The calendar has flipped to September, and for fans of Major League Baseball, the most exciting time of the year has arrived. Here are some of the major storylines to follow in the final month of the season as teams look to forge their roads to October.
Dodgers on historic pace
As much as it pains me to credit the Los Angeles Dodgers on a tremendous season, there is nothing one can do other than be impressed with what they have achieved. An Aug. 2 article from Fangraphs.com projected the final win total, and the results were staggering. Even if Los Angeles played just better than .500, they would finish with 102 wins. On the other extreme, if the following eight weeks ended the same as the eight weeks prior (46-11 over a 57 game stretch), they would finish with 120 wins, besting the 2001 Seattle Mariners for most wins in a 162 game season.
Offensively, Los Angeles is not necessarily the best team, but they certainly do enough to win ball games. The team sits in fifth in the National League in terms of runs scored and home runs. Rookie sensation Cody Bellinger leads the way with 35 homers, second in the National League only to Giancarlo Stanton’s 52 for the Miami Marlins.
If the Dodgers are going to make history, their pitching is going to have to continue the way it has all season. The team currently has the best earned run average in all of baseball at 3.20 and the most strikeouts in the National League at 1273. And what makes this more impressive is that number one starter Clayton Kershaw spent six weeks on the disabled list with a back issue.
The Dodgers are all in, having acquired Yu Darvish from the Texas Rangers and made minor bullpen moves to add reinforcements. This team is all in for the playoffs, and winning over 100 games will mean nothing without a World Series title.
Houston May Win the American League Arms Race
The Houston Astros started the season as the American League equivalent of the Dodgers, seizing control of the American League West early and never looking back. Houston can rake, leading the American League in runs scored, batting average, slugging percentage and on base percentage, as well as being second in homers. Even with a rash of injuries in the lineup, especially to star shortstop Carlos Correa, offense was not in short supply.
Pitching was a much bigger issue, certainly one that needed to be addressed at the Trade Deadline. When a deal was not reached, the front office was lambasted by sports writers and even by number one starter Dallas Keuchel, and rightfully so. The Cleveland Indians boast arguably the best rotation in the American League with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. If the Astros wanted to keep up and win the pennant, they needed that frontline starter to put them over the top.
That move came at the Waiver Trade deadline, when they sent three prospects to the Detroit Tigers for Justin Verlander, who makes his debut with the team on Tuesday against Seattle. Verlander sports a 2.41 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 67 innings of work since the All Star break.
Intrigue in the Wild Card:
The playoff picture is mostly squared away, with a little intrigue remaining in the National League Central (provided that the Chicago Cubs cool and the Milwaukee Brewers catch fire). However, there is one playoff race that remains tense: the American League Wild Card.
As it stands, the New York Yankees hold the top spot and will host the play-in game, with the winner likely headed to either Cleveland or Houston. The Minnesota Twins, who had a lead in the Central before the Indians caught fire and claimed their spot at the top, would meet them in the Bronx.
Of course, nothing is set in stone. Six different teams sit within four games of the second spot, and even the Twins are only a game back of the Yankees for the top spot. That being said, only the Los Angeles Angels got aggressive at the waiver deadline. They started by adding left fielder Justin Upton in a trade with the Tigers to fill the gaping hole in left that has plagued them. On top of that, they filled the second biggest need in the lineup by pilfering second baseman Brandon Phillips from the Atlanta Braves. If any team is going to surprise people, it will be them.
It is a bittersweet time for a baseball fan. The season is almost over, but the excitement is just starting to pick up.