't you do it!?"

    Yeah, I'll grant that Cabrera is awesome and that Prince has been worth every penny, and Austin Jackson hasn't gotten nearly the kind of attention he deserves. But my goodness, the rest of Detroit's lineup is mediocre to the point of being bad. Any pitcher who can successfully tiptoe around Jackson, Miggy and Prince is in for an easy day at the office.

    I won't argue that Detroit's starting rotation isn't a key strength right now, but the team's bullpen hasn't been so hot this month. Tigers relievers have a 1-3 record in September.

    And despite the fact the Tigers should beat up on the Twins and the Royals, neither of them should be taken too lightly. Only the Orioles have scored more runs than Minnesota and Kansas City this month.

    Plus, why should we count on the Tigers to do anything at this point? They've blown too many chances to earn our trust. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it.

Los Angeles Angels

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    Why They Will Make the Playoffs

    Never mind that Miguel Cabrera guy. Mike Trout is the real AL MVP.

    All the geeks say so. Miggy may be in line to win the Triple Crown, but Trout leads the world in WAR. That means he's the best player in baseball, no questions asked.

    [Relax, that was a joke.]

    Aside from him, the Angels also have guys like Albert Pujols, Torii Hunter and Mark Trumbo to lean on. Pitching-wise, they have Jered Weaver, Zack Greinke, C.J. Wilson and Dan Haren to throw at you, and their bullpen has come a long, long way from its August struggles.

    It's true that the Angels have underachieved this season. Probably more than the Tigers, in fact. But what matters right now is that they have an 11-6 record in the month of September, best in the AL West.

    They're probably not catching the Rangers for the division, but they only have a four-game deficit in the wild-card race to make up. That's not a Herculean task, and the Angels have more than enough talent to get the job done.

    Why They Won't Make the Playoffs

    There's not much to complain about where the Angels' pitching is concerned. Wilson is hit-or-miss, but as a whole, the Angels have put together a 2.50 ERA this month, by far the best in the American League.

    The team's offense, on the other hand...

    Trout hasn't been the same this month. He's hitting only .273 with a .762 OPS, a far cry from the absurd .392 average and 1.259 OPS he posted back in July. The kid has hit a wall.

    So has Pujols. He only has one home run and five RBI this month. He's hitting like he was earlier in the season, and that's not a good sign.

    Trumbo has been even worse. He's hitting just .178 with a .484 OPS since the Aug. 1.

    And have you seen the Angels' schedule? They have four left against Texas, three left against the White Sox and six left against a Mariners team that's looking to play spoiler.

    The Angels are playing well now, but all signs point towards it being too little, too late.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Why They Will Make the Playoffs

    Have you seen the amount of talent the Dodgers have? It's ridiculous.

    On offense, they have names like Shane Victorino, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez, all of whom are All-Star-caliber players. 

    In their starting rotation, the Dodgers have two former World Series heroes in Joe Blanton and Josh Beckett. In their bullpen, they have a former All-Star in Brandon League and a dude with the nastiest cutter in baseball in Kenley Jansen. He was out for a while, but he's back now.

    On paper, there's no question that the Dodgers are the most talented team in the NL West, maybe even in the entire National League. They're talented enough to take on all comers.

    Oh, and most important of all, they're due.

    Why They Won't Make the Playoffs

    Talented enough to take on all comers, maybe. But good enough? 

    Uh, no.

    For starters, there's no telling when Clayton Kershaw will be able to pitch again, and that's a huge concern. Without him, the Dodgers have no stopper.

    Complicating matters is the fact that the new additions haven't panned out as the Dodgers had hoped. Gonzalez has a .684 OPS as a Dodger. Victorino has a .614 OPS as a Dodger. Beckett has a mediocre 1.31 WHIP as a Dodger. Blanton has an ERA over 6.00 as a Dodger.

    Worst of all, Kemp has done more harm than good recently. He's got a .158 average and a .511 OPS in September.

    Yeah, the Dodgers may only be 2.5 games out in the NL wild-card race, but they're not making that up anytime soon. At this point, they're little more than a bad joke.

Milwaukee Brewers

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    Why They Will Make the Playoffs

    The Brewers are the hottest team in the National League. They're 14-4 in September and 23-7 over their last 30 games. There's nobody they can't beat.

    Similarly, there's nobody Ryan Braun can't hit. He's been even better this season than he was in 2011, as he's hitting .311/.388/.596 with 40 bombs and 105 RBI. He's been remarkably consistent, too, posting a .990 OPS in the first half and a .981 OPS in the second half.

    But the hottest Brewer right now may be Yovani Gallardo. He's won eight of his last 10 starts, compiling a 2.69 ERA in the process.

    Elsewhere in Milwaukee's rotation, Marco Estrada has a 1.75 ERA in September and Wily Peralta has a 1.80 ERA this month. The club's bullpen has a 2.50 ERA in September, not to mention six wins.

