Three of the six divisions in Major League Baseball have tight races for the top spot. Those three races involve ten or eleven teams (depends on how you define close) in contention. The Texas Rangers appear ready to run away with the American League West (as expected here). The Phillies will be hard pressed to be caught as will the Giants (somehow). The trouble for all those contenders is that it might become all or nothing for their chances to make the playoffs. The wild card spot in both leagues appears at the moment to be a runaway.
The Yankees have a five game cushion in the wild card race in the American League. The Atlanta Braves have a five game cushion for the wild card race in the National League. Both can allow all those other contenders to bash each other around while they sit at the top spot and get ready for the playoffs. This fact alone could change some team thinking on the trade season and deadline. The Yankees don't really have a great need to bankrupt their farm for a stud pitcher. The Braves don't really need to go out and get a hitter.
It was different last year, at least in the National League. Last year, ten or twelve teams were all clustered up for the wild card race right up until the last couple of month of the season and the Braves didn't win the final playoff spot until the last day of the season. Five games isn't an insurmountable lead by any means. But it's getting there.
For the Yankees, they don't have to worry about the AL West. The Angels and the Athletics simply have too many holes to mount any serious threat. The AL Central has four teams still in the race for first place with the Twins, White Sox, Indians and Tigers all slugging each other out to get to the top spot. Two teams would have to nearly run the table for one to win the division and the other to challenge for the wild card. All four of those teams are flawed and separation within the division will be tough enough without two teams mounting that kind of charge. The only true threat to the Yankees is the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays can find a way, but it just doesn't seem to be their year with a makeshift bullpen and a lack of a consistent offense. They can't take on money to better themselves and would need to be incredibly creative to mount a charge.
In the National League, the NL Central is much like the AL Central. The Pirates, Brewers, Cardinals and Reds all have serious flaws and will be battling each other for the top spot. It seems to be asking a lot for two of those teams to go on a serious roll when they will be knocking each other off all season. One of those teams might run away with the division. But it won't be two of them that play .650 ball the rest of the way.
The NL West has the Diamondbacks. The D-backs are within striking distance to the Giants and if the Giants ever trip and start losing those one-run games, the D-Backs could stay in striking distance. But they don't seem to have quite enough pitching to play .650 ball the rest of the way to catch the Braves. Plus, you'd have to think the Rockies will play better baseball the rest of the way.
The Braves are in a nice spot because they simply have to win a six or seven inning game with their bullpen. And with Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Beachy, they have a good chance to win their fair share of seven inning games the rest of the season.
Perhaps this is why a second wild card team could add to the excitement next year. Because this year, if many of these teams falter in their reach for their division titles, there might not be any brass ring left on the Merry-Go-Round to grab.