The Royals might be going back the World Series again this year, after all.
At the beginning of the week, the Blue Jays, the Red Sox and the Orioles were all postseason-bound teams coming out of the AL East. Unfortunately for one or (probably) two of them, there’s still a month left of baseball. And in that month, all three of those teams (plus rookie phenom, Gary Sanchez, and the Yankees) will play each other enough times and beat up on each other enough times that it will leave the door wide open for a team or two from the Central (the Tigers and/or the Royals) or the West (the Astros and maybe even the Mariners) to sneak into October. Let’s just take a look at how many times the Eastern contenders play each other the rest of the way.
– Blue Jays vs. Orioles. 3 games.
– Blue Jays vs. Yankees. 7 games.
– Blue Jays vs. Red Sox. 6 games.
– Red Sox vs. Orioles. 7 games.
– Red Sox vs. Yankees. 7 games.
– Orioles vs. Yankees. 6 games.
And that’s not even taking into consideration that the AL East doormat Rays have the best ERA in the league since the All-Star break. They’re also good for 6-7 games against the Blue Jays, Orioles and Yankees (and three more with the Red Sox). It’s going to be brutal. On the other hand, that amount of intra-divisional games that will take place for the Royals and Tigers with the mediocre White Sox and the lowly Twins, who have lost 13 straight. And the Astros and Mariners get to play the A’s and the Angels, who also suck. The East is going to fade. And it’s already starting to happen, as the Tigers have tied the Orioles for the second Wild Card slot after the O’s lost two-out-of-three to the Jays.
The only difference between the other Wild Card contenders and the Royals is that the Royals happen to be the hottest team in the American League over the past month. Since we last spoke, the World Champs rattled off 9 wins in a row, took two-out-of-three from the Red Sox and have won 18 of their last 24 games. And I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but they’ve managed to go to the World Series the past two years. They know how to get there. And they just won’t die. They are Grigori Rasputin holding a plate of slow-cooked ribs, Steven Seagal bebopping to Charlie Parker. I hate to tell you this, but the Royals will probably be back, projections be damned. And we’re just gonna have to get used to it. We’re gonna have to get used to that stupid rally mantis too.
Let’s go around the league.
The AL East
So who’s in and who’s out? Well, I think the Blue Jays are going to win this division. Jose Bautista is back. Aaron Sanchez is rested. And Josh Donaldson is red hot. If you’re betting on anybody in the AL East, that’s your pick. The easiest team to dismiss has always been the Orioles. All along we’ve wondered how long their home run hitting offense could outpace their pitching problems. And that was before Chris Tillman went down with a shoulder injury. They’ve been proving people wrong all year, but I think they’re done. Not that anybody shows up at Camden Yards to care.
So the biggest question mark in the East is Boston. People talk about their bullpen like the sky is falling. 70% of their September schedule is on the road. Steven Wright has given up 9 runs his last 10 innings. And Adam Benintendi’s season might be over. On the bright side, Dustin Pedroia is healthy for the first time in years and got 11 hits in a row at one point last week. Mookie Betts is probably the 4th-best player in the league and also became the third player in Red Sox history to hit 30 home runs in a season before his 24th birthday (after Ted Williams and Tony Conigliaro). And David Price has a 2.14 ERA in his last four starts. Not to mention that he’s actually 6th in the league in WAR and also 6th in FIP. Your guess is as good as mine. That road schedule though…
The AL Central
With the Tigers and Royals hot on their heels, the only consistency for the Indians has been Corey Kluber. Their lauded starting rotation had a 5.68 ERA in August, which is second-worst to the Twins in the American League. Kluber’s August ERA was 2.43 and has been 2.04 since the break. On the season, he leads the league in FIP is (barely) second in WAR and is 5th in ERA. That’s your Cy Young, folks. I don’t know why it’s so hard for people. Here’s you: “The American League Cy Young race is a jumble!” Here’s me: “Why don’t you just look at the stats and pick the best guy?” It’s Kluber.
Also, I’d be remiss not to mention GUARANTEED RATE FIELD coming soon to the South Side of Chicago. “Hey, youz guys wanna catch a Sox game over at GUARANTEED RATE FIELD?” Just rolls right off the tongue, you know?
