- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It’s rare that you can say this in late August, but it’s true: All of Major League Baseball’s division races are pretty much sewn up with six weeks left in the season.

A quick look at the standings Monday morning showed only one team less than 3 1/2 games behind a division leader: the Chicago White Sox, who trailed the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central by 2 1/2 games.

That’s not the way Bud Selig would prefer to draw things up, but this is the way 2009 has played out. Which isn’t to say there aren’t still a couple of highly compelling races that figure to go down to the wire. The wild-card chase in each league is already a doozy, and each is likely to remain that way until early October.

This is the time of year when newspapers like this one begin including the wild-card race in the daily standings. So it seems like an appropriate time to take a closer look at the remaining contenders and handicap the races.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

RED SOX (70-53, wild-card leaders)

It wasn’t all that long ago that Boston looked like the best team

not only in the AL East, not only in the AL, but in the majors. Not anymore. The Yankees have surged past the Red Sox in the division, and now it feels as if Terry Francona’s club is hanging on for dear life. The problem? Pitching. Outside of Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, they’re just not getting quality work out of their rotation. They are about to get a boost from Tim Wakefield’s return, but is a 43-year-old knuckleballer really the savior? -Chance of winning wild card: 40 percent

RANGERS (69-54, one game back)

Predictions of a slip have been around all season, but just like last year’s Rays, they are showing no signs of a collapse. Their lineup is ridiculously potent

seven players have 15 or more homers - but they also strike out a ton. Ultimately, Texas is only going to survive if its pitching leads the way, and that might be too much to ask from a group whose winningest starter is Scott Feldman. - Chance of winning wild card: 25 percent

RAYS (67-56, three games back)

Last year’s darlings are fighting to make it back this season. It has been a challenge, especially with all the injuries they’ve had to overcome, but they’re slowly getting their act back together. Now they need a couple of young pitching studs (Scott Kazmir and David Price) to find their top form to duplicate last season’s magic.

Chance of winning wild card: 35 percent

NATIONAL LEAGUE

ROCKIES (70-54, wild-card leaders)

Nobody has played better baseball the past three months than Colorado. Since June 5, these guys are eight games better than anyone else in the NL. They’ve got a lineup full of big boppers, but they’ve also got perhaps the most stable rotation in the majors, with four 10-game winners already. Watch out for Ubaldo Jimenez, the best unknown pitcher in baseball.

Chance of winning wild card: 40 percent

GIANTS (67-57, three games back)

It has been clear all along they have the pitching to reach the postseason. No one can top the one-two punch of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. But they have to find some offensive power somewhere. They can’t win every game 2-1.

Chance of winning wild card: 35 percent

BRAVES (66-58, four games back)

Atlanta has stayed in the race thanks to some fine pitching, both from a rotation that has three 10-game winners and phenom Tommy Hanson and a bullpen that boasts five guys with ERAs under 3.25. But they’re not scoring runs at a high enough clip to get over the hump.

Chance of winning wild card: 15 percent

MARLINS (65-59, five games back)

It’s nice to think the low-budget Marlins can hang around and win this thing, but it probably won’t happen. The lineup can hit the ball out of the park but not much else. And the pitching staff is woefully thin after ace Josh Johnson. Plus Nick Johnson is out with a hamstring injury

shocking, of course. - Chance of winning wild card: 10 percent

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