Wild stretch ahead


Baseball has turned into its homestretch - time once again to remind President Bush that, as Texas Rangers owner, he was the lone dissenter against the wild-card system.

Thanks to the fourth postseason spot in each league, races again this season should go down to the last series, maybe the final day. Here's a look at who's left, what their schedules look like from Labor Day on and their odds of making the playoffs.

Remember, odds are for recreational use only.

American League


Manager Jim Leyland won't talk playoffs until the Tigers clinch a spot. Quality manager-speak, but these guys are in. And they have legitimate World Series dreams for the first time since 1984. Schedule: Not bad. They have 14 at home and 11 on the road. Thirteen of their remaining 25 are against some of the league's worst: the Orioles, Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners. But they do have tough trips to Minnesota and the Chicago White Sox. Odds: 3-2


Sweeping the Boston Red Sox in a five-game series in August was the difference in the East. The Yankees will win their ninth straight division title, even with a disabled list worth more than several franchises. Schedule: Cake. Six games against Toronto and four against Boston. The rest are against the Orioles, Devil Rays and Royals. Odds: 2-1


They've overcome tough injuries all season and built a pretty solid lead in the West. Schedule: Mixed. They get respites with three-game series in Tampa Bay and Seattle and four at home vs. the disappointing Cleveland Indians. But they have two series against division rival Los Angeles and one against Texas and go to Minnesota as well. They finish with a seven-game road trip, including four in Los Angeles. Odds: 4-1


Considering their woeful start, it's amazing they are now a trendy pick for the World Series. They could get there, but they have to snuff out the White Sox first. Schedule: Not easy. They have a 10-game road trip in mid-September to Cleveland, Boston and Baltimore. They have a seven-game homestand to end the season, including four with the woeful Royals before finishing with what could be baseball's dramatic finale: three at home vs. the White Sox. Odds: 6-1

White Sox

With the Tigers jumping out to an early lead and the Twins getting hot midsummer, the defending champs could be the AL Central's odd team out. Schedule: Brutal. They close with a six-game trip that includes that showdown with the Twins. They also visit Boston, Oakland and Los Angeles. Only 11 games are at home, including three with Detroit. Odds: 8-1


Their best shot is the AL West title, and they have seven games against the A's. Schedule: Favorable. Two long homestands with a nine-game trip to Texas, Kansas City and Oakland. They've been only average at home, where they'll get the A's for four to close the regular season. Odds: 20-1

Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rangers

No miracles likely this year. See you in 2007. Schedules: Tough enough to discourage postseason plans. Odds: 50-1



Didn't they clinch in July? Manager Willie Randolph and general manager Omar Minaya should be shipped to Kansas City if the Mets don't make the World Series. Schedule: It doesn't matter. Odds: Even money


It's amazing how pedestrian they've become. Lucky for them the whole league is even more mediocre. They'll do just enough to win the NL Central. Schedule: Encouraging. They end up at home, have two manageable road trips and face one club currently over .500. But they do have Houston seven times. Odds: 3-1


This is the only NL team that could scare the Mets. They have a solid, veteran rotation and several hitters too green to comprehend the pressure they should be under. Schedule: Moderate. They get some bad teams such as Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Colorado and the Chicago Cubs, but three games at Shea Stadium. They have only 10 games at home and must end with three at San Francisco, never a welcoming place for the Dodgers. Odds: 5-1


Still alive after a fire sale. Gotta love this league. The Phillies seem to tease their cynical city every year, though. Ryan Howard may carry them to the playoffs. Schedule: On paper, the best. They play no teams with plus-.500 records. But they are on the road a lot, and they can't expect Atlanta, Florida and Houston to roll over. Odds: 7-1


Newly acquired David Wells could put the Padres in. Schedule: Not favorable. Just nine games at home; at least they are against bad teams. It's the mid-September, 10-game road trip to San Francisco, Cincinnati and Los Angeles that makes the difference. They also have to go to St. Louis and finish in Arizona. Odds: 8-1


They were the hot pick before last week, when they imploded. Still, they get to beat up some bad teams. Schedule: Just above average. Twelve on the road; 13 at home. San Diego is the only winning club, but the Reds finish on the road (at Florida and Pittsburgh). Odds: 8-1


Can't count out any team with their kind of starting pitching. Schedule: Not easy. But they can make a dent with seven games against St. Louis, six vs. Philadelphia and three against Cincinnati. Odds: 12-1

Marlins, Giants, Braves, D'backs

Too much leapfrogging left to do. Then again, this is the National League. Schedule: All are manageable if a hot streak ensues. Odds: 40-1

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