October is only a few days away and that means the MLB Playoffs are close. It’s the last week of the regular season and the Playoff races are hot. 6 of the 10 playoff spots have been taken. In the National League, the New York Mets (NL East), St Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Chicago Cubs are all in. The Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs are all battling for the NL Central and Wild Card spots. I’ll get into that later. In the NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers magic number to clinch the division is 2. They have a 6 game lead over the San Francisco Giants – who they’ll meet in a 4 game series starting tonight – in the NL West. The NL West will either be decided by Thursday or provide us an exciting weekend. In the American League, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals (AL Central) have clinched their spots. The Blue Jays magic number is down to 4 and they have a 4 game lead over the New York Yankees in the AL East. The AL West and AL Wild Card positions are both a big mess. 3 games separate the three teams battling in the AL West. The Texas Rangers have a 2.5 game lead over the Houston Astros and a 3 game lead over the Los Angeles Angels. The Yankees lead the AL Wild Card by 4.5 and Houston has a 0.5 game lead over the Angels for the 2nd Wild Card spot. There are a host of teams in the American League with a slim chance at the 2nd Wild Card position.
I’ll take the National League today because the scenarios are easier to lay out. 7 of the top 10 pitchers in MLB hail from the National League (Dodgers, Cubs, Pirates, Mets, and Cardinals). If you notice, those five teams are competing for playoff positioning. The Mets are in the Playoffs and will face whoever wins the NL West. Should things stay as they are, the Mets will have home field advantage in the 5 – game series against their opponent. In the NL West, the Dodgers just need to win two games. They have 7 remaining (4 at the Giants and 3 at home VS the San Diego Padres). The Giants have 7 at home, the 4 with the Dodgers and the final 3 VS the Colorado Rockies. The Dodgers will be throwing their aces in the first two games against San Fran. Zack Greinke (18-3, MLB best 1.65 ERA) will pitch Game 1 and Clayton Kershaw (15-7, 3rd best MLB 2.25 ERA) will start Game 2. Greinke is coming off of time missed due to a calf injury. The Giants will counter with Jake Peavy in the first game and 2014 World Series and NLCS MVP Madison Bumgarner (18-8, 2.88 ERA) in the second game. The defending champs are 6-0 against the Dodgers at home this season and 9-6 overall. Bumgarner has gone 1-2 in matchups against both Greinke and Kershaw. If the Giants can win the first two games then the series and end of the season will be very exciting. The Giants winning ways could be the deciding factor against the banged up Dodgers who are depending on veterans and young players to carry them into the post season. The Dodgers will get it done against their bitter rivals in Northern California and clinch the Division before heading back home to Los Angeles.
The NL Central along with the Wild Card spots is still up for grabs. The three teams involved – St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Chicago – all hail from the same Division. St. Louis leads Pittsburgh by 3 games and has a magic number of 4 to clinch the #1 spot in the National League and home field advantage. The Cardinals and Pirates begin a decisive 3 game series tonight in Pittsburgh. The series is big because the Pirates have a 4.5 game lead over Chicago. The Pirates were on an 8-game winning streak before losing at Chicago last night. The Cardinals and Pirates are 8-8 against each other so far this season with Pittsburgh going 5-2 at home. The Pirates will throw their ace, Gerrit Cole (18-8, 2.60 ERA) in game 3 of the series. Cole has pitched 19.1 innings against the Cards. He has struck out 16 batters and only given up 5 earned runs for a 2.33 ERA. If the game is close in the late innings the Pirates will turn to Mark Melancon who leads the MLB with 51 saves. He also has a 1.95 ERA. In 6 innings against the Cardinals he has 4 Ks and no runs allowed. St. Louis will throw Michael Wacha in Game 2 of the series. Wacha is 17-6 overall with a 3.15 ERA. Wacha’s has risen to the occasion when facing Pittsburgh. In 18.2 innings pitched he has allowed only 4 earned runs while posting a 1.93 ERA and 10 Ks. The Cardinals won’t have John Lackey at their disposal after he pitched on Sunday. Both teams have 3 more games after this series ends. The Pirates stay at home to play Cincinnati and the Cardinals travel to Atlanta.
As for the Cubs, they will play 6 of their 7 remaining games on the road. Their lone home game will be a make up game tonight versus Kansas City. After that they’ll travel to Cincinnati to start a 3-game series and then end their season at Milwaukee. The Cubs will throw veterans Jon Lester and Cole Hammels in games 2 and 3 at Cincy. Then their ace Jake Arrieta will take the mound in Game 1 at Milwaukee. Arrieta sits atop the MLB with 21 wins (21-6). He also boasts 2nd best ERA in MLB at 1.82 and has 229 strikeouts this season. He’s coming off of a stellar performance in which he went 7 innings tossing 9 strikeouts and giving up only 1 hit versus Pittsburgh to help Chicago win 4-0. The Cubs have won 16 of the last 17 games that Arrieta has pitched in. Over that time period Arrieta went 14-1, with 2 no decisions and lowered his ERA from 2.80 to 1.82. He has 126 strikeouts and allowed only 13 earned runs. With that being said, the Cubs will need Arrieta to still be on top of his game when they go on the road to face either Pittsburgh or St. Louis in the one game Wild Card. The Pirates are hot and St. Louis is ripe for the picking as their star catcher Yadier Molina will be out for the rest of the regular season with an injury to his left thumb. This one is too close to call but I’ll stick with the Cardinals to hang on and win the NL Central. Check the blog tomorrow for a breakdown of the American League playoff run.