Guest Author - Joe Mancini
The pennant races are at the gun lap, things are getting serious, and itís the best time of the season for fans. This season has the added distinction of being the first time that ten teams will be eligible for post-season advancement, and the addition of the second wild card is already a winner as cities that might be hopelessly out of it in the past are still clinging to life and hoping their team gets hot and the leaders stumble. As we saw in 2011, leaders stumbling down the stretch can definitely happen; the sad fans in Boston and Atlanta can attest to that.
In the American League, all three divisions are still being hotly contested. The New York Yankees, who a few weeks ago appeared to be in cruise control are being challenged by the upstart Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays, who canít really be described as such. For the long-suffering fans in Charm City, itís been fifteen years since their Oís have seen much success. That 1997 team won the AL East before losing to the powerful Cleveland Indians in the ALCS. Since then, itís been a steady downward spiral only recently arrested. Manager Buck Showalter has kept the Birds close with a solid lineup, decent starters, and a lock-down bullpen.
In the Central, the Detroit Tigers were largely expected to make short work of their race, but the stubborn Chicago White Sox continue to maintain a slim lead. The resurgence of The Big Donkey, Adam Dunn and the emergence of lefty Chris Sale has helped rookie manager Robin Ventura keep the South Siders in the lead, but the Tigers have not gone away and most think they have the edge heading into the final month.
Out West, powerhouse Texas continues to lead as they have all season, but their steps are being dogged by the red-hot and surprising Oakland Athletics. The Aís are keeping close and have the wild-card lead behind a substantially revamped roster crafted by ďMoneyballĒ subject Billy Beane. Meanwhile, the free-spending Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who invested hundreds of millions in the off-season, got off to a slow start, picked up steam, and now have once again fallen backwards. This tremendous collection of talent will be a major disappointment if they donít reach the post-season, even though they have the likely MVP in Mike Trout.
In the National League, the divisional races are not quite as close, as the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds maintain healthy leads and the San Francisco Giants are staying nicely ahead of the retooled and much more expensive Los Angeles Dodgers. The Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals hold the wild card berths at present, but the long-suffering fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Dodgers are within striking distance. The Pirates, who have endured twenty years of futility were in position but are now beginning to show the strain.
Just keep Yogi in mind: ďIt ainít over until itís over.Ē