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September Stretch Run Primer

August 31, 2018

 

September baseball is upon us. As races wind down, there are a number of divisions that could come right down until the final games on September 30. One or both of the wild cards could also provide drama. So here, I’ll setup the divisions and wild cards for the final month from the least competitive to possibly the most exciting race.

 

Done Deal: AL Central

The Indians lead what is arguably the worst division in baseball. They lead the Minnesota Twins by 14 games while owning the 5th best record in the American League. The bottom 3 teams, the Tigers, Royals, and White Sox all have 54 wins or less, with the Royals having won only 42 contests this year. The Indians will win this lackluster division and will travel to the number 2 division winner to begin October.

 

Enough of a Gap: AL East

The Red Sox, in record and eye test, have been the best team in baseball all year. The Yankees own the second best record in the majors. The Yankees sit 8 games back of the Red Sox in the division. Making up 8 games in a month is not impossible, but doing it against the best team in baseball is a tall task. The Yankees sit comfortably in a wild card spot, 4 games up for the hosting slot. The urgency to win the division comes from wanting to avoid the aptly named wild card game. Unfortunately the Yankees may be too far back to really challenge the Red Sox in September.

 

Need a Charge: AL Wild Card

As mentioned above, the Yankees sit comfortably in the wild card game. The second slot is occupied by the surprising Oakland A’s who sit at 80 wins. Behind them is the Mariners, 5.5 games out currently. The gap has been steady for a couple weeks after the A’s surged to challenge the Astros for the division lead. The Mariners have cooled significantly since they were the team alongside the Astros at the top of the AL West. The Mariners have lost too many series as of late to warrant confidence in another surge. Perhaps they turn it around, but with a shaky bullpen outside of closer Edwin Diaz and ace James Paxton shelved for now, the prospects of a run don’t look particularly good. The series between the A’s and M’s this weekend at O.Co will tell a lot about the Mariners’ chances.

 

Scheduling Matters

NL East

Our first NL race on the list, the Braves lead the Phillies by 3 games heading into the final month and one day. What makes this race intriguing is the Phillies’ schedule for their final 29 games. 15 are at home with series against the Cubs, Nationals, Marlins, Mets, and Braves. The Phightin’ Phils have a .636 home winning percentage. The remaining 14 road contests could prove crucial to two races. The Phillies have a measly .433 road win mark. The first 6 games are against the Marlins and Mets which may allow them to better their road mark. But the last 8 come on a road trip to Atlanta and Denver. That is sandwiched in the middle of a 17 game in 17 day stretch to close the season, including the closing series against the Braves in Philadelphia. The 8 games are games 7-14 of that stretch. The Phillies could play themselves out of a potential playoff spot with a poor showing against their division rivals and wild card contenders. 

 

NL Central

This race features three horses, with one horse about a length lead coming into the stretch. The Cubs lead the Cardinals by 4.5 games and the Brewers by 5. But the schedules of these three teams are very much intertwined. The Brewers and Cubs meet for 6 games, 3 in each city, in the first two weeks of September. The Cardinals and Cubs finish the season with a three game set. The Cardinals and Brewers also meet for three in the penultimate series of the year. Both the Cubs and Cardinals must deal with non-divisional playoff contenders as well. The Cubs face both the Phillies and Diamondbacks on the road this month, while the Cardinals welcome the Dodgers to Busch Stadium for 4 games. Meanwhile, the best non-division team the Brewers will face is the Nationals who sit at .500, and that series starts tonight. And while the Cards and Cubs duke it out with each other on the final weekend, the Brewers welcome the lowly Tigers for 3 games at Miller Park. The Cubs prerogative is to keep the other two teams at arms length to keep the race from going down to the last weekend, but the schedules favor the Brewers making a push in September.

 

Neck and Neck: AL West

The most competitive AL race features two teams who have already wrapped up their season series. The Astros and A’s are separated by 2.5 games at the moment. The A’s were briefly tied with the Astros after a thrilling pair of games between the two a couple of weeks ago, but the Astros have gained some separation since. The Astros have one of the more complete rosters in baseball while the A’s have newfound concern with their ace Sean Manaea who is dealing with arm issues currently. They still have arguably the best bullpen in the majors, but catching and passing the Astros for good will require some help from Houston themselves. Their toughest remaining series are at home against the D-Backs and a three game set in Boston the second weekend of September. The A’s, meanwhile, finish a four game set with the Mariners and host the Yankees for three to open the month. The A’s need all their magic to win the division.

 

Throw a Blanket on Them

NL West

What could have been a four team race has turned into only (I say only sarcastically) three teams. The Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Dodgers all sit within a game of each other. The Dodgers just kicked off a 4 game set with Arizona in Dodger Stadium. They’ll meet again in the last weekday series of the year for three. The Rockies host the Dodgers for 3 right before welcoming the D-Backs for 4. Then after a weekend series in San Francisco, the Rockies continue their road trip with 6 games in 7 days at Chavez Ravine and Chase Field. This is an even better version of the NL Central race. Throw in series against other playoff capable teams for each and the spoiler-happy West rivals the Giants and Padres, and this race is going to be wild.

 

NL Wild Card

For probably the most wild postseason race, look no further than the National League Wild Card race. So each division in the league is still up for grabs. And all of the current division chasers are within 3.5 games of each other, with the Phillies sitting 3.5 behind the current 1st spot holding Cardinals. The Cards, Brewers, Rockies, Dodgers, and Phillies each play at least two other contenders in the month of September. Add to the mix the Diamondbacks who hold precariously to the NL West lead, the Braves who have the same record as the Brewers, and even the Cubs, should they sputter in the final month. Five spots for eight teams. Two Central teams could get berths in the Wild Card, two West teams, or an East team leaving one spot for four teams in two divisions. The intertwining of the schedules of all these contenders means this is going to be a very exciting September to watch in the National League. Teams will breath sighs of relief or be left at home bitterly disappointed.

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