With less than three weeks left to play, we can pretty much see how everything is going to shake out in the baseball season. The Dodgers, Braves, Astros, and Yankees are all (barring epic collapses) going to make the playoffs. Only the AL Central still has something resembling a pennant race, with the Indians just a few games back of the Twins. In the NL Central, the Cubs are four games behind the Cardinals, with the Brewers another game behind them. Technically, there’s still a race there, but it’s pretty much a given at this point that neither team really has a chance to knock of the Cardinals.
There are still the Wild Card races, with three teams in the AL and five (or six) in the NL fighting for the chance to appear in the “play-in” game. But those are as exciting as they seem – which is not much.
So, what’s a fan to do? I’ve read an article recently bemoaning the lack of pennant races. I went and did some research, and you know what? This year is an anomaly.
Checking the final standings for every season since 2000, only twice was the smallest margin of “victory” in a division race more than three games. That’s a total of 108 divisional races. On three occasions, there were actually TIES! The average smallest margin of victory is 1.4 games. OK, you’re thinking, that’s just for the closest race. With six divisions, there’s going to be one race that gets decided over the final weekend. But what about the other divisions? Surely they’ve all been settled much earlier! Um, not really. The average margin of victory in the second closest pennant race is 2.6 games. And only twice was it as many as six. In fact, in all but two years (2011 and 2017) there were at least two divisions that were still in pennant races going into the last week of the season.
So I don’t want to hear anything about boring pennant races, OK?
As an aside, in that 18 year span, twelve different teams won the World Series*. Another seven different teams won pennants and made it to the WS**…..
And there are still “Award Races” to be decided!
Speaking of which, we can pretty much start putting the names Mike Trout and Justin Verlander on the AL MVP and Cy Young Awards. No one’s really close enough to challenge them. The AL Rookie of the Year, however, is still up for grabs. Yordan Alvarez of the Astros looks good, except he’s a DH….and voters are generally reluctant to give out major awards to one-dimensional players. John Means of the Orioles is the best pitcher in the discussion; the Rays’ Brandon Lowe was in the mix until he went down with an injury.
It’s more fun in the NL. Christian Yelich of the Brewers, even with his season-ending injury, and the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger are fighting for the MVP. Toss a coin…. It’s a three-way race for the NL Cy Young. Max Scherzer of the Nationals, Jacob deGrom of the Mets, and Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers all have strong cases. We’ll see how they do in the handful of starts left to them. The Mets’ Pete Alonso looks like a lock for the Rookie of the Year. When you’re leading the majors in home runs…..
Other things to watch? Four teams have a good shot at winning 100 games. Five teams could lose 100 games (the Tigers have already passed that mark). I wonder if more teams losing 100 games than winning 100 has ever happened before. I may look it up later…..
* Yankees, Diamondbacks, Angels, Marlins, Red Sox, White Sox, Cardinals, Phillies, Giants, Royals, Cubs, Astros.
** Dodgers, Indians, Mets, Tigers, Rays, Rangers, Rockies.