With the calendar turning to September, baseball begins to heat up (In a real bummer for the MLB, football also starts…). The division and wildcard races begin to crystallize in ways the casual fan can grab hold of and the excitement of each game, inning and pitch begins to build to October’s crescendo.
The excitement will largely come from the wildcard race as only two divisions are within five games. In the AL, The Indians have put together a win streak that has effectively wrapped up the Central, while the Astros have cruised their way to a West title (the Justin Verlander acquisition is just gravy. In the NL, the Dodgers have run rampant out West and the Nationals have been dominant in the East. If you strain your eyes a little bit, you can see drama in the AL East and the NL Central. The Red Sox have a 4.5 game lead on the Yankees and the two don’t meet after the first weekend of September. The Brewers have hung tough after relinquishing their surprising division lead to the Cubs, but will need to dominate the teams’ seven meetings in September to have a realistic chance of catching the reigning champs.
For the true races, turn your eyes to the wildcards. All season, the Diamondbacks and Rockies seemed to have a stranglehold on the NL wildcards, but the Rockies have faltered. While the Diamondbacks are still comfortably ahead of the pack, the Rockies have just a 1.5-game cushion on the Brewers, while the Cardinals and Marlins are lurking at 4 and 5 games back respectively.
The Rockies have 11 tough games with the Diamondbacks or Dodgers ahead of them so will need to capitalize on their opportunities against the division bottom feeders—the Padres and Giants. They also host the Marlins at the end of September in a series that could have huge implications. Speaking of the Marlins, they also have a series with the Brewers, if Miami can play well in those two big series, they give themselves a chance to make a run against the weaker NL East teams they face.
In the Central, if the Brewers fare well against the Cubs they’ll have a good chance to catch the Rockies and they play both the Marlins and Cardinals down the stretch so have chances to control their own fate. As for the Cardinals, they will need to chase down the Brewers and hope the Rockies continue their slide. St. Louis has a very similar schedule to Milwaukee so must play it better and then look to lock up a payoff spot in the final series of the year when they host the Brewers.
The AL wildcard is much harder to pin down. This race has been tight all year, and after September’s first weekend 8 teams are still within five games of the playoffs. The Yankees lead the way and the Twins are just a game back in the second slot. The Angels, Orioles, Mariners, Rays, Rangers and Royals are all lurking. Several of these teams play each other coming down the stretch and it should be the defining race of the season. I’ll dive into it more next week, but fat the moment I see the Angels catching the Twins and joining the Yankees in the playoffs.
Series to watch this week (9/4-9/10):
Yankees @ Orioles
Twins @ Rays
Brewers @ Cubs
Twins @ Royals
Angels @ Mariners
Rockies @ Dodgers