A wild-card battle royale
Examining four key series involving teams in the mix for postseason berths
As the MLB regular season draws closer to September, every series involving playoff contenders becomes magnified. This weekend is no exception. Four series have wild-card implications: Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals; Baltimore Orioles at Detroit Tigers; Tampa Bay Rays at Los Angeles Angeles; and Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta Braves. And they are the focus of today's Triple Play.
1. Which of these series do you think is the most interesting?
Ben Duronio (@Ben_Duronio), Capital Avenue Club: Pittsburgh-St. Louis has to be the most interesting series, with the Pirates only one game ahead of the Cardinals for the final wild-card spot in the NL. Catching the Reds may be too much to ask of either team, so winning games against each other for that final spot is imperative.
Nick J. Faleris (@NickJFaleris), Camden Depot: I have to say Baltimore-Detroit, right? Fortunately, that biased answer has the added benefit of (arguably) being true. The series will feature each team's top starter (Justin Verlander and Wei-Yin Chen), one of the top bats in baseball (Miguel Cabrera), one of the more exciting rookies in baseball (Manny Machado), and one of the AL's biggest breakout players (Adam Jones). As an intriguing backdrop, the series will match a preseason favorite (Detroit) against perhaps the biggest Cinderella story of the summer (Baltimore).
Mark Simon (@msimonespn), ESPN Stats & Info: The Rays-Angels series. From the Rays' perspective, this is the end of a road trip that ran into bumps in the final two games of the Mariners series, and they don't want a bad series to counter the good work they did at the start of the trip. The Angels could really use good games from C.J. Wilson (who has been ineffective recently and left his last start after getting hit with a line drive) and Zack Greinke (who has allowed 14 runs in his past three starts).
2. Which of these eight teams most needs to win its series this weekend?
Duronio: The Orioles. Winning games against another potential wild-card team is extremely vital for the Orioles to hold on to their AL wild-card spot. The Orioles have won against the odds all year, and they need to continue to beat top competition down the stretch.
Faleris: The Angels. They trail Texas by seven games in the AL West and sit 2½ games behind Tampa Bay and Baltimore in the wild-card standings. While there is enough of the season left that no series is truly a "must win" right now, getting swept by the Rays would leave the Angels up to 5½ games back in the playoff hunt and perhaps 10 games back in their division.
Simon: The Tigers, because they're at home, they open with a Justin Verlander-Tommy Hunter matchup, and the White Sox are playing the Royals this weekend and have the pitching edge in all three games of that series. Detroit doesn't want to lose any ground to Chicago in situations in which it is at home and the White Sox are on the road.
3. Which of these eight teams are you most confident will make the playoffs?
Duronio: I am most confident that the Braves will make the playoffs. They have a four-game lead for the first wild card. It is also not out of the realm of possibility that the Braves will catch the Nationals, especially if Stephen Strasburg is eventually shut down. Although I am fairly confident the Braves will make the playoffs this year, I had about the same feeling for them at this time last year, and that didn't quite work out for them.
Faleris: The Braves appear to be best situated to make the playoffs and therefore have a lower level of importance assigned to their particular series. Atlanta has a semi-comfortable five-game cushion for the second wild card and remains in striking distance of Washington in the NL East. With the Dodgers currently a division leader, even a sweep would not necessarily result in a dramatic loss of ground in the Braves' fight for a postseason berth.
Simon: The math on this one is fairly easy -- given their lead, it makes sense to pick the Braves. But I'm going to say the Cardinals, Thursday's loss notwithstanding. The Cardinals have a certainty about them; you know what you're going to get from the vets at this time of the year. And Adam Wainwright is rolling, with five straight good starts.
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