A closer look at under-the-radar contenders, the most important series beginning Tuesday and the most vulnerable teams in position to win their divisions.
1. Which contender isn't getting enough attention?
Mark Simon (@msimonespn), ESPN Stats & Info: I'd like to think at this point that they're all getting attention if
they're contending. But I guess I'll say the Brewers, who are 20-6 in their past 26
games. People presume that it's all Ryan Braun who has been carrying
this team, but Aramis Ramirez's stats in this stretch are that of
Braun's statistical twin. And go figure that Wily Peralta and Marco
Estrada have been so valuable the past couple of weeks. Plus, give a
little credit to the Brewers' defense, which is much maligned at a
couple of spots but has a positive Runs Saved total (thanks to Ben
Jedlovec at Baseball Info Solutions for sharing) over about the past month.
Dave Gershman (@Dave_Gershman), Marlins Daily: Milwaukee. It's only two and a half games out of the second wild-card spot and it has a definite chance of leapfrogging St. Louis and claiming the second wild-card spot.
Stephanie Liscio (@stephanieliscio), It's Pronounced Lajaway: Even though people are starting to pay attention a bit more, I think the Brewers have really been overlooked. I guess they're a good example of how the second wild card could create some interesting scenarios -- they're only two games above .500, yet just two and a half games out of the wild card. If they had won even half of the games they blew in the ninth inning earlier this year, St. Louis might be looking up at them in the standings.
2. Among likely division winners (Reds, Nationals, Rangers), which team is the most vulnerable?
The Reds. Johnny Cueto hasn't been as good lately. He has allowed 14 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings in his past three
starts. There are also the concerns about Aroldis Chapman's fastball
velocity and whether Joey Votto will be close to 100 percent by playoff
time. And their multiple low on-base-percentage guys such as Drew Stubbs and Zack Cozart could to be automatic outs against really good pitching, which
they would see in the NLDS.
Gershman: The Reds. Their young pitching has been ridiculously good this season, but they've thrown a lot of innings collectively, so you have to imagine there will be some extra fatigue. Washington's pitching is also young, but it has some postseason experience in that rotation and several of the arms have been well-managed lately.
Liscio: Part of the beauty of the playoffs is that anything can happen. It seemed like the Phillies were a sure thing last year, yet they didn't make it past the NLDS. In mid-September last season, I was certain that the Boston Red Sox would be playing in October before their epic collapse. Even though the Texas Rangers have an incredibly talented team, a team that reached the World Series the past two seasons, I have to wonder if they may be the team to stumble in 2012. Josh Hamilton has been fighting injuries and Mike Napoli just came off the disabled list. Adrian Beltre has been a bit banged up as well. If they end up with too many key players nursing too many injuries, it may be enough to make them vulnerable.
3. What's the biggest series starting on Tuesday: Nationals-Dodgers,
Even though they're only a game out of the wild-card hunt, I feel like the Dodgers are
teetering. Adrian Gonzalez has done little and they really need him to
carry the offense because Matt Kemp is hurting. They may feel the
absence of Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley in these games big-time. Josh
Beckett needs to come up big for them, but he currently has a five-game road losing streak and has given up seven runs in 12 innings in two
road starts with the Dodgers. They've lost six of their past eight games on the road, and they've got nine with the Nationals, Reds and
red-hot Padres to try to hang in this thing.
Gershman: A's-Tigers. Detroit is still in the mix for a wild-card position and Oakland is its biggest contender for that position. Taking two or three from the A's could really give them more of a chance for playoff contention.
Liscio: I'm really looking forward to the Athletics-Tigers series this week. Prior to the season, nobody seemed to expect much from the A's, particularly with the AL champion Rangers and the free-spending Angels in their division. Now they're only three games behind the AL West-leading Rangers and tied with the Orioles for the wild-card lead. On the other hand, everyone seemed to think the Tigers would run away with the AL Central, but they sit three games behind the Chicago White Sox with 16 games left to play. The Tigers need to keep themselves from slipping further away from first, while the A's hope to keep the pressure on the Rangers and other wild-card contenders.