Wild Card Baseball Sizzles: MLB Hits Homerun

Thats not a bicycle!When baseball first came up with a Wild Card entry into the postseason it generated immediate added interest in so many baseball towns in America. Adding yet another Wild Card spot this season has made things even more electric this time of year.

There are so many variables to consider in the final month of the season in deciding who will grab those playoff invitations and the health of key players is as important as any in addition to  how many home games you have left as opposed to road games, who you are playing (to some degree) and your head-to-head encounters with the closest teams to you, who’s hot, who is not and on and on.

In Tampa Bay the Rays have to be concerned after having to shelve southpaw sensation David Price for his last start, one in which he was forced to skip with shoulder soreness. In Los Angeles, the Dodgers learned that they have to try to catch their bitter rival San Francisco Giants without the services of right-hander Chad Billingsly out for the season with injury troubles. The other LA team has to be very concerned knowing that Jerod Weaver their ace is saddled with tendonitis in his pitching arm for the stretch.

There are countless other examples that can be used now but it is almost unfathomable that the Cincinnati Reds have sent every one of their starters to the hill every time they have been scheduled, not to mention the unthinkable record they sported (33-16) without star slugger Joey Votto in the lineup.

That sparkling record is a testament to the way this team banded together in Votto’s absence. One has to look no further than the Dodgers, one of many examples of what can happen. They were cruising until Matt Kemp got hurt early in the season and took a sudden nosedive. The New York Yankees were without Alex Rodriguez for six weeks and saw a huge lead vanish when Baltimore caught them after once trailing by 10 games.

Everyone in baseball knows what happened to the Philadelphia Phillies who at the outset of the season appeared to be the very best in baseball, once injuries to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and other key players took a heavy toll.

Examples are endless almost everywhere but Cincinnati and San Francisco where the Giants never missed a beat after losing Melky Cabrera for 50 games due to a violation of MLB drug policy.

Some may think the aforementioned teams are leading a charmed life. To an extent, injury-wise maybe, but I prefer to think of it as a testament of will and a little help from Lady Luck.

In the case of the Rays, they have lost 24 one-run decisions. Think where they might be right now had slugger Evan Longoria not missed a healthy portion of the season with an injury. Sure makes what Cincy has accomplished this season from mid July on even more impressive doesn’t it?

It was a crazy week in this crazy yet wonderful time of year in baseball. About the most insane stat came about when Phillies ace Roy Hallady was staked to a 4-run lead in a win over the Reds, running his career record to 110-0 when given a lead of four or more runs.

I was recently in Pittsburgh Pirates country and there was little buzz about the Pirates who looked so legitimate for so long. I am sure there was a buzz following a 12-2 loss in which the Bucs committed seven errors.

Speaking of trips, I will set sail to Boston at the end of the week and wonder who the manager will be when I hit Bean Town. I cannot wait to hear the whining. I had to laugh when recently asked about the ongoing managerial situation, Sox President and CEO Larry Luccchino claimed the Red Sox job is very coveted and called working for the team an “extraordinary privilege.”

Frankly, that is about the last place, maybe including the Bronx, that someone would want to manage. In my many days of covering the Sox, I can tell you straight up that players could not wait to get out-of-town and put on another uniform.

In addition to the hot division races, all eyes are on the bunched-up Wild Card runs and suddenly the dark horse Milwaukee Brewers have managed to work their way into the conversation. How you ask even if a very long shot?

For starters Aramis Ramirez has put up numbers that are quite similar to those Prince Fielder put up last year and closer John Oxford, who was questioned about actually being human last year, is back to doing what he does after a dreadful stretch in which one of baseball’s best firemen lost his closer’s job.

Sure makes those late September games in GABP with the Reds very interesting now.

So few games separate so many teams in the Wild Card chase which promises to inject so much excitement to come down the stretch. Puzzling Detroit is involved in two races, but at this point their best chance is to win the AL Central outright. Same holds true for the Angels who have a better shot at winning a WC spot than catching front running Texas in the AL West.

A Tiger is involved in some personal races right now, which are nearly as exciting as pennant chases to baseball junkies. Not since 1967 when Carl Yazstremski won the Triple Crown in the AL has anyone done so. Miguel Cabrera actually has an outside shot.

A subject still to come is the MVP race, but you know who has put up legitimate numbers for such an award very quietly? Ryan Braun, although to the (team) winners usually go the spoils, save for Andre Dawson. You older guys know all about the year the Cubs were awful and Dawson was great and carried home the trophy.

Braun has a real good chance of winning two-thirds of the NL Triple Crown as does Cabrera, but suddenly finds himself in quite a battle for the RBI title despite leading the league in homers. The hottest player on the planet since the All-Star break is San Diego’s unsung Chase Headley who has taken the lead with a monster surge, with 102. Cincy’s Jay Bruce is right there as well with 96.

Who in their right mind would have guessed the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles would be tied in September for the AL East lead just days ago? The Orioles, not the Washington Nationals or the Pirates are the best story in baseball.

However one may get an argument in Oakland. Who could have claimed to be sane had they said they thought the A’s would have a better record than the New York Yankees today?

I am sure the A’s story is suddenly secondary to most now. Everyone around the game is far more concerned with the well-being of pitcher Brandon McCarthy who suffered a skull fracture after taking a liner off the head and that blow which is a serious injury has more repercussions now to the team than simply losing a solid starting pitcher in a fight to make the playoffs and the race there has to seem so secondary.

Many here in Cincinnati were not big on Edwin Encarnacion when he was here. Although he was an adventure at third base, he always showed hitting promise, even if unfulfilled. But what he has done in Toronto is simply hard to imagine as he has reinvented himself. The guy is about to hit 40 homers, drive in 100 runs and hit close to .290.

Atlanta has apparently not forgotten what happened to it last September and posted three consecutive shutouts last week and though we are not claiming shades of Greg Maddox, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, the Braves are ready this time and may just put some late heat on the Steven Strasburg-less Nationals who lead the NL East. That is not an enviable place to be right now considering that simmering situation, even if they lead the NL East.

Things fell apart rather quickly for Cleveland after the All-Star break and the Indians have been nothing short of dreadful in the second half. Outspoken All-Star reliever Chris Perez who has criticized everyone and everything in the organization has not helped matters by The Lake and has made few friends and even less good pitches in the second half.

Not to put the cart before the horse, but baseball fans always keep one eye on the future. I suspect the Phillies who are not the team you want to play now if you are trying to get into the playoffs, having won 12 of their last 16 to date, will be back next season with a vengeance. After a miserable season, they may actually play .500 which at one point seemed impossible.

But first things first as there is so much important baseball to be played the remainder of this scintillating regular season and so much to still be decided and with no apparent super team, so many teams have to feel they have a chance at doing just what the Cardinals did a season ago.