By Paul Wales

The MLB Playoff Picture

This MLB season has been one for the storybooks thus far. With huge headlines such as Ohtani leading the league in homeruns and dominating on the mound, DeGrom having arguably the best year as a pitcher in MLB history for the first half of the season, the sticky substance controversy, and much more, this season has been nothing short of spectacular. Only a month remains in the regular season as teams prepare for a playoff push as those still in contention fight to win their division or secure one of the Wild Card spots. Here my breakdown of the playoff picture in each league by division as we approach the month of September.

AL East

The Rays currently hold the top spot in the AL East by 4 games over the Yankees, and 7 games over the Red Sox, and are the favorites to represent the American League for the second year in a row in the World Series. Tampa Bay has consistently been playing great baseball all season and currently holds the best record in the American League. The defending American League Champions have won 8 of their last 9 and look to close out the season with home field advantage going into the playoffs, but the Yankees are going to make them work for it. Since the All Star break, the New York have been the hottest team in baseball winning their last 12 games and posting a 20-4 record in the month of August. With the way the Yanks have been playing, making up 4 games doesn’t seem out of reach for the Bronx Bombers in order to avoid the Wild Card game. As of right now, the Yankees are set to host the Wild Card game against their long-time rivals, the Boston Red Sox. The Sox have not been playing well since the All Star break. They led the division at one point but are now 3 games back of the Yanks. Things are looking better for Boston, as Chris Sale has just returned from injury and is looking like his old self. The AL East is going to have an exciting finish and a huge impact on the playoff picture for the rest of the league. I recommend you get your popcorn ready.

AL Central

The White Sox are absolutely dominating the AL Central. Chicago and currently hold a 9 game lead over the second place Indians as they look to coast their way to a division title. With Lance Lynn making a Cy Young push with an American League best 2.20 ERA, and Tim Anderson being top 10 in the league in batting average, the White Sox look poised to avenge their Wild Card loss last year and make a push at the American League Pennant. The rest of the AL Central looks to be out of playoff contention, with the Indians having the best chance sitting 8 games back from the last Wild Card spot with a record of 63-62.

AL West

The Astros have been playing great baseball this season and look to continue their playoff success by earning their 5th playoff trip in a row. The 2017 Champions have been hitting well all year with Yuli Gurriel and Michael Brantley leading the AL in batting average hitting .316, and 4 other players hitting .274 or higher. Houston currently holds a 5.5 game lead over the A’s and a 6.5 game lead over the Mariners in the division as all signs point to the Astros winning the AL West in hopes of getting back to the ALCS. Seattle and Oakland are still in contention for the Wild Card spot. With Boston trending on a downward slope since the All Star break, the A’s sit 2.5 and Mariners sit 3.5 games back of the Sox. Oakland is 2-8 in their last 10 and are in the middle of a 4 game series against the red hot Yankees, while Seattle hosts the Royals and Astros over the next week. The A’s and Mariners play 7 of their last 14 games against each other which will likely decide who will keep their playoff hopes alive.

NL East

The NL East has been the worst division in baseball all year. After the Mets lead the division for the first half of the season, they have been slumping in the month of August with a record of 7-18, giving way for the Braves to claim the division lead sitting 5.5 games over the 2nd place Phillies. Unlike the Mets, the Braves  have been hot in the month of August with a 16-5 record in August and having a 9 game win streak during that span. While Atlanta appears to be running away with the NL East, the Phillies are clinging onto their playoff chances in need of a hot streak in order to either overtake Atlanta for the division or to make up 6 games to claim the final Wild Card spot.

NL Central

The Brewers hold a healthy 8.5 game lead in the NL Central over the Reds. Milwaukee has had fantastic starting pitching with Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff having the 3rd and 4th best ERA in the league this year. The Brew Crew has strung multiple winning streaks together throughout the season to put them comfortably atop the NL Central heading into September. Although the division may seem out of reach, the Reds currently hold the final Wild Card spot with a 2 game lead over the Padres. The Reds hitting has been key to their success this season as Nick Castellanos has a league-leading .320 batting average, Jesse Winker is also top 10 in the league in batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage, and Jonathan India is 6th in the league in on base percentage. The Reds are going to have to play great baseball to close out the season in order to hold off the star-studded Padres for that Wild Card spot.

NL West

The NL West has been arguably the most exciting division to watch in baseball with superstars filling the rosters of the Padres and Dodgers, and the Giants taking the league by storm and holding the top spot in the division. The Giants have a league best 83-44 record this year, leading the Dodgers by 2.5 games. Despite lacking big-name stars on their roster, the Giants have been playing great baseball and have been sitting at the top of the division the entire season. With consistent starting pitching and trading for World Series Champion, Kris Bryant, the Giants have their sights set on a deep playoff run. Meanwhile, the defending World Series Champions LA Dodgers hold the second best record in the league and have won 12 of their last 13 games. The Dodgers have the league’s best starting rotation with Walker Buehler leading the league in ERA, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urias, and David Price. Good luck hitting against this team in the playoffs. The Dodgers may not be winning their division, but they certainly look ready to make another run at a World Series title. The Padres currently do not hold a playoff spot even with their star studded roster which includes MVP candidate Fernando Tatis Jr. They currently sit 2 games back of the Reds for the final Wild Card spot and are 2-8 in their last 10 games. San Diego is in dire need for a huge turnaround in order to secure a playoff spot.

Check out our YOU TALKIN’ TO ME point/counterpoint that I will begin to become a part of this weekend.  Also, look for my FINISHING KICK column every Thursday.  Until next week, lean for the finish line.