Plenty of compelling races to watch out for
I was doing a radio spot the other day, and the host asked me if there would be more than two interesting races in baseball come September. I thought about that for a minute, and it was clear to me that there will be at least five compelling division races.
Let's start with the American League East, which is going to go down to the wire with the Red Sox and Yankees. And let's not forget the Rays, who sit only 8 1/2 games out of first place. Boston has injury concerns, and the Yankees have rotation problems. The worst thing either team could do is assume that it will get in as either the division winner or the AL Wild Card. As soon as you start to manage not to lose rather than managing to win, you make yourself very vulnerable to teams like the Rays, who are playing every game like a playoff game.
The Tigers lead the Indians by five and the White Sox by 5 1/2 in the AL Central. Honestly, I didn't think Cleveland would hang on for so close or so long. One of our producers at MLB Network is a diehard Tigers fan, and he's been scared to death that the Tigers won't be able to hold off the Indians. I told him that Detroit would win that division by at least eight games, and it still might. But the White Sox and Indians are coming after the Tigers, and this will be fun to watch until the very end. I also expect the Rangers and Angels to battle into the final week of the season in the AL West.
Everyone has assumed the Phillies will walk away with their fifth consecutive NL East title. Meanwhile, the Braves have cut their lead to 6 1/2 games. Philadelphia's bullpen, which had been outstanding all year, has hit a couple of bumps lately. The Braves' bullpen is the most electric and overpowering in the big leagues. If their offense can score some runs and their rotation can get them through six innings, the Braves could come back and make this race really interesting.
There is one race I do feel is over: the NL Central. The Brewers have great team balance -- good starting pitching, a very good 'pen and, at times, a potent offense. I don't feel there is another team in this division that can challenge them. They simply have to avoid reading articles like this one and think they don't have to play out the schedule.
That brings us to the NL West, which is going to be the most interesting of all the division races. You have an Arizona team that no one -- and I mean no one -- picked to win this division, holding a one-game lead over the banged-up defending World Series champion Giants, who are having a difficult time scoring runs. What the Giants do have is excellent starting pitchers, who accept the challenge of dealing with very little run support. The Rockies could find themselves back in the race; they always seem to get back in.
I believe the D-backs will win this division. Don't be surprised if they bring up a rookie who turns out to be the difference in the division. Trevor Bauer, Arizona's first-round pick in this year's Draft, is making a mockery of Double-A hitters. The one thing a manager and organization worries the most about is the mental makeup of young pitchers. Confidence is something Bauer does not lack. And with that confidence comes some nasty stuff on the mound. If he could get five starts between now and the end of September, Bauer could be the difference in the D-backs winning or losing the division.
Mitch Williams is an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.