Sports Roundtable: MLB Playoffs Edition
1. Who will secure the two wild cards in the AL?
Dan Schalk: I am fairly confident the Yankees will secure one of those spots, although the Mark Teixeira injury is worrisome to the team, they have enough firepower to lock it down. The second spot is a little more up in the air, as the Texas Rangers currently hold the lead, but I am not a believer in their squad like most are. Keep an eye on the Angels, with the best player in the game and a decent pitching staff, they have the ability to make up ground on their division rival Rangers.
Colby Gatz: The American League Wild Card race has been very interesting to watch with so many teams still in the running. When all of the dust clears I expect the Yankees and the Rangers to secure the two spots. The Yankees will be fighting with Toronto for the division, but in the end I expect the Yankees to fall short and land the first wild card spot. The Rangers have been playing great baseball lately. The team added Cole Hamels and Mike Napoli since the deadline and both have contributed to the run the team has been on.
Landin Murphy: It’s pretty safe to say that one of the wild card teams is going to be the Yankees. With the Blue Jays streaking, the Yankees will have to be content with a one game playoff. It’s still more than what most people were expecting from a seemly aging team this year, but nonetheless it will come as somewhat of a disappointment for New York fans.
The second playoff team is still very much up for grabs at this point with only a couple of games separating the Rangers, Angels and Twins. After trading for Cole Hamels, and as the current team leading the chase for the second playoff spot, Texas is probably the favorite. Hamels hasn’t pitched as well as might be expected from a bona fide ace, and one of the leagues premier pitchers, but things will change as he gets settled in with his new team. At the end of the season, Hamels performance will likely mean the difference between making the playoffs and watching from the outside looking in.
Tony Clements: The first wild card spot is going to go to the Yankees without a doubt. The Blue Jays offense got hot at a good time and I don’t think the Yankees will be able to claw their way back to the leading spot in the East. However if they do, the Blue Jays will get the first wild card spot. As for the second spot there is a little more wiggle room there. There are currently four teams within four games of the second spot that is currently held by the Rangers, including the Indians, Rays, Angels, and Twins, Out of those five teams it is hard to vote against the Angels pulling through and grabbing the second spot late in the season. Their lineup has too much firepower to go along with some great defense and a solid enough pitching staff to get them through. That being said, the Rangers definitely have the second best chance after the acquisition of Cole Hamels to go along with Chi Chi Gonzalez and their offense which has been clicking lately.
Dan Schalk: The Pirates are all but guaranteed one wild card spot, and the Cubs are not far off from guaranteeing themselves the second, but do not count out the reigning champions. The San Francisco Giants are sliding after dropping two in a row to the Dodgers, but they have the experience and talent needed to make a move up the standings. The questions is…will the Cubs take a step back with the pressure on? Their youth is playing as if they had been there before, but they haven’t so I see an epic slide coming for the Cubbies.
Colby Gatz: The National League Wild Card has really been a two team race for a while now. The Pirates and Cubs have been playing great and there is no reason to think that either team will fall off and miss the playoffs. Both teams are chasing St. Louis, and with the Cardinals sizable lead, I see Pittsburgh and Chicago settling for the wild card spots. I expect the Pirates to secure the first wild card spot as they lead Chicago by over five games, and the Cubs to outlast the Giants who are their closest challenger.
Landin Murphy: I think the wild card race will stay the way it is moving forward in the NL. The Pirates have a healthy 9.5 game lead over Giants, who are in third place, so unless Pittsburgh completely implodes they’re in. Likewise, the Cubs are way ahead of schedule with the way they’ve been playing. Most people expected them to be competing for a playoff spot this season, but not to be four games ahead of the Giants this late. The Cubs are one of the youngest, most talent laden teams in baseball. The scariest part is they’re just getting started. Many of the Cub’s top prospects are just this season getting their first taste of the major leagues. Jake Arrieta has been one of MLB’s elite pitchers in each of the last two seasons for the Cubs. Moreover, Kris Bryant plus Anthony Rizzo is already one of the best young duos in baseball.
Tony Clements: The NL wild card is race is nowhere near as tight as the AL with the Pirates at the top and the Cubs currently 5.5 games ahead of the Giants for the second spot. The Pirates I believe are the second-most well rounded team in the league behind the St. Louis Cardinals and barring any injuries I can’t see them dropping out of that first wild card spot. As for the second spot it would take a huge swing for the Giants to take over the Cubs spot but if anyone can do it the experienced Giants can. The Cubs have been a very formidable team however, and I doubt that they will slide as the season goes on. Even if the Cubs do get usurped by the Giants, Cubs fans have no fear you guys have the organization with one of the brightest futures in the league.
3. Who wins the AL East?
Dan Schalk: The Toronto Blue Jays will win the East, and I think it will be by at least five games when the season is over. They are healthier and playing better than the Yankees, making them the team to beat in the American League. Can anyone slow down the Jays offense? They have scored 92 more runs than the next best offense in MLB. 92!
Colby Gatz: The American League East race should be very close down the stretch as both the Blue Jays and Yankees are separated by only a couple of games. In the end, I see the Blue Jays winning the division because of their great offense and the improved pitching. David Price has been absolutely dominant since being traded to Toronto. He has given the team exactly what they needed, a bona fide ace atop the rotation. On offense, Josh Donaldson has had a great year which has put him right in the middle of the MVP discussion.
Landin Murphy: It’s pretty clear at this point – the Blue Jays are the best team in the AL East. After the trade deadline they’ve been on a tear. The mid-season acquisitions the team made really gave their roster a boost. 21-6 in their last 27 games puts the Jays in a good spot moving forward. With the Blue Jays heating up and the Yankees slumping, the distance in the standings is only going to grow between the two teams. The Jays are just too much to handle. With their ridiculous depth on offense, and the addition of ace David Price, it will be interesting to see how far the team goes in October. With the club’s first post-season appearance since winning the World Series in 1993, Toronto should be primed for a deep run.
