By Brian Walton
With less than three weeks to go in the 2013 Major League Baseball regular season, the addition of the second wild card is helping to keep the American League especially exciting.
When I wrote this, six AL clubs were within 2 1/2 games of one of the wild card berths -- Texas, Tampa Bay, New York, Cleveland, Baltimore and Kansas City. Given that, there was no reason to suspect anything other than a race down to the wire.
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That was not the case in the National League, however. In the Senior Circuit, the battles are pretty much over. The only exception is which of the three contending Central Division teams will win the division, with the other two the likely wild cards.
Yes, Washington was technically still in it, but with eight games out with 16 to go, it was grim. Coolstandings.com gave the Nats just a 2.7 percent chance of bumping off one of the NL Central squads to make the postseason then. (Editor's note: Washington is within 4 1/2 games of a wild card spot through Sunday, but their chances remain bleak, at 3.3 percent.)
In terms of true mathematical elimination, over half of the NL squads, eight of 15, have nothing for which to play except 2014. Over in the Junior Circuit, only five teams are already justified looking ahead to next year.
Couple these dynamics with September MLB roster expansion from the normal 25 to a theoretical maximum of 40, and fantasy managers' challenges of assessing playing time changes become even greater. In some cases, attention on baseball is waning. The competition with football leagues that are still in their very early stages currently offer greater hope for owners.
In the final month, MLB teams typically add from six to 10 reinforcements from the minor leagues. Any and all of these players can be active on any given day. As a result, an MLB team that is out of the hunt may not only give starts to unproven prospects over tired regulars, the manager may pull more double-switches, too.
A handful of clubs have even gone to a temporary six-man rotation. This gives them the opportunity to observe more youngsters while managing pitch counts and can be done before formally having to commit to 2014 roles.
Considering all these variables, I asked several of my National League Tout Wars friends and competitors the following questions.
"Given the lack of close races in the NL, do you see any potential impact on your NL fantasy teams and how you manage them? Do you feel the lack of competitive races is a positive or a negative for your chances and why?"
Kind enough to reply all the way from Italy, where he was on vacation, BaseballHQ's Phil Hertz cut right to the bone.
"I don't see much impact on my team," Hertz said. "I just need guys to get healthy and that's looking less and less likely."
Hertz then was in sixth place, 12 1/2 points out of the lead and just two points ahead of yours truly. The losses of Domonic Brown, Yonder Alonso, Marcell Ozuna and Starling Marte have shackled his offense.
USA TODAY's Steve Gardner was tied for third, 6 1/2 points out. Among the points Steve makes is that despite the expanded rosters, viable alternatives are few.
"In this case, I think it's helped my team," said Gardner. "I've needed to pick up several hitters off the waiver wire lately to fill holes created by injuries and trades. The guys I've plugged into my lineup (Donnie Murphy, Caleb Gindl, Andrew Brown, Justin Turner) are on non-contenders and may not have gotten much of a chance to play if their teams had been involved in the playoff chase.
"The one area where it could impact my team is. ..."
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