By Cam Smith ’21
As the temperature gets progressively more bearable in Aquinas it can only mean one thing: playoff baseball is right around the corner. The Major League Baseball regular season will finally come to a conclusion on Sunday after a grueling 162 game stretch. Over the past six months, the league has seen its fair share of breakout stars and surprise playoff contenders, but after Sunday only 10 teams will remain in the hunt for the coveted Commissioner’s Trophy (All stats as of Sept. 22).
The American League’s five playoff representatives have long been locked in place, as the AL saw four teams reach 90 wins by mid-September. One of those teams is the Boston Red Sox, who clinched the AL East title last Thursday night with a win over the New York Yankees. Boston’s explosive season is due in large part to the impressive performances of MVP candidates Mookie Betts (.339 BA) and J.D. Martinez (41 HR), who have helped propel the team to a 105-50 record. The Sox will enter the playoffs with the best record in the majors but may be hindered by an inexperienced bullpen that has posted a poor ERA (4.00) since the All-Star break.
The Cleveland Indians (86-67) had to stave off the up and coming Minnesota Twins for the first half of the season but glided to the AL Central divisional in the second half. Cleveland’s strength lies in their pitching staff, as it features two Cy Young candidates in Corey Kluber (2.93 ERA) and Trevor Bauer (2.22 ERA), and a deadly combo out of the bullpen in Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.
Meanwhile in the AL West, the Houston Astros (97-57) hold a 3.5 game lead over the Oakland Athletics (94-61) in the race for the divisional crown. While the defending champions and former AL MVP Jose Altuve (.313 BA) were again expected to make the playoffs, the Athletics were given little chance to compete in a division in which they placed dead last in 2017. The Athletics’ meteoric rise can be contributed in large part to Khris Davis, who has helped power the team into contention with his league-leading 45 home runs.
The 95-59 Yankees will be waiting in the Bronx for the team that finishes second in the AL West. The Yanks have seen their share of success in the regular season, and slugger Aaron Judge’s return to health bodes well for a lineup already boasting 2017 National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton. New York’s postseason hopes may rely on ace Luis Severino returning to his pre-All-Star break form after struggling in the second half of the season.
Over in the National League, things are a little more interesting, as nail-biting races for both divisional titles and the Wild Card will likely come down to the final day. The Atlanta Braves (87-68) are the only team with their fate already determined after a division-clinching win against the Philadelphia Phillies last Saturday night. The Braves have been led all season by the strong play of veterans Freddie Freeman (.311 BA) and Nick Markakis (.304 BA) and will look to make some noise in their first trip to the playoffs since 2013.
Kris Bryant and the Chicago Cubs are looking to hold onto the National League Central title as they lead the Milwaukee Brewers by 2.5 games. However, both teams should find themselves in the playoffs as the Brewers currently possess one of the two wild card slots, along with the St. Louis Cardinals (86-69). The Cubs will look to overcome an injury-plagued bullpen while the Brewers will hope to ride the scorching hot play of MVP frontrunner Christian Yelich. The National League West looks very similar, as the Los Angeles Dodgers lead the Colorado Rockies by 1.5 games. The Dodgers will look to ace Clayton Kershaw (2.45 ERA) in the postseason, while the Rockies’ playoff hopes may rely on the return of slugger Trevor Story. Colorado currently sits 1.5 games back of the Wild Card, and will have to make a desperate push this weekend to secure a spot in the postseason.
With playoff hopes still hanging in the balance, the last weekend of the 2018 season should be an exciting one.