Baseball purists might not like reading this, but the wild card has made September baseball interesting.
You can argue that, as of today, 18 of the league’s 30 teams can either start printing playoff tickets or at least have a printer on retainer.
Without the wild card to play for, many teams would be looking ahead to 2017. The Cubs are barreling toward 100 victories in the NL Central. The Rangers have pulled away from the Astros in the AL West and have the best record in the league. The Nationals are in control in the NL East while the Mets can’t stay healthy.
Instead, at least half the league is engaged over the final weeks of the season, and there are plenty of story lines to follow.
For instance, will either of the World Series teams from last year even make the playoffs? Both would be out of the postseason if the regular season ended today.
The defending world champion Royals have battled injuries and poor seasons from a couple of key players but won’t go away, although they lost their third one-run game in a row Friday to fall to four games out of the wild card. Before that, they had won 18 of 23 games since adopting a praying mantis as a mascot. They have home games and strength of schedule in their favor down the stretch.
The Mets, whom the Royals defeated for the title last year, are a wounded bunch. Their once-vaunted rotation is missing Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, and Jacob deGrom is sitting out a start after getting hit hard for three outings in a row and asking for a trainer while coming out of Thursday’s game.
Will the AL East have three teams make the playoffs? Toronto led the East by one game over Boston and three over Baltimore entering Saturday. Whichever two teams don’t win the division will be fighting with the Tigers, Astros, Yankees, Royals and even the Mariners for two wild-card spots. But even the East’s best have issues. The Orioles pitching has been falling apart. The Blue Jays have to outbash opponents. The Red Sox have major problems with their setup men.
The Indians were 22-6 in June and around .500 every other month. They haven’t put away the Tigers in the AL Central, so the worm could turn with one hot week by the Motown Nine. The two teams have six games left between them, but Cleveland is 11-1 in the season series.
And it doesn’t feel like a postseason race unless the Dodgers and Giants are involved. The Dodgers began Saturday two games ahead of the Giants, who had the best record in baseball at the break but the worst since then.
So while there may be unfinished business in a couple of divisions, the wide-open wild-card races will be what really makes the postseason chase. Enjoy September baseball.
Kansas City has remained in the playoff picture despite a run of injuries, but one of those injured players has come back for the stretch run. All-Star closer Wade Davis, who has been out since the end of July because of a right forearm strain, was activated Friday.
It’s supposed to be a boost for a tiring bullpen, but Davis promptly blew his first save opportunity Friday night against Detroit.
JaCoby Jones has been a smash hit since being called up to Detroit. He went 2-for-4 in his major league debut Tuesday, then hit doubles off Chris Sale and David Robertson on Wednesday in a comeback victory over the White Sox. Jones, who can play third base and the outfield, will play in the Arizona Fall League.
Cleveland catcher Yan Gomes (above) separated his right shoulder at Target Field in July when he tumbled while running to first base. His season looked in jeopardy, but Gomes was cleared to begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment over the weekend. He will need a couple more weeks before he tries catching.
White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, their first-round draft pick in 2013, appears to have a bright future. He’s never hit more than nine homers in a minor league season but has hit seven in 71 games with Chicago. One concern has to be his strikeouts, as he’s on pace to fan over 100 times.
The 3-2 pitch
Three observations …
• Will Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer, with 17 losses, remain in the rotation? He is threatening to become the first pitcher to lose 20 games in a season since Detroit’s Mike Maroth in 2003.
• It sounds like the Dodgers actually need Yasiel Puig for their playoff push, as they have been struggling with lefthanded pitching lately.
• Baltimore closer Zach Britton is having a terrific year and should get Cy Young Award consideration.
… and two predictions
• The Arizona Diamondbacks will, indeed, trade Zack Greinke during the offseason.
• D.J. LeMahieu passed Daniel Murphy for the NL batting lead last week. Look for the Colorado second baseman to pull away and win the title.