Over the course of Major League Baseball’s 162 game schedule, fans can be forgiven for losing track of the bigger picture from time to time. The more serious among us can easily get lost in the minutiae of game to game happenings, lineup and pitching staff changes and the even the smallest of transactions without realizing the placement and order of teams on a division by division basis for each league. However, come September, during the final month of the regular season, the standings seem to finally get the attention that they deserve.
On July 18th, the New York Yankees enjoyed a 10 game lead atop the American League East Division. On September 4th, after going 1-3 in pivotal long weekend games against the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees find themselves only a single game up on Baltimore, and 2.5 ahead of Tampa Bay. Right now, the American League standings look like this:
Remarkably, they used to look like this:
Over the 43 games between then and now, New York has gone 19-24, putting up an OPS 70 points worse than in its previous 91 games, and collecting a 4.06 team ERA that looks gaudy next to the 3.72 ERA that the team had in the middle of July.
However, another bad habit of baseball fans is to imagine that there’s only ever one team on the field. It’s never the opposition that beats a favorite team; it’s the favorite team that loses the game. So, while the Yankees have certainly sputtered since the middle of the summer, the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays haven’t merely fallen into close proximity of the division lead by accident. They’ve earned it, going 28-15 and 27-16 respectively since New York held their biggest lead of the season.
So, now, with less than 30 games remaining on the schedule and an increased importance on winning the division thanks to the new playoff format, here is who each team will be facing down the stretch.
The New York Yankees
Five games against the 74-61 Tampa Bay Rays, four games against the 75-59 Baltimore Orioles, six games against the 62-74 Boston Red Sox, seven games against the 60-74 Toronto Blue Jays, three games against the 76-58 Oakland Athletics and three games against the 55-80 Minnesota Twins.
The Baltimore Orioles
Six games against the 60-74 Toronto Blue Jays, four games against the 76-58 New York Yankees, six games against the 74-61 Tampa Bay Rays, six games against the 62-74 Boston Red Sox, three games against the 76-58 Oakland Athletics and three games against the 66-70 Seattle Mariners.
The Tampa Bay Rays
Five games against the 76-58 New York Yankees, three games against the 80-54 Texas Rangers, six games against the 75-59 Baltimore Orioles, six games against the 62-74 Boston Red Sox, three games against the 60-74 Toronto Blue Jays and four games against the 73-61 Chicago White Sox.
Looking through this particular lens might suggest that although they’ve been slumping lately, the Yankees, already with their somewhat customary leg up on the competition, face the easiest competition of the three teams in the final month of the season. It seems as though others would agree with this view, as CoolStandings.com lists New York as having a 60.3% chance of winning the division compared to Baltimore’s 15.3% chance and Tampa Bay’s 20.4% chance. Meanwhile, Baseball Prospectus lists the Yankees chances as being at 76.9% compared to the Orioles’ 13.0% and the Rays’ 10.1%.
Even as the American League East might have its stature as the best division in baseball questioned this year, it seems to have decided to aim for a different nomination: most competitive. And while some of us might be slow to anoint the Orioles as key players in that competition, they’ve stuck around all season long, drafting on the Yankees lead. Will they have enough to overtake the iconic franchise in the standings? Will the Rays surprise both clubs? It’s all part of what makes us refer to September baseball as meaningful.
A win this month is just as valuable as a win in April, it just seems more important because the standings finally have our unobstructed attention.
And The Rest
Washington Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to make only two more starts this season. [Federal Baseball]
The Baltimore Orioles stay in the picture. [Old Time Family Baseball]
Toronto Blue Jays right-handed pitcher Carlos Villanueva keeps rolling as a starter. [FanGraphs]
The Atlanta Braves bench Dan Uggla and move from inactive to reactive. [Baseball Nation]
According to Jeff Passan’s strange personal vendetta against Bobby Valentine, the Boston Red Sox will never find success while he’s in charge. [Yahoo! Sports]
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports believes that the Red Sox should rehire Terry Francona. [Over The Monster]
The New York Mets lost to the St. Louis Cardinals on an atrociously blown call. [Amazin' Avenue]
Philadelphia Phillies starter Cliff Lee appears to have finally turned the corner. [Crashburn Alley]
The woeful woes of the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen. [Disciples Of Uecker]
Shelby Miller might not be the only one making a surprise start down the stretch for the St. Louis Cardinals. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
A Jamey Carroll appreciation post. No, really. [inimitable appurture]
When sexism and home plate collisions collide. [Baseball Prospectus]