Tony Clements: I think without a question that the Toronto Blue Jays will win the East. Even as a Yankees fan, I would love to see the Yankees win but with both teams playing as well as they have been there will not be much room to make up the 1.5 games that the Yankees are behind. The answer to this question will be decided soon, as the season is coming to an end and both teams will be playing a lot of games in their division which could be the deciding factor. My opinion swung soon after the trade deadline after the Blue Jays made the moves to acquire Troy Tulowitzki and David Price and the Yankees proceeded to not make any moves. I understand the concept of, “don’t fix something if it’s not broken,” but when a team in the same division makes two blockbuster trades to obtain two superstars, I can’t comprehend how a move isn’t made. That being said I still believe the Yankees have a serious chance this year but they will most likely have to do it while coming in as a wild card team.
4. Who wins the NL East?
Dan Schalk: The Nationals can’t be as bad as they have been playing right? Well, we have been waiting the entire season for the Nats to hit their stride and it has never formulated, basically giving the division to the “other” New York team. The Mets made great deadline deals that rejuvenated their team and clubhouse. As long as Cespedes and the pitching staff remains healthy, the Mets should make a return to the postseason.
Colby Gatz: Coming into the year the NL East seemed to be the Nationals division to lose and early on that was true. However since the All-Star break the Mets have been playing great baseball and one of the biggest reasons is the team’s offense. The team made a big trade at the deadline acquiring Yoenis Cespedes from the Tigers and he has been everything the team had hoped he would be. The team has also gotten healthy at the right time as David Wright and Michael Cuddyer have returned from the DL to give the Mets a very good offense. New York boasts one of the best rotations in baseball with Matt Harvey leading the way. The Mets have built a comfortable lead in the division and I fully expect that they will hold onto that lead and win the NL East
Landin Murphy: This is the Mets year. The Nationals, per usual, are underperforming, and the Mets already have a 6.5 game lead in the division. After six consecutive losing seasons, NY fans are going to finally get a taste of the post-season. With two viable aces, in Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom, the team will be lethal in a seven game series. Before the All-Star break the Mets’ offense had one of the worst starts in the history of MLB. Since then the team has completely turned it around, featuring one of the top offenses in the league. If the Mets could even be just the average of those two extremes they’re set up extremely well for a post-season run.
Tony Clements: I believe the Mets have already run away from the Nationals in the division. They are 6.5 games ahead of the Nationals and have a pretty easy schedule the last month of the year facing the Phillies twice as well as the Marlins twice. They have one three game set left against the Nationals and the only way I see the Nationals taking the lead in the division is if they are able to sweep the Mets in Washington. The Mets starting rotation is arguably the best in the league with Bartolo Colon being the savvy veteran and then young fireballers Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom, and Noah Syndergaard backing him up. That combination has a chance to be deadly in the playoffs especially if the Mets can skip the wild card game and jump right into series play. If the Mets only get in with a wild card spot I think their chances to make a deep run in the playoffs will be lessened significantly because I don’t think they will have enough offensive prowess to get past the Pirates or Cubs in the wild card game.
5. Name one dark horse team to make a big push for the playoffs in September?
Dan Schalk: The Tampa Bay Rays. They never seem to go away, but never seem to make any noise either. With an underrated pitching staff that is getting healthy in the home stretch, the Rays are poised to make a run for the second Wild Card. A healthy Drew Smyly and Matt Moore (who is expected to return this weekend) to team with Chris Archer gives Tampa a legitimate front-end rotation that can shut down any offense any time. Don’t’ sleep on the Rays.
Colby Gatz: The Minnesota Twins have been right around the top of the wild card chase for a while now and with about a month left in the season I believe that they have a chance to sneak up and pass Texas. The Twins are led by Brian Dozier and have great veterans like Tori Hunter and Joe Mauer who will be important as the team continues to push for a playoff spot. The Twins may lack an ace in their rotation, but they have five pitchers who give their team a chance to win every night. As of today, the Twins sit only a game back of Texas with a little over a month to go in the regular season. With the veteran presences of Mauer and Hunter, and the consistent production of the rotation, I expect them to stay in the race until the end of the season.
Landin Murphy: The Twins have been playing their best baseball in years, without making a lot of noise. They’ve stayed within striking distance of a playoff spot, and things don’t seem ready to change anytime soon. The team is only half a game back from Texas, in the race for the second wild card spot, and if the Rangers falter Minnesota will be right there, ready to take advantage. The Twins have a lockdown closer once again in Glen Perkins, and get pretty solid play across the board. Although the team won’t wow anyone, they could take advantage of a weak division simply by playing… average.
Tony Clements: Even though the Texas Rangers are currently the owners of the second wild card spot in the AL I feel like most people aren’t taking them as a serious threat. Their lineup tells differently however. With the trade that brought Cole Hamels over they now have a playoff starting rotation of Cole Hamels, Yovanni Gallardo, and Colby Lewis. Now while that might not be the best rotation in the league they are definitely three starters that will be able to keep the game close enough for the offense to do their work. They have plenty of offensive weapons, including but not limited to, Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland, Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre, and Elvis Andrus. In my eyes they have a serious chance to make a push for the AL title and possibly even the World Series.
You can stay up-to-date on MFST’s Sports Roundtable on Twitter:
Dan Schalk: @FFSportsTalk
Colby Gatz: @Bostonfan_15
Landin Murphy: @Landinfitness
Tony Clements: @Clements_tony21