The Week Ahead: 'Why not?' ask many clubs

The Week Ahead: 'Why not?' ask many clubs

The Week Ahead: 'Why not?' ask many clubs
More and more, the 2012 Major League Baseball season is unmistakably becoming the year of "Why not?"

After Sunday's drama, we have officially entered late September, so Monday begins a week that will take us even closer to the regular-season finish line. And like we've been saying for the past few months, it looks like we might need the assistance of a photographer to figure out which of the contenders in the tightest pennant races get the bills of their caps in front at the 162-game wire.

So ... why not?

It's still echoing throughout the ballparks of this great nation, even on Sept. 17. Look over in Oakland, where the underdog A's, who were predicted before the season to finish with around 70 wins, are not only firmly in control of a Wild Card spot but are only three games out in the American League West behind the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers.

This week, the A's get another huge challenge in a season full of them. They'll head to Detroit and the Bronx to face the Tigers and Yankees. The Rangers, meanwhile, have what appears to be a slightly easier week, traveling to Anaheim to face the Angels and to Seattle to take on the Mariners. But it's not like the A's are intimidated by this tough assignment. They're just going to the ballpark every day, playing hard and trying to win.

"It's been fun being here," late-arriving Oakland shortstop Stephen Drew said. "It's kind of crazy how this team works sometimes. ... That's a good feeling to have on this team. Anybody, anytime. It works out well."

The same attitude has been powering along another "Why not?" team, the Baltimore Orioles. Buck Showalter's gang actually beat the A's on Sunday -- something not a lot of clubs have been able to do lately -- and continues to shock people by not only hanging tough in the AL East but threatening to win what's usually regarded as the game's toughest division. After Sunday's victory, they're only a game behind New York.

Baltimore also has a road swing to deal with this week, with three in Seattle followed by three in Boston. The Birds will be facing Mariners and Red Sox clubs with losing records, so there will be no excuses. Not that there have been any this year.

"The biggest thing is if we get down early in the game, we don't panic," Orioles first baseman Mark Reynolds said. "We know somebody's going to step up, and we know at the end of the game, if we're winning, our bullpen's going to be there. That's been huge to our success."

Success seems to be a foregone conclusion for the division leaders in the National League.

Washington in the East, Cincinnati in the Central and San Francisco in the West have separated themselves from their respective packs and look to be on cruise control headed into October.

But the Wild Card? That's another story that fits very neatly into the "Why not?" category.

After Sunday's action, in which St. Louis defeated Los Angeles, the Dodgers trailed the Cardinals by a mere game, and the Brewers (2 1/2 games back), Pirates (three back), Phillies (four back) and D-backs (4 1/2 back) have a shot. Even the Padres were only six games back of that newfangled second Wild Card berth.

The Brewers face the formidable task of playing their next 10 games on the road. It starts in Pittsburgh and continues on to Washington and Cincinnati. In other words, it's go time for the Brew Crew.

"Coming into this road trip, it was real important to win today," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said after Milwaukee beat the Mets on Sunday. "This road trip is going to be tough, and we know it."

Meanwhile, the Phillies will have to bounce back from their own rough ride on the road. They dropped three of four to the Astros in Houston over the weekend. Now they'll be off to New York for three more away games against the Mets before returning to Citizens Bank Park for a weekend set vs. the Braves.

Back in the AL, the Central title is still up for grabs, with the White Sox holding on to a two-game lead over the Tigers. The two clubs will play a dramatic one-game makeup on Monday before the White Sox head off to Kansas City and then Anaheim to finish off the week. Detroit will stay home and get the A's and Twins.

And like every other year, it seems, the Tampa Bay Rays are still in the hunt. Joe Maddon's team, a perennial "Why not?" choice, gets four at home against the Red Sox as they try to inch closer to the division-leading Yankees. They're five games out in the division and four out in the Wild Card.

"I don't think by any means we're in a good spot," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said after Sunday's loss to the Yankees. "We put ourselves in this spot."

But Maddon indicated that they can get out of that spot rather quickly, and recent past performances indicate he might have a good point.

"We've got plenty of games left," Maddon said. "Other teams could lose. The Rays could win."

In other words, why not?

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB and read his MLBlog, Youneverknow. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.