As the MLB Playoff Races are coming down to the wire, chaos has ensued in both divisions out in the east. This obviously doesn’t include the reigning American League Champion Rays, who appear to be coasting atop the AL East, or the Orioles, Marlins, or Nationals, who have all collectively agreed that 2021 is not their year.
Everyone in the eastern divisions has become a wide variety of characters in a wrestling-like royal rumble full of mayhem with a month left.
So… who is who in the wrestling ring of divisional and wild card chases in the AL East between the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays, and the NL East between the Mets, Braves, and Phillies?
The Philadelphia Phillies & Toronto Blue Jays // The Underdog Sidekick Who Comes Out of Nowhere with the Metal Chair
Both the Phillies and the Blue Jays weren’t expected to be taken as serious threats this late into the season going into the year. The Phillies, in the midst of the second-longest postseason drought in the MLB, were going into year three of the massive Bryce Harper contract that put the heat on the team to start winning now, but have been completely irrelevant and underachieving with a fired Gabe Kapler and a two .500 and below seasons. The Blue Jays, although they made a big move this offseason signing George Springer, were seen as an incredibly young team missing a few pieces to compete in a division amongst the powerhouse Yankees and Rays.
They both have now appeared, metal chairs raised, slamming the pain-inducing prop into the back of the masses who thought they couldn’t potentially sneak into the postseason this year.
For the Phillies, they were 44-44 at the All-Star break, looking like they had the same flaws as the previous seasons: a team hampered by inconsistent pitching. However, they not only made some moves by adding starting pitcher Kyle Gibson and closer Ian Kennedy, but they also caught lightning in a bottle by winning 8 straight games, including sweeping the rival Mets, and now have the easiest remaining schedule of the division. Of their remaining games, 27 of them are against Arizona, Miami, Washington, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and the Cubs, who are all teams that are trying to lose baseball games, although they just got swept by Arizona, which certainly isn’t great…
If they win the games that they’re supposed to down the stretch and avoid stupid blunders, they went from another Philly team causing locals to lose their minds to the favorites to win the NL East, with an MVP candidate in Bryce Harper, who is top 5 in OBP and slugging % and the Cy Young Favorite, Zack Wheeler.
Toronto Blue Jays
Meanwhile, across the border, the Blue Jays are still far from knocked out entirely. They’re sitting in 4th in their division, which would be a tall task to jump any of the Red Sox, Yankees, or the Rays, but they still are only 4.5 games back of the second wild-card spot and want to be in the thick of things. They know they struck gold with the Marcus Semien bargain signing this offseason as he’s a top-5 MVP candidate. They know the face of their franchise, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., would be the story of the MLB season if not for Shohei Ohtani as he’s in the running for the triple crown, batting .313 with 35 homers and 88 RBIs at only 22 years old.
They went out and traded for a top-quality starter in Jose Berrios, and now George Springer is getting back into form after being injured for the majority of the first half. They only have two regular players in their lineup over the age of 30- so they’re a very young team that has certainly arrived earlier than expected as an agent of chaos within the division.
The problem for them is that it may be a case of too little too late- they have a total of 20 games left against current playoff teams when they’re not given opportunities to beat up on the Orioles, Twins, and Tigers. They’re not only going to have to win all of the games that they need to, but they also need to hope and pray their division rivals to get cold. Even if they come up short on making the postseason, they still could very well be a thorn to someone’s postseason hopes in the division with their level of talent.
Atlanta Braves & New York Yankees // The Guy Who You Thought was Knocked Out Only to Sneak Up and Pull Off a Surprise Finishing Move
In a wrestling match with so many fighters at once, there’s often the guy who gets destroyed, forgotten about by the other fighters, then when no one is looking but the crowd, gets right back up and slams everyone into oblivion and ends up winning.
That could be the Braves and the Yankees this year.
They both were the odds-on favorites to win their division to start the year, and both seemed to have nightmare first halves. The Braves not only never seemed to get it going, starting the first half below .500, but they’ve also had so many of their playmakers out. They lost ace Mike Soroka for the year, Travis d’Arnaud, Touki Toussaint, and Ian Anderson have missed significant time, Huascar Ynoa was the only pitcher who looked solid, and then he broke his hand punching the dugout, Marcell Ozuna was arrested and charged with aggravated assault, and Ronald Acuna Jr. tore his ACL. It looked like they needed to punt on the season, wait for Ronny to get healthy, and prepare for next year when they’re back as one of the NL favorites again.
