Given the influence of MLB throughout the world today, one may not be forgiven for postseason ignorance. With a plethora of dedicated baseball memorabilia, from clothing to online casino site slots, the game seems engrained in nearly every facet of popular culture, with the end-of-season tournament being no exception.
With this in mind, we are putting the spotlight on some of the under the radar teams you need to know about in the run up to the competition.
We all know the front-runners of the 2016 MLB pennant chase have been established. It’s the Cubs, Nationals, Giants, and Dodgers in the National League. It’s the Orioles, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Indians and Rangers heading the American League.
But it would be short-sided to simply pass over the teams that aren’t normally being discussed as World Series threats, but find themselves hanging around – still within striking distance of a playoff berth.
The Detroit Tigers (three games behind Cleveland) are doing more than just lingering in the AL Central race. There was a time in which manager Brad Ausmus’ job was in serious jeopardy. But with Detroit heating up to the tune of eight straight victories (which ended with Thursday’s loss to the White Sox), his seat has gotten significantly cooler.
One reason for Motor City success is a familiar face on the mound, as the Justin Verlander of the present is looking much like the Verlander of old: 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA in July.
Detroit is the latest flavor of the month. Houston held that honor recently. The Astros ended June with 12 victories in 14 games to get back up above .500 and erase a dreadful start to the 2016 campaign.
The gap between themselves and the AL West-leading Texas Rangers got as close as 2.5 on July 27 only to go up to 5.5. And with the Rangers adding Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy at the trade deadline’s eleventh hour, the task for the Astros to win the division became more daunting and made chasing a Wild Card more realistic.
Similar thoughts are going through the minds of the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, as the chance for a race in the NL Central are next to none thanks to the impressive Chicago Cubs. Most teams fret over the pressure of the season’s final weeks. The Cards and Bucs are quite used to it, which should give each an upper hand amidst the chaos.
It’s been anything but easy for the defending NL champs. More than eight games behind the Nationals in the East, the New York Mets right now left to chase for a Wild Card spot. But considering all the injuries — Matt Harvey, Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Lagares, and Lucas Duda (just to name a few) — Terry Collins’ group is quite fortunate to be just a game out.
One team the Mets are trying to catch lies within their own division: the Miami Marlins. Don Mattingly is making his case for Manager of the Year, while Christian Yelich has hit .329 with 14 RBIs since the All-Star break. Despite being swept by the Cubs at Wrigley Field this week, Miami has remained one of the most consistent teams this season.
Then there are the teams with even longer hills to climb. The Rockies — now minus Trevor Story — are on an 8-2 run and trail the second NL Wild Card by three games thanks to the third-best road ERA in the league. Colorado, the Seattle Mariners, and the New York Yankees are each barely holding on to winning records.
It’s hard to think of any of them as true playoff contenders. But the same was said of the 2007 Rockies, the 2011 Cardinals and the 2011 Rays — all of which came from nowhere to sneak into the postseason. Those are just a handful of examples of how deficits can evaporate just as quickly as they were built. Each team that believes it has a realistic chance of playing deep into October can look to the past for reference.