When one looks at the American League standings, there have been a lot of familiar faces at the top of those divisions for some time now. The Boston Red Sox have run away with the American League East by winning 100 games already, the Indians have been the class of a terrible AL Central for a while now, and the Astros have been in a closer battle with Oakland out in the AL West but look like they should hang on.
Even the AL Wild Card picture has been clear for a while now. The Yankees have had a great season and would have healthy leads in most divisions throughout baseball except their own. At 90 wins already, they have a stranglehold on a wild card spot. Thanks to a crazy run in the second half that has seen them push the defending champion Astros, the Athletics have an 8.5 game lead for the second wild card spot and could pass the Yankees for the best record among the two wild card teams by the end of the season.
Regardless of the actual number of wins each team ultimately ends up with, those five teams seem like they will very clearly make the playoffs and everyone else is basically just going through the motions. In the National League, that is FAR from the case.
Over in the NL, the only team that looks like it has a clear path to the Atlanta Braves thanks to a recent run of success combined with the Phillies and Nationals doing everything in their power to not win the division. With a 7.5 game lead, it would take a total collapse for the Braves to not take the East.
However, after that it is pure pandemonium as the NL Central, NL West, and Wild Card spots are all up for grabs and will likely stay that way until the last week of the season. The Chicago Cubs hold a slim one game lead in the Central over the resurgent Brewers and the always-dangerous-in-the-fall Cardinals lurking just 3.5 games back as well. The NL West is equally muddy as the Rockies are just 1.5 games up over the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks are sitting at 3.5 games back as well.
Where it gets even crazier is in the wild card race as two NL Central teams, the Brewers and Cardinals, currently occupy the Wild Card spots with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks just 2 and 4 games back respectively. The Phillies and Nationals are 6.5 and 7 games back and look to be long shots at this point, but are going to be playing for their playoff lives over the next couple of weeks and one good week of games could put them in the hunt again. Its worth mentioning, too, that if the Rockies have a bad series here soon, they could find themselves having to fight for a wild card spot with big series against the Phillies and Nationals at the end of the season. The Cubs have the same problem, because if the Brewers do end up passing them, they will find themselves in a precarious playoff position with series against the Diamondbacks and Cardinals in the final weeks of the season, although a series against the woeful White Sox will likely help the cause.
Unlike the American League which is all but decided and will likely see teams resting players and getting their rotations set for the playoffs here very soon, the National League playoff race is shaping up to be one of the more exciting ones in recent memory. We haven’t seen this much parity in one league in quite some time and who will come out of the National League in the World Series is anyone’s guess at this point.