I was checking the box scores this morning and noticed some interesting races as we head into the final month of the season:
AL Central: The Royals, led by Juan Gonzalez's MVP-like season, are making good on predictions they'd win the Central, leading the Twins by a comfortable 10 games. Oh wait... Sorry, I slipped into Bizarro-World for a second. The reality is that the Royals are the biggest disappointment in baseball this year. They entered 2004 bolstered by their surprising over-.500 season last year, but everthing has gone wrong. Not a single player has played to his ability. When the entire team slumps, that's not good. The Royals are heading for their second 100-loss season in 3 years.
Meanwhile, the Twins are poised to win yet another division title, leading Cleveland by 7 games. But the Indians have not given up, and went over the .500 mark with an impressive 22-0 win over the Yankees last night. If the Indians can hang in there, this could be an interesting race.
AL West: This one is close. The A's lead the Angels by just 3 games. The A's have been on fire, winning 8 straight and going 9-1 in their last 10 games. The Angels are just as hot, however, having won 8 of their last 10 games. A couple of off-nights by either team can cost the pennant.
AL East: On August 16, the Yankees' lead was 10.5 games. Today it's 3.5. The Yankees were embarrassed by the Indians last night and have struggled of late. In their last 10 games, the Yankees are 5-5 while the Red Sox are 9-1. The Sox are getting hot just at the right time while the Yankees are looking vulnerable. The Sox were hoping to get a Wild Card berth, but now are in position to overtake the Yankees for the East crown. This one will be fun to watch.
NL Central: WOW! What are they drinking in St. Louis? The Cards are by far the best team in baseball and have a commanding 15.5 game lead over the Cubs. The opposite of the Royals, all of the Cards' players are having outstanding seasons. This race is over.
NL West: The Giants' reign looks to be over. The Dodgers have a 5.5 game lead over the Giants and 6.0 games over the Padres. The Dodgers offense is still sputtering. They've scored 82 fewer runs than the Giants, but they have gotten it done with their pitching. Gagne has faltered a bit of late, but he is still the most dominating closer in the game. I expect the Dodgers to win the division, but then regress to the Pythagorean mean and fall early in the playoffs.
NL East: It didn't look like it early in the season, but the Braves have pulled it together and are poised to win yet another title. Their lead over Florida is 8.5 games.
AL Wild Card: Boston was hoping for a Wild Card berth, and still lead the WC standings with a 2.5 game lead over the Angels. But it looks entirely possible that the Sox could win the East, and the Yankees would be the Wild Card team. Maybe the Yankees should embrace entering the post-season as a Wild Card, given how the WC teams have done the last two years (The last two World Series winners, Anaheim and Florida, have been WC teams).
NL Wild Card: With St. Louis's magical season, the Cubs' only hope is to get in as a Wild Card. They are currently tied with the Giants in the WC race, with the Padres just a half game back. And Florida and the Astros are in it as well, just 3 games back. This looks to be the most exciting race of the season. After last year's tease, baseball lovers should be rooting for the Cubs to make possible that dream World Series with the Cubs vs. the Red Sox.
Now that the races are heating up, I'm sure I will finally start getting my money's worth out of my MLB Extra Innings package. With the package, I can watch any one of these teams on any night. It should be fun!