MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

18 teams in the postseason hunt

18 teams in the postseason hunt

With 10 postseason spots at stake, as we speak, there are at least 18 Major League teams that can fairly consider themselves contenders. With less than six weeks left in the regular season, that is 60 percent of the field. And that is competitive balance.

True, there are division races that seem a trifle one-sided. But in those cases, there is compensating drama in the Wild Card races. The Wild Card is doing what it was supposed to do, which is to maintain the postseason chances of more teams, thus keeping alive the hopes of more fans.

2016 MLB standings

Our standard for being in postseason contention, beyond being in a race for a division title, is trailing by five games or less in the Wild Card race.

American League East
There are four postseason candidates here, and three of them -- the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Orioles -- are grouped within two games of the lead.

This has the makings of a ferocious race, in which no team has demonstrated either a likelihood of folding or an ability to pull away from the pack. The Yankees aren't out of it, either, particularly as a potential Wild Card entry, although they are increasingly depending on a new generation of Bronx Bombers.

AL Central
The Indians have a healthy lead, and with their pitching, that is a perfectly logical situation for them.

But the Tigers and Royals are solidly in the race for a Wild Card berth. Detroit made a move earlier this month, but it has faded slightly. But the Tigers have a potent lineup and starting pitching that can be exceptional. Kansas City, on the other hand, has won eight straight. The Royals are, after all, the defending World Series champions, and they have a recent history of highly successful comebacks.

AL West
The Rangers have overcome adversity well enough to have the league's best record. And their acquisition of catcher Jonathan Lucroy looks like the best non-waiver Trade Deadline move of this season.

But two more clubs are in the Wild Card hunt. The Mariners have Felix Hernandez back from injury atop their rotation and they have won six of his seven starts since his return. This has the look of a club that could stay the course. The Astros may still be young, but they are also extremely talented. And they're not new kids on the block. They were a Wild Card team in 2015 when they beat the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game and then took the Royals to five games in a top-shelf AL Division Series.

National League East
The Nationals have a comfortable lead. Stephen Strasburg has landed on the disabled list with elbow soreness, but Bryce Harper has shown recent signs of once again being Bryce Harper. This highly talented, highly motivated team doesn't figure to fade.

The Marlins are trying to remain in the Wild Card race without injured slugger Giancarlo Stanton. They did an admirable job of sticking around earlier in the season when Stanton wasn't hitting, so this is not an impossible task. The Mets were a World Series team last season. This season, they're still in the Wild Card chase, but they've been unlucky, most recently with a shoulder strain putting lefty Steven Matz on the DL.

NL Central
The Cubs have the Majors' only double-digit division lead, not to mention the best record. From July 31 through Aug. 21, they went 16-4. This appears to be a team that has cast off the weight of history.

The Cardinals, winners of 100 games last season and winners of this division three years in a row, may have to settle for a Wild Card berth, but that doesn't mean they won't be a tough postseason opponent. The Pirates, winners of 98 games last year and a Wild Card team three years in a row, have to hope they can make that four straight years.

NL West
The Dodgers have moved into first place, despite not having ace of aces Clayton Kershaw since June. This is a truly substantial accomplishment that will only be topped by Kershaw's return to full health and effectiveness.

At the All-Star break, the Giants had the best record in the NL, and this being an even-numbered year, their bandwagon was becoming increasingly crowded. They have slumped since and are now hanging onto a Wild Card spot. Still, it would be premature to dismiss them in any way. The Rockies are just outside our parameters for contention, seven games out of a Wild Card spot.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.