October is here!
Hard to believe that the AL had five teams with at least 90 wins. And who would have imagined that the AL Central would produce three of them, including two teams with 95+ wins? (A sixth team, the Angels, just missed, with 89.)
The Blue Jays finished ahead of the Red Sox in the East, and the Angels ahead of both in overall league standings. These were the orders of finish I expected at the start of the season, but I never thought the Red Sox would have to fall so hard and so late for it to happen, or that neither the Sox nor the Jays would be within ten games of the Yankees, or that the Angels would have to win three of four from the A’s in a meaningless season-ending series just to get as close as four games out in the West. At the start of the year, had you told me that an Angels team with this offense would win 89 games, I would have been thrilled, and would have figured it might be good enough for the division title.
What happened in the Central? The Tigers are not a 95-win team. It is an illusion, and they worked mightily in the second half to prove it. They were in first all year, till the very last day, when the Royals–the Royals–completed a three-game sweep in Detroit to knock the kitties into second. Still good enough for a playoff berth, but it was clear from the way Jim Leyland managed that last game–starting one of his best pitchers even though a playoff berth of some sort was assured and then using another of his best starters for two innings of relief as the game went into extra innings–that he knew this was not just about seeding. Opening at home against the A’s versus on the road against the Yankees clearly mattered to the Tigers. Good luck to them, as they clearly will need it.
The AL is a tough league.
Meanwhile, it looked back at the start of September as though the wild card team in the NL (which is not so tough a league these days) would be barely above .500. Instead, it’s the Dodgers (.543), whose manager treated the distinction between division and wild card as meaningless, starting a spring-training lineup on the last day. The Padres played the last game as though it mattered, and clinched the division on what has to be one of the all-time bizarre final plays in a clincher (and with Trevor giving up back-to-back homers for the second time in two weeks!).
The NL could manage only one team with 90 wins, but the West recovered from the embarrassment of last year, with two teams finishing this year at 88 wins. This year, the Cardinals are the weak team, staggerring just to win 83 and to hold off the late-surging Astros (and even the Reds!). The Cards’ 83 wins is just a game more than the 2005 Padres managed during the regular season. The two teams again square off in the first round, but with the Padres clearly the favorite this time.
For the second year in a row, the Phillies (.525) get to watch from home, despite having a better record than one of the division winners (the Cards were at just .516).