With another incredible weekend of games and stellar attendance numbers, we’re entering the final 60 or so games of the 2012 Major League Baseball season, and the storylines are as appealing as I can remember.
Though some obstinate folks still bemoan “lack of parity” in Major League Baseball, that claim now falls on deaf ears, considering the recent success of small market clubs and lack of big market success in the postseason.
Most are confident in the big bats and consistent pitching of the Angels to take the top Wild Card if they can’t come back on Texas in the West. The wheeling and dealing Tigers, thanks to AL MVP frontrunner and still vastly-underrated Miguel Cabrera, took their expected perch in first over the weekend, making the second wild card addition vital, as I wrote last week.
There are many contenders for those two tickets in the AL with many good storylines, particularly the Athletics, White Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays and Indians.
And while things can change — which is part of the beauty of a baseball season — it’s highly possible just one of those teams will play in October. (ESPN has a nifty gimmick that tracks a team’s chances at making the playoffs.)
–Oakland has recently become the “best” story in the AL, having won 14 of 16, including four straight from the first place Yankees. They’ve mainly succeeded thanks to great young pitching and the league’s best bullpen. They’re in Toronto and Baltimore this week for intriguing series that will hopefully draw national attention from the northeast media.
–Chicago’s led the Central most the season, but now sits behind favorite Detroit. Of this group of five, they have the best chance to still win their division, and considering many picked the White Sox for last place, rookie skipper Robin Ventura has done a splendid job. His club’s aided by a mix of young talent (like all-star Chris Sale), the mature bats of Paul Konerko , A.J Pierzynski, Kevin Youkilis, and comeback player of the year candidates Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.
–On paper, Baltimore‘s roster is as poor as any in the game, which shows the amazing job Buck Showalter has done. They led the East for awhile, faded, but just won five in a row on the road to grab a share of the Wild Card lead.
–Cleveland had a good first few months, but has suddenly stopped hitting and is below. 500 for the first time in exactly 100 days.
The National League may even have better stories and tighter competition.
While Washington, bolstered by MLB’s best team ERA, has the league’s best record at 55-39, Pittsburgh has been atop the Central (first or second) since early June. The Pirates have the Majors’ best home mark (in MLB’s best ballpark.)
–The Reds, though very talented on paper, are also a good story. Dusty Baker likely has held this team back, having not won a playoff series since 1995, and only making one appearance – an embarrassing sweep at the hands of Philly in 2010.
–The Mets were picked to lose 100 games, and though the Wild Card is now their only hope, were .500 or better every day until Sunday.
–The Dodgers were also expected to be mediocre at best; instead they had the best record in the NL much of the season and are currently just one and half games behind first place San Francisco and a mere half back in the Wild Card.
--Saint Louis, despite being the defending champs, lost Albert Pujols, their Hall of Fame manager, three of their five starting pitchers, and has seen their ace, Adam Wainwright, perform subpar coming off a lost season.
Yet thanks to Cy Young contenders Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn, MVP candidate Carlos Beltran, the best offense in the NL, and arguably the most consistent player in baseball, Matt Holliday, the Redbirds are right in the Central and Wild Card race.
With the Phillies dominating the league the past few regular seasons, especially 2011, it’s nice to see new blood, as Philadelphia sits dead last despite the coastal media’s excitement over their aging “stars” returning (and struggling).
–I’d be remiss if I failed to mention two NL West notes:
*The Padres, though still just 41-56, have won seven of their past eight series.