Sixteen teams still have at least an outside shot at the playoffs

The Baltimore Sun

Major League Baseball, in a quest to trumpet its parity, sent out a news release last week declaring that 18 teams were in playoff contention through Labor Day, the third consecutive year that has happened.

The message is somewhat blurred because this year's list includes the Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins, who are buried behind too many teams to be considered contenders. It also includes three clubs in the National League Comedy Central, where the main goal is to stay above .500.

Regardless, 16 teams with a legitimate chance at the postseason this late in the season should make the next three weeks fun to watch.

So here's a breakdown of what's left on the schedule - starting with tomorrow's games - and what it all means.

American League

Boston Red Sox

Games remaining -- 18 (12 home, 6 road)

Vs. contenders -- 3

Schedule quirk -- They finish with six games at home against non divisional teams, and have only one series left with the New York Yankees.

Bottom line -- Print the first-round playoff tickets.

New York Yankees

Games remaining -- 19 (7 home, 12 road)

Vs. contenders -- 3

Schedule quirk -- Nine of their final 13 are against the Orioles and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. But the Yan kees are just 12-15 against those two teams, including 4-8 against the Orioles.

Bottom line -- The schedule's soft, but the Yankees have been be low .500 on the road this year. Don't rule out a final stumble in an eleva tor ride of a season.

Cleveland Indians

Games remaining -- 19 (9 home, 10 road)

Vs. contenders -- 7

Schedule quirk -- They finish with a seven-game road trip, which includes four at the Seattle Mariners. They have a winning record against every team they face down the stretch.

Bottom line -- They'll clinch their first division title since 2001.

Detroit Tigers

Games remaining -- 19 (10 home, 9 road)

Vs. contenders -- 3

Schedule quirk -- Six of their fi nal nine are against American League Central basement dwellers the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals. They are just 4-9 against the White Sox this season.

Bottom line -- They need to avoid a sweep in Cleveland and hope the Yankees falter. Manager Jim Leyland will keep the Tigers fighting until the end.

Los Angeles Angels

Games remaining -- 19 (7 home, 12 road)

Vs. contenders -- 4

Schedule quirk -- They end with a six-game road trip to Texas and Oakland, but by then it shouldn't matter.

Bottom line -- Cruising to the AL West title now.

Seattle Mariners

Games remaining -- 21 (14 home, 7 road)

Vs. contenders -- 8

Schedule quirk -- They have eight straight games against the Los Angeles Angels and the Indians. They also only get one day off through season's end.

Bottom line -- Their improbable run was good while it lasted.

National League

Atlanta Braves

Games remaining -- 19 (7 home, 12 road)

Vs. contenders -- 10

Schedule quirk -- They end the season on a six-game road trip, which includes three games in Philadelphia.

Bottom line -- A tough schedule for a team that dug itself a big hole.

New York Mets

Games remaining -- 20 (13 home, 7 road)

Vs. contenders -- 7

Schedule quirk -- Thirteen of their final 14 are against the Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals, teams they are 15-8 against in 2007.

Bottom line -- They were playoff-bound without the easy schedule.

Philadelphia Phillies

Games remaining -- 20 (10 home, 10 road)

Vs. contenders -- 13

Schedule quirk -- This might be the roughest of all. It includes a 10-game road trip, and only the Na tionals aren't contenders.

Bottom line -- If the Phillies choke this time, it might not be their fault.

Chicago Cubs

Games remaining -- 20 (7 home, 13 road)

Vs. contenders -- 5

Schedule quirk -- They have five games against the divisional-rival St. Louis Cardinals, including a makeup game at home and four in three days in St. Louis.

Bottom line -- If they beat some soft teams on the road, they're in.

St. Louis Cardinals

Games remaining -- 22 (11 home, 11 road)

Vs. contenders -- 12

Schedule quirk -- Because of makeups, they have two one-game road trips and a doubleheader. And they don't get a day off.

Bottom line -- Too rough of a schedule for another late-season miracle.

Milwaukee Brewers

Games remaining -- 20 (10 home, 10 road)

Vs. contenders -- 11

Schedule quirk -- The NL's best home team finishes with seven straight at Miller Park. And their road games aren't scary.

Bottom line -- One more winning streak and they pass the Cubs.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Games remaining -- 19 (12 home, 7 road)

Vs. contenders -- 16

Schedule quirk -- They play nothing but divisional teams, and they only get the struggling San Fran cisco Giants for three.

Bottom line -- They have the worst home record of the contending West teams. But with so many games in the division, they control their own fate.

San Diego Padres

Games remaining -- 20 (10 home, 10 road)

Vs. contenders -- 10

Schedule quirk -- They have a 10-game homestand followed by sev en on the road to finish the season.

Bottom line -- Their schedule is neutral. Their pitching gets them in.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Games remaining -- 18 (6 home, 12 road)

Vs. contenders -- 9

Schedule quirk -- The division's best home team has the fewest home games down the stretch.

Bottom line -- If they come out on top in six against the Dodgers and beat the also-rans, they should join the Padres in the postseason.

Colorado Rockies

Games remaining -- 20 (10 home, 10 road)

Vs. contenders -- 17

Schedule quirk -- They play all contenders except for Florida

Bottom line -- They also control their own fate. But it'll be a tough climb.

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