When Major League Baseball expanded the playoffs to add another wild card team the reasoning was to add more excitement to the season. Mission accomplished: the 2012 season is shaping up to be the most exiting so far. It has the potential to succeed the nail biting and historic finish of the 2011 season.
In the American League five teams are within 31/2 games of each other in the Wild Card race. Of the five teams four still have a realistic chance of winning their division. That is how close the races are in the American League. Wild Card leader Tampa Bay has been playing their best baseball of the season in the last couple of weeks. The Rays throughout the season have had excellent pitching but in recent weeks Tampa has improved offensively. Tampa has closed to within 3 games of the AL East leading New York Yankees. The next two teams in the Wild Card standings are considered the two surprise teams in the A.L. this season. Oakland who is tied with Tampa dumped a lot of salary and this season was supposed to be a rebuilding year in the Bay Area.
The A’s have used timely hitting and outstanding pitching especially in the bullpen to stay close. Baltimore who trails Oakland and Tampa by a half game was predicted by many to finish last in the A.L. East. When you look at their statistics they should not be in the race but the team has the tenacious personality of their manager Buck Showalter and they battle every night. The Detroit Tigers got off to a slow start but have been playing better baseball are 1 game behind and down the stretch are considered one of the favorites to reach the post season. Detroit trails the Chicago White Sox by 2 games in the A.L. Central. The Los Angeles Angels are 31/2 games behind and are fading. Los Angeles might become the biggest disappointment in the American league in 2012.
The National League has five teams within 4 games of the wild card lead. Atlanta and St. Louis are tied for the lead. The Braves have played good baseball all season but have the misfortune of being in same division as the Washington Nationals who have the best record in baseball. St. Louis has stayed in the race because of their hitting. Where the Cardinals have struggled is in the bullpen and that area has to improve if St. Louis is going to have a chance to repeat as World Series Champions. The Pittsburgh Pirates are only a half game back. Pittsburgh at the trading deadline made several trades to improve their offense to try to chase down N.L. Central leading Cincinnati but that has not worked. The Reds are 8 games up on St. Louis and 8 1/2 on Pittsburgh.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are a game back. Los Angeles has held the lead in the N.L. West for most of the season but they were swept by the San Francisco Giants in a series that ended last night and trail San Francisco by 21/2 games. Arizona trails in the wild card by four games and has played inconsistent baseball the entire season but do just enough to stay in the race.
Look for an exciting finish in the Wild Card race in both leagues. The interesting part of adding a team to the Wild Card is there are teams in the same division contending for one of the spots in the post season. This means more head to head match ups during the last six weeks of the season which translates to more exciting baseball the rest of the season.