    There's hot, and then there's what the Brewers are at the moment. Nobody wants to play them right now.

    Why They Won't Make the Playoffs

    Yes, the Brewers are hot right now. Very hot.

    But ahead of them lie two teams that are perfectly capable of knocking the Brewers down a few pegs. The Nationals could get the better of the Brewers in a four-game series in Washington that begins on Friday. The Reds will be looking to do the same in a three-game series in Cincinnati that begins on Tuesday.

    Plus, their pitching staff isn't foolproof. Shaun Marcum and Mike Fiers both have ERAs over 6.00 this month, and it wasn't all that long ago that Gallardo gave up seven earned runs in a start.

    As for the bullpen, well, we all remember just how awful it was in July and August. What if Milwaukee relievers come to one day and remember that they're supposed to be sucking?

    Keep in mind that the Brewers don't have a big margin of error to work with. To get where they want to be, they need to stay hot. They've come a long way, but they sill have a lot of work left to do.

    Too much, maybe, for the amount of time they have left to do it.

New York Yankees

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    Why They Will Make the Playoffs

    Come on, they're the Yankees.

    The Yankees don't miss the playoffs. Especially not while Derek Jeter is on the team, and he's doing everything in his power to keep the Yankees in the race this year. He hit .350 in August, and he's hitting .338 so far in September.

    Jeter has plenty of help. Robinson Cano has an .897 OPS this month. Curtis Granderson is already up to five home runs and 14 RBI this month after hitting six homers and racking up 20 RBI in all of August. Even Alex Rodriguez and Russell Martin are pulling their weight.

    Pitching-wise, Andy Pettitte is back now, and Phil Hughes has been lights-out in his last two starts. In the bullpen, Rafael Soriano is still making everyone forget about Mariano Rivera.

    Sure, there have been some struggles recently, but the Yankees are in for a smooth finish. They get to wrap up the season with 10 games against Minnesota, Toronto and Boston. They may be the three worst teams in the American League.

    Panic? Why panic? These are the Yankees.

    Why They Won't Make the Playoffs

    They're the Yankees, alright. But you know as well as I do that this is the most mediocre Yankees team in recent memory.

    Before their doubleheader sweep of the Blue Jays on Wednesday, the Yankees were 31-30 since the All-Star break and 8-7 in September. They've barely been better than a .500 team for several months at this point.

    And who's to say they're better than a .500 team even now? They're only hitting .237 in September, and Hiroki Kuroda, CC Sabathia and David Phelps all have ERAs over 5.00 this month. 

    The Yankees are barely holding on to their lead in the AL East, and you better believe that the Orioles are capable of taking it from them. If the Yankees do tumble from the top of the AL East, they'll have to duke it out in the wild-card race with a couple of teams that are playing better than they are.

    So take nothing for granted with the Yankees just because we're talking about the Yankees. They're really not that good this year.

Oakland A's

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    Why They Will Make the Playoffs

    The A's are sorely lacking in star power, but they're proving all over again this season that star power is highly overrated.

    The A's win for three reasons.

    One is that they pitch well. They have the second-best team ERA in the American League behind the Tampa Bay Rays, and they can beat you with both their starting rotation and their bullpen.

    Offensively, the A's hit plenty of home runs. The only team in either league with more home runs than the A's since the All-Star break is the White Sox.

    Lastly, the A's win because they believe they can win. They have more chemistry than any team in the league.

    I mean, come on, name me one other team that does the Bernie as well as the A's. I dare you.

    Why They Won't Make the Playoffs

    If you want proof that the baseball gods exist and that they're not always benevolent, just look at what they're doing to Oakland's pitching staff.

    The A's have already lost Bartolo Colon and Brandon McCarthy. On Thursday, the A's revealed that Brett Anderson will also miss the rest of the regular season with a right-oblique strain, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

    The A's have fought through injuries all season long, but they'll be hard-pressed to continue to do so now. They started a brutal 10-game road trip by losing two out of three to the Tigers in Detroit, and they still have to go through New York and Texas.

    When they finally head home, they'll find the Mariners waiting for them before wrapping the season up against the Rangers.

    The A's need all hands on deck in order to finish the season strong, and they're quickly running out of hands.

Philadelphia Phillies

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    Why They Will Make the Playoffs

    You didn't think the Phillies were going to go out without a fight, did you?

    Left for dead after a first half that saw them go 37-50, the Phillies have fought back to go 38-24 in the second half. They're 21-9 in their last 30 games, at one point winning 11 out of 13.

    Not surprisingly, pitching has fueled Philly's run. It has a 3.32 ERA since the break, third-best in all of baseball. They have a 2.85 ERA so far in September, also third-best in all of baseball.

