Ah, Major League Baseball. So many times it feels like you mess with a good thing just to mess with it. But there are some times where you hit it right on the head. Last year was one of those times. When you expanded the post season to include a second wild card team, you gave every Major League Baseball fan something that every fan in every sport can only HOPE for. You gave us not one, but two, GUARANTEED winner-take-all, Game 7-like atmosphere, put it all on the line, elimination games. Last year we got to see a streaking St. Louis Cardinals team defeat the historically slumping Atlanta Braves, as well as a surprising Baltimore Orioles team defeat what was thought to be a powerhouse Texas Rangers club. This year, with the teams in the mix, we're sure to get one, if not two, classic matchups.
Current Contenders: Tampa Bay Rays (1st), Oakland A's (2nd), Baltimore Orioles (-4), Cleveland Indians (-4), New York Yankees (-4.5), Kansas City Royals (-6.5)
It's unlikely to think that the Royals can make up 6.5 games, so while they've had a nice season, I think we can count them out. After that it's anyone's guess. My personal opinion is that this game will feature two American League East teams. The Yankees are fading fast from the picture, and this 10 game home stand (especially the first 3 against Baltimore) will ultimately decide their fate. If they fall back any further, my guess is that we see a Tampa Bay-Baltimore playoff game. It would be Baltimore's second straight year as a wild card team, and they can say something that only one other team can: They're undefeated in wild card games.
Current Contenders: Pittsburgh Pirates (T-1st), St. Louis Cardinals (T-1st), Cincinnati Reds (2nd), Arizona Diamondbacks (-6), Washington Nationals (-7)
The National League Central has been the cream of the crop this year, and it's hard to imagine this game featuring anyone but the 2nd and 3rd place finishers in that division. Any combination of the two would be great. I like St. Louis' experience to eventually take the division, leaving Pittsburgh and Cincinnati as the wild cards. I don't think Arizona has what it takes to make up 6 games, and although Washington has been playing better, I just don't think they're better than any of the teams ahead of them. If Pittsburgh ends up playing Cincinnati, you'd have to imagine everyone outside of Ohio would be rooting for them. Even though it's been a phenomenal turnaround for the Buccos in 2013, you'd hate to see them go out in one game. The national audience needs to see more of this team.
As we enter the final month of the regular season, these races will ultimately straighten themselves out, and whatever the outcomes are, we know one thing is for certain: There will be two must-watch games on the first day of the post season, something you couldn't say in the years past.