With 12 games remaining in the season, three AL division winners have essentially been decided, including Pittsburgh and Cheyenne who have clinched their divisions, and the New York Cyclones who find themselves with a cushy six game lead over Clint Ramirez and the Washington Foo Fighters. However, including a tie atop the AL South (Charleston and Tampa Bay), six other AL teams find themselves legitimately in the AL playoff hunt. A brief discussion of the playoff hopefuls are presented below.
Charleston / Tampa Bay (Record: 82-68, tied for AL South lead, tied for Wild Card lead)
Perennial AL South heavyweight finds its run of six consecutive division championships in jeopardy as the upstart Lazer Beams look to hoist their first ever divisional flag. However, Tampa Bay will have to overcome a tougher remaining schedule to keep pace with the Chew-Baccas. Specifically, of the 12 remaining games, Tampa Bay plays nine games against contenders, whereas Charleston plays only five games against such teams. Ultimately, this could come down to the last three games of the season where the two teams will face off in Charleston.
Montreal (79-71, 3 GB Wild Card #1, Games Rem vs. Contenders: 9)
Given that the Valiants consider themselves in full rebuild mode, manager gophilsgo likely considers this season a success to find a Wild Card berth a real possibility. However, like Tampa Bay, Montreal finds itself with 9 of 12 against Wild Card contenders or divisional leaders, including two against Charleston, four against TB, and three against Pittsburgh. As discussed above, Charleston and Tampa Bay have a lot on the line, but Montreal may catch a break facing Pittsburgh, who could be resting up for the playoffs.
Washington (78-72, GB WC#1: 4, Rem vs. Cont.: 6)
The Foo Fighters look to bring playoff excitement to the Beltway for the first time in franchise history. Relative to the Valiants, Washington has an easier path to Wild Card glory as they face contenders three fewer times. Of these, three games are against the Cyclones, who have been battling fatigue and may be looking to rest up for a first-round matchup.
Salt Lake City (78-72, GB WC#1: 4, Rem vs. Cont.: 5)
If the Salt Lake City can pull out the last wild card slot, second year manager Caracarn may buckle to media scrutiny and finally answer two of Griffey’s more lingering questions: “What the hell is an Aiel Warrior?” and “Do they taste as good as waffles?” Whatever they are, the Aiel Warriors have five remaining games against contenders: two vs. Cheyenne and three vs. Pittsburgh. While facing off with the Junior Circuit’s heavyweights would seem a daunting task, both teams are likely to be playing at reduced strength as both have a first-round playoff “bye” practically in-hand.
Philadelphia – (77-73, GB WC#1: 5, Rem vs. Cont.: 5)
The Revolution have been relatively hot over the past ten games, posting a 7-3 record over that span. With three teams to hurdle for the last playoff spot, they’ll have to continue their solid play. While Philadelphia has only five remaining games against contenders, those include two against TB and three vs. Washington, who should be fighting to the last out of the season in Griffey.
To have this many solid contenders left in the season speaks strongly of the improved management seen in Griffey over the past few seasons. Given the tightness of the race, strength of the remaining schedule could be the most prevalent factor in weeding out the “coulda-beens.” As such, the favorites are as follows:
AL South Champ: Charleston Chew-Baccas
AL Wild Card (5th seed): Tampa Bay Lazer Beams
AL Wild Card (6th Seed): Salt Lake City Aiel Warriors.