Division Races ‘Central’ to AL, NL Postseason Picture
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There’s not a whole lot of space separating the top two teams in the AL Central and NL Central races. As of today: a combined four games of cushion. Those aren’t the only close races — every division is a heat except the AL West — and the NL Wild Card race couldn’t be tighter. However, it’s the Central races that could determine which legitimate World Series teams will watch from home in the postseason.
The three team race in the Central has paired itself down to just two remaining teams, as the Detroit Tigers have fallen first on injury, and subsequently, on an August full of losses. Over the same timeframe, the Twins offense has exploded (in a good way), and the White Sox have managed to stave off disaster, keeping themselves in a tight race with the Twins.
Problem is, that the White Sox are going to have to do something in the waiver trade market to keep this race tight into September. The AL Central has been decided in the last day or two each of the last two years, but it looks right now like the Twins aren’t going to play such games with an offensively inferior team.
In defense of the Sox, one of the reasons the Twins might look to be such a superior offensive team could be just a performance over the last three weeks. Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel have been scorching hot. J.J. Hardy has been far improved since the all-star break. Orlando Hudson is back in the lineup. Justin Morneau will be back soon. Pretty much every offensive player for the Twins has improved his stock since the all-star break except Denard Span, who has the unfortunate handicap of being on my fantasy team.
The Twins have continued to play great infield defense, and Michael Cuddyer has stopped being an innocent bystander out there in the outfield, also helping his team by playing some first base with Morneau out.
Even if the Twins offense declines a little due to unsustainable production in August, they still figure to be one of the more formidable offensive teams in the AL, with too many bats in that lineup to not power towards October at full speed.
The White Sox just don’t have as much hitting, and they don’t have as much defense, and while they added Edwin Jackson to their rotation at the deadline, they traded a 25 year old ML ready (Daniel Hudson) pitcher to do it. I think, man for man, the White Sox have an even rotation with the Twins, but when you’re head to head, toe to toe with a team who can pour on the runs onto opponents, “even” means that they are leavin’.
The good news for the Sox is that their schedule is a little bit easier. A majority of their remaining games vs. quality teams are against the Yankees and Red Sox. The Twins will be playing mostly against the Rangers the rest of August and into early September. The White Sox also have a series against the Orioles while the Twins get the Blue Jays. That’s not enough of a difference for the Sox to be okay with splitting their remaining six games with the Twins — and if the Twins take four out of six head to head, this race is over.
Joey Votto vs. Albert Pujols seems like a fun water cooler discussion that can last the next five years. But the real story of this race is not Pujols, its the Cincinnati offense, which leads the entire NL in per game average. But against the Cardinals’ pitching, the Reds offense went silent, as the Cardinals completed a crucial sweep. The Reds rebounded to sweep the Marlins, while the Cards dropped two of three games to the Cubs.
The schedule falls heavily in favor of the Cardinals. The Cardinals play 17 of 41 remaining games — nearly half — against dreadful opponents in the Pirates, Nationals, and Astros. They do not play the Phillies, but have a four game set in Atlanta. The Reds don’t have a difficult team left on their schedule, but only have a combined 9 games against Pittsburgh and Houston, and none against the Nationals. They do have seven games against Arizona (the Cardinals have none) so if you think they belong in that Pirates/Nationals/Astros category, then the schedule is pretty even.
In fact, half of the remaining slate for the Reds is played against all offense opponents in the Diamondbacks and the Brewers, two of the worst pitching teams in the league. The Reds and Cardinals only play one more series, so this race is going to be decided in games that aren’t head to head.
The Reds do have an advantage with the position players, as they play better infield defense than the Cardinals, hit better than the Cards, and right now they are healthy. If the pitching doesn’t implode, I do like Cincinnati down the stretch. But the Cards pitching is going to have them in the race to the very last pitch, so if Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto can’t carry the Reds, their hitting advantage isn’t going to matter. This could be the best team in the NL from this point out, or it could be a .500 team that finishes a distant second.
LiveBall Picks: Twins and Reds.