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How the 2014 MLB Playoff Races Have Been Reshaped Heading into August

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistAugust 2, 2014

How the 2014 MLB Playoff Races Have Been Reshaped Heading into August

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    Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    With the trade deadline now passed and the calendar switching over to August, we have officially reached the stretch run of the 2014 MLB season.

    The entire MLB landscape has been wide open this season, and after one of the busiest trade deadlines in recent memory, the final two months of the year should be awfully exciting.

    No division lead is bigger than four games entering play Saturday, and a grand total of 21 teams are within six games of a playoff spot, as parity has certainly reigned in both leagues here in 2014.

    What follows is a quick division-by-division rundown of how each division race is shaping up heading into August.

AL East

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Current Standings

    TeamRecordGBWC GB
    Baltimore Orioles61-47--
    Toronto Blue Jays60-512.5+2.5
    New York Yankees55-536.03.5
    Tampa Bay Rays53-568.56.0
    Boston Red Sox49-6012.510.0

     

    Division Overview

    The AL East may still be the most wide-open division in all of baseball as we head into the final two months of the season. There is still no "runaway" best team in the division at this point, but the Baltimore Orioles have now stood atop the standings since July 5.

    Their big move at the deadline was to add reliever Andrew Miller, and while it would have been nice if they could have added another starter, the rotation has actually been pitching very well of late. Does it stack up to teams like Detroit and Oakland? No, but it is good enough to think the Orioles can hold on and capture their first division title since 1997.

    Behind them, the Toronto Blue Jays are playing great baseball of late, going 11-4 since the All-Star break. However, they did nothing to improve their roster at the deadline, and that could come back to bite them.

    The rotation has been better of late, and the Blue Jays are expected to have the trio of Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind all back at some point in the near future. However, the Orioles still look like the more complete team at this point.

    The New York Yankees added some nice pieces in July, but a rotation of Brandon McCarthy, Hiroki Kuroda, Chris Capuano, Shane Greene and David Phelps/Chase Whitley is not going to carry them to the promised land. They still have a shot of sneaking into the playoffs, but they're not going anywhere in October with that staff.

    The Tampa Bay Rays finally dealt David Price, but they may still have the best rotation in the division with Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson, Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly. They're nonetheless a long shot at best to be playing in October, though.

    Finally, there is the Boston Red Sox, who defined the term "fire sale" at the trade deadline. They brought back some nice major league pieces in trades that should help them contend in 2015, but they effectively threw the towel in on 2014.

AL Central

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Current Standings

    TeamRecordGBWC GB
    Detroit Tigers59-47--
    Kansas City Royals56-524.02.5
    Cleveland Indians54-556.55.0
    Chicago White Sox54-567.05.5
    Minnesota Twins48-6012.010.5

     

    Division Overview

    The AL Central has been a relatively tight race so far this season, but the Detroit Tigers blew the doors off of that when they acquired Rays ace David Price at the trade deadline. That all but assures the team will be walking away with its fourth straight division title, but Detroit has its eyes set on much more this season as it looks to finally get over the hump and win it all.

    At this point, the Oakland A's look like the Tigers' biggest competition, but a rotation of Price, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander looks about as good as it gets come October.

    Behind the Tigers, the Kansas City Royals have been playing very well of late, going 8-2 in their last 10 games. However, they did nothing to upgrade at the deadline, and they recently lost first baseman Eric Hosmer for up to six weeks with a fractured hand.

    The Royals have the pitching to still contend for a wild-card spot, but this team could very well be in for a significant drop-off over the next few weeks with one of its top hitters missing from an already thin lineup.

    The Cleveland Indians opted to go the route of seller at the deadline, moving Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera. Those guys weren't putting up big numbers, so losing them is not a huge blow. It shows how the organization views its chances here in the second half, though, and it is likely right.

    Last season saw the Chicago White Sox finish in the cellar, and there is no question they have taken some significant steps forward this year. They're not ready to contend, but a run at a winning record and third place is not out of the question.

    That leaves the Minnesota Twins destined for last place in the AL Central this season, with perhaps a fourth straight 90-loss campaign in the works. The future remains incredibly bright, though, with a talented farm system promising better things to come.

AL West

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Current Standings

    TeamRecordGBWC GB
    Oakland Athletics66-42--
    Los Angeles Angels65-431.0+9.0
    Seattle Mariners56-5310.53.0
    Houston Astros45-6522.014.5
    Texas Rangers43-6623.516.0

     

    Division Overview

    If their trade for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel was not evidence enough, there is no question now that the Oakland Athletics are all-in for 2014 after they pulled off another blockbuster deal at the trade deadline to land Boston Red Sox ace Jon Lester.

    Their run differential of plus-161 is a full 69 runs better than anyone else in baseball, as most observers viewed the A's as the best team in baseball even before their July wheelings and dealings. With the highest-scoring offense in baseball (4.95 runs per game) and a postseason rotation that will feature Lester, Samardzija, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, all the pieces are there for a run at their first title since 1989.

    All of that said, the Los Angeles Angels are still hot on their trail, as they currently have the second-best record in baseball and are just a game back in the division. Their offense is not far behind the A's (4.84 RPG), and they bolstered their bullpen by adding Joe Thatcher and Huston Street. However, their rotation still looks to be a step behind Detroit and Oakland.

    C.J. Wilson is on the mend from an ankle injury, but Tyler Skaggs recently joined him in the disabled list. He could miss significant time with a flexor tendon strain, according to Mike Axisa of CBS Sports. There is also the concern of Garrett Richards wearing down in September as he reaches a career high in innings.

    The Angels are a very good team and a safe bet to be playing in October. However, if they can't catch the A's, they'll be at a significant disadvantage having to play in the Wild Card Round, and at this point, they look to be No. 3 in the American League.

