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By Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor - Archive - Email
Postseason starting to shape up
(L-R) Robinson Cano, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Chris Tillman and Ryan Braun The seven remaining playoff spots figure to come down to the wire this season.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Three teams in, seven more to go.

The Los Angeles Angels were the first to join the postseason party on Monday and were joined by the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals on Tuesday, as both of whom clinched their respective divisions.

It was the first American League East title in 17 years for the O's, while the Nats secured their second National League West crown in three years. Los Angeles, meanwhile, could clinch the AL West as early as Wednesday.

Those, though, were the easy ones. The seven remaining spots figure to come down to the wire.

So with the postseason on our minds, let's answer a few questions about the teams who have already punched their postseason tickets and some that hope to join them.

WHICH TEAM WILL BE LEFT OUT IN THE AL?

Out of the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics, one of those teams will not be playing after Sept. 28.

Obviously, either the Tigers or Royals will get in via the AL Central. Right now Detroit leads Kansas City by 1 1/2 games in the division and the Royals hold the second wild card spot, a game back of the A's and one in front of the Mariners.

The schedule seems to favor the A's, as they still have six games remaining with the woeful Texas Rangers as well as three games versus the Angels, who essentially have nothing to play for. Seattle is in the midst of a 10-game road trip, and the Tigers and Royals will battle each other this weekend.

Oakland, though, hasn't looked like a playoff team for a long time now.

Prediction. The A's will be the one left out in the cold. It's been trending that way for a while. It's hard to imagine them just flipping the switch down the stretch here.

Oh, and by the way, if Seattle gets in, it will be dangerous. In fact, if you want a really bold prediction, the Mariners may be my AL World Series pick.

But that is something to discuss a few weeks from now.

HOW BIG OF A LOSS WILL MATT SHOEMAKER BE FOR THE ANGELS?

Los Angeles clearly looks like the class of the AL at the moment. And that's something few thought would be the case when Garrett Richards went down with a knee injury back on Aug. 20. But rookie Matt Shoemaker stepped up and served as a more-than-capable No. 2 alongside ace Jered Weaver.

Shoemaker, though, has now been diagnosed with a a mild strain of his left oblique, a rib cage injury that will force him to miss at least his next start. The team is optimistic that he will be ready for the postseason, but obliques are tricky.

"You never know where these things go with pitchers," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Like hamstring injuries, they have a life of their own and can go a lot of different ways. We'll take it day-to-day. There's no time frame yet, but the news could have been a lot worse."

The Angels will still probably be the odds-on favorite to come out of the AL, but if Shoemaker is gone for awhile, who after Weaver scares you in that rotation?

ARE WE OVERLOOKING THE NATS?

The Los Angeles Dodgers get a lot of attention in the NL, and with Clayton Kershaw leading the way, it's probably deserved. But, the Washington Nationals may be peaking at the right time, especially from a pitching standpoint.

Stephen Strasburg is in the midst of his worst statistical season of his young career, but he's pitched to a 2.64 ERA over his last 10 starts and that even includes a seven-run stinker against Atlanta back on Aug. 8.

And he won't be shut down for this postseason run.

Strasburg's getting hot when the Nats need him, as are Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez. With Doug Fister, the team leader in wins and starter's ERA, there may not be a deeper rotation in the NL playoffs.

Plus the lineup is healthy. Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche all missed time in the beginning of the season, but since May 24, the Nats are 63-38.

Washington is young, hungry and ready for a deep run.

CAN THE O'S CONTINUE TO MASH COME OCTOBER?

The Baltimore Orioles secured their first AL East title since 1997 thanks to one simple reason ... they hit a lot of home runs. In fact, they have hit 26 more homers than any other major league team and six more than the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals combined.

That's usually not a recipe for success in October, though. Especially when slugger Chris Davis will miss at least the ALDS and likely the ALCS should they make it that far due to his positive amphetamine test.

Not to mention Chris Tillman is your ace and your closer is Zach Britton.

Actually, Britton has been more than solid, but he has already thrown 30 more innings than last season and always seems to have runners on base. He's put at least one guy on in his last six appearances, although he's only allowed one run since the middle of August.

It's kind of remarkable that Baltimore is in the position it's in considering the amount of injuries it has sustained. Adam Jones won't win the award, but he should be one of the three finalists for the AL MVP.

Would I be shocked if we wind up with an O's-Nats Beltway Series? Nope. But, I'm also not betting on it, either.

CAN THE BREWERS MAKE THINGS INTERESTING?

Other than the final three spots in the AL, the only question remaining is whether the Milwaukee Brewers can make a run. We are going to count out the Atlanta Braves. They are 5 1/2 games behind the second wild card and were swept in a three-gamer over the weekend by the Texas Rangers.

That was the final nail in their coffin.

The Brewers seemed to be on a similar path just a few weeks ago when they dropped 12 of 13 to fall out of first place in the NL Central. However, they have responded with wins in five of their last six and have crept within 1 1/2 games of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the race for the second wild card.

Milwaukee should know where it stands at the end of this weekend. It still has two games against the division-leading Cardinals before visiting the Pirates for three games starting on Friday.

San Francisco holds the top wild card in the NL at the moment, 2 1/2 games in front of the Pirates.


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