Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Plenty to play for

September is here, the final month of the MLB regular season and the time when games seem to count for more.

We’ve witnessed some incredible drama in September in recent seasons and undoubtedly there will be twists and turns over the next few weeks, but the standings suggest that we already know the identity of most of the teams that will be playing in October.

ESPN.com’s MLB standings include the CoolStandings.com percentage chances of making the playoffs and there are a lot of high and low numbers in there.

The percentages suggest that the battle for being one of the five National League postseason entrants had already been decided prior to 1 September.

The Atlanta Braves led the way with a 99.9% chance of making the playoffs courtesy of a 15-game cushion at the top of the NL East division. The Braves have won more games than any other team in the Majors so far this season and consequently deserve plenty of credit for their position. Still, the size of their lead also reflects the disappointing fight put up by pre-season favourites the Washington Nationals.

The Braves’ manager Fredi Gonzalez will have to ensure that his team’s ability to coast their way through September doesn’t blunt their competitive spirit once October comes along.

In the NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers ended August with a 99.7% chance of making the playoffs. Most onlookers would suggest that this is no more than should be expected considering their astonishing outlay on players over the past two years.  Those expectations will ensure the players are kept on their toes as they know winning the division alone will not be considered a successful season.

The Dodgers also have to play seven games against the second-placed Arizona Diamondbacks and the same number against the San Francisco Giants, who have had an underwhelming season but would surely take pleasure in getting the better of their fierce rivals. The Dodgers will make the playoffs; however September will still be a competitive month for them.

Competition is the name of the game in the NL Central too. Judging by the odds, it will be the first division to send three teams to the playoffs since the Wild Card round was introduced in 2012. However the fact that the Pittsburgh Pirates (99%), St. Louis Cardinals (99%) and Cincinnati Reds (91.5%) are all odds on to get to October doesn’t tell the whole story.

The addition of the one-game Wild Card ‘play-in’ was intended to make it important to win a division once again and we’ll see that playing out in the NL Central this September. All three teams will be desperate to avoid the lose-once-and-you’re-out Wild Card game if they can and arguably none more so than the current division leader.

The Pirates will finally break their horrendous run of losing seasons, but it would be a crushing disappointment if their long play-off drought was ended only to have their postseason last just one game. To say there’s plenty still to play for would be a massive understatement.

There is also still plenty on the line during September in the American League.

The Detroit Tigers lead the league with a 99.7% chance of making the playoffs and trying to erase the memory of being swept in the World Series last year. The Cleveland Indians have put up a decent challenge in Terry Francona’s first year in charge; however they’ve hit a rough patch of late and the Tigers really should be expected to go on and win the division by a comfortable margin.

Comfortable margins are likely to be a luxury no team in the AL East or West will enjoy.

The Boston Red Sox are in a good position to make it to the postseason for the first time since 2009, yet like the rest of the current division leaders, they will be focused on securing the AL East and avoiding the Wild Card round. Although the Tampa Bay Rays have struggled slightly of late, they still have a 69.8% chance of getting to October and few will doubt their ability to push the Red Sox all the way.

The New York Yankees (14.6%) and Baltimore Orioles (13.1%) have a fair amount of ground to make up on Boston in their division, but they are still firmly in the Wild Card race and, with AL East teams facing each other on a regular basis the rest of the way, they have the opportunity to gain ground on two fronts.

The top two teams in the AL West, the Texas Rangers (97.1%) and Oakland A’s (91.6), have entered September in good shape to make the playoffs and know that they will be embroiled in a two-way battle for the division once again. The Rangers lead the way currently thanks to their excellent form in August, but they only have to look back twelve months to know how dangerous the A’s can be in chasing down a lead in the last few days of the season.

Texas also found out how costly missing out on the division title can be after they were beaten by the Baltimore Orioles in the Wild Card ‘play-in’ last year.

Every advantage – such as qualifying for the playoffs as a division winner – counts for a lot in October and that’s why September will not lack for excitement despite there being teams coming into the month with such a high percentage chance of making it into the postseason.


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