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MLB Final Playoff Picture

The 2021 Major League Baseball (MLB) season has been full of surprises as some teams have significantly overperformed their preseason rankings and other teams have disappointed. Two teams have been particularly disappointing: the Washington Nationals and Minnesota Twins had high aspirations for this season but at this point stand in fourth and fifth place of their respective divisions. The San Francisco Giants on the other hand, are in a division with two of the most stacked rosters in all of baseball and are still in first place of the National League West division; they also have the best record in all of baseball. The Houston Astros is also a very surprising team considering they lost outfielder George Springer in the offseason to the Toronto Blue Jays and are in first place of the American League West Division. Even after such a crazy season, a few teams are still a near lock to make the playoffs. These teams include the Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers. All these teams are not guaranteed a spot in the playoffs but based on their record and recent level of play it is safe to say that these teams will make the playoffs. There are a few teams that have a chance but need a lot of things to go their way in this last month of the regular season. 

The New York Yankees surprised everyone when they decided to buy at the trade deadline even though they were third in their division. But since the deadline the Yankees are 22-7 and are now second in the division. The addition of first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Joey Gallo have been decent, but the rest of the roster has continued to heat up over time. Outfielder Aaron Judge looks like a possible Most Valuable Player Award candidate as he is now top 10 in nearly every offensive category. Starting pitcher Gerrit Cole has also returned to form and is back to being elite. As of Aug. 31, the Yankees are two games ahead of the Boston Red Sox for the second Wild Card position but seven games back from the Rays for first place in the division. After recently winning 13 games in a row, the Yankees appear to be on a hot streak going into the final month of the regular season. However, the small lead for the wild card position may quickly fade if their star players start to underperform a little bit.

The Red Sox currently hold the second Wild Card position and are above the Oakland Athletics for the place by two games. This is not the spot the Red Sox were supposed to be in following the trade deadline. At the trade deadline, the Red Sox were leading the American League East division and were ahead of the Yankees by 7.5 games. Now, after a poor August, are two games behind the Yankees. Before the deadline and after the deadline, the team has been an offensive powerhouse. According to MLB.com, the Red Sox are nearly at the top of every major offensive category. The issue is that they did not address their weaknesses at the deadline. They did not pursue any starting pitching or relief help which was their downfall for the month of August. The Red Sox did add outfielder Kyle Schwarber to the team, and he has been incredible so far, but the team has far too many pitching weaknesses to be effective. Starting pitcher Chris Sale has returned from injury, but it may not be enough to keep the team afloat. There is a solid chance that the Red Sox can control the second Wild Card position with their offense, but if their pitching continues to fail them, the Athletics have a chance to catch up. 

There are three American League teams that as of the current standings would not make the playoffs, but still may have a chance. The Athletics, Seattle Mariners and Blue Jays are all still in the hunt to make the playoffs. Each team has a solid chance to overtake the Red Sox or Yankees for a Wild Card position. The Athletics added outfielder Starling Marte at the trade deadline, and he has been incredible for them. According to MLB.com, he has a 0.342 batting average and 20 stolen bases in just 28 games with the Athletics this season. Additionally, he has been a very solid defender in the outfield. Unfortunately, the Athletics did not have a strong August, so they must adjust against the poor play they have had recently.

However, if Marte continues to be a superstar and the Red Sox take a tumble, the Athletics are ready to take that Wild Card spot. The Mariners are in an interesting position as they were not expected to do this well this season. Overall, the team is young and was not expected to play up to their full potential this early. However, they have successfully kept themselves in the race, as they are only four games behind the Red Sox. Even though they have found success, the stats do not like the Mariners. According to MLB.com, the Mariners are nearly at the bottom of every offensive category and are around the middle of the league in terms of pitching. So, is it likely that the Mariners make the playoffs? The answer is no, however if there is a wild card in play during this final push, it is the Mariners. Against all odds, the team continues to win, so maybe they get some momentum and take over a Wild Card spot. The final team in a tough spot is the Blue Jays. At the trade deadline, the Blue Jays traded for starter Jose Berrios. He has not been horrible for the Blue Jays, but he has not been elite. They also traded for closer Brad Hand. He has been terrible for the Blue Jays and was designated for assignment (released) on Aug. 31 according to reporter Ben Nicholson-Smith. So, for the most part, the trade deadline has not helped the Blue Jays. The relief core continues to be poor, and the starting pitching has been inconsistent. Starting pitcher Robbie Ray has been surprisingly excellent this season with a sub 3.00 earned run average (ERA) and is major stability in an otherwise shaky pitching squad. The offense continues to be incredible as first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. continues to show the world why he is one of the best hitters in all of baseball. As of Aug. 31, the blue jays are 4.5 games behind the Red Sox, so there is still a solid chance of them making a run and barely making it into the playoffs. The offense will likely do everything it can to get there, but ultimately will come down to if the relievers can pick up some consistency and close out games. 

Almost an entire division is in the playoff hunt. This is because the entire division has not been great. The National League East is this division. Currently the Atlanta Braves are in first place with the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets behind them. The Braves are without their best player Ronald Acuna Jr. and possibly their best starting pitcher Mike Soroka. However, the Braves traded for outfielder Jorge Soler, and he has been very good offensively for the Braves. Since the Acuna injury, most of the Braves players have been picking up the slack. Shortstop Dansby Swanson and second baseman Ozzie Albies have been playing well recently. The Phillies are being led by superstar outfielder Bryce Harper and starting pitcher Zach Wheeler. Both players are putting up phenomenal numbers this season and are giving the Phillies hope of a playoff berth. The Mets season has gone up and down. At the trade deadline, the Mets were first in the division, but now are seven games behind the Braves. This can be partly associated with Francisco Lindor and Jacob deGrom injuries.  Additionally, the Mets traded for flashy shortstop Javier Baez, who has not surprisingly struck out during a large portion of his at bats. So, Baez has not picked up the offense as much as they hoped. The reason why all these teams are still in the race is because the division is in complete chaos. Within the last month each team has led the division at some point. Due to their competition, they likely will not get a Wild Card spot, however the division is still up for grabs. No team in the National League East has been consistent this season so any team can really take the lead. The Braves are likely the favorites due to their team being the most well rounded and the momentum they got from taking the lead of the division. 

The last three teams are all going for a wild card spot because their respective division leaders are very far ahead of them. These teams include the Cincinnati Reds, St Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres. The Dodgers already have one of the two Wild Card spots basically locked up, so these three teams are all competing for the final spot. All these teams did very minimally at the trade deadline. The Padres almost traded for starting pitcher Max Scherzer, but ultimately, he went to the Dodgers instead. As of recently, the Padres have been struggling, especially against one of the worst teams in baseball. The Padres have lost half of their games against the Arizona Diamondbacks in August. Arizona is often considered the worst team in all of baseball, so the Padres should not be losing those games. In the month of August, the Padres did not win a single series. Some of this can be attributed to the lack of superstar Fernando Tatis Jr., but the team should be playing a lot better than it has been. The Cardinals are another fringe playoff team. They have been slowly creeping in and out of the race due to inconsistent starting pitching. Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright has been their best pitcher even at age 40. The Reds currently hold the second Wild Card spot, but they are only leading by half a game. Nick Castellanos, Jesse Winker and Wade Miley have been leading the team to many wins. First baseman Joey Votto has also found a power stroke as he leads his team in home runs with 28. At this point, the Reds and the Padres are the favorites, but the race is so close that any of these teams has a chance. The Reds had a much better August compared to the Padres, so they have the momentum, but the Padres have plenty of star power to make a comeback. 

 

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