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MLB Standings Update: Indians Vs. Tigers Highlights Early-Week Action

The Indians blew a golden opportunity during the last road trip, even though winning three of seven in Boston and Texas would -- in a vacuum -- not be considered all that bad.

Since we don't live in a vacuum, the four losses on the trip all had their maddening aspect. Two walk-offs against the Red Sox and two blown leads late in Texas -- including yet another walk-off and a final at-bat win for the Rangers that was not a walk-off -- have to have the Tribe thinking that they could very well have gone 6-1 or even 7-0 during their hell-week trip to two of the AL's division leaders.

Be that as it may, here is a look at how the contenders stand as we enter the second week in August. And as every team has 50 or less games to go, it is time for the screws to tighten on whatever pretenders are still counted among those with a chance at the post-season.

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The American League has become, in essence, a seven-team battle for four playoff spots, and to be reasonable, two of those spots are as good as decided already.

The Boston Red Sox (70-43) and the New York Yankees (69-44) sit atop the AL East and -- barring some collapse -- should both easily qualify for the playoffs, either as division champion or as the American League Wild Card.

The Yankees at present sit seven games up for that Wild Card spot over their nearest competitor, the Los Angeles Angels.

Third place in the East belongs to Tampa Bay (59-54), but at ten games behind the Yankees, it is fair to say that only a miracle will get the Rays into October baseball.

The Central has basically become a three-team race, and even that is a bit of a stretch, with the Indians (56-56) and the White Sox (55-58) flirting with .500 while the Tigers (61-53) are starting to look like the team to beat. But the Indians will take on Detroit for three games beginning Tuesday night, and winning two of three at least would keep Cleveland within hailing distance of the lead. However, losing at least two of three would put the Tribe in a hole they might find it difficult to dig out of.

Let's just say it. For more reasons than just the standings, Cleveland must win at least two games, at home, against Detroit. And with Justin Verlander going in one of those games for the Tigers, the Indians cannot afford to slip against Detroit's "lesser" starters.

The White Sox will start a series at Baltimore on Monday, and should the Indians do some damage against Detroit and Chicago find a way to do similar damage to the Orioles, there would be a much more-believable three-team dogfight.

The AL West is as simple as the AL East -- two teams battling it out for the top spot, with everyone else as good as out of it.

The Rangers (64-51) lead the Angels (63-52) by a single game, and there is added pressure on both teams to win the division, for the reason cited earlier -- surely whoever finishes second cannot hope to catch the Yankees for the Wild Card and simultaneously not be good enough to win the West.

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The National League is at present basically a six-team race for four spots.

In the East, the Phillies (74-40) might as well start printing playoff tickets, as Philadelphia enjoys an 8.5 game lead on Atlanta (66-49). All other teams in the East might as well be in another time zone.

The Braves, albeit slipping out of contention for the East flag, lead in the NL Wild Card race, although by only 3.5 games over the Diamondbacks and by 4 over the Cardinals, so the NL looks as if it might be a whole lot more dramatic come late September as far as who will sneak into the playoffs without winning a division title.

The Central Division of the National League is morphing into a two-team race after being a four-team fight for a long time.

The Brewers (65-50) have a healthy three-game lead on the Cardinals (62-53). Next are the Reds, but at 9.5 games in arrears of Milwaukee, it is looking as if there will be a new champion in the Central in 2011. And the Pirates, having lost 10 in a row, might as well scuttle the ship of their playoff aspirations for this season.

The NL West is a two-team battle between the Giants (63-52) and the Diamondbacks (62-52), with the other three teams in the division pretty much buried.

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Be sure to check back on Friday when we update again. By then, with the (hopefully) dramatic happenings in the American League Central, we won't be talking about a Detroit runaway in the making.

Photographs by spatulated, Triple Tri, and chrischappelear used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.