When Major League Baseball announced that the 2012 season would see two teams qualify for the post-season as Wild Cards, expectations were set that even more cities would be involved in pennant chase baseball. So far, that take has been proven to be true.
We are at roughly the 90% mark in completing Championship Play (the fancy way to refer to the Regular Season), and in both leagues there are still plenty of berths to be filled. While divisional races have been, with the exception of the tussles in the American League Central between the surprising Chicago White Sox and the disappointing Detroit Tigers and in the East between the suddenly-mortal New York Yankees and the upstart Baltimore Orioles, mostly snoozers, the extra slot in October has kept interest alive.
In the American League, the delightful Oakland Athletics, boasting the LOWEST payroll in MLB, has combined superb pitching, timely hitting, and stout defense into a three-game lead for the first Wild Card. The A’s have a terrible stadium and TV network that will be really shaky if the NBA’s Sacramento Kings relocate, but they have hard-core fans and fine young core. They are only two behind the incumbent Texas Rangers so they can’t be counted out yet for the division, but a Wild Card spot would be a tremendous achievement in any event.
The Orioles occupy the second Wild Card spot, three behind the A’s but only one behind their divisional rival Yankees. I get to watch the O’s on TV and I’m still waiting for the fans to return in full force to Camden Yards; it has fourteen years since the team put up a winning record. Charm City would prosper with post-season baseball. The Orioles have power and power arms in their bullpen and they could be formidable.
The other AL teams still in the hunt are the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, another big-market team that spent lavishly in the off-season but have come up short so-far, the aforementioned Tigers who many still expect to capture the Central flag, and another low-budget team that no longer qualifies as a surprise, the Tampa Bay Rays.
The divisions in the National League lack drama, and the Atlanta Braves, who experienced a terrifying collapse last September, have established a mortal lock on the first Wild Card position. The second though is up for grabs, as the Los Angeles Dodgers and defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals are flat-footed; the Pittsburgh Pirates, fighting to break out of their own multi-decade losing streak, are still in range and last year’s divisional champions Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks have used late rushes to climb back in contention. Even the San Diego Padres, who seemed to be on their way to 90-plus losses earlier are within six games but alas they are very, very longshots.