It’s the 19th of September, and only two division leaders in baseball have a lead of less than 4 games.  One of the tight races is in the AL East, where the Yankees hold a 1 1/2 game lead over the Devil Rays.  There is a nice consolation price for the loser of that race – the Devil Rays currently hold a 6 1/2 game lead over the Red Sox for the Wild Card.

The other tight race is in the NL West, where the Giants hold a 1/2 game lead over the Padres and a 1 1/2 game lead over the Rockies.  Had the Rockies not squandered a 6-1 lead against the Dodgers on Sunday, this race could be even tighter.  There’s a bit more desperation in the NL West race, because all three teams are a bit behind the Braves in the wild card race (although this could change if the Phillies sweep Atlanta in their series).

All three teams were idle yesterday and return to action in road games today – the Giants against the Cubs, the Padres against the Dodgers, and the Rockies against the Diamondbacks.  This weekend will feature a critical matchup between the Rockies and Giants at Coors Field, while the Padres face NL Central leaders Cincinnati at home. 

In the final week of the season, the Giants will start out with a home series against the Diamondbacks, the Padres will go to Wrigley to face the Cubs, and the Rockies will face the Dodgers at home.  When the calendar flips to October, we’ll see the Rockies traveling to St. Louis to face the always dangerous Albert Pujols and the Cardinals while the Padres and Giants battle in San Francisco.

As you can see, the Cubs, Dodgers, and Diamondbacks will all act as spoilers down the stretch, as they face two of the three division contenders.

Who has the tought row to hoe during the season’s final fortnight?  Well, the Giants get to face the suddenly hot Cubs (winners of six straight) and have to face both the Rockies and Padres.  They do have a three game set against the Diamondbacks that should allow them to pick up some easy wins.

The Padres don’t have a cakewalk either, with series against two division leaders – San Francisco and Cincinnati.  Expect Cincinnati to have the pedal to the metal as they fight for a higher seed in the playoffs.  They are currently the 2 seed and certainly would not want to slip to the 3 seed and lose home field advantage in the first round.

That brings us to the Rockies.  On paper, it’s not a horrible schedule.  They face only one division leader (San Francisco) and those games are at home.  One of their road series is against the Diamondbacks, who are the second worst team in the National League.  They’ll finish with a four game series against a Cardinals team that will likely have nothing to play for.  But on the bad side, the fact that the Padres and Giants finish the season against each other provides an interesting obstacle – if they trail one of the other teams by 2 games with 3 games left to go, it will be impossible for them to make up the gap.  Why?  Because either the Padres or Giants must win at least 2 games in their 3 game series.  Yep – if the Giants lead the Rockies by 2 games and the Padres by 3 games going into the final series, the Rockie would be mathematically eliminated, but the Padres would still be alive.

So, what happens if there is a 3 way tie for the division?  Two of the teams will play an elimination game, with the winner hosting the third team.  The teams will be ranked on their head-to-head records, with the top seed (the Rockies have clinched this) deciding whether they want home field advantage (in both games) or to be the team that waits to face the winner of the first game (but has to travel).

Which is the correct choice?  Teams play better at home than they do on the road, but it’s not a slam dunk to take the home field advantage, since the home team must win two games.  In order for the home team to have the advantage over the team that needs to win just the final road game, there would need to be a 62% probability for the home team to win vs. 38% for the road team (.62*.62 = .3844).  And even though there are a few teams that exceed this rate, it’s also important to note that the home team would need to burn their best available pitcher in the first game, whereas the team-in-waiting would head into the second game fresh and rested.

My gut?  Be the team waiting on the sidelines and take the one road game.

In other (related) news …
My favorite player, Troy Tulowitzki, has been tearing it up lately, with 14 home runs in a 15 game stretch that ended Saturday (he was held without a homer on Sunday).  Tulo had 2 homers in 4 of those games and drove in a stunning 31 games during that stretch.  Hopefully Tulo can kept up the hot hitting down the stretch.