3 MLB Playoff Contenders Headed for September Collapses
We have officially hit crunch time in the 2014 MLB season, as the month of August comes to a close and teams have roughly 30 games left to secure a spot in the postseason.
In the National League, seven teams still boast a winning record, and the Miami Marlins and Cincinnati Reds are hanging on the fringe of contention as well.
Over in the American League, things are much more jumbled as nine teams are above .500, and two division races, the AL Central and West, are as separated by fewer than two games. The stacked AL West makes things interesting. The No. 2 team in that division—whether it's the Angels or A's—appears to be a lock for the No. 2 wild-card spot, leaving the rest of the pack battling it out for one slot.
As we take a close look at each contender's remaining schedules, as well as their recent performances both on a team and individual level, it's clear that there are a few clubs that are headed for rough waters.
Here are the three MLB playoff contenders walking into September collapses.
Pittsburgh Pirates (69-64, 2.0 Games Back for No. 2 NL Wild Card)
|v. CIN (3)||65-69||4-9|
|@ STL (3)||71-61||8-8|
|@ CHC (3)||59-74||9-4|
|@ PHI (4)||61-72||3-0|
|v. CHC (3)||59-74||9-4|
|v. BOS (3)||58-75||-|
|v. MIL (3)||73-60||5-11|
|@ ATL (4)||70-64||1-2|
|@ CIN (3)||65-69||4-9|
5-9 in last 14, 12-13 in August
The Pirates head into the weekend coming off a nice series win against the Cardinals, but they are still looking to bounce back from a seven-game losing streak that took them from 1.5 games back in the NL Central to seven out of the lead.
With just three remaining series against teams over .500, their schedule looks favorable on the surface, but they have struggled head-to-head with the Reds, and the Cubs are a different team than the one they last played in June.
Reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen and the rib injury that landed him on the disabled list earlier this month remains a concern. He's back in the lineup but is hitting just .258/.273/.548 in eight games since returning, and he had to leave Tuesday's game early with discomfort in that rib.
"Well, I'm definitely not 100 percent. I think that's obvious," McCutchen told Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "It's good enough to play. It's good enough to swing. That's probably how it's going to be the rest of the season. It's going to be good enough."
Add that to a hamstring issue that kept the red-hot Travis Snider out of the lineup on Thursday and the sports hernia that has Charlie Morton on the DL, and the Pirates have their fair share of key injuries heading into September.
The rotation has Gerrit Cole back after straining his right lat, but Vance Worley has been knocked around in his last three starts (0-3, 6.11 ERA, 1.92 WHIP), after pitching so well the past couple months.
The Pirates currently sit two games back for the second NL wild-card spot, with the Giants and Braves both ahead of them.
A huge series in St. Louis with the wild-card-leading Cardinals to kick off next week could be the turning point in their season. And while they should be able to stay in the hunt for the duration, the Pirates look to be a clear third choice behind the Braves and Giants for that final spot.
Cleveland Indians (68-64, 4.0 Games Back for No. 2 AL Wild Card)
|@ KC (3)||74-59||6-7|
|v. DET (4)||72-60||7-5|
|v. CWS (3)||60-73||7-9|
|v. LAA (1)||80-53||2-4|
|v. MIN (3)||59-74||7-6|
|@ DET (3)||72-60||7-5|
|@ HOU (4)||57-78||2-1|
|@ MIN (3)||59-74||7-6|
|v. KC (3)||74-59||6-7|
|v. TB (3)||65-69||-|
11-5 in last 16, 15-9 in August
The Indians had a terrific August, but they also faced just two teams with winning records the entire month—the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles.
Things won't be nearly as easy for them in September, especially considering they are just 27-27 on the year against AL Central teams, despite the fact that the White Sox and Twins rank among the worst teams in the league.
Improved starting pitching has been the biggest reason for the Indians' stellar play of late, as Carlos Carrasco (3-0, 1.82 ERA) and Danny Salazar (1-2, 3.43 ERA) have both pitched well in August.
However, it remains a wildly inconsistent group behind ace and Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber, and it will be interesting to see how they hold up against the Tigers and Royals during the team's next two series.
Offensively, they are actually having their worst month of the season, hitting just .248 as a team and averaging a season-low 3.67 runs per game.
Michael Brantley has not been the same dynamic player in the second half, hitting .271/.331/.424 with just three home runs, and outside of Yan Gomes (.351 BA, .974 OPS) no one is really having a good second half.
That means that if the pitching staff does take a step back, which is a very real possibility given its inconsistency throughout the season, this team does not have the offensive firepower to compensate.
They are just four games back of the second AL wild-card spot right now but have three teams to pass in the Tigers, Mariners and Yankees. That's a tall order given their upcoming schedule, and a move backward in the standings seems more likely than a climb.
San Francisco Giants (71-62, 1.5-Game Lead for No. 2 NL Wild Card)
|v. MIL (3)||73-60||1-2|
|@ COL (3)||53-80||7-8|
|@ DET (3)||72-60||-|
|v. ARI (3)||55-78||8-5|
|v. LAD (3)||76-58||7-6|
|@ ARI (3)||55-78||8-5|
|@ SD (3)||62-70||6-6|
|@ LAD (3)||76-58||7-6|
|v. SD (4)||62-70||6-6|
8-5 in last 13, 13-12 in August
From a record standpoint, the Giants are actually trending up heading into September, but that is thanks in large part to series against the Phillies, Cubs and Rockies.
Those matchups have helped them average 4.2 runs per game in August, as the offense has come to life behind big months from Buster Posey (.917 OPS, 14 RBI) and Hunter Pence (.827 OPS, 17 RBI), among others.
However, this team is still far from bouncing back to the level it was at when it opened the season at a blistering 42-21, building up a 9.5-game lead in the NL West in the process.
That lead has since turned into a 4.5-game deficit, as the Los Angeles Dodgers have sat atop the division since July 26.
The starting trio of Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson has been terrific of late, but Ryan Vogelsong remains inconsistent, and the team finally pulled the trigger on moving Tim Lincecum out of the rotation.
He joins a bullpen that ranks third in the MLB with a 2.79 ERA but has struggled with consistency on an individual basis. Just as Sergio Romo has returned to form, Jeremy Affeldt (8.64 ERA) and Santiago Casilla (4.15 ERA) have struggled in August. Yusmeiro Petit has been bumped up to take Lincecum's spot in the rotation.
However, it's their remaining schedule that could be the biggest roadblock to securing a playoff spot.
Despite the fact that the NL West has just two teams with winning records on the season, the Giants are only 28-25 on the year against division foes. Add to that non-division series with a pair of contenders in the Brewers and Tigers, and it's no cake walk for San Francisco the rest of the way.
The front-runners to land the two NL wild-card spots at this point look to be the Cardinals/Brewers, Braves and Giants. Based on remaining schedule, the Giants look like the No. 3 team in that group heading into the final month.
All stats and record information courtesy of Baseball-Reference, and current through Thursday, Aug. 28.