Saturday Sports: The MLB Postseason: Predictions for the Final Stretch

It’s that time of year again: the leaves are changing color, Green Beach is popping and the weather’s cooling off a little bit. Oh yeah, and it’s the end of baseball season too. There’s that stretch run in the latter half of September where teams fight for a spot in the postseason. Let’s take a look at this year’s races: American League (AL) West: Texas Rangers (86-65) and Los Angeles Angels (82-68)

Major League Baseball’s tightest divisional race this year features a local team in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who as of writing, trail the Rangers by three and a half games. Both teams have relatively easy schedules the rest of the way, with the Angels facing the Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland Athletics and the Rangers facing the Seattle Mariners (twice) and Athletics before the two teams meet for a 3-game series to close out the season. Look for this one to come down to the wire, but barring a sweep in the final series of the year, Texas should come out on top.

AL Wild Card: Boston Red Sox (87-63), Tampa Bay Rays (83-67), and Los Angeles Angels (82-68)

With the Red Sox losing 7 of their last 10, the final playoff spot is back up for grabs. The Angels have by far the easiest remaining schedule of the three teams, but they are also the furthest back, needing to make up five games to match Boston. The Red Sox and Rays conclude a crucial four-game set this weekend that will clear up the picture a little bit, but the Rays have to play the Yankees in seven of their remaining 12 games, while the Red Sox get to play a much weaker opponent in the Orioles seven times between now and the end of the season. Despite the Red Sox recent struggles, they’re a better team than this and should take home the last playoff berth without much of a fight, given they already hold a four-game lead over the Rays.

National League (NL) Central: Milwaukee Brewers (88-63) and St. Louis Cardinals (82-68)

Barring a monumental collapse, the Brewers have this race in hand. They’re the better team, and with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder powering their lineup they should cruise into the post-season. While I love the Brewers as a team, I’m hesitant to say they’ll go far in the playoffs given the stark contrast between their home and road records this year. The Brewers have posted baseball’s best record at home at 52-23, but struggle mightily on the road, going just 35-40. It’s unlikely that they end up with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, so it will be interesting to see how far the Brewers go.

NL Wild Card: Atlanta Braves (86-65) and St. Louis Cardinals (82-68)

With the Cardinals trailing the Braves by just three and a half games heading into Saturday’s action, the Braves possession of the final NL playoff spot is thrown into jeopardy. Both teams play many sub-.500 teams the rest of the way, with the Braves facing the Mets, Marlins, and Nationals and the Cardinals facing the Mets, Cubs, and Astros. This race will be tight right down to the wire. Will the Cardinals’ lineup, powered by Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman, be able to barrel it up down the stretch? Or will the Braves’ shutdown bullpen pull them through during this final push? Coolstandings.com* gives the Braves a 90% chance of taking home the wild card, and I’d have to agree.

Seriously, check out CoolStandings.com. From their website: “Basically we simulate the rest of the season millions of times, based on every team's performance to date and its remaining schedule. We then look at how many "seasons" a team won its division or won the wildcard, and voila - we have our numbers.” If you’re a Red Sox fan, it will help cool your fretting over the team’s recent struggles.

Other races throughout baseball are pretty cut and dry. In the National League, the Philadelphia Phillies have rode their tremendous pitching staff to a playoff berth and baseball’s best record at 97-52, while the Arizona Diamondbacks have a 6-game lead over the San Francisco Giants with just 12 games left to play. Over in the AL, the Detroit Tigers clinched their division last night with a 3-1 win over Oakland.