Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Hunt for October Heats up with Just Over Two Weeks Left in Regular Season

With a little over two weeks left in regular season play the playoff race is red hot in Major League Baseball. With the addition of a second wild card spot in the playoffs this year baseball has gotten even more exciting in September. Teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks who are two games under .500 are finding themselves still in the middle of the conversation as we approach the race to the finish line.

On this exact day last year the St. Louis Cardinals were three and a half games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League wild card race and they finished winning eight of their last 11 games to overcome the Braves and as we all know went on to win the 2011 World Series. So who is going to get hot this year? Below is a look at the remaining schedules for the NL wild card contenders to close out the season.


1. Atlanta Braves (85-63) Remaining teams to play: at Miami, at Philadelphia, vs. Miami, vs. New York, at Pittsburgh
The Braves are seven and a half games ahead of St. Louis for the first wild spot card and are virtually a lock for the playoffs. They are actually throwing their hat back in the divisional race in the NL East now just five games behind the Washington Nationals. Manager Fredi Gonzalez will be able to prepare for the one-game wild card playoff which will likely feature their red hot pitcher Kris Medlen. Medlen has been sensational down the stretch for the Braves. Medlen has only given up five runs in over 47 innings pitched since August. He is 7-0 in nine starts since being moved into the rotation from the bullpen.


2. St. Louis Cardinals (77-70) Remaining Teams to play: vs. Houston, at Chicago, at Houston, vs. Washington, vs. Cincinnati
The Cardinals just split a four game series in Los Angeles and remain one game ahead of the Dodgers for the second wild card spot. They have to be smiling at the upcoming schedule with nine games scheduled against the two worst teams in baseball being the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs. They close the season with two home series against division leaders Washington and Cincinnati who could possibly be resting starters at that point so the Cardinals are in the best shape to hold on and advance to the playoffs as the second wild card team.


3. Los Angeles Dodgers (76-71, 1 game back) Remaining Teams to play: at Washington, at Cincinnati, at San Diego, vs. Colorado, vs. San Francisco
The Dodgers are in serious trouble now that ace Clayton Kershaw is done for the season with a hip injury. After the blockbuster trades they made to acquire Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and Josh Beckett it has been a disaster for Los Angeles. All-Star Matt Kemp hasn't been the same since crashing into the outfield wall in Colorado. With their upcoming schedule on the road against the two best teams in the NL then at San Diego we at Sports Media 101 are finding it hard to see Los Angeles playing in October.


4. Milwaukee Brewers (74-72, 2.5 games back) Remaining Teams to play: at Pittsburgh, at Washington, at Cincinnati vs. Houston, vs. San Diego
The Brewers have made an impressive comeback to get themselves into the midst of the wild card race this season. The upcoming schedule looks daunting with 10 games on the road against playoff contenders however the Pirates have been struggling so a three-game series with them starting Tuesday becomes key. Milwaukee has played extremely well at Miller Park this year and have won eight of their last nine games at home including a sweep against the Braves last week to jolt them into the playoff conversation.


5. Pittsburgh Pirates (74-72, 2.5 games back) Remaining Teams to play: vs. Milwaukee, at Houston, at New York, vs. Cincinnati, vs. Atlanta
The Pirates have faded quickly in the second half of the season. They've lost 12 of their last 16 including four of six to the lowly Chicago Cubs. This week's matchup at home against the Brewers is absolutely huge for both teams. A.J. Burnett takes on Yovani Gallardo tonight in the series opener. The Pirates had a rain delay last night in Chicago and didn't finish until 1:30 a.m. CST. We'll see if the short rest affects the team when they travel home to take on Milwaukee tonight.


6. Philadelphia Phillies (74-74, 3.5 games back) Remaining Teams to play: at New York, vs. Atlanta, vs. Washington, at Miami, at Washington
The Phillies blew a golden opportunity this week dropping three out of four games at last place Houston. What an incredible rebound the team had just to get back into the thick of things. Cliff Lee has pitched phenomenal and recorded another victory last night against the Mets. Six games against the Nationals and a series against the Braves poses some issues down the stretch for Charlie Manuel's ball club and you can't sleep on Ozzie Guillen's Marlins either.


7. Arizona Diamondbacks (72-74, 4.5 games back) Remaining Teams to play: vs. San Diego, at Colorado, at San Francisco, vs. Chicago, vs. Colorado

Yes the Diamondbacks are still in the picture even though we are two games under .500. Inconsistency has been the issue all year for the Diamondbacks if it's not pitching it's the hitting, if both are on it's the defense.
They've struggled all year to put the three phases of the game together. But wait, 13 of their last 16 games are against teams with a sub .500 record so there's still hope in the desert! The Diamondbacks hope to have revenge against the Padres starting tonight after getting swept by San Diego in their last two visits to Chase Field. The D-backs will have to string together a lot of wins to say the least to have a shot here.

The division leaders in the National League seem to be in control of their own destiny. The Cincinnati Reds are 11 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central and the magic number for Dusty Baker and his club is at five to clinch their second division title in three seasons. They still are playing for the top spot in the NL and home field advantage in the playoffs. They are one and a half games behind the Washington Nationals for the top spot.

The Nationals are seeing their division lead in the NL East shrink to just five games over the Atlanta Braves after getting swept in Atlanta over the weekend. With all of the drama around shutting down ace Stephen Strasburg momentum isn't exactly on their side right now. However, the Nationals have continued to surprise all year and seem to find ways to win games consistently.

In the NL West the San Francisco Giants look to be in cruise control now that the Dodgers have lost ace Clayton Kershaw. The Giants hold an eight game lead over the Dodgers in the division and to everyone's surprise it's been their hitting carrying the team over the last month and not their stellar pitching rotation. The Giants could be a very dangerous team in October if both pitching and hitting are clicking at the same time.


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