Baseball Expert Tony DeMarco has been covering the big leagues since 1987, and been casting Hall of Fame ballots for the last 15 years. He answers questions weekly here:
Q: With there being an extra wild-card spot this year, there are a lot of teams in contention for the playoffs. But in your opinion, which team is best suited to make a long run once in the postseason?
— Bobby Franklin, New York
A: Every contender — even the regular-season top four of the Rangers, Yankees, Reds and Nationals — have their share of concerns and potential trouble spots. That's what will make this postseason so tough to predict — and likelier for a relatively unexpected World Series winner to emerge.
With talent levels for the top eight or so teams being fairly equal, it will come down to which teams are playing best in October: whose stars come through with clutch performances that win games, whose starting pitching performs best, whose closer is most dominant, whose roster is healthiest and operating on all cylinders. And at this point, it's really a guessing game.
The Rangers will go in as the AL favorites, with their offense, power bullpen and the motivation and focus sparked by consecutive World Series losses. Their rotation lacks that dominant guy, however, as keep in mind they have lost Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis from their last two postseason rotations.
The Yankees have some health concerns right now, and those will need to be cleared up by October. Even so, you have to wonder about their No. 3-4 post-season starters, and as good a season as Rafael Soriano has had, he isn't Mariano Rivera.
Neither the Rays or Tigers would be playoff teams if the season had ended Monday, but either could be the team that gets hot. The Rays' chances are tied to their four-man rotation and lights-out, crooked-capped closer Fernando Rodney. With just enough offense, they are a solid sleeper pick.
The Tigers have underachieved to this point, and are in a fight for the playoff-qualifying lives. But there is great star power on Jim Leyland's squad, and great players can rise to the occasion in October.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
The Giants and Cardinals make for a dangerous next rung of top NL contenders. Everybody respects the Giants' pitching and they're playing with an edge in the wake of Melky Cabrera's suspension and all the hype surrounding the new Dodgers.
The Cardinals clearly were the NL's best team through mid-May before hitting an extended stretch of mediocrity, still have the league's most-dangerous lineup, and their pitching staff is coming together — the exception being Lance Lynn.
For all the star power the Dodgers have added, it's very late to be expecting everything to come together so quickly, and as Don Mattingly said the other day, it likely will come down to their pitching. And there isn't enough beyond Clayton Kershaw.
HBT: Robinson Cano homered twice while David Phelps had the longest outing of his career as the Yankees topped the Blue Jays 7-2 this afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
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