The AL West
I just want to remind everyone that the first week of the season, I picked the Blue Jays, Royals and Rangers to win their divisions and took the Indians and Astros in the Wild Card. And right now I feel pretty good about my picks, give or take the Tigers. The Rangers just took three-out-of-four from the Indians and swept the Mariners, effectively ending Seattle’s playoff hopes yet again. The Rangers also have a surprisingly-good record against teams above .500, which bodes well for them in October. Because I’m also going to will that Rangers-Jays rematch series to happen. Come on!
The NL East
Want to know who my opening week NL picks were? I took the Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers in the divisions. And I took the Mets and Giants in the Wild Card. And maybe since the Royals decided to get back in to the discussion, the Mets decided to get hot too. I know Jacob deGrom’s last two starts have been awful. And Steven Matz might get shut down for the season. But nobody should want to face Thor in the Wild Card. That team’s best-case-scenario staff is still horrifying.
And just in case any Nationals fans starts to freak out about Stephen Strasburg’s elbow, they should just direct their attention to what Max Scherzer has done his past two outings (5 hits, 1 walk, 21 K’s, 0.12 ERA over 16 innings) and feel a little better. Also, unless last year was a freakish anomaly, don’t we have to assume Bryce Harper is a sleeping giant right now? Just don’t look at his career stat line. Because this year looks pretty similar to the Harper of 2012-2014. And not at all like 2015.
The NL Central
Kris Bryant is the NL MVP. He leads the Majors in WAR. And he leads the league in wOBA. Plus, that home run in the 10th inning at Dodger Stadium led the Cubs to another win in a month where they went 22-6. Kyle Hendricks also leads the Majors in ERA with a 2.09. It’s been 1.34 in the second half, 1.28 in August and 1.21 at home on the year. This is a guy that throws 87 miles-per-hour. He’s a pleasant surprise on a staff that also includes Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, who have also been top 10 pitchers in the league. Oh, and did you see Addison Russell’s catch against the Pirates on Wednesday? Wow. The Cubs are gonna shore this division up in the next week or two.
The Cardinals still hold the second Wild Card slot, which I hate. But they also don’t win at home (30-37) and don’t have a clear starter for the Wild Card game (I’d go with Carlos Martinez, but I’d guess Mike Matheny picks the struggling Adam Wainwright). Sure, they’re high up on rookies Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver. And Jedd Gyorko leads the league in home runs since the All-Star break. Actually, the Cardinals are tied with the Orioles for the most home runs in the Majors since the break. We’ll just have to wait and see if that’ll be good enough to hold off the Mets, Pirates and Marlins over the last month.
The NL West
Well, the Dodgers have stayed in first place, despite every pitcher on their team (including the best pitcher on the planet) being hurt. If you’re counting at home, they’ve had 27 guys on the DL this year, which ties a Major League record set by the last place Boston Red Sox in 2012. But I’m guessing they lost a lot of sympathy when they traded away Clayton Kershaw’s personal catcher, A.J. Ellis (and his .194 batting average) for Carlos Ruiz. Why they would you create any drama or make Kershaw cry when their team is playing well is beyond me. I don’t care how much they struggle against lefties. You keep Kershaw happy. Or however happy a guy can be watching from the sidelines with a herniated disc.
Believe it or not, the Giants still have the worst record in baseball since the break. The Twins have lost 13 in a row and the Giants would still be a game back in the loss column since July 12th. They’re not scoring runs. They have problems at the back of their rotation. And Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto had ERA’s in the 4’s in the month of August. Matt Moore (and his 133 pitches) came within a Corey Seager bloop of no-hitting the Dodgers last week, and holy shit was that a pleasure to watch with Vin Scully making the call. But they’d better hope MadBum and Cueto can figure this out. Or that Kershaw stays on the sideline. Or that they also don’t get passed by one of the other Wild Card hopefuls in the league. Maybe they only win in even years that end in 0, 2 or 4. You ever think of that?
Okay. That’ll do it for this week. Next week, I’m sure we’ll have some mathematical eliminations from the standings (looking at you, Braves, Twins, Brewers and Reds). And if you need more baseball, you can always check me out on “Comedians Talking Sports” with Joe Kilgallon on all the podcast things. Until then, the Cubs’ magic number is 16.