As summer gradually slides into fall and football begins to build momentum through the dog days of August, the marathon of the baseball season is under 40 games until completion and the pressure is on to grab the final spots left for postseason action.
When committing even the shortest amount of time to viewing the baseball standings and stats, it is easy to see the teams in postseason contention separating out into three groups: Deep Threats, Strugglers and Wild Card Runners.
The Deep Threats – Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros and Washington Nationals
All of these teams have the juice going into the home stretch to make it to a World Series, with as near-to-complete rosters as can be hoped for and key aspects that give them an edge. The Dodgers have a great pitching staff, with Clayton Kershaw claiming 15 wins and 168 strikeouts. Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda have 14 and 11 wins respectively, and Kenley Jansen has 33 saves. This is a great pitching staff top to bottom, evident in the +220-scoring differential that leads the league. Paired with a 51-14 record at home, this is a formidable playoff team.
The Red Sox and Nationals both have great offenses and can bat their way out of a pinch. The Red Sox are incredibly deep, with Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi are all reliable hitters. But the depth they have can help with the unexpected, like Eduardo Nunez and Rafael Devers stepping up in a huge way to compensate for the Pedroia injury.
The Nationals also are deep at the plate, with Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman all hitting over .300 in over 100 games with the squad. Yet again, clutch additions have helped bolster the hitting through the end of the season, with Howie Kendrick joining the team over the last 19 games and hitting .344 for the Nationals.
Or the Astros, with just a little bit of both. On the pitching staff, they have studs like Mike Fiers, who has 131 strikeouts on the season and a closer like Ken Giles with 24 saves. At the plate, Jose Altuve holds a .362 batting average and Marwin Gonzalez has 72 RBIs on the year. George Springer, Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick have all hovered around the .300 batting average mark. The common thread for all of these teams is they can look to multiple players to step up and get a play, instead of trying to win on one or two player’s successes.
Strugglers – Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians
Both of these teams are clinging to their divisions by only a few games heading down the stretch, with the Indians barely holding off the Minnesota Twins and the Cubs having only a sliver of light between them and the Milwaukee Brewers or St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cubs only have a +54-run differential and their trouble separating from competition is what has been their consistent problem. While the +130-run differential for the Indians looks good, they only have hung on to the division lead ahead of the Twins.
The Indians only have one batter, Jose Ramirez, who has consistently hit over .300 through the entire season. They have great pitching in Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber; both have 12 wins and over 160 strikeouts. But the depth at pitcher has much to be desired as well, not having any studs outside of the top-tier. Both the Cubs and Indians suffer from not having a slew of B+ players surrounding their All-Star talent.
Wild Card Runners – New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers.
These are the scrappy wild card teams, scratching their way into postseason action with only a few games to make the cut. The Yankees obviously have the best spot, as they have the leg up on both the Angels and the Twins by 2.5 games and while Aaron Judge has cooled off, they still possess a +111-run differential to help keep them ahead. The Twins are in a tight contest with the Angels, but despite having a poor bullpen, they still have a large mass of hitters in Miguel Sano, Joe Mauer, Eddie Rosario, Brian Dozier and Max Kepler who can all get hot.
The best race is in the National League, with the Brewers 2.5 games out of the wild card race and only two games out of their division race, meaning the Cubs could get through into the wild card down the stretch. The Brewers’ hitting has woken up in the last month, with Travis Shaw, Orlando Arcia and Domingo Santana all lighting up the ball for Milwaukee to get them into position. They also have some very good pitchers to bolster their defense, with Zach Davies claiming 14 wins while Jimmy Nelson has reached 169 strikeouts and Corey Knebel has 26 saves to his name. The Brewers have become the most interesting wild card story heading into the postseason.