Every year, it seems the teams that are the hottest right when the season ends wind up doing well in the playoffs. With a few interesting playoff races shaping up here over the final two weeks, there should be no shortage of hot teams entering the playoffs.
But what about the teams that are basically locks to reach the postseason? Is there an advantage to having to grind out a pennant race as opposed to coasting into the playoffs down the stretch?
The closest divisional race is the in NL Central, where the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals are duking it out for the pennant. Both will likely make the playoffs, but the division winner will skip the wild card play-in game.
The Oakland A’s and Detroit Tigers have comfortable leads in the division, but these teams need to keep the pedal to the metal. Meanwhile, six teams are battling for two AL wild card spots.
But in three of the six divisions, we’re looking at basically locks for the division winners. The Boston Red Sox have opened a nine-game division lead, while the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers are leading their respective divisions by double-digits.
These three teams really have not been challenged for control of their divisions in quite some time, and the term “coasting” into the playoffs would certainly apply, barring an unforeseen epic collapse. The Red Sox do know that it could happen.
Baseball players are trained to play at the highest level of intensity at all times, but from the perspective of a player on a team that has the division wrapped up, it could be much easier to play a bit more lax down the stretch.
It’s been a long season, and the playoffs certainly take a mental and physical toll. A little bit of a break wouldn’t hurt, right?
But on the other hand, look at the AL wild card hopefuls. Each game over the next two weeks is precious, so there will be no dip in intensity. For the two teams that earn those spots, they’ll have the momentum at just the right time.
Flash back to the 2011 Cardinals. The team was 10 1/2 games out of the wild card with just over a month to play but surged in September to not only reach the playoffs but also capture the World Series.
There’s a reason though that the Red Sox, Braves and Dodgers have their divisions all but won: They’ve all played extremely good baseball. Just because they are coasting to division titles doesn’t mean that the ultimate goal of winning a World Series have escaped their view.
The teams will likely try to treat every game for the rest of the regular season as the seventh game of the World Series. But again, seeing the standings every day makes it much easier to take a particular game lightly.
As for the teams that are fighting for their lives, they could be in the best shape come October.
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