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The amazing (and less amazing) playoff races

The roller-coaster Mets defeated the Phillies last night, the Yankees put two wins in the books and down in Tampa Bay, the Red Sox completed a sweep of the mighty Rays.

You look at the standings, and you may tell yourself, "We've got some races here."

Of course, it's May 27, so we've got plenty of injuries, trades and otherwise surprising developments coming our way. But let's take a look at what we have so far, use both Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds and industry chatter as a map of sorts and try to anticipate what we could have.

And we'll classify each division as an Amazing Race (legitimately awesome), Cannonball Run (entertaining, yet far from classic) or Rat Race (a mirage).

1) AL East.

The latest: The Rays suddenly seem human, the Red Sox are stopping the "run prevention" mockers in their tracks and the Yankees, while not quite their old dominant selves, at least displayed these last two days that their starting pitching will product plenty of victories.

Shoot, today marks the first time - at least since the very start of the season - that the three superpowers occupy the first three places. The Blue Jays fell to fourth last night, with their loss to the Angels.

Looking ahead: There's every reason to think and hope we'll see the three teams go at it for two spots, for the bulk of the season. The Rays have something coming from Carlos Pena, the Yankees from Mark Teixeira, and the Red Sox from Victor Martinez.

Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA-adjusted playoff odds - I'm more inclined to go with these than the projection-free odds, because you shouldn't ignore track records - still likes the Rays a great deal to win the division, but gives the Yankees and Red Sox healthy 68.2 percent and 35.5 percent chances, respecitvely, to make the playoffs.

This is an Amazing Race.

2) NL East

The latest: They're all bunched up, with all five teams over .500. Mets fans can say that their team is tied for third place, Yankees fans can ridicule Mets fans for being tied for last and both sides would be right. The Braves have overcome their early malaise, and the Nationals are still hanging in there.

Looking ahead: You know the Phillies are going to wake up and start doing some serious damage again. Maybe not tonight, weather permitting, but soon enough. Can any of these other clubs make a real run? PECOTA doesn't think so, giving the Phillies an 83.3 percent chance of making the playoffs, the Braves 21.6 percent and everyone else under 10 percent.

This is a Rat Race.

3) AL Central

The latest: The Twins and Tigers, the same two teams that took it to the bitter end last year, are at it once again. The Twins are hitting and pitching slightly better than Detroit, which has leaned heavily on a bullpen full of power arms to get this far. The White Sox, Royals and Indians all appear to be pretenders at this point.

Looking ahead: PECOTA likes the Twins more, but not a great deal more. I don't know. When you look at the Tigers, I don't see too many players from whom much more can be expected. I think if anything, it's more likely that Austin Jackson and Brendan Boesch slow down some.

This is a Rat Race.

4) NL Central

The latest: The Cardinals have lost two straight tough games to the Padres in San Diego, as Albert Pujols' bad month continues. The Reds, meanwhile, continue to surprise, with straight-to-the-majors rookie Mike Leake the talk of the industry.

Looking ahead: I'm working on a project for Sunday on "turnaround teams" - clubs that had a losing record last year and now have a winning record, or vice versa (please don't tell the competition) - and many industry people think the Reds are viable contenders. PECOTA still gives the Cardinals the considerable edge to win the division, though.

This is a Cannonball Run.

5) AL West

The latest: The Rangers made two relatively pricey offsesaon acquisitions. One, Vladimir Guerrero, has been awesome. The other, Rich Harden, has been quite disappointing. A low-budget pickup, Colby Lewis, has helped to cover for Harden. Meanwhile, the A's continue to lurk, and the Angels are still trying to find their way.

Looking ahead: It seems like there's a better chance of Barack Obama honoring BP (and we don't mean Baseball Prospectus) at the White House than an AL West team winning the wild card. This figures to be ugly. It should be a fun ugly, though, with the Rangers and A's seemingly having the pitching to stick around and virtually no one willing to rule out the Angels - except PECOTA.

This is an Cannonball Run. The low quality of the teams precludes it from being Amazing.

6) NL West

The latest: The Padres keep winning, the Dodgers have reminded them of their large talent base, the Rockies are waking up and the Giants have the pitching to at least serve as pests.

Looking ahead: PECOTA is bullish on the Dodgers, and the industry folks largely think the Padres can hang around. At this point, an Adrian Gonzalez trade appears farfetched. It should be very fun to see these four teams go at it,

This is an Amazing Race.

--At the Mets game, I wrote about Hisanori Takahashi, who delivered his second straight remarkable start. You don't get much better than a combined 12 shutout innings against the two defending league champions.

Looking ahead, the biggest concern for Takahashi has to be fatigue. He isn't accustomed to pitching every fifth day; in Japan, starting pitchers usually take the mound once a week. In accordance with that, his career high for innings pitched is 186 2/3, with the Yomiuri Giants in 2007, and the prior two seasons, he clocked 122 and 144 innings, respectively.

But hey, if Takahashi can give the Mets, say, 150 quality innings, the team should be thrilled.

--Jose Reyes had another excellent night, and as Jim Baumbach reports, Reyes has done this while keeping in touch with Jose LIma's family.

--Chad Gaudin returned to the Yankees.

--Odd complaint by Ron Gardenhire, who wasn't happy that Andy Pettitte began warming up in the ninth inning before yielding to Mariano Rivera - thereby giving Rivera a few more pitches in the bullpen. I don't know. I feel like I've seen this plenty of times.

--Former Yankee Ryne Duren participated in a charity golf event this past Monday on Long Island.

--Stephen Strasburg will likely make his major-league debut two weeks from now, against Pittsburgh.

--At the White Sox-Indians game, Ozzie Guillen and Mark Buehrle offered very damning crticisms of umpire Joe West. Jim asked yesterday if anything could be done to run out West, who does seem to be creating trouble quite often.

It won't be easy. West is very powerful in the umpires' union. But really, it would serve the umps best of all if West stepped down. The entire group is hurt by West's incompetence and arrogance.

--See you tonight, from Citi Field.

New York Sports