What Makes Midwest Teams in Baseball Playoffs So Dangerous
The final weekend of the major league baseball regular season is here and two playoff spots are still undecided. What is known for sure is there will be plenty of teams from midwestern cities playing in October. All of them have high hopes for next month.
Let's start with the playoff positions still up for grabs. They're all in the American League where the division champions are all decided, but the wild card entrants are not. The Oakland A's are sitting atop the wild card standings, a half-game ahead of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Cleveland Indians are a game-and-a-half behind Tampa. All three teams are 7-3 in their last 10.
If the Indians are able to make the postseason, one of the big reasons is Jose Ramirez (below). He's one of three Cleveland players to drive in at least 40 runs since the All-Star break. On June 2, the Indians were 11.5 games behind Minnesota in the A.L. Central but have been charging ever since. If they get in, they could do major damage with their lineup.
The American League division winners are Houston Astros (104-54), New York Yankees (102-57), and the Minnesota Twins (98-60).
Minnesota has had an incredible year. They're one of four teams, all in the playoffs, that have broken the all-time record for home runs by a team in a single season. It was 267, set last year by the New York Yankees. The Twins and Yankees both have 300 home runs this year (as of this moment), with the Houston Astros at 279 and Los Angeles Dodgers at 274. You think, maybe the baseball is wound a little tight? I digress. Back to the Twins.
The Twins have five players who've hit at least 30 home runs this year, led by Nelson Cruz (below) who has 40. He's driven in 60 runs since the All-Star break while hitting .333 during that time. Many people say that the cold air of Minnesota will hinder their offensive production in October. However, nobody wants to go there when it's nearly guaranteed to be cold and the crowd will be one of the loudest in the postseason.
In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers are coming down to the wire in their bids to win the Central division. The Cardinals hold a one-game lead.
St. Louis has surged in the second half for the second straight year. One of the biggest reasons is starting pitcher Jack Flaherty (below). Flaherty is 10-8 on the season, but don't be fooled. He was 4-6 with an ERA (earned run average over nine innings) of 4.64 at the All-Star break. Since then, he's 6-2 with an ERA of 0.97, the lowest for a starting pitcher in baseball during the second half. His run support (4.09 runs per game) is the fifth-lowest among all starting pitchers this year. Teams with elite starting pitching can make deep runs in October. Adam Wainwright has also been great as of late. However, will they both be able to continue shutting down teams when it comes to the playoffs?
The Milwaukee Brewers are the hottest September team in baseball for the second straight season, despite losing outfielder Christian Yelich to a broken knee cap on September 10. Yelich was on his way to winning a second straight National League MVP award (and still may) when he was injured. He was hitting .329 with 44 home runs and 97 runs batted in at the time. How are the Brewers doing it without him? Pitching.
The Brewers acquired Jordan Lyles (below) at the trade deadline. He's started 11 times since. Milwaukee is 10-1 in those games. Oh, and the Brewers team ERA in September of 2019? 2.77. The best in baseball and identical to their ERA in September of 2018 when they won their last 12 regular-season games. Milwaukee's record this month is 20-4. They've won 10 of their last 11, and seven in a row. No one wants to play this team right now.
Milwaukee heads to Colorado for three this weekend. St. Louis hosts Chicago Friday through Sunday. The Cardinals may need to sweep Chicago for a second straight weekend to preserve the division title. As a Cardinals fan, that prospect makes me very nervous. Neither the Brewers or Cardinals really want to play on September 30 or October 1.
September 30. If Milwaukee and St. Louis end the regular season with an identical record, they'd play one game on this date to determine the division winner. That game would be in St. Louis since the Cardinals won the regular-season series between the two teams, 10 games to nine.
October 1. Whichever team doesn't win the National League Central will be a wild card team, playing the Washington Nationals. The home team for that game is obviously unknown at this time. It's a win or go home 'til February. Nobody wants to be in that spot.