The races for the National League and American League baseball wild cards are getting pretty wild.
The Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals are shoo-ins for division titles. The Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres are clinging to slim leads. After that, 10 teams are dreaming of sneaking into the baseball playoffs as a wild card.
Baseball's six division winners automatically make it to the playoffs. Then the team in each league with the next-best record gets in. These teams are wild cards.
That means baseball fans will be spending the next month checking the sports news for all the latest scores. So let's take a quick look at the wild-card races.
National League: The Houston Astros should win the wild-card race. They have three great starting pitchers in Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte. And, after a dismal start (15 wins, 30 losses), they have been one of the hottest teams in baseball. Still, the 'Stros might not have the hitting to make it.
I thought that the Florida Marlins would end the Braves' hold on the East Division. The Marlins have three terrific young pitchers -- Dontrelle Willis (23 years old), Josh Beckett (25) and A.J. Burnett (28) -- and a budding superstar in outfielder Miguel Cabrera (22). But baseball is a team game and the rest of the Marlins are not so hot.
The Philadelphia Phillies don't seem to have the hitting or the starting pitching to make it to the playoffs. But if the Phils can play well enough to get the ball to fireballing reliever Billy Wagner, they have a chance. Wagner's 100-mile-per-hour fastball is almost unhittable.
And what about the Washington Nationals? Our Nats are hanging in. If they can string together some wins, they have a shot. After this weekend, 26 of the Nats' final 32 games are against division rivals: Braves, Phillies, Marlins and New York's Mets. At the beginning of the season, I sure didn't think I'd be writing about the Nationals being in the playoff hunt at the end of August.
American League: The New York Yankees should sneak into the playoffs as a wild card even if they can't catch the Red Sox. The Bronx Bombers' lineup, led by Alex Rodriguez, is power-packed. But besides Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson and Mariano Rivera, the Yanks' pitching is shaky. They could miss the playoffs for the first time since 1994.
The Cleveland Indians have an exciting young team led by rising stars Grady Sizemore in center field and Jhonny Peralta at shortstop. The Tribe's bullpen has been terrific, saving the team's mediocre starters. The relievers will have to keep pitching great to get the Indians into the postseason.
A couple weeks ago, the Minnesota Twins looked done. But a recent hot streak has the Twins thinking playoffs. And why not? Any team that has an overpowering pitcher, like the Twins' Johan Santana, has a shot.
The Oakland Athletics have four terrific young pitchers -- Rich Harden (23), Danny Haren (24), Joe Blanton (24) and Huston Street (22). But these kids have not pitched the long, tough innings in a September playoff race. Chances are that the A's, with maybe the worst offense in baseball, will fall short.
And don't forget the Mets (National League) and the Toronto Blue Jays (American).
Why all the fuss about the wild cards? Well, the last three World Series winners (Red Sox, Marlins and Angels) were wild cards. There are a number of teams hoping to make it four.
Fred Bowen writes KidsPost's sports opinion column and is the author of sports novels for kids.