Don’t look now, but most teams only have about 13 games left in the season. While many of the playoff races have been decided, there are couple stragglers to watch out for.
The closest playoff race this season can be found in the AL Central, where the Tigers have just a 3-game lead on the Twins and a 6.5-game lead on Chicago. The AL Central’s mediocrity this season puts none of these teams in contention for the wildcard, making this a true playoff race reminiscent of Septembers before the wildcard’s birth in 1995.
None of the AL Central’s contenders has a particularly difficult remaining schedule, each playing teams with combined records under 0.500. According to ESPN’s playoff odds estimator, this gives Detroit’s 3-game lead about a 78% chance at the division, with Minnesota and Chicago trailing at 21% and 1%, respectively. However, this playoff odds estimator doesn’t take into account that former Cy Young winner, Jake Peavy, will be getting at least two more starts for the Sox, nor does it figure in that recent acquisition, Alex Rios, has suffered from an awful BABIP since moving to Chicago. A couple great starts from Peavy, and a return to normal production for Rios could give the White Sox the edge they need to raise that 1% chance at the playoffs to, like, 5%.
In the NL West, the Dodgers’ 5-game lead on the Rockies looks pretty safe, but the Rockies know all about comebacks. On September 14th, 2007, the Rockies found themselves 6.5 games back on the division, and 3.5 games back on the wildcard, with three teams ahead of them in each race. All it took for Colorado to make the playoffs was to win 14 of its last 15 games just to tie San Diego for the wildcard. In a 13-inning, tie-breaking game in Denver, the Rockies squeaked out a dramatic 9-8 win to make the playoffs and went on to play for the World Series.
Though it’s not likely to happen again, the possibility is always out there, and that what makes playoff races exciting. Colorado’s advantage this season is that it still has a 4.5-game lead on the Giants for the Wildcard. The playoff odds estimator gives them a 91% chance at the playoffs. And Dodgers fans need not worry, they have a 99.9% chance at the playoffs seeing as their hypothetical 9.5-game lead on the wildcard serves as extra playoff protection. The distant Giants should hold onto some hope, however, as their schedule is pretty weak the rest of the way. Playoff odds give them a 5% shot at playing into October. If it makes you Giants faithful feel better, you can relive the 1951 shot heard ’round the world.
Everything else is pretty much a wrap. We’ll see the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Cardinals, Phillies, Dodgers and Rockies in all likelihood, and then either Detroit or Minnesota for that final spot. But it might be fun to pull for the White Sox and the Giants!