    While the Seattle Mariners look to be out of it in the division race, they have a great chance to land a wild-card spot. The impending return of James Paxton, coupled with the additions of Austin Jackson, Kendrys Morales and Chris Denorfia, has them looking primed for a strong stretch run.

    The Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, meanwhile, will be battling it out to avoid having the worst record in the American League.

NL East

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Current Standings

    TeamRecordGBWC GB
    Washington Nationals58-49--
    Atlanta Braves58-521.50.5
    Miami Marlins53-566.05.0
    New York Mets52-577.06.0
    Philadelphia Phillies49-6110.59.5

     

    Division Overview

    The Washington Nationals dug themselves a hole they were unable to climb out of in the first half last season, but this time around, it's the Atlanta Braves who are playing catch-up in the NL East.

    Losing Ryan Zimmerman was a blow, especially considering he was hitting .362/.418/.569 with eight extra-base hits and 16 RBI in 16 July games. However, the Nats addressed that with the acquisition of Asdrubal Cabrera at the trade deadline.

    The Braves are 7-3 against the Nationals head-to-head this year, but they are just 6-9 since the All-Star break, and at this point, the Nationals look to be the better all-around team.

    Atlanta did manage to shore up two big needs at the deadline with the acquisitions of Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell in a trade with the Chicago Cubs. The starting rotation has not been nearly as strong the past couple of months, though, and the team may have to settle for a wild-card spot.

    The Miami Marlins and New York Mets are both still technically in contention, and both teams have been playing fairly well over the past month or so. That said, it would be nothing short of a shock if either team came away with a playoff spot. Both teams are on the rise, though, and they could be in a good position to legitimately contend as soon as next year.

    The same can't be said for the Philadelphia Phillies, who shockingly stood pat at the trade deadline and seem to have no real direction or potential for serious contention moving forward.

NL Central

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    Current Standings

    TeamRecordGBWC GB
    Milwaukee Brewers61-49--
    Pittsburgh Pirates58-512.5+0.5
    St. Louis Cardinals57-513.00.5
    Cincinnati Reds55-545.53.0
    Chicago Cubs46-6214.011.5

     

    Division Overview

    The Milwaukee Brewers have held at least a share of the NL Central lead since the fifth day of the season, but a rough 2-11 stretch to close out the first half cost them what little breathing room they had to begin with.

    They are back on track now, going 8-6 so far in the second half, but they have their work cut out for them holding off both the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals. A plus rotation and a solid lineup should be enough to keep the Brewers in the running for a playoff spot, and this should be an exciting three-way race the rest of the way.

    The Pirates didn't do anything to upgrade at the deadline, but they should have right-hander Gerrit Cole back from a lat injury at some point in the near future. If Jeff Locke and Vance Worley can keep pitching at a high level, and Cole can provide them with a front-line arm down the stretch, the pitching has the potential to be a plus.

    It's the Pirates offense that has been the biggest difference this season, though, as they lead all of baseball with a .332 team on-base percentage.

    Then you have the Cardinals, who were as aggressive as anyone at the trade deadline. With a thin market for bats and questions about the health of Michael Wacha, the team went out and landed Justin Masterson and John Lackey to upgrade the rotation.

    Manager Mike Matheny talked to Alex Halsted of MLB.com about the team's new arms:

    We're excited to watch them. We've seen both of them (pitch) very good in the past. We've seen Masterson be one of those cannonball-style sinkerball pitchers who can get a lot of those ground balls for you and early outs. Lackey, he's no secret. We've watched him from the wrong side too many times and realize that this guy can be a big-game pitcher and has been. He is a top-shelf pitcher.

    The Cardinals have been underperforming as a team all year, relative to expectations, but they could be primed for a big final two months.

    A season full of significant injuries and underperforming stars has the Cincinnati Reds sitting around .500 and on the outside looking in. They are still a talented roster, and they have the pieces to be right back in contention next year, but 2014 appears to be a wash.

    The Chicago Cubs will land in the cellar once again, but the final two months should be fun to watch, with more prospects expected to join the likes of Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks at the big league level. Slowly but surely, they are building toward something big on the North Side.

NL West

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    Current Standings

    TeamRecordGBWC GB
    Los Angeles Dodgers62-48--
    San Francisco Giants59-502.5+1.5
    San Diego Padres49-6012.59.0
    Arizona Diamondbacks48-6214.010.5
    Colorado Rockies44-6517.514.0

     

    Division Overview

    The NL West is a two-team race at this point, as the bottom three teams in the division rank among the five worst teams in the National League this season and will likely finish well below .500 when all is said and done. The San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks both sold aggressively at the deadline, while the Colorado Rockies have once again been plagued by a lack of consistent starting pitching.

    The race at the top should be a good one, though, as the rival San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers have been battling it out all season and look poised to continue doing so.

    The Giants looked like the best team in baseball when they stood at 42-21 and 9.5 games up in the NL West on June 8. However, they have gone just 17-29 since, and the Dodgers have slid past them as a result.

    The team was proactive in acquiring Jake Peavy after Matt Cain went down with an elbow injury, and it now looks like Cain is headed for surgery to remove bone chips, according to Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle.

    Getting Angel Pagan and Brandon Belt back at some point will help the offense, but at this point, the Giants look like a clear No. 2 behind the Dodgers and are likely headed for a wild-card spot.

    The aforementioned Dodgers were surprisingly quiet at the trade deadline, especially considering they had a clear need for bullpen help and rotation insurance, but they still have a tremendously talented roster. A rotation fronted by Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu puts them in a great position come October, and while their offense has been frustrating at times, they still have the talent to be a dangerous group.

     

    All stats and standings courtesy of Baseball-Reference and current through Friday, August 1.

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