    Right now, nobody is hotter than Cliff Lee. Over his last five starts, he has a 1.02 ERA. In 35.1 innings, he's struck out 33 and walked just three.

    Offensively, the Phillies are getting outstanding production out of Jimmy Rollins, and Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown have been RBI machines in September.

    The rest of Philly's schedule isn't easy. But given the way its pitching is going and how hot it's been over the last month, you can rest assured that teams aren't exactly lining up to play it.

    Why They Won't Make the Playoffs

    We're all aware that the Phillies just lost three out of four to the Astros, right?


    I just want to make sure everyone knows that because, you know, it's kind of hilarious. Talk about an all-time buzzkill.

    That was a sign that Philly's recent success may be too good to be true. The Braves could further drive the point home when they take on the Phillies this weekend, and the Nationals will be looking to do the same in the six games they have left with the Phillies.

    Besides, the Phillies aren't all that. Roy Halladay has an ERA over 4.00 this month. Tyler Cloyd has an ERA over 5.00 in September. He may have 14 RBI to his name this month, but Howard has a mere .553 OPS in September.

    There's no escaping that the Phillies have shown up too late to the party and that they're about to be kicked out of it by guests who are a lot stronger than they are.

Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Why They Will Make the Playoffs

    The Pirates may be falling out of the National League playoff picture faster than the Titanic sunk to the bottom of the sea, but don't count them out quite yet.

    The Pirates still have a chance as long as Andrew McCutchen is hitting, and he's quietly turned things back around this month. As of the start of play on Thursday, McCutchen was hitting .306/.419/.581 with five bombs and 10 RBI in September. He proceeded to add another three-run bomb to his September resume against the Brewers.

    McCutchen isn't the only Pirates hitter doing work this month. Gaby Sanchez has turned it on, posting a .909 OPS with two homers and eight RBI. Even Jose Tabata has picked it up.

    Pittsburgh's pitching has picked it up as well. Wandy Rodriguez, A.J. Burnett and Kevin Correia are all pitching very well this month.

    The Pirates are in for a tough finish against Cincinnati and Atlanta, but between now and then, they have seven games against the Astros and the Mets on their schedule. They could very well make a move.

    Why They Won't Make the Playoffs

    They could, but they won't. Few teams in baseball are as utterly hopeless as the Pirates are right now.

    The Pirates are basically doing exactly what they did last year. They went 18-38 in August and September in 2011, spoiling what was once a promising season. Since the first of August this year, they're 15-31. That includes a putrid 4-14 showing in September.

    Yes, the Pirates probably will beat up on Houston and the Mets over the next week or so. But even if they do, they'll still have plenty of work to do heading into their final six games against the Reds and Braves. Against those two teams, they're sure to get their bell rung.

    So do yourself a favor and don't hold out hope for the Pirates. There is none.

San Francisco Giants

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    Why They Will Make the Playoffs

    You know how much the Giants have missed Melky Cabrera?

    Not at all. It's like he was never there in the first place.

    Melky last played on Aug. 14. Since then, the Giants are 23-9. They've pushed their lead in the NL West over the underachieving Dodgers to a season-high nine games.

    Everything is going well for the Giants right now. They're fourth in the majors in runs scored in September, and they have a 3.92 ERA this month despite the fact Ryan Vogelsong is personally trying to ruin everything. As bad as he's been, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito have both been solid.

    The Giants have won eight of their last nine games and are 4-0 so far in their 10-game homestand after sweeping the Rockies. The Padres are Diamondbacks are coming to town next, and neither of them pose much of a threat to the Giants' supremacy in the NL West.

    Right now, it's basically impossible to see them losing the division.

    Why They Won't Make the Playoffs

    The Giants are most certainly playing well at the moment, but things aren't exactly perfect.

    Vogelsong hasn't just been bad. He's been horri-awful. He has an ERA over 12.00 in September and an ERA over 10.00 dating back to the middle of August. 

    Madison Bumgarner has also been human lately, posting an ERA over 5.00 in September.

    There's a lot to like about the way the Giants are swinging the bats these days, but it may be too good to be true. Six of their everyday players have OPS's of .789 or above in September, and that includes light hitters such as Brandon Crawford and Gregor Blanco.

    The odds of a losing streak happening in San Francisco are about equal to the odds of a long, catastrophic losing streak happening in Cincinnati or Washington. But as we've found out many, many times before, the baseball gods have minds of their own, and they're not always nice.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Why They Will Make the Playoffs

    Beware the Cardinals. They're making a move at the moment, and the odds are good that they're not about to let up.

    The Cardinals are in a very favorable portion of their schedule. They did what they had to this week in sweeping a three-game set against the Astros. Up next is a three-game set against the Cubs. After that is another three-game set against the Astros.

