Published On: Fri, Aug 26th, 2016

MLB's 5 tiers of playoff contenders

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With the final month of the 2016 season right around the corner, the playoff picture is beginning to take shape. One division looks locked up, two more are safe bets, and the other three are still up for grabs. Both wild-card races are wild, and as many as 18 teams are within five games of a playoff spot. Ahead of what promises to be a wild five-week stretch of scoreboard watching, here’s how we’re sizing up the teams still in the postseason discussion.

Juggernaut

Chicago Cubs: The star-studded Cubs continue to be dominant, and entered Friday with seven more wins than the next-best record in the majors. They’ve been especially hard to beat since Aroldis Chapman made his Cubs debut July 27, winning 22 of their last 27 games to open a 14-game lead over the Cardinals. Not unrelated, Kris Bryant has hit .369 with eight homers, seven doubles, and a 1.144 OPS over that stretch.

Frontrunners

Cleveland Indians: The Indians appeared to be on the verge of running away with the division until the Tigers and Royals made the Central competitive again. Getting Danny Salazar straightened out will go a long way in keeping Cleveland out of the tiers below this one.

Texas Rangers: The Rangers have quietly become Dodgers-lite when it comes to adversity this season, enduring injuries to Darvish, Fielder, Holland, and Choo, among others. They’re just 21-17 since the break, but their 19-6 record against Seattle and Houston leaves them in a favorable position atop the West.

Washington Nationals: The Strasburg injury should do little to derail the NL East leaders, who are surely banking on Harper’s last 10 games (.963 OPS) as an indication the reigning MVP is on his way back to being immortal.

Contenders

Baltimore Orioles: Baltimore’s best pitcher only throws a few innings a week, and its second-best pitcher just hit the DL. Uneasy times for the slumping O’s.

Boston Red Sox: No matter how hot Mookie Betts is, Boston’s playoff hopes will likely come down to the last few weeks of the season, when the Red Sox play their final 23 games against AL East opponents.

Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers have been decimated by injuries at an unprecedented pace, but are somehow tied for the fifth-best record in the majors. Every win without Kershaw is an MVP vote for star rookie Corey Seager.

San Francisco Giants: The Giants have had every opportunity to break away from the depleted Dodgers, but instead have been moving in the opposite direction, with only 11 wins over their last 30 games.

Seattle Mariners: The Mariners are peaking at the right time, having won 15 of 24 games this month. At the center of it all is Robinson Cano, the resurgent 33-year-old second baseman with his most homers and highest OPS and ISO since 2012.

St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals are surprisingly nine games better on the road this season than at home, where they’ve played to an underwhelming 29-35. Not that any of it affects their pythag record, which projects them as the sixth-best team in baseball.

Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays could just as well be a frontrunner if not for the top-heavy AL East. Toronto starters have the best ERA in the AL, and the Jays’ offense ranks second in the majors in homers.


It’s complicated

Detroit Tigers: Despite losing 11 of 12 to the Indians this year, the Tigers are just 4 1/2 games back of first place. It’s partly to do with their 10-2 record against the Twins – the team they just swept, and conveniently play seven more times next month.

Houston Astros: The Astros are talented enough to contend, but they’ve been indecisive in the standings. The schedule-makers didn’t do them any favors either, as the Astros open September with seven road games against the Rangers and Indians, followed by six versus the Cubs and Rangers, and three back in Seattle to complete their most daunting 16-game stretch of the season.

Kansas City Royals: Only three teams in the majors score fewer runs per game than the Royals, and pythag says they’re the fifth-worst team in the AL. All of which is to say, there’s still a good chance the pesky Royals be one of the top five teams in the AL come Oct. 3.

Miami Marlins: The Marlins are in the thick of the wild-card race without their best player and one of their better pitchers. This group seems stubborn enough to stick around despite that, though.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates are full of standouts, but collectively they’ve been pretty much league-average, scoring and allowing 4.5 runs per game while outscoring teams by a total of seven runs through 125 games. The Pirates won’t be a 90-win team this season, but then again, when has that worked out for them anyways?


Pretenders?

New York Mets: The Mets have won 17 of 42 games since announcing Matt Harvey’s season-ending surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome back on July 8. If there’s one thing Mets fans can look forward to, though, it’s the last two-and-a-half weeks of the season, when they play the Twins, Braves, and Phillies in 13 of their final 16 games.

New York Yankees: A Baby Bomber comeback would be one of the best stories of the year, but with as many as seven teams in front of them in the wild-card standings, the highlight of the Yankees’ season will likely remain the trade deadline.



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