- Philadelphia Phillies (1)
So the Phillies played 7 games against arguably the second and third best teams in the NL. If early September is any indication at all (which we know it really isn’t) then we may have a real boring NL October. The Phillies destroyed any hope that the Braves fan had by sweeping them and then decided to take out the once hot Brewers with a 3 of 4 series win. Other than figuring out roster spots and a potential 4th starter controversy with the veteran Oswalt and the rookie Worley there isn’t much left to determine for the Phillies.
- New York Yankees (2)
The Yankees haven’t played well lately, but neither has too many teams in the top 10 rankings. But despite not playing their best baseball as the schedule may have finally tired them out, they actually GAINED ground in their pursuit of an AL East title. With the Red Sox reeling, there isn’t enough for even the most pessimistic Yankee fan to panic about. While the 2 losses to the Orioles may be tough to swallow, their bats were stymied by Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. There’s no shame in that. The bats did wake up against Felix Hernandez.
- Detroit Tigers (8)
We have had a very consistent top 10 for the last few weeks, but the Tigers have managed to jump FIVE spots in one week. Yes, as we mentioned, a lot of teams are struggling, but the Tigers have been the hottest team in baseball and are actually making a charge for the #1 seed in the AL. Although that’s probably unlikely, the Tigers are finding insane ways to win. They’ve had crazy comebacks (see the 8-1 deficit they erased in game 3 of the winning streak) and have had dominant efforts (see games 1,3,5 and 10 of the streak). The streak I mention is their current 10 game winning streak. I guess they aren’t only about Justin Verlander after all.
- Arizona Diamondbacks (7)
While all the other teams I considered for the #4 spot have watched teams creep closer and closer to them in their respective races, the D-Backs have created serious breathing room in their pursuit of the NL West title. They have accomplished this in spite of having long winning and losing streaks over the last 2 months. When their latest 9 game winning streak ended 11 days ago, they responded by winning 7 of 9 games. Even when David Hernandez imploded in a loss to Colorado one week ago, they bounced back rather nicely. This team is not last year’s Padres; they are a surprise team that will seal the deal.
- Texas Rangers (6)
The Rangers haven’t played outstanding ball lately by any means. They have traded off wins and losses every day since September 2, but they have maintained a similar lead in the AL West. As CJ Wilson has gotten better and better in what has been an outstanding free agent year, Alexi Ogando is clearly wearing down. After an all-star 1st half, Ogando has been mediocre to awful in the second half. Texas should have enough to hold off Anaheim. They don’t play an above .500 team until they close the season with the Angels.
- Boston Red Sox (3)
Well, did I drop the Red Sox far enough? Probably not based on what’s gone on in Red Sox nation, but for now we’ll put them at 6 though that number may grow in the final few weeks. I don’t think the Red Sox will choke away the AL wild card, but they have certainly put that thought in everyone’s head as of late. Kevin Youkilis is banged up and so is Josh Beckett, with that said that is no excuse for how awful they’ve been lately. Since they won the middle game against the Yankees to close out August, the Red Sox have a record of 2-9 including the latest punch in the stomach, a sweep at the hands of the charging Rays. Forget the division, the Red Sox are trying to hold on for dear life.
- Tampa Bay Rays (10)
Those pesky little, small market Rays refuse to go quietly in the night. Me and many others have assumed that despite the Rays being a very solid team, they didn’t have enough to catch the Red Sox or Yankees. Well, they have won 8 of 9 and BJ Upton has been as hot as you can be. Here is the problem for Tampa as they try to pull of the miracle comeback: the schedule. Their win against Baltimore Monday was the opener of an 11 game road trip that also takes them to Boston and New York. They also have 3 additional games with the Yankees to end the regular season in Tampa. If they win this wild card with that schedule, it will be one of the great comebacks in baseball history.
- Atlanta Braves (4)
It was a toss up between the Braves and Brewers as it has been for weeks now. Both teams are struggling which has brought back the Braves into an actual wild card race. The pitching injuries to Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson have really started to hurt as Freddi Gonzalez has been relying on very good, BUT young, inexperienced arms. After losing all 6 games they played last week against Philadelphia and St. Louis the schedule gets much easier. The rest of their season includes games against Florida, New York and Washington. The final 3 games will be against a Philadelphia team that should have everything wrapped up.
- Milwaukee Brewers (5)
Last week I touched on the Brewers immense struggles against good teams. Well, thank you Milwaukee for completely backing up my point. They lost the final 3 games of their series against the surging Cardinals, and then watched the Phillies waltz into Milwaukee and win 3 of 4. Yes, their division lead has shrunk considerably to 5 in the loss column, but the schedule is probably too soft for the Cardinals to complete the comeback. The rest of the Brewers schedule features Colorado, Cincinnati, Chicago, Florida and Pittsburgh. So their next test against a good team will be Game 1 of the Division Series.
- Angels of Anaheim (9)
The Angels have played well lately as they continue to remain within striking distance of the first place Rangers. The Angels sent a message to the rest of the AL via the Yankees series this past weekend on what exactly makes them a dangerous playoff team if they can squeeze in. Jered Weaver and Dan Haren both held the big Yankee bats at bay as they won 2 of 3. The key remains staying within a game or 2 going into the final 3 games of the year at home against Texas.