MLB

Wild Card Races and their Inevitable Photo Finishes

Wild Card Races

Wild Card season is officially upon us as the 2019 Major League Baseball season wraps up the regular season.

With less than two weeks left in the season, wild card races in both the American and National leagues are tight. With six teams fighting for four wild card spots, the anticipation continues to build.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

The American League wild-card race consists of three teams. The Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians.

The Athletics are two games ahead of the Rays, while Tampa Bay holds a half-game advantage over Cleveland.

All three teams have taken different routes. Oakland has flown under the radar all season, while the early division favorites in Cleveland are trying to salvage a slightly disappointing season.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The Rays began the season as one of the hottest teams in baseball. They steamrolled teams with their per usual dominant pitching and patchwork offense.

However, injuries slowly began to affect the team. A slight slide against the New York Yankees, in particular, pushed Tampa Bay out of contention for the division.

That hasn’t stopped these Rays though. They have kept pace with New York since the All-Star break, albeit being 10 games behind still.

The offense has been carried by breakout star Austin Meadows, one of Tampa Bay’s famous under the radar moves.

Everyone knows though that the Rays will go as far as their pitching takes them.

Many refer to the Rays as the innovators of the “Opener”. Though with Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow returning, the rotation will be getting a strong boost along with Charlie Morton.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Just three years removed from a world series meltdown, Cleveland came into 2019 with the hopes and expectations to return to the Fall Classic.

Winning the Central division was supposed to be a breeze, but things haven’t played out that way.

With the emergence of the heavy slugging twins, the Tribe has taken a back seat as the second-best team in that division. Injuries haven’t done them any favors either.

Not only has Corey Kluber been hurt for the majority of the season, but Cleveland recently lost Jose Ramirez for the remainder of the season. The latter is a huge blow to what has been a struggling offense all season.

The team is star heavy between Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, and Yasiel Puig. Unfortunately, the depth drops off after that.

Still, the pitching has been able to carry them despite their middle of the road offensive production. Their pitching staff has pitched to the tune of a 3.70 era, which is good for third in all of baseball.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Just like the suns rise in the morning, so do the Oakland Athletics make a second-half push towards the postseason.

They are tied with the Astros for the best record in the second half of the season at 41-19. Their “Billy Bean” style of baseball has continued to work.

The team hits a lot of home runs and they have a dominant bullpen which features electric closer, Liam Hendricks.

On offense, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Mark Chana have been superb. Especially considering the drop off in play from slugger Khris Davis.

The aforementioned bullpen has only gotten better as the season has progressed. Arms such as Joakim Soria, Ryan Buchter and Yusmeiro Petit have bridged the gap to Hendricks.

On top of that, the rotation got their ace Sean Manaea back at the beginning of September. He has only pitched 18 innings to an era of 0.50.

PREDICTION: IT IS HARD TO PICK AGAINST THE EXPERIENCE OF THE CLEVELAND INDIANS, BUT THE RAYS AND ATHLETICS ARE JUST SIMPLY BETTER TEAMS. OAKLAND WILL TAKE OUT TAMPA BAY SOLELY BASED ON THEIR EXTREME HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE AT THE COLOSSEUM.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Despite a myriad of teams fluctuating over the past couple of months, the National League wild-card race has been narrowed down to three teams. The Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers.

Chicago has redemption on their mind after last year’s wild-card loss to Colorado, while the Nationals want to prove the post-Bryce Harper-era won’t be a failure. The Brewers themselves are locked in themselves, as 2018 saw them get within one game of the world series.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Milwaukee came into 2019 with the same problems that faced them at the end of 2018.

Starting pitching.

However many analysts were willing to overlook that based on their offense lead by MVP Christian Yelich and bullpen featuring Josh Hader.

While the offense has been good, it hasn’t been good enough to surpass the 17th ranked era in baseball of 4.57. The offense itself has only been kept afloat by ranking eighth in home runs with 233.

Things took a turn for the worst though last week when it was announced that Christian Yelich will miss the remainder of the season with an injured knee.

That is a gut punch like no other. For a team barely hanging on by a thread for the second wild-card spot, that could be damning.

CHICAGO CUBS

After an embarrassing performance in the 2018 wild card game, the Cubs entered 2019 with a chip on their shoulder.

Now that hasn’t resulted in the 2016 peak performance Cubs, but the group now consists of a bunch of veterans who have one thing on their minds.

Win a championship.

The Cubs rank top 10 in both offense and pitching, but they just aren’t “great” at any one thing. They rank sixth in home runs, but that is contrasted by their 13th ranking in average.

However, the sixth ranking in ERA is what makes Chicago a lethal team come October.

Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, and Kyle Hendricks have all spotted eras in the threes. Meanwhile, Jon Lester and Jose Quintana are a little higher but have the ability to match up with anyone come playoff time.

The Cubs have just as much talent as anyone in baseball, but it is time to put it back together.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

With potentially the most dangerous three-headed playoff monster in all of baseball, the Washington Nationals have been one of the hotter second half teams in baseball.

The success in large part will be accredited to their pitching staff and the big names like Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin. However, the offense which ranks 8th in baseball needs some recognition as well.

They have pieced together solid veteran contributors behind their MVP candidate in Anthony Rendon and future of the franchise in Juan Soto.

This team will go as far as their bullpen will allow them to go. Leads haven’t been very secure this year in Washington, so the last thing they need is a one-game wild-card meltdown.

Pitching wins championships in October, and the Nationals have the starters as well as enough offense. They’ll have to prove that this year is somehow different from the past though.

PREDICTION: THE LOSS OF CHRISTIAN YELICH IS TOO MUCH OF A LOSS EMOTIONALLY AND TALENT-WISE FOR MILWAUKEE TO OVERCOME. I THINK CHICAGO WILL SURPRISE A LOT OF PEOPLE. LET ALONE BY WINNING THIS GAME AGAINST THE NATIONALS, BUT BY GIVING THE DODGERS A RUN FOR THEIR MONEY.

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Joel Ruditsky
Joel Ruditsky
I am a huge Yankees, New York Giants and Los Angeles Lakers fan. However I have a huge passion for all three sports in general across the MLB, NFL, and NBA. I also cover the Cal State Long Beach Men's Basketball team.
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