The MLB 500

Sept. 12, 2003, midnight | By Kent Anderson | 20 years, 9 months ago

The race to the postseason is in full gear

Race is not exactly a word that brings to mind the slow drawn-out game of baseball. But, nevertheless, one of the best races in recent memory is going on right now in ballparks around the country.

This race doesn't have the speed of the Kentucky Derby or the Indy 500 and it will end up spanning about six months and 160 games, but that doesn't make it any less exciting. Right now four of the six divisions in Major League Baseball are up for grabs and neither Wildcard slot has a legitimate favorite.

It is this that has turned the slow grueling jog of the Major League season into a last mile sprint.

Let's start with what is known. The Atlanta Braves have all but secured the National League East title, leading the second-place Marlins by 11 games. The Giants have followed up their World Series loss with a strong season and they lead the NL West by 11.5 games over the Dodgers.

Now lets move on to what isn't known. The NL is a little less complicated than the AL, so it's a good place to start. The Central Division is being vied for by three teams; Houston, Chicago and St. Louis. Yes, Chicago actually has a chance to win the World Series for the first time since 1908. First, however, the Cubs have to make the playoffs, not an easy thing to do, especially in this division.

Chicago should be favored to win the Central behind their young pitching staff and the bats of Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou and Kenny Lofton. Although they are one game behind Houston its hard to look past a staff that contains Wood, Prior, Clement and Zembrano who have led their team to a 3.86 ERA. The question mark here is whether or not the Cubs can produce enough offense to give these young guns a chance, but they went a long way to cure this problem by acquiring Aramis Ramirez, Randall Simon and Lofton.

St. Louis, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. They are strong on offense but have struggled on the mound. Matt Morris, the staff's ace, has struggled to put up big numbers since his mentor, Daryl Kyle, died last season. The pitching around him is average at best and the whole staff has combined for a 4.63 ERA and is averaging only 5.93 strikeouts per nine innings.

This, however, isn't as bad as it seems, since the Cardinals possess arguably the best offense in the majors. Bo Hart has been outstanding since being called up when Vina went down and he sets the table for a very powerful and menacing line-up. Imagine stepping out on the mound and facing Drew, Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, Renteria then Martinez. These guys all can cause big damage and in the middle of it all is Pujols, who leads the league in average and has 41 homeruns.

Expect the Cardinals and their .280 batting average to take first in the Central, even though they are down by 2.5 games. The Cubs should come in second and the Astros should drop from first to third by the end of the season.

The Florida Marlins should emerge victorious in the Wild Card race. They have been hot lately, winning 8 of their last ten, and they are in the middle of a five game winning streak. They have five quality starters, a good bullpen and an offense that isn't spectacular but gets the job done.

Moving on to the American League, which is a little bit more complicated. The Yankees are once again the favorites to win the East and Boston, who has put up a fight all year, doesn't have much of a chance to overtake them. They are 3.5 games back and do not the Bronx Bombers for the remainder of the season. Don't expect them to tear up the competition in the post season however, their pitching is old and not as effective as it used to be.

Oakland continued their trend of starting the season shaky only to burn through their schedule after the All-Star Break. They should take the West, beating out Seattle with their amazing pitching.

The Central is tough to call. The White Sox and Twins are tied for first and the Royals are 3.5 back. Each has shown that they can get it done. The best team out of this bunch: Chicago. The resurfacing of the Big Hurt, Frank Thomas, and the acquisition of Carl Everett has given the team a dangerous lineup. Colon and Loaiza spearhead a solid pitching staff that will keep them in almost every game.

Expect the Twins to come in second and the Royals to come in third.

The Wild Card race in the American League is between two teams who are having great seasons, but can't make the cut in their divisions. Boston is two games up on Seattle and should remain on top on the fading Mariners till the end of the regular season. The Red Sox have a great lineup and some solid pitchers, they are a better team than the Yankees this season, they just haven't played like it.

When October rolls around there are a number of possible scenarios. Just sit back relax and enjoy one of the best postseason races in a long time. When the regular season is over there's a whole new question to answer: who will win the World Series?

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