Any way you look at it, the Blue Jays have owned the second half of the MLB season. After hovering around .500 for most of the season up until the All Star break, the Jays have since exploded, playing at a near all-time-great pace.
Their win-loss tally currently stands 93–67, the AL East Division title clinched and the league’s best overall record still in play, and their run differential is a whopping +231 (to give you some idea of how dominant they have been, the next best scoring differential in all of baseball belongs to the St. Louis Cardinals, at a “mere” +130).
It was the big-time deals the Jays pulled off before the trade deadline (for superstar shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and Cy Young contender David Price) that made the headlines, but the real key to their success has been the improved quality of the pitching already on the roster. Even before acquiring Tulowitzki, the Blue Jays owned baseball’s best offense and yet were stagnant in the standings due to their staff’s inability to hold leads.
Now, with dominant second halves from relievers Roberto Osuna, Aaron Sanchez, Liam Hendriks and Brett Cecil, as well as a true workhorse number one starter in Price, the Blue Jays find themselves primed for a World Series run in their first postseason appearance since 1993.
Despite the Blue Jays’ recent success, the Royals still own the best record (94-67) in the American League with one game left to play. Their starters have struggled all season but last year’s squad came a game away from a world championship relying largely on the dominant bullpen that has carried over to 2015.
What with their bevy of injuries to projected starters Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and Matt Harrison, even the Texas Rangers are surprised to find themselves in the postseason. Don’t expect the magic to last—advanced statistics suggest they’ve been unsustainably lucky this season.
The New York Yankees can’t be thrilled with a Wild Card after leading the AL East for much of the year. They’ll hope their bullpen combo of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller can induce some of the 2014 Royals’ magic.
In the last weekend of play, the second wild card spot is still up for grabs between the Mike Trout-led Los Angeles Angels and the slumping Houston Astros. Of the two, the Astros offer the most upside for a deep run based on their well-rounded upside we witnessed earlier in the year.
There is no fan base in any American sport that can claim to be as tortured as that of the Chicago Cubs. No living fan of the team has seen them win a World Series, their last championship coming in 1908, and in the century since, the team’s name has become synonymous with ineptitude and false hope. But this year’s exciting young squad offers legitimate hope for a change in fortunes.
President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, famed for putting together the group that ended the Red Sox’s 86 year World Series drought in 2004, came to the Cubs a few years back hoping to become one of baseball’s immortals, the man to end the sport’s two most famous curses.
The Cubs made headlines by signing acclaimed manager Jon Maddon and Jon Lester to be the team’s ace, but most pundits agreed that the their most competitive years would likely be a couple years down the road when their talented core of young position players had matured.
Fortunately for title-starved Chicagoans, the rookie quartet of Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler has exceeded all expectations and combined with Anthony Rizzo to make one of the most dynamic lineups in the National League. Putting one’s stake in a wild-card team is particularly risky in the two wild card-era, but Jake Arrieta, the team’s true ace in the midst of a dominant Cy Young-caliber season, is as sure a bet as any in a one-game playoff. Look for the Cubs to make their first World Series appearance since 1945, but fall to the resurgent Blue Jays.
Before stumbling in September, the St. Louis Cardinals were on pace for well over 100 wins, and reached that mark last last week—the first team to reach the century mark since the 2011 Phillies. The return of Adam Wainwright to a rotation that is already as talented from top-to-bottom as any in the league could make for another deep run for the Cards.
The New York Mets have been the Blue Jays of the National League, surging in the second half to steal the NL East crown from the preseason World Series favorite Washington Nationals. Their offense’s current level of production isn’t sustainable, but the team’s bevy of superstar talent in the rotation should have fans salivating over what’s to come.
For the third year in a row, the Pittsburgh Pirates shook off a slow start to make the playoffs, nearly streaking past the Cardinals in the end. They will face their division-mate Cubs in the wildcard game, pitting ace Gerrit Cole against Arrieta, and stand as good a chance as any should they make it past the first round. The NL Central probably boasts the three best teams in the National League.
It’s been a rocky year for the opulent Los Angeles Dodgers, who ended up waltzing into the playoffs due to the relative weakness of their division. However, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke have probably been the two best pitchers in baseball in 2015, and with the strength of these two alone the team can’t be counted out.