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Who has the Advantage in Potential Wildcard Game Matchups this Season?
Wildcard race 2014
Less than 20 games to play
As the September schedule in Major League Baseball passes, the wildcard chase has taken shape with some of the best second place teams in each league competing for playoff position. In the American League, a very interesting scenario has developed with two of the top World Series contenders from that league having fallen in the standings enough so that they are both currently in wildcard playoff position. In the National League there are still five teams with an opportunity to take a wildcard spot with a strong performance throughout the remainder of September. With the Mets and Marlins making a late push in the National League, there are still six teams in each league that are involved in the wildcard race. In the American League, the Tigers and Athletics currently hold the wildcard playoff positions. The Mariners, Blue Jays, Indians and Yankees are the closest pursuers. In the National League the wildcard positions are currently held by the Giants and Pirates. The Brewers, Braves, Marlins and Mets are the closest pursuers. A look at how the strengths to these teams could work to their advantage, will paint a better picture for how the wildcard scenarios will play out this season.
American League Scenarios
For each of the Tigers, Athletics and Mariners as the top three wildcard contenders, they would feel very confident in a one game playoff scenario because of who their ace pitcher is. The Tigers have more than one option that they would trust in a one game situation with the past two American League Cy Young award winners on their roster, in Max Scherzer and David Price. The Oakland Athletics have two pitchers that they would trust in that situation as well, but neither Jeff Samardzija or Jon Lester have won a Cy Young Award yet at this point in their careers. The Mariners ace pitcher is also a former Cy Young Award winner in the American League, and Seattle would feel very confident in a wildcard game with Felix Hernandez on the mound. For the Indians, Blue Jays and Yankees, they do not have quite as dominant a starter to turn to in a wildcard game. Rookie Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays has had a very strong season for the Blue Jays though, and last year's postseason showed that some rookies can handle the pressure of a huge game in the playoffs. The Yankees would likely turn to Michael Pineda who has been very good for them this season. The Indians would turn to youngster Danny Salazar who gained some valuable postseason experience as he pitched the wildcard game for them last year. With the top three wildcard contenders as the most likely teams to ultimately clinch an American League wildcard spot, baseball fans should be in for a great game that features two of the top aces in the American League.
National League Scenarios
Both the Giants and Pirates would likely have experienced playoff starting pitchers featured in a potential wildcard matchup between the two teams. Francisco Liriano made two starts for the Pirates in the postseason last year, and Madison Bumgarner has made multiple postseason starts in the Giants recent World Series runs. A matchup of left handed aces would give the fans a very entertaining game to watch in the National League wildcard game, but some of the pursuing teams will be heard from before this becomes the matchup. The Brewers had held one of the best records in the National League for most of the season up until recently, due to a strong starting pitching staff. As a staff however, they do not have one pitcher who they consider the most reliable in a one game scenario. Yovani Gallardo has playoff experience and would likely be the pitcher that the Brewers would turn to if they clinched a wildcard spot. The Braves could turn to either Ervin Santana or Julio Teheran if they clinch a wildcard spot, with both of them having previous playoff experience. Even though the Marlins and Mets do not have a very good chance at the postseason, they do have some quality starting pitchers they could turn to. The Mets would likely turn to veteran Bartolo Colon, but of all the National League wildcard pursuers they have the smallest chance of clinching a wildcard spot.
With so many teams involved in the wildcard race this late into the season, and some division races left to be decided, baseball fans are in for another great finish to the regular season. A finish to the season that has multiple meaningful games on the final day of the season is what would be best for the sport. With the wildcard matchups materializing, the Major League Baseball Postseason could be off to a flying start even before playoff series begin. This time of year is when baseball players can show their fan bases what they are made of, and whether or not they have the mental toughness to come through for their team in big situations. Right now to finish out the regular season, it is the Tigers, Athletics, Giants and Pirates who have the advantage to clinch wildcard berths within their leagues. With all of the fantastic players on these rosters, it is the best offenses that will decide the advantage in the wildcard games. Both the Pirates and Giants have good offenses, but throughout this season the Pirates have proved to be the more consistent offense. After Oakland traded away their cleanup hitter, their offense has struggled, while Seattle's offense has had another down year this season. In the American League it is the Detroit Tigers who have the best offense among the wildcard contenders, and would hold the advantage in the one game playoff scenario.