posted 2012-10-05 22:52:57

Major League Baseball Playoff Preview

Playoffs are rapidly approaching 

Andy Bell-Baltaci

Contributing Writer

This offseason, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig successfully campaigned for a second wild card team in each league for the 2012 season. Now, as the playoffs are rapidly approaching, we are starting to see the ramifications of that extra wild card team, which has put more teams in playoff contention than there have been in previous years.

For one, teams are much more motivated to win the division this year because of the fact that, from now on, wild card teams will have to face off against each other in a one-game playoff. The old rule had the wild card team from each league playing in a five-game series against that league’s number-one seed. The risky prospect of the one-game playoff has teams going tooth and nail to win the division crown. One such exciting race has already taken shape in the American League East, where the Baltimore Orioles are giving the New York Yankees the fight of their life.

The Orioles and Yankees have been keeping pace with each other through the entire month of September with intense, extra-inning, one-run victories. Whichever of the two teams can’t keep pace with the other will have to go through the danger of being a one-and-done in this year’s postseason.

For the American League wild card, the race is split between the West and East divisions. In the East, whoever falls short between the Orioles and Yankees will likely face off in a sudden-death match-up against the Oakland Athletics. However, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have benefited lately from strong pitching and are quickly gaining ground on the Athletics.

In the American League Central, there is a race brewing between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers that is similar to the race between the Orioles and Yankees in the AL East. However, the AL Central race is even more dramatic because, unlike in the AL East where both teams are likely to make the playoffs in some capacity, the team who gets beat out in the weak AL Central will have to watch the playoffs from home and sit through a very long winter.

The American League West is seen by many as the strongest division in baseball. The mighty Texas Rangers have created some space between themselves and the rest of the division. Barring some dramatic meltdown, the Rangers will likely play the winner of the American League wild card race. The only way that the Rangers won’t be the number-one seed in the American League is if the Yankees or Orioles catch up to them, and overtake them, by the season’s end.

Meanwhile, the National League has come through with some of the most surprising and exciting playoff teams in years. The Washington Nationals, who as a franchise have only made the playoffs once in their history (and that back in 1981, when they were still called the Montreal Expos), have already clinched a division title in the National League East, and are jockeying for the best record in baseball with the Cincinnati Reds.

In the National League Central, the aforementioned Reds are almost as much of a shock as the Nationals. They too have already clinched their division, a huge surprise to baseball analysts across the country who thought the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers or even the Pittsburgh Pirates would win the Central. The Reds made it to the summit of the Central with the likes of sluggers Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, not to mention 100-mph-fastball-hurling Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati’s closer and current contender for the Cy Young Award.

In the National League West, the San Francisco Giants pulled away from the collapsing Los Angeles Dodgers in September and clinched the division fairly easily. The Giants have key players returning from last year’s World Series Championship team, including Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum, but have also received contributions from welcome surprises like Angel Pagan, the outfielder they acquired in an offseason deal with the New York Mets for Andres Torres.

The wild card is the only race in the National League that is still in question, and if it wasn’t for this year’s newly added second wild card team, the race would already be over. The Atlanta Braves have run away with the first wild card spot, and the Cardinals have competition that is quickly fading for the second and final spot. The only remaining threat for the Cardinals comes in the form of the Brewers and Dodgers, who will quickly be knocked out unless the Cardinals have a mini-collapse in the final stretch of the regular season.