AL playoff field appears set, but East won't lack drama

The Kickoff

September 20, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

Clearly, there must be adequate parity in baseball when the head-to-head series that essentially finalized the four postseason teams from the American League just took place between the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers.

The Indians swept the three-game series, which pretty much eliminated the Tigers from wild-card consideration and left Cleveland, the Los Angeles Angels, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees to figure out who plays whom in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

I'm going with the Angels to end up with the best record and the chance to have home-field advantage through the entire postseason, but there's really no way to handicap the four because all of them face relatively soft competition the rest of the way.

Of course, the only suspense left in the AL is in the East, where the Yankees are making a late run at the division title after trailing the Red Sox by 14 1/2 games. It could come down to how the Yankees do this weekend in a four-game home series against the Toronto Blue Jays, since they close out their schedule with a pair of seemingly easy road series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Orioles.

The Red Sox probably don't want it to come down to the final weekend, since they draw a four-game set at home against the Minnesota Twins while the Yankees play in the pinstripe-friendly confines of Oriole Park.

Likely pairings

Once again, it's impossible to predict the pairings when all four teams entered yesterday's games with win-loss records within 2 1/2 games of each other, but I'm guessing the Angels will face the wild-card Red Sox in the Division Series and the Indians will have the home-field advantage against the Yankees.

The other league

The next 11 days are going to be great fun, with every National League division race still very much up in the air. The NL Central will be particularly suspenseful because it is highly unlikely the wild-card entry will come from that division.

You'd think commissioner Bud Selig would have made sure his favorite team got some scheduling relief at the end of the season, but the Milwaukee Brewers appear to be in a heap of trouble heading into the final furlong of this two-team race.

The Brewers have 11 games against the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres, while the Chicago Cubs face three teams - the Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins and Cincinnati Reds - with a combined record that was 53 games under .500 going into last night.

Interleague angst

If you don't think interleague play has a significant effect on the outcome of the division races, consider this:

If the Braves (4-11) had played as well against the AL as their two top NL East rivals - the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies both went 8-7 - Atlanta would be a half game in front of the second-place Phillies going into yesterday and 1 1/2 games out of the wild-card lead.

The Los Angeles Dodgers still have an outside shot at the NL wild-card berth, but their chances of reaching the postseason also have been severely hampered by their lackluster performance against the AL (5-10).

Thanks in large part to those two teams, the AL easily prevailed in this year's overall interleague competition, 137-115.

Least, but not last

The Orioles should be able to avoid the indignity of dropping into the AL East cellar, if only because the Devil Rays are no lock to win another game this season.

The Rays have nine games left against the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays. The Orioles also have series remaining against the Jays and Yankees, but they play their next four games against the Rangers and have a makeup Monday against the Kansas City Royals.

So, we've got that going for us ... which is nice.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Saturdays and Sundays.

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