We’re roughly two months away from the beginning of the MLB Playoffs. Between now and then, which stories are worth watching the closest?
The Dodgers are all but locked into the best record in baseball. So, what are they playing for? What about their star rookie, Cody Bellinger? Are the Cubs really well positioned for another World Series run? What kind of history are the Houston Astros chasing? Is one of the best rivalries in baseball getting a much-needed revival? Will we see a rematch between two players who don’t seem to care for each other too much?
What are MLB’s juiciest storylines to watch over the 2017 season’s final two months?
Dodgers going for history
Three of MLB’s six division leaders have massive leads. But while the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros are really just going through the motions over the final two months and trying to stay healthy, the Los Angeles Dodgers are playing for history.
Los Angeles is currently on pace to win 113-114 games, depending on which way you want to round. Only three teams have won that many games. Moreover, the Dodgers are within range to challenge the single-season record of 116. Los Angeles is a team with few holes. A 41-14 mark will be tough, but not at all impossible.
Is the Cubs’ rebirth for real?
The Chicago Cubs will not win 103 games again. They will not have home-field advantage against teams like the Nationals and Dodgers. The Cubs have found a magic form in the second half, going 14-4 since the All-Star Break. The question now is, is it for real?
Chicago has been inconsistent for most of the season with the current run being the only sustained excellence for the team. If the Cubs keep playing well, they’re a threat to beat both Washington and Los Angeles. If not, backing into the playoffs and losing in the first round is likely the best-case scenario.
Rejuvenation of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry
The rivalry between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox has been largely dormant for nearly a decade. One or both of the teams has failed to qualify for the playoffs in each of the last seven seasons. But both teams are good in 2017.
New York and Boston are battling for the American League East crown, with the loser stuck in the single-elimination American League Wild Card Game or missing the playoffs completely. The two teams play each other 10 more times before the season’s end. So, get ready for some intense games.
Crazy American League Wild Card chase
Of course, we’re not totally guaranteed to have either New York or Boston in the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Rays are only 3.5 games behind the Red Sox for first place in the American League East. The Yankees hold the top Wild Card spot by two games over the Kansas City Royals, but have four teams (plus the Royals) within five games. Seven teams are within five games of Kansas City for that second Wild Card spot. There’s going to be a lot of scoreboard watching in the junior circuit over these next couple months.
Max Scherzer and Chris Sale pursue strikeout history
The 300-strikeout season has largely gone the way of the dodo bird. Clayton Kershaw did top 300 K’s in 2015, but that was the first time it happened since 2002. In fact, other than Kershaw, the last man besides Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling or Pedro Martinez to strike out 300 hitters in a season was Nolan Ryan in 1989.
Both Scherzer and Sale are on pace to record 300-plus strikeouts. Sale would be the first American Leaguer to do so since Martinez in 1999. If both top 300, it would be the first time two men have topped that barrier since Johnson and Schilling in 2002.
Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge pursuing rookie record
Bellinger and Judge will be the Rookies of the Year. But both are in hot pursuit of Mark McGwire’s 30-year-old record of 49 home runs for a rookie. Judge is on pace to break it. Bellinger is just behind that pace, despite not debuting until late April. The long ball has experienced a revival in recent years and in 2017, two rookies are doing a lot to show that big home run totals are back and here to stay.
High-profile managers fighting for their jobs
In this decade, Bruce Bochy has led the San Francisco Giants to three World Series titles in four playoff appearances. Mike Matheny has taken the St. Louis Cardinals to a National League pennant, three NLCS appearances and four playoff spots. Terry Collins has led the New York Mets to a National League pennant and two playoff spots.
And if any of their jobs are safe, the front offices of those teams are not paying attention. The list doesn’t stop there. John Farrell, Jeff Bannister and John Gibbons could all be at risk if their teams struggle down the stretch.
Will the Houston Astros be the most powerful team in history?
The 1997 Seattle Mariners had a lot of thump. Led by the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner and Paul Sorrento, the Mariners slugged a record 264 home runs. It’s a record that’s stood for 20 years and one that could fall in 2017.
Through 107 games, the Astros have 174 home runs, which puts them on pace for 263. Incidentally, Houston already holds the National League record of 249, which was set in 2000, 13 years before switching leagues. The Nationals are on pace for 245, so that record could fall, as well.
Might we get a Hunter Strickland vs. Bryce Harper rematch?
At the beginning of the year, the August 11-13 series between the Giants and Nationals in Washington looked to have potential playoff ramifications. It hasn’t worked out that way.
San Francisco has been dreadful and even getting swept wouldn’t do much to Washington’s playoff standing. But, could we get more hostility from Hunter Strickland and Bryce Harper? The two were front and center for one of MLB’s most noteworthy incidents in 2017. Both being in the same park will make an otherwise bland series potentially eventful.
Status of Miami Marlins sale
There’s been a lot of change, but the sale of the Marlins has brought some high-profile names together. At one point, Derek Jeter and Jeb Bush were partnered. After that group fizzled, Pitbull and Jeb Bush formed a pair. Tagg Romney and Tom Glavine were also working together at one point.
But with four months of the season down, nothing has happened. MLB wanted to have the sale done by the time Miami hosted the All-Star Game. Baseball certainly wants the Marlins’ ownership situation settled by the time the offseason gets underway.
Will we see young White Sox?
Over the last year, the Chicago White Sox have acquired a slew of young talent. Naturally, that brings up a question. When will we see these prospects in the show? In some cases, it will be a while. In others, like Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech and Carson Fulmer, the promotions could be fairly imminent.
Acquiring the young talent is one thing but for it to be really meaningful, that talent will have to produce at the MLB level. September could give us a look at how well these kids might do that.
Brewers emerging as legit contenders?
If we’re being honest, the Milwaukee Brewers will not compete with the Cubs in 2017 if Chicago continues to play at its current pace. But as we addressed, the Cubs have been inconsistent this year. If that happens again, can the Brewers take advantage? Can they make a run at the Wild Card?
Even if both answers is no, it will be telling to see how some of the young Milwaukee players (like Lewis Brinson) play for the rest of the season. That will tell us if we should take the Brewers seriously in 2018 as a threat to Chicago.
Can the Rockies and Diamondbacks hold on to the Wild Card spot
Two of baseball’s more surprising contenders have been the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks. The Dodgers have pulled away from both in the NL West, but the two are on track to meet in the Wild Card Game. So, can two teams that haven’t played meaningful baseball in several years maintain a high level of play in the playoff race?
Also, where will that game be? Home field isn’t always a huge deal in baseball but when one option is Coors Field, it becomes massive. These two battling it out for the right to host that game will be darn entertaining.
Waiver trade possibilities
The non-waiver deadline has come and gone but trades can still be made. The Detroit Tigers have already placed Justin Verlander on revocable waivers. Other names worth watching include but are not limited to Johnny Cueto and Jose Bautista.
As teams continue to fall out of the playoff race, look for even more high-priced veterans to be put on waivers, opening the doors for more activity. We’ve come to think of July 31 as the big deadline with the second Wild Card spot keeping more teams in races, the August 31 deadline will become increasingly important.