The 2018 MLB season is winding down. But while we’re only one month away from the postseason, there’s still an awful lot to follow in September.
For the majority of the season, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have had baseball’s best records. Not surprisingly, each team gives us a lot to monitor over the final month, including their race against each other.
Much like the AL East, it’s a virtual certainty that two playoff teams will come out of the AL West. In all likelihood, those teams will be the Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics. But do the Seattle Mariners have one final push in them?
In the National League, the race far more is wide open. The postseason could feature a seemingly endless combination of teams. Plenty of them will give baseball fans something to watch.
As far as individuals go, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Aaron Nola are in a heated race for the NL Cy Young. Meanwhile, J.D. Martinez can do something that’s only been done once in the last 50 years. Nolan Arenado can do something not done in more than 80 years. Combined, the two can do something not done in even longer.
Fans of contenders and non-contenders alike have a lot to follow through the season’s final month. These are the most notable storylines to monitor.
All stats and records are accurate through play on Monday, August 27.
Will an AL East race materialize?
Both the Red Sox and Yankees are all but assured of a playoff spot. But only one will win the AL East (and likely finish with MLB’s best record). The other will be relegated to the dreaded Wild Card Game. Boston holds a 6.5-game lead over New York. That’s certainly sizable. But after action on August 18, the Sox were up 10.5 games. So, the Yankees have already made some significant ground up. The two teams play six more times, including three in Boston to end the year. The Red Sox will certainly want to have everything wrapped up before their biggest rivals roll into Fenway for that series.
Nolan Arenado’s quest to break 81-year drought
While Arenado doesn’t lead in any Triple Crown category, a strong September would give him a real chance at the Triple Crown. He’s only five batting average points, three home runs, and six RBI short of the NL lead in each category. It would be quite the historic achievement. While we wouldn’t call the Triple Crown common in the AL, five junior circuit players have won it since Joe “Ducky” Medwick won the senior circuit’s Triple Crown in 1937. For more historical perspective, Arenado is within striking distance of doing something that players like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Barry Bonds never did.
Can the Mariners add a wrinkle to AL playoff picture?
We don’t know the seeds, but it seems inevitable that the five AL playoff teams will be the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros, Athletics, and the Cleveland Indians. The Seattle Mariners are only team with any chance of breaking that up. Seattle trails Houston by seven in the AL West and is 5.5 behind Oakland for the second wild card spot. But with seven games against the A’s and three against the Astros remaining, the Mariners do have a degree of control in this race. Does this team have a run in it? Or, will the longest active postseason drought in North America’s major leagues be extended?
Orioles try to avoid futility record
Since 1900, only 10 MLB teams have lost 110 or more games in a season. Both the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals have a real shot at that. In fact, Baltimore has a chance to make even more history, albeit of the wrong kind. The O’s are presently on pace to lose 115 games. Only three teams since 1900 have hit that mark. With a tough finishing stretch (including a brutal final stretch against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros), the single-season loss records for both the American League (119) and MLB (120) are both very much in play.
Which prospects will we see?
For fans of non-contending teams, September often lacks real excitement. But there are some teams that have, or at least can have, something to look forward to in the way of prospects coming up with the roster expansion. The White Sox have already seen Michael Kopech in Chicago. Eloy Jimenez should be next. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. absolutely needs to be with the Toronto Blue Jays. The San Diego Padres will see Luis Urias could see their primary return in the Brad Hand trade with Francisco Mejia. So, even if your team is well out of contention, September could offer a lot.
Cleveland trying to avoid complacency
The Indians are going to win the AL Central with ample room to spare. This seems like a blessing. Cleveland will get to spend the final month of the year resting players, getting healthy, and setting the rotation however it wants. What could go wrong? Well, teams who clinch early often struggle in the playoffs. While they still play everyday, early clinchers frequently have a hard time getting back into playing meaningful games after playing what essentially amounts to exhibition games for so long. For the Indians, a team getting over disappointing playoff trips in 2016 and 2017, maintaining that edge will be important.
Who will emerge in the cluttered NL playoff race?
The Chicago Cubs have plenty of cushion to at least be a wild card team. So, let’s assume that they’ll make the playoffs. That leaves the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks, Milwaukee Brewers, Colorado Rockies, Philadelphia Phillies, and Los Angeles Dodgers battling for the other four spots. The best and worst of those teams (Atlanta and Los Angeles) are separated by only 3.5 games. The Braves or Phillies will win the NL East while the D-Backs, Rockies, or Dodgers will win the NL West. That leaves five teams fighting for two wild card spots. If nothing else, it promises to be interesting.
Health of Chris Sale
It seems likely that Sale will return to the Boston rotation soon. Sale getting back is one thing. But it’s not as important as him staying healthy. Sale has made two trips to the DL this year. So, a little caution is normal. Additionally, even if the health is no longer a concern, it’s important that he gets back to top form. Sale is the guy who can match up with another team’s ace. He can give the Red Sox a big edge in Game 1 of the ALDS when the Wild Card Game winner won’t have its best starter available until Game 3. As good as Boston is, moving through a top heavy AL will be quite difficult without him at his best.
Which version of the Cardinals will show up?
No team in the aforementioned cluttered NL playoff race is as interesting as St. Louis. The Cards have gone 19-5 in August. If they keep that pace up, they’ll not only cruise to a playoff spot, but could challenge the Cubs in the NL Central. On the other hand, St. Louis was 54-53 entering August. So, what are we to trust? The smaller but more recent sampling? Or, the slightly less recent, but far bigger one that we saw for four months? Given the number of teams that the Cards are competing with, plenty of fan bases will be looking towards St. Louis with great interest in September.
Will a leader emerge in the three-way NL Cy Young race?
It’s all but certain that the NL Cy Young winner will come from the NL East. A trio of aces, Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola, New York Mets starter Jacob deGrom, and winner of the last two NL Cy Youngs, Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer are the primary candidates. Will the race remain open? Or, will one of these three emerge as the leader in the race over the final month? Right now, it’s hard to separate these guys. deGrom’s 1.71 ERA gives him an edge here. Scherzer leads the way in strikeouts and WHIP. Nola gets an edge if you prefer to see someone on a contender. Their remaining starts will certainly be worth watching.
When will Aaron Judge return?
The Yankees are likely to get both Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez back quickly. The return of Judge, however, remains something of a mystery. Obviously, Judge’s return would help New York in its quest to chase down Boston. But regardless of whether that happens, a healthy Judge will be important to the Yankees’ playoff hopes. The New York lineup is deep, but it’s been a little inconsistent in Judge’s absence. The last thing the Yankees want to do is head into the playoffs facing the likes of Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, or the slew of elite AL relievers, with a wounded offense.
J.D. Martinez vies for the triple crown
Arenado is not the only man with a chance to win a Triple Crown. In fact, Martinez’s chances for the American League Triple Crown are even more realistic. The Red Sox slugger leads the junior circuit in both batting average and RBI and is only one home run behind Oakland’s Khris Davis. Should Martinez do it, he’d join Miguel Cabrera as the only hitters from either league to win the Triple Crown since 1967. If both Martinez and Arenado pull it off, it’ll be only the second time in MLB history (Jimmie Foxx and Chuck Klein in 1933) that each league had a Triple Crown winner in the same season.