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Beastly battle in AL East tough to top

But plenty of intrigue abounds in all six division races
August 18, 2016

It's time to check in on the division standings -- meaning, where the division races stand in relation to each other.We'll have plenty of time to sort through the migraine-inducing math that will accompany the Wild Card craziness. For now, here's a ranking of the six division races, in order

It's time to check in on the division standings -- meaning, where the division races stand in relation to each other.
We'll have plenty of time to sort through the migraine-inducing math that will accompany the Wild Card craziness. For now, here's a ranking of the six division races, in order of intrigue.
6. National League East
Nationals (71-49) --
Marlins (62-59) 9.5 GB
Mets (60-61) 11.5 GB
As I write this, FanGraphs is giving the Nationals a 99.4 percent chance of winning the NL East. The Mets' malaise is very real, as is the difficulty faced by a Marlins team that just lost Giancarlo Stanton from a lineup that already had the third-worst homer rate in the league.

Washington has had injury issues of its own, of course, but it has maintained at least a three-game cushion since late June, and Bryce Harper has shown some serious signs of life since returning from neck trouble. The Nats aren't a perfect team, but their rotation is every bit as good or better than that of the Mets, and it's just hard to imagine them completely coughing up this edge, especially with only 19 games left against teams with winning records.
5. NL Central
Cubs (77-43) --
Cardinals (64-56) 13 GB
Pirates (62-56) 14 GB
FanGraphs is giving the Cubs a 99.8 percent chance of nailing down their first NL Central title since 2008. That last 0.2 percent is either some kind of rounding error or the statistical probability of the black cat from Shea Stadium coming back to life.
But I'll put the NL Central ahead of the NL East if only because of the stronger possibility it yields three postseason teams -- for the second straight season, no less. The Cardinals and Pirates both have a chance to join a select group. Only seven previous teams in the Wild Card era -- the 1998 Red Sox and Cubs, the 2001 A's, the '03 Marlins, the '04 and '05 Astros and the '14 A's -- finished with a double-digit deficit in their divisions and still made it to October. The '03 Marlins and '05 Astros went on to win the pennant, and the Marlins won it all, so keep hope alive, Pittsburgh and St. Louis!
4. American League Central
Indians (69-50) --
Tigers (64-57) 6 GB
Royals (61-60) 9 GB
Don't put it past the Tigers to make a charge to the top spot here, but there's no denying a lot has to go right for them. Detroit has been a streaky club all year, and its best streak -- a 10-1 stretch from July 25 to Aug. 3 -- wasn't quite enough to get the club over the hump. It's a fairly fragile roster in terms of depth, as shown during a recent wave of injuries that quickly turned that winning wave into a losing one.

More to the point, the Tigers just haven't matched up well with the Indians this year, having dropped all but one of their 12 head-to-head meetings. So it would take a total seachange in their final seven meetings. The Indians have played the non-Twins portion of their Central schedule well all year (32-17), and they close with 23 straight against Central opponents. This one could trend upward in a hurry if Detroit catches fire again (sorry, but I've pretty much mentally buried Kansas City), but for now, I have it here.
3. AL West
Rangers (72-50) --
Mariners (64-56) 7 GB
Astros (61-60) 10.5 GB
One of the great subplots of the home stretch will be the Mariners' bid to end the game's longest active postseason drought, which dates back to 2001. So the fact that they're still somewhat within striking distance of the defending division champion Rangers is probably enough reason to put this one ahead of the AL Central, even if the mathematical odds are stacked against Seattle (FanGraphs gives the M's a 10 percent chance of winning the AL West).
The Mariners had to make a ridiculous run just to get to this point, and their starting rotation merry-go-round, with James Paxton on the DL and Taijuan Walker dispatched back to Triple-A, makes matters challenging. The Astros know the feeling, having clawed their way back from a brutal start to get within 2 1/2 games of the Rangers in late July, only to falter in recent weeks, with the Lance McCullers Jr. injury a particularly glaring blow.
In this division, Texas, with Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltrán coming aboard, won the Trade Deadline, and it is likely to win the AL West, too.

2. NL West
Dodgers (67-53) --
Giants (67-54) .5 GB
All right, now we're talking. A legit, ultra-tight race between two tried-and-true rivals. This is the stuff September dreams are made of.
You can dock some style points for the way this came about -- specifically, the Giants dropping 21 of their first 30 out of the All-Star break, allowing the Clayton Kershaw-less Dodgers to leap into the top spot -- and that's why this one ranks second here. But it's still pretty nice to know that these two lovebirds still have nine games left against each other, beginning Tuesday, and that Vin Scully's final regular-season games (Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at AT&T Park) are likely to have divisional magnitude. The key question, perhaps: Will Kershaw be involved?
1. AL East
Blue Jays (69-52) --
Red Sox (67-53) 1.5 GB
Orioles (67-53) 1.5 GB
Hey, it's only an East Coast bias if it's undeserved. Here, it's deserved. These are each of the past three AL East champs and three of the most productive offenses in the game duking it out, and the last time the top two teams in the AL East were separated by more than 2 1/2 games was way back on July 3.
No shortage of subplots here, beginning, of course, with David Ortiz trying to extend what has been a historically great farewell season. The Orioles are trying to shake off some recent struggles, and they're trying to ride Dylan Bundy for all he's worth in what was a ragged rotation. The Blue Jays are trying to maximize their window with their current core, even as José Bautista's body does not cooperate.

Maybe this will become more of a two-team race if the O's recent troubles continue. But for now, take note that 16 of the final 24 days in the season schedule will feature a game featuring some combination of two of these three clubs. Rage on, AL East race, rage on.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.