    So a week from now, the Cardinals could be riding a 10-game winning streak back home to St. Louis. If it comes to that, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if they snatch the top wild-card spot in the National League from the Braves between now and the end of the season.

    The Cards have the pieces on offense to keep the good times rolling. Yadier Molina and David Freese are having fine months, and Allen Craig (#wrench) and Matt Carpenter have done a good job of picking up RBI.

    St. Louis pitchers have posted a solid 3.82 ERA in September, and the team's pitching staff is about to get a big boost. As the Cards announced earlier this week, Chris Carpenter will make his 2012 debut on Friday against the Cubs.

    With him back in the mix, what could possibly go wrong?

    Why They Won't Make the Playoffs

    It's great that Carpenter is coming back, but does anybody else have a sneaking suspicion that he may be coming back too soon?

    Seriously, what if he comes back and does more harm than good? Then it will be up to the rest of St. Louis' rotation to pick up the slack.

    That's a tricky proposition. Kyle Lohse has been great, but Adam Wainwright has been iffy lately and Jaime Garcia has been highly unpredictable in his last couple of starts.

    The Cardinals' offense would seem to be trustworthy, but the Cards aren't racking up runs in bunches this month. They rank 18th in the league in runs scored in September.

    The Cards will probably be able to hold off the Dodgers, but the Brewers and Phillies could still be knocking on the door a week from now. That's when the Cardinals will be looking at six games against Washington and Cincinnati.

    In other words, they'll be looking at six games against "yikes."

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Why They Will Make the Playoffs

    The Rays may be six games out in the AL wild-card hunt and fading fast, but don't worry. If history is any indication, they've got this.

    The Rays looked like they were way out of the playoff race by the time September rolled around last year, but they proceeded to go 17-10 the rest of the way, ending the season with a five-game winning streak that was capped by the most improbable of comeback victories.

    Many of the same players who took part in the 2011 comeback are still around. The Rays' starting rotation still features David Price, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson. Their offense still features Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist.

    The three of them are swinging it pretty well right now. Longo has three homers and 10 RBI this month. Zobrist has hit two homers and collected 16 RBI. Upton is already up to seven homers.

    Shoot, even Carlos Pena is hitting well at the moment. He has an OPS over 1.000 in September.

    Since the Rays have been down this road before, what's to stop them from going all the way?

    Why They Won't Make the Playoffs

    Answer: Mainly themselves.

    The Rays just don't have the same magic this year. They're 8-9 this month, and they've lost seven of their last nine games overall. They even opened the week by dropping two in a row to the Red Sox, who are little more than a minor-league team at this point.

    Tampa Bay's pitching is still going strong to the tune of a 3.50 ERA this month, but that actually represents a pretty big regression from where the team's pitchers were in August. Rays pitchers posted a 2.27 ERA in August, best in MLB by a mile.

    The Rays absolutely have to beat up on Boston and Toronto in the next few days in order to have a shot at staying in the race. Even if they do, they'll still be far from being out of the woods. After Boston and Toronto come Chicago and Baltimore, two teams that are going to have a lot to play for.

    The Rays are not unlike the Diamondbacks and Pirates; they're lucky just to be in this discussion at this juncture.

Texas Rangers

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    Why They Will Make the Playoffs

    Dude, they're the Rangers. They're the two-time defending American League champs. I think they'll be able to traverse the final two weeks of the season without falling on their faces.

    This is not to say they have an easy schedule ahead of them, mind you. After they finish their series against the Angels on Thursday night, they'll go on to play a series against the Mariners, two series against the A's and another series against the Angels.

    It's hard to fear for the Rangers largely because their key players are playing very well right now. Adrian Beltre has an OPS over 1.100 in September with eight homers and 11 RBI. Josh Hamilton has an OPS just south of 1.000 with six homers and 11 RBI. Even Michael Young is hitting well, much to the chagrin of all the haters of the Ron Washington-Michael Young love affair.

    Texas' pitchers are doing well, too. Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison all have ERAs in the 2.00s this month, and the rotation as a whole has a solid 3.83 ERA.

    Basically, there's nothing to see here. The Rangers are fine.

    Why They Won't Make the Playoffs

    It's felt all along like the Rangers have an insurmountable lead in the AL West, but they really don't. At the start of the day on Thursday, they were only leading the A's by four games.

    With seven games left to play against the A's, Texas' lead could easily dwindle and ultimately disappear. The Angels aren't going to make life any easier for it, either.

    The Rangers certainly look like they're in good shape, but they're still dealing with a handful of injuries and there are some players they have to worry about. Ryan Dempster has been hit-or-miss since joining the team, and Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz are both struggling at the moment.

    Meanwhile, the entire bullpen is going through some issues. Texas' bullpen has an AL-high 4.99 ERA this month.

    The Rangers are very good, but they're not invincible. They could be in for an ugly ending.

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