Now, they’re in first place in the division, the entire infield can’t stop hitting home runs, reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman looks like he could win the award again, and they’ve gone on a run of a 20-12 record when it could have been so easy for this team to fold. They’ll, of course, be in a dog fight for the East, with the Phillies having an easier schedule, but they also get 20 games against Baltimore, Colorado, Miami, Washington, and Arizona. With Ynoa and d’Arnaud coming back as well, they’re poised to remain firmly in the race.
New York Yankees
For the Yankees, some blame could easily go to the over-reactionary New York media, where you’re expected to only hoist World Series trophies in the Bronx where they chant “27 RINGS,” but this was one of the most frustrating beginnings a title-favorite can endure- they were uninspired and unexciting, and the world was seemingly on fire. Their rival Red Sox were surging and had an 11-3 record against them. Aroldis Chapman suddenly blew left and right. They’ve fought injuries, COVID, cold bats, grounding into the most double-plays in the league, and had embarrassing banned substance controversies with their ace, Gerrit Cole. On July 4th, they were 42-41, and fans wanted the GM and Manager fired.
To shake things up, they traded for two left-handed slugging bats, Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, and they both have had an immediate impact despite Rizzo being out for a while on the COVID IL. Their pitching, particularly Jameson Taillon, has gotten it together, they swept the Red Sox to pass them in the standings, and the 27-11 record since August 6th has been the best in the MLB. With the A’s also falling off a bit, they’ve now gone from potentially missing the postseason altogether to now having home-field advantage in the Wild Card game in which they’d have Gerrit Cole on the mound for a one-game playoff.
The sleeping bears have officially been poked.
New York Mets & Boston Red Sox // The Heel Who Riles Up the Crowd Only to Get Knocked Out in the End
These teams got off to a smooth-sailing start, pulling off signature moves and antagonizing the crowd as they slammed their heroes into the floor of the ring and prancing over their temporarily knocked-out bodies.
Until they got knocked out themselves in the midst of barking their self-praises.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox were on an all-time vibe high as the surprise powerhouse to start the season with an offensive gauntlet of Xander Bogaerts, JD Martinez, and Rafael Devers all putting up All-Star numbers as they stomped on the throats of their rival Yankees. Despite finishing dead last in 2020 and not having relatively any expectations other than to enjoy Alex Cora being back as manager and developing youth, they at one point had a record of 63-40. They were the best team in the American League.
While the Yankees went out and got Rizzo and Gallo, rather than make a huge, splashy move, they traded for Kyle Schwarber, who has been battling injuries after a hot week-long stretch, and got a reliever in Hansel Robles; they merely stood pat knowing that Chris Sale would eventually return.
While Sale’s return has been encouraging, the Sox are 15-18 to start the second half of the season, they got swept by the Yankees, who are looking completely revamped by their trades, and if the postseason started today, they now would no longer be in the playoffs at all. They’ll be hoping they can eat up on games against the Orioles, Twins, Nationals, and Indians to cancel the remaining critical games against the Yankees, Rays, and White Sox.
New York Mets
And now to address quite possibly the largest sinking ship in baseball: the New York Mets.
The Mets weren’t necessarily a great baseball team- they’ve battled injuries all season. They have had an offense so lifeless they’ve scored fewer runs than the ORIOLES, but it didn’t affect their winning percentage. They steadily held their own as the NL East leader for practically the entire first half of the year because of their pitching depth with Marcus Stroman, Taijuan Walker, and Jacob deGrom, the best pitcher in baseball when he’s healthy and available.
Now it feels as if all of Queens is on fire.
In the second half, they’ve put Francisco Lindor on the IL, Jacob deGrom is nowhere to be found and could be shut down for the year, Javier Baez, who they traded for at the deadline to help out Lindor, is on the IL, the starters have a 3-12 record since the All-Star Break, they got swept by the rival Phillies, the Dodgers, and two of three to the Giants, three of four to the Dodgers again, and their owner Tweeted out that their offense sucks. They now sit below .500, are third in the division, and the Phillies and Braves have caught fire.
Life comes at you fast.
In the Mets’ case, it could be an unexpected knockout blow.
Featured Image: SNY