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September MLB: Race to the Playoffs

Sports

September MLB: Race to the Playoffs

Jack Gillespie

That time of the year again has arrived ‒ September baseball. It’s the final chance for teams to either solidify their lead in their division, fight for that lead, or squeeze into one of the two Wild Card spots for some chance at the playoffs. In 2017, we’re witnessing a lot of extremes in a lot of races ‒ whether it be the Dodgers’ close proximity to the all-time record for the most wins in the regular season or the absolutely frustrating madness that is the AL Wild Card race. So now that we are only 31 days away from the end of the regular season, it’s about time to look at all of the playoff contenders this year, whether they be shoo-ins or the teams holding onto those October dreams by a string.

 

Boston Red Sox

Record: 76-58

August Record: 18-9

Sox fans had a reason to be nervous in July: the offense was doing absolutely no favors for the pitching staff, giving them next to no run support. August has been an entirely different story. The additions and thriving of star prospect Rafael Devers and trade deadline acquisition Eduardo Núñez seems to have sparked Boston's small-ball offense. The solid rotation is finally getting the run support they deserve.

 

New York Yankees

Record: 71-62

August Record: 14-15

So Aaron Judge’s second half performance has been a massive disappointment after the insanity that was his first half. Pitchers eventually learn how to pitch to newcomers. It happens. But as long as other key contributors such as Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, continue to turn in quality performances, the Yanks can hold onto that Wild Card spot. Even if the Judge does not rise in the meantime.

 

Baltimore Orioles

Record: 68-66

August Record: 17-12

Over the last third of August, the Orioles showed just how easy it is to gain some major traction in the madness that is this year’s AL Wild Card Race. After a so-so first 20 games of the month, a seven-game winning streak that included the Seattle Mariners and the Boston Red Sox, who were on a red hot streak before said sweep, brought Baltimore only a few games back from the second Wild Card spot. Even if they’re starting pitching is some of the worst in the American League, a solid set of offensive powerhouses (Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones) and a grade-A have kept the O’s in the race by a thread.

 

Cleveland Indians

Record: 76-56

August Record: 19-9

This Indians team looks prime for redeeming themselves after losing a 3-0 game lead in last years World Series. Corey Kluber, the only other AL starter giving Chris Sale serious competition for the Cy Young Award, and Carlos Carrasco are the stars of the strongest rotation in the AL and young position players like Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor are providing on the offensive side of things.

 

Minnesota Twins

Record: 70-63

August Record: 20-10

Even if they don’t make the playoffs, the Twins still deserve the Most Improved Team Award. The transition from basement dwellers with a 59-103 record to legitimate playoff contenders exceeded all expectations. August has been their best month all season and with a multitude of <.500 teams populating their upcoming schedule, so there’s no reason to believe they will not continue to succeed.

 

Houston Astros

Record: 80-53

August Record: 11-17

Houston’s spot in the playoffs is all but confirmed; their insane 60-29 first half made sure of that. However, the disappointing skid they’ve gone through in August has woken people up from that pre-All Star Break fantasy. There is still hope for a resurgence in the last month of the regular season; Jose Altuve is still the leader in the AL MVP race, the offensive weapons around him are still extremely promising, and Dallas Keuchel has come through with some quality starts after a rough return from injury. The last-minute trade for former Tigers superstar Justin Verlander could be the trigger for a rebound within this last month until the playoffs.

 

Los Angeles Angels

Record: 69-65

August Record: 18-10

Is the return of Mike Trout the only reason for the resurgence of the Angels playoff dreams? Probably; he is the best player in baseball, after all. But that would discredit success stories like Andrelton Simmons. But in reality, aside from Trout and Simmons, the Angels are more than the sum of their parts. Very few players on the roster have stats that are begging for MVP or Cy Young Award votes, but the results are there.  

 

Washington Nationals

Record: 81-52

August Record: 18-11

It is insane that Washington has not only held their own but continued to dominate as the list of injured stars continues to grow. Adam Eaton, Ryan Madson, and Bryce Harper have yet to receive a specific return date, so possibilities of at least one missing some postseason time hangs over the team. But even with the loss of one of the best players of the game, remaining key players, surprise contributors, a terrifyingly good starting rotation and a massively improved bullpen still make the Nationals a team to be feared. Imagine what that team would look and play like with everyone healthy, which looks like the situation we might get with the playoffs.

 

Miami Marlins

Record: 66-67

August Record: 17-11

Of all the teams that would stand as one of the better playing teams in the 2nd half, the Marlins are one of the most unexpected. Though a lot of that momentum may be coming from Giancarlo Stanton’s insane August, a month in which he has hit so many home runs (18, to be exact), that the discussion of whether he’ll be breaking the record for most home runs hit by a non-roided player has been making traction. Add in a stellar season from Marcell Ozuna and solid seasons from Dee Gordon and Christian Yelich and you’ve got a team making the comparatively tamer NL Wild Card Race more interesting, as well as showing some great promise for 2018 if something is done about the average starting rotation during the offseason.
 

Chicago Cubs

Record: 73-60

August Record: 17-12

Ever since the beginning of the 2nd half, the Cubs have been on the edge of a 2nd half breakthrough. Things started off wonderfully with a 13-3 record in July after the All-Star Break, but then comes the much more grounded 17-12 August. The downtick in pitching quality from 2016 to 2017 is most likely the culprit. Jon Lester went from a 2.44 Earned Run Average (ERA) in 2016 to 4.37. John Lackey went from 3.35 to 4.98. Kyle Hendricks went from 2.13 to 3.45. If the Cubs want to keep that NL Central title and prove that they are here to stay as a force in the MLB, their key pitchers must return to anything close to their 2016 form.

 

Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 70-64

August Record: 15-11

One great thing about the 2017 Brewers is that they aren’t carried by one super-player ‒ they’re the anti-Angels. Travis Shaw might be having a very strong debut season with the Brewers and Corey Knebel might be one of the more dominant relief pitchers in the NL, but no player towers over the others. Though that might be a double-edged sword when consistency won’t cut it in the playoffs, and it especially won’t fly when there’s a three-game deficit to make up in the Wild Card race.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 91-41

August Record: 17-10

The Dodgers have be dominant in a degree that hasn’t been seen in a long time, and they will most likely continue to dominate. Their Clayton Kershaw-less starting rotation is still the most dominant in the National League. Their offense is firing on all cylinders thanks to the likes of NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner Cody Bellinger, underdog story of the year Justin Turner and a worthy sophomore season from 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager. There are next to no holes in their smooth-sailing ship. The question is if it’ll stay that way through the postseason and lead to the first Dodgers World Series win since 1988.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

Record: 76-58

August Record: 16-13

It would only make sense that Zack Greinke’s return to form after a so-so debut D-Backs season would run in tandem with the team’s return to playoff contention. Though that isn’t the only thing contributing to the team’s success. Their starting rotation is the one of the only ones in the MLB that can rival the likes of the Nationals and Paul Goldschmidt continues to be one of the best, most consistent players in the game.

 

Colorado Rockies

Record: 72-61

August Record: 12-15

The Rockies played many of their games in the infamously hitter-friendly Coors Field, so of course the team has its share of offensive giants, specifically RBI machine Nolan Arenado and NL Batting Average leader Charlie Blackmon. But credit is due for the starting rotation, most of whom only have 1-2 years in the MLB to their name, for holding down the fort in a home stadium that is a death sentence for pitchers. Whether they hold off the horde of NL Central teams and keep that second Wild Card spot may depend on that young rotation staying solid throughout a high-pressure September.