Your Morning Phil: Playoffs, Sox, Barons

White Sox starter Chris Sale on the loss to the Indians.

Talking baseball while marveling at the differences a good tight end can make:

1. You don’t know what results the baseball gods will pull out of the bag when a season begins, yet 2013 remains a clunker as far as playoff races go.

Yes, there is a cluster of desperate teams in the American League wild card picture, but only because of the recent slide of the Rangers and Athletics. It’s been 42 days since there was a change in the 10 teams that qualify for the playoffs, and that’s a long, long time.

As Len Kasper first pointed out to me, this season would have been far more compelling under the format that was used back in the olden days, before wild cards were added. The Red Sox and Tigers would have been battling in the AL East, and the Braves and Dodgers in the NL West.
But these should at least be exciting days in Cleveland. The Indians have quietly gained four games in the wild card race in September and enter the next-to-last week of the season only one-half game behind the Rangers and – who were eight games ahead of Cleveland at the end of August – Rays.

It would be a terrific story if Terry Francona and his old Boston bench coach, Brad Mills, guided their team into the playoffs in their first season back together again. And what if they play the Red Sox?
That would give us some of the drama that has been largely missing this season.

2. As for the White Sox, the question is if they can “catch’’ the Marlins for the second overall pick in the 2014 draft. It’s possible but unlikely as they’re three full games better than Miami after their current six-game losing streak, with the next three games against Minnesota. But the schedule is tough after that, with series at Detroit and Cleveland. The Marlins have played a lot better than the White Sox since May 26 – hard to believe but the White Sox were 24-24 then, and have gone 34-67 since then – but may not have enough wins left on their schedule to finish with more than the Sox. They face seven road games this week – at Philadelphia and Washington – and then finish up against the Phillies and Tigers. One thing to keep in mind following this race -- the Marlins get the second pick if they finish with the same record as the White Sox, as they had fewer wins in 2012. Last year’s record is the tie-breaker.

3. Congrats to the Birmingham Barons for winning the Southern League title. Second baseman Micah Johnson, promoted to Birmingham from high-A Winston-Salem the last week of the regular season, capped his dream season with a home run in the deciding Game 5 against Mobile on Sunday. Johnson led off the bottom of the first with a homer after Mobile had taken a 2-0 lead in the top of the inning, and then used his speed to contribute to a three-run second inning. Johnson forced a throwing error by creating a tough play for Mobile’s second baseman and then scored on a line drive single to center. Johnson, who was drafted from Indiana University only a little more than a year ago, is a kid for White Sox fans to watch. Right-hander Cody Winiarski, who worked the last 1 1/3 innings to get a save in the championship game, is a sleeper who could push for big-league consideration next season. Right-hander Chris Bassitt, who won both of his playoff starts for Birmingham, is another guy who could get to the big leagues in a hurry. He shouldn’t be far behind Erik Johnson when the White Sox rank their pitching prospects.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers 

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