In Major League Baseball, the end of August brings two things with it. First, the dog days of summer are finally coming to an end, signaling the arrival of cool autumn nights. The more important aspect is that the pennant races are racing towards an exciting conclusion.
In 2013, the wild card races, in both the American and National Leagues, could be headed to the final day of the regular season. It promises to be an interesting conclusion to an exciting season. These tight races are exactly what Major League Baseball wanted when they decided to add a second wild card spot to the playoff chase.
One thing that was rarely seen before these recent playoff additions were the play-in games. This occurs when two teams conclude the regular season with the same record. Unlike other sports, baseball playoff spots are not secured by head to head records, or complicated formulas. They are settled on the field, and that possibility exists again this season.
Heading into the final two weeks, the wild card spots are truly up for grabs. The American League looked to be a done deal as far back as three weeks ago. The Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays were running away with the spots while also competing for their division titles. Ah, but they play the games because anything can happen, and it certainly has.
Texas has gone from AL West contenders to trying to hold on to the final playoff spot. The Oakland Athletics caught, and overtook, the Rangers last year to win the West. This year, they have pulled away earlier, thanks to laying waste to Texas in series against them in August and September. Tampa also had a comfortable lead on the teams behind them, but that has evaporated.
The Cleveland Indians, whom no one had as a playoff contender, is sitting one game out of the wild card. The New York Yankees, with their mountain of injuries, is still only two and a half games out. Also stuck on that number are the Baltimore Orioles. The team has two series with Tampa coming, but also face the first place Red Sox twice, as well. Finally, the young Kansas City Royals still have an outside shot, only three and a half off the pace.
In the National League, the wild card race should be renamed the NL Central wild card race. With the exception of the Washington Nationals, who are hanging on to a ray of hope, the only teams close in the race are all from that division. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been a great story, finally ending some two decades worth of losing seasons. They can smell the division title, but will have to fend off the St. Louis Cardinals to do it.
The Cardinals have done well, but have not done great head to head against the Pirates. Right now, the two teams are tied atop the division. It looked for awhile like they were assured of making the postseason, but the Cincinnati Reds have crept back into contention. The wild card spots are coming out of the NL Central it is now only a matter of who is left standing for the division win.
The standings, in both leagues, show that nothing is for certain until the last pitch of the regular season is thrown. Do not be surprised if Texas or Tampa drop out in the AL, while the NL Division champs will have a tall order, dealing with the tough NL Central teams in the first round of the playoffs.