With the calendar now well into August, things are really heating up at the ballpark. The American League Central Division, dominated by the Chicago White Sox this season, is the only division where we know the winner. The other five divisions are very much up for grabs. Naturally, when handicapping games, it's important to know which teams still have a chance and which teams are now playing out the string. Let's take a closer look.
Four of the five teams still have hopes of winning the division. The Rays enter the week with a 4-game lead over Boston. New York and Toronto aren't far behind. All four teams will be fighting it out right until the end. The Orioles, of course, are long out of contention.
As mentioned, the White Sox have all but mathematically won this division. Not only will none of the other teams (Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, KC) catch Chicago, none are alive in the Wild Card race.
The Astros can't quite shake the A's. Houston leads Oakland by 2.5 games. The other teams in the division, Seattle, LA and Texas, are out of the running. No shot at the Wild Card for any of those three, either.
Three of five teams in the East are alive. None have a shot at the Wild Card, so it's truly a winner-takes-all affair. The surging Phillies currently hold a 2-game lead over the Braves. The Mets are only half a game back of the Braves. Washington and Miami are done.
With a 5-game lead over the Reds, the Brewers are in fairly good shape at the moment. They better not falter though, as the Wild Card isn't likely an option. The Cards, Cubs and Pirates are playing for pride.
Everyone knew the Dodgers would be strong. Most thought, however, that it would be San Diego which would challenge them. The Padres have indeed played well. Only 3.5 games behind the defending champs, they're in good shape for a Wild Card spot. It's the Giants who continue to surprise though. At 71-41, they've got the best record in baseball. Could the three top teams in baseball all be in the same division?
The next few weeks are going to be exciting. We know that the teams fighting for the playoffs will give their best effort. Remember to also keep a close eye on the ones which are playing out the string. Those teams will be calling up young players and evaluating talent. Some will relish the chance to play spoiler and will keep playing hard. Others are likely to really struggle. Identifying which category the various clubs fall into will help with your handicapping. Enjoy the pennant races and best of luck with all your wagers.