DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right, we're almost there. The end of Major League Baseball's regular season is less than two weeks away. And this is that time of year when that long, plodding season - 162 games - becomes an all-out sprint; teams trying to qualify for the playoffs. The field this year is especially crowded, as a few of the usual suspects are joined in the big chase by some newcomers.
And to sort out the contenders, we have NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman on the line. Good morning, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hello, David.
GREENE: Well, let's talk about this mad rush for the playoffs. Not necessarily going for division championships, but a lot of teams are trying to get two of those wild card positions in each league.
GOLDMAN: That's where the fun is. And especially in the American League, you've got six teams within three and a half games of each other. Texas and Tampa Bay are the frontrunners to claim the two wild card spots, but they're not playing my frontrunners. Last night, Texas lost its sixth straight. Tampa Bay blew a late game lead and lost for the sixth time in its last 10 games. In right behind those two are Cleveland, Baltimore, the Yankees and Kansas City.
Now, the great chaos scenario is if several of these teams finished with identical records, then you've got the possibility of extra tie-breaker games; before you get to that one nail-biting game that determined that league's one wild card team that advances in the playoffs. It should be fun.
GREENE: Wow. That would be a wild couple of days if that happens.
GREENE: OK, let's go to the National League and I should probably recuse myself because my Pittsburgh Pirates are involved. And go ahead, just jinx them - go.
GOLDMAN: They're going to win it all, David. Next question, yeah.
GREENE: Thanks, I'm sure you got it right.
GOLDMAN: The Pirates, they've already passed that wonderful milestone, as you know, of 82 victories, locking at the team's first winning season since 1992. And obviously they want to go beyond. So do you. Right now, the Pirates are locked in a real battle in the National League Central with St. Louis and Cincinnati. And now, those teams are not only battling for the division crown but also for the two wild card spots in the National League as well.
So unless there's a big swoon in the last two weeks, there's a good chance those three will all make the postseason. Although the Washington Nationals have an outside shot to crash the party for the wild card spot.
GREENE: Yet, the Washington Nationals are pretty hot right now.
There is that tight race but there are some teams who are just completely in cruise control right now and heading for division titles. Tell us about them.
GOLDMAN: Right, yeah. You know, you've got Boston, Atlanta, Los Angeles. Boston, what an amazing turnaround from last season's disastrous 69 and 93 season. As of today, the Red Sox are 92 and 59. Nice flip-flop there.
GOLDMAN: They've got the best record in baseball and the most facial hair. The Sox are using their long, thick beards as a unifying theme. One player said they represent Boston's blue-collar approach to baseball.
And then, on the other end of the spectrum, you've got the Dodgers who've been quite the roller coaster ride in the National League. Injuries and underachieving early on. Then they ignited thanks, remember, too the Yasiel Puig phenomenon and now they're cruising to the finish line with a 10 and a half game lead in the NL West. Although they're hitting a little turbulence right now. Their archenemy, San Francisco Giants, just beat them in three of four games, including a 19-to-3 pummeling. They're also nursing injuries again.
GREENE: The Boston Red Sox, Tom, I mean, they're feeling so good right now with that big lead in their division. They took time to honor relief pitcher Mariano Rivera last night at Fenway Park. And he, of course, pitches for the New York Yankees, or, in Boston, The Great Satan.
GOLDMAN: The Great Satan. Yeah, they gave him a wonderful sendoff in his final scheduled game at Fenway Park. You know, it's a really nice tribute, warm and heartfelt and he was touched by it. Then, of course, Boston went out and crushed the Yankees 9-to-2.
GREENE: Tom, enjoy the rest of the season.
GOLDMAN: Thank you.
GREENE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.
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GREENE: This is NPR News.
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