Heck of a playoff race we have shaping up in baseball.
In these parts, we tend to hear most about the Yankees-Red Sox clash of the titans redux. Boston has put together a solid season but not without some troubling plots -- Manny Ramirez's decline, David Ortiz's power outage, J.D. Drew's utter inability to justify his contract. Who thought Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell would have to carry the offense for stretches? But from the solid rotation to bullpen surprises Hideki Okajima and Manny Delcarmen, the Red Sox can pitch.
That counts for a lot but enough to hold off a Yankee offense that has scored 50 more runs than any other team in baseball? Probably. With Bobby Abreu, Robinson Cano and Hideki Matsui rolling, the Yankees are scary. But five games is a substantial lead, and the New York rotation remains suspect. The Yankees are the favorites to win the wild card, however. And if you want to check out a fun young pitcher, watch their rookie middle reliever Joba Chamberlain. He's a squat dude with a tremendous fastball who laid waste to the minor leagues this year.
Cleveland and Detroit remain too close to call in the AL Central. Many thought the Tigers were the best team in baseball six weeks ago, but they turned out to be an excellent demonstration of the old Earl Weaver axiom: you're never as good as you look when every guy is playing near his best. That said, their pitchers are better than they've shown of late and Weaver also said you're never as bad as you look when every guy is struggling.
The Mariners have a smoke-and-mirrors thing going on as they're 70-52 without exceptional offense or pitching. Both the Angels in the AL West and the Yankees in the wild card have racked up much greater run differentials over the course of the season, so I expect the Mariners to be crowded out in the end. But the best team doesn't always win.
That's the case in the NL West as well, where Arizona has been outscored by 29 runs on the season but still leads by 3 ½ games over the Padres, who've outscored their opponents by 59 runs. The Diamondbacks are 27-16 in one-run games so good luck is definitely a factor. But how can you win a division with Orioles castoff Eric Byrnes as your best hitter? Wacky game.
Nobody's any good in the NL Central, but the Cubs should win. And I like the Mets in the NL East. Their offense hasn't really come around but surprising pitching from Orlando Hernandez, John Maine and Oliver Perez has made them more of an all-around danger than expected.
Anyway, baseball's my game and it's cool to have a competitive race in every division and both wild cards. Let's root for some epic intrigue over the next two months after a rotten sports summer.