(CBS New York/CBS Local Sports) — Another hot August means another hot MLB wild card race. The National League, as of Monday, is a logjam, with 10 teams within seven games of a wildcard spot. And that doesn’t even include division leaders. The American League is a little more spaced out, with only five teams within seven games — division leaders aside.
But how competitive is it really?
In the NL, the San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies and Cincinnati Reds are looking up at .500 and don’t look likely to gain ground. But the New York Mets, at one game under .500 and three games off the pace as of Monday, certainly could.
In The AL, the Oakland Athletics, sitting just a 1/2 game out, don’t seem to want to go away. What’s new? Well, the World Series champion Boston Red Sox are in real danger of missing the playoffs. They’ve been inconsistent all season, and time is running out.
The Houston Astros and New York Yankees seem to be on a collision course for the AL Championship series. But the Astros, by adding Zack Greinke before the Trade Deadline, Houston may now have the upper hand.
This week’s Baseball Report looks at the surging Mets, the inconsistent Red Sox and the loaded Astros, as the MLB Playoffs draw a little closer.
Mets Remain In Playoff Hunt
The Mets have a knack for inspiring optimism, though some might call it delusion. The team is now 9-1 in their last 10 games, which includes Sunday’s 13-2 drubbing of the Pittsburgh Pirates. That puts them just three games out of the wild card, with five teams between them and the final spot and under two months left in the season. The teams above them are the Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants.
The Mets’ recent good fortune has come against teams — San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox, Pirates — that a playoff aspirant should beat. The Padres and Pirates are last in their respective divisions, and the White Sox, at 13 games under .500, are third.
They’ll have plenty of opportunities to gain ground, including a three-game series this weekend with their NL East rivals the slumping Nationals. A second series with the Nationals follows in a month, along with two series against the Phillies and one with the Diamondbacks.
The Mets starting rotation could be a formidable unit, capable of carrying the team into the playoffs. Toronto Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman joined a group that already included Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler. Can they deliver?
Stroman’s debut was a little rocky. He allowed three runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 sometimes shaky innings. Mets pitching has been inconsistent all season, even though Syndergaard looked good against the Pirates. Expecting them to jell in August seems like wishful thinking.
Complicating things further, second-baseman Robinson Cano, who recently found his bat, injured his hamstring in the win over the Pirates.
If everything goes right, the Mets could play at least one playoff game. But when has everything ever gone right for the Mets?
Red Sox Don’t Look Like Playoff Team
Have the Red Sox turned the corner? That question gets asked with every Red Sox stretch of strong outings this season. It was asked a week ago, after they took two series from the Tampa Bay Rays and Yankees.
And then the team stumbles, as if to answer the question. The Red Sox reverted to form — 2019 form — getting swept by the Rays in a three-game series last week and the Yankees in a four-game series over the weekend.
The Red Sox are now 2-8 in their last 10 games, as of Monday. They sit 6 1/2 games out of the wild card, with the A’s and Rays between them and the final spot. The Texas Rangers lurk half a game back.
The Red Sox didn’t make any moves at the trade deadline and it’s not clear any moves would have broke them out of their season-long funk. Pitching remains the problem, with a team ERA of 4.81 and a batting average against of .256, both slightly below the MLB average. The bullpen has struggled all season, as has starter Chris Sale, whose ERA this season has climbed a full point and a half above his career average.
Hitting is still there, with an MLB-leading .274 team average and respectable power, should pitching ever get itself on track. The World Series Champions are still dangerous, but they’re running out of time.
Astros Rotation Looks Formidable
Nobody’s questioning the Astros’ playoff credentials this season. At 73-40, they lead the AL West by a comfortable 8 1/2 games over the A’s and top this week’s MLB power rankings.
Adding Zack Greinke at the Trade Deadline makes them even better. Greinke brings a 10-4 record and 2.90 ERA over from the Diamondbacks; he’s struck out 135 and walked only 21.
He joins a rotation that already includes Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley. That’s likely to be a formidable group down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Astros pitchers already rank among MLB’s best across many important stats, from ERA to BAA to strikeouts. Greinke will likely improve upon them. He debuts for the team on Tuesday, when they open their series with the Colorado Rockies.