Major League Baseball is having an incredible season.
The St. Louis Cardinals are 84-46 but don’t have a National League MVP candidate because most of the players who might have been candidates have been injured.
The Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs would be leading the National League Central in most seasons at a combined 48 games over .500, but they’ve been unable to catch the Cardinals.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, so far, have been able to ride pitchers Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in holding off the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.
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The New York Mets have found some offense to bolster a marvelous young pitching staff that could terrorize the National League for years to come and have built a comfortable lead over the Washington Nationals in the NL East.
The American League is almost as compelling with the Kansas City Royals leading the way.
Anyone who thought last season was a fluke for KC has been slapped in the face by the reality that this unique team is the real deal. The Royals’ 80-50 record ain’t no fluke.
The Toronto Blue Jays traded for everyone this side of Mickey Mantle before the MLB trade deadline on July 31 and are now bludgeoning their way through the American League. The additions of Troy Tolowitzki and David Price have made Toronto the team no one wants to face in October. And outfielder Ben Revere was a steal.
Houston also made some astute trade-deadline moves and the Astros are still in first place in the American League West after several seasons of misery.
And it looks like the New York Yankees are going to make the playoffs, even if they fail to catch Toronto in the American League East. Right now, New York is a game-and-a-half behind the Blue Jays.
The second wild-card team in the AL, if the season ended today, would be the dangerous Texas Rangers, whose pitching staff is rounding into great shape. Left-hander Derek Holland, who has missed most of the season with an injury, was brilliant Sunday with a three-hit, 11-strikeout shutout over the Baltimore Orioles. And Cole Hamels, acquired at the trade deadline from Philadelphia, is coming off his best start as a Ranger, when he allowed two hits and a run while striking out 10 in eight innings against Baltimore.
You can make a championship case for all 10 of the teams mentioned. And that doesn’t include clubs like San Francisco, Washington, Minnesota, the Los Angeles Angels, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Baltimore, all of whom are on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
The 10 teams that would be in the playoffs if they started today are clearly the best 10 teams in baseball.
Imagine a National League wild-card game between the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. It’s a brisk, early-October day and the Cubs are sending right-hander Jake Arrieta to the mound to battle Pittsburgh’s young Gerrit Cole.
What an incredible potential match-up.
If you saw Arrieta no-hit the LA Dodgers on Sunday night, you know what a dominant pitcher he is. He’s 17-6 with a 2.11 ERA.
Cole, meanwhile, is 15-7 with a 2.44 ERA.
These two facing off in wild card playoff game? It would be ridiculously entertaining.
The strength of the five National League teams in playoff position today is the same – starting pitching. Of the pitchers with the top 17 ERAs in baseball, 10 reside on teams in position to make the National League playoffs.
They are: Zack Greinke, Dodgers, 1.61 (1); Arrieta, 2.11 (2); Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers, 2.24 (3); Jacob deGrom, Mets, 2.32 (6); Cole, Pirates, 2.44 (8); Matt Harvey, Mets, 2.48 (10); Michael Wacha, Cardinals, 2.69 (12); Lance Lynn, Cardinals, 2.80 (13); Carlos Martinez, Cardinals, 2.91 (16); John Lackey, Cardinals, 2.92 (17).
The American League playoff teams are not as reliant on starting pitching. The Blue Jays, Astros and Yankees rank 1-2-3 in MLB in home runs while Texas is 10th.
The outlier among these 10 teams is the Royals. They don’t have great start pitching and they don’t hit a lot of homers. They are, however, a much-improved offensive team from 2014 and their defense and bullpen are still dominant.
There’s still a month to go in the regular season and strange things can happen. But as things look now, we’re in store for a whale of a baseball postseason. And it could start with Arrieta vs. Cole in a dream pitching match-up.