You can't quite see it from here, but the finish line is about to appear in the distance for baseball's oversized pack of contenders.
The collapses by the Red Sox and Braves last season caution against reaching any conclusions at this point. But for the sake of a snapshot, if nothing else, let's consider the wildest race that is approaching.
That's the battle for the American League's two wild-card spots.
We'll assume the Yankees and Rangers are going to win their divisions. That leaves five teams fighting for two wild-card spots or, from the perspective of the White Sox and Tigers, who are battling for the Central title, six teams for three spots.
Either way, it's an uncomfortable situation for all six teams: White Sox, Tigers, A's, Angels, Orioles and Rays. Those teams were divided by only two games at one point last week, and here's how I rank them based on the same type of statistical analysis used to predict postseason results.
The system favors teams that prevent runs over ones those that score runs and those that are playing better in the second half than in the first. That points to two wild-card teams from the West, although there's not much separation among the top four teams.
1. A's They're not that bad at scoring runs credit middle-of-the-order hitters Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and 25-year-old first baseman Chris Carter (10 homers in his first 90 at-bats since being promoted) but their key is defensive stinginess. The Rays are the only team with a lower ERA from starters. The A's bullpen is strong and the defense is solid.
2. Angels Something doesn't feel right with this team. It has been straining to meet expectations all season and the bullpen is a mess. But Mike Trout is the most exciting player in the majors, and Albert Pujols is once again looking like, well, Albert Pujols.
The Angels are outscoring everyone else since the All-Star break, and they have a likely Cy Young winner in Jered Weaver.
3. Tigers They were 39-42 on July 3 but put together a 21-8 run to remind us why so many people figured they'd represent the A.L. in the World Series. Manager Jim Leyland is right to tout Miguel Cabrera as an MVP candidate, and the rotation with Justin Verlander is starting to click. The bullpen has been a problem, as are unearned runs (only the Orioles have allowed more in the A.L.).
4. White Sox Among these six contenders, Robin Ventura's team is the most balanced and catches the ball the best. The team's calling card has become solid, fundamental play and the strength of Chris Sale and Jake Peavy at the front of the rotation. The lineup has no major holes, but Paul Konerko's slide from .399 on May 27 to .316 entering the weekend is a troubling trend.
5. Rays Evan Longoria's return could prove to be a catalyst. But the lineup looks too thin to support a pitching staff that is the best among these teams. The Rays are third-worst in the A.L. in scoring and made only a minor acquisition to try to get better, adding Ryan Roberts to play third while Longoria serves as the designated hitter.
6. Orioles Buck Showalter says his team has been defying statistical analysts all year, and he's right. It went into the weekend with a run differential of minus-53, which should have it last in the A.L. East. The Pythagorean standings give Showalter a plus-9, which is off the charts. Winning the close games has been the Orioles' key, but among these contenders, only the Angels have worse stats for pitching and defense.
The Nationals are both good and well-behaved. They were the only big-league team that went into the weekend without an ejection this season. The Tigers had the majors' most ejections with nine, which includes four of Leyland.
Reds prospect Billy Hamilton could lead both the Class-A California League and Double-A Southern League in stolen bases. Though he didn't join the Pensacola Blue Wahoos until July 11, he had 31 steals through Friday, only 10 behind league leader Josh Prince. Hamilton stole 104 bases for Bakersfield.
When not monitoring Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg's innings pitched, take a look at his batting average. It's .316, despite Friday's 0-for-3 effort against the Diamondbacks.
Yes, the Diamondbacks are playing a doubleheader at Chase Field, their retractable-roof stadium. The Aug. 22 affair is the result of a scheduling error that had the team playing more than the maximum 20 days without an off day.
The last word
"I do scoreboard watch. I wonder how the Angels are doing every day." Angels manager Mike Scioscia.