Are there going to be pennant races this year? Maybe not. Former contenders like the Nationals, Orioles, and Twins have collapsed in the past few weeks, and not enough teams are playing well to come up and take their places. The A's are seriously challenging the Angels' defense of their AL West title, but it may not matter as whomever loses out for the division will very probably win the wild card. Oakland presently leads in that race by three games over the Yankees and four and a half over the Indians.
The AL Central has been settled for quite some time now, but I don't think anybody expected the Twins to fold quite like they have. The White Sox are going to have a lot of time to think about their first-round playoff matchup. For their sake, I hope it ends up being the Angels or Yankees and not the A's, who have beaten Chicago like a drum this year. The Indians have quietly put themselves in decent position for a surprise playoff run. I think they may still be one year away, though, and Oakland, New York, and Anaheim have a lot more talent.
The Red Sox' recent winning streak has granted them some breathing room in the AL East. The Blue Jays aren't out of it by any means at seven games back. In between are the Yankees, at 3 1/2 back. It's looking bleaker for the Bombers than it has in years. They're depending on Al Leiter, Shawn Chacon, and Aaron Small to somehow carry them to the postseason, and that's completely insane. I almost feel sorry for Yankees fans. Okay, no, I don't.
The Nationals aren't statistically out of it in the NL East, but they sure haven't looked like a playoff team for a while now. It sure seems as if Florida hasn't played its best baseball yet, but do you really want to bet against the Braves at this point? No, you don't. Meanwhile, the safety net for the NL East second place finisher is disappearing as the hot Astros are working on wrapping up the wild card race.
The Cardinals are going to win the NL Central. The Astros, in a repeat of last year, are riding a second-half surge to the wild card, although this time it's entirely fueled by pitching. The Cubs are done. The most interesting team to watch in the division down the stretch may well be the Brewers, who are making a bid to finish .500 for the first time since before the Rockies existed.
The NL West title may well be a booby prize, but at least the Padres look serious about finishing over .500 in winning it. The current home series against Colorado may go a long way in revealing the Diamondbacks as pretenders. The way things are going for the Dodgers, a win streak on their part to get back into things could well result in a massive earthquake separating Southern California from the rest of the continent and disabling what's left of their roster.
I wish I could make less obvious picks, but it looks to me as if Oakland, Anaheim, Chicago, and Boston are the AL playoff teams, and St. Louis, Atlanta, Houston, and San Diego will be the NL reps. The Cardinals seem significantly better than any of their in-league competition, but the AL playoffs could be quite wide open and very interesting indeed. It could all come down to positioning, as Oakland doesn't want to play Boston in a short series and the White Sox don't want anything to do with the A's. There are no guarantees with this much season left.