We’re headed into the final month of the season, so it’s time to take inventory of MLB division races. With about 30 games left to play, there are a few races that are essentially wrapped up, but there’s still some excitement to be had. Let’s explore the landscape of playoff and Wild Card races as it presently stands. (Information current as of 10 pm ET Friday night.)
National League Races
The NL West is all but wrapped up. Heading into Friday’s games, the LA Dodgers hold a whopping 19.0-game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks, so it feels like a safe bet to say that the Dodgers will win their seventh division title in a row. The rest of the NL West is competing for a spot in the Wild Card Game.
A three-team race, the NL Central could be the most compelling division in baseball for the month of September. As we sit today, the St. Louis Cardinals cling to the division lead with the Chicago Cubs 1.0 game back and the Milwaukee Brewers 6.0 games back.
It doesn’t seem like the Brewers will have an opportunity to string together enough wins to make a push for the division. Since the All-Star Break, Milwaukee has been a .500 team and the schedule is not particularly favorable to open the final month of the season. Seven of the Brewers’ first nine September games are against the Cubs, and the other two are against the Houston Astros. There’s a change the Brewers could find themselves in an insurmountable hole by the time the schedule lets up and they face the likes of the Miami Marlins, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Colorado Rockies. But pay attention to the Brewers, because if they can string together a few wins during that early nine-game stretch, there’s a chance they could surge to division title.
St. Louis has an opportunity to build on its lead to start the month. With 14 consecutive games against sub-.500 teams, there’s a legitimate possibility the team could go 11-3. However, the scheduling adjusts back to the mean for the Cardinals and they have to finish the season with series against the Cubs twice, Brewers, and Nationals with the Diamondbacks peppered in that final week of the season for good measure. There’s a real possibility the Cardinals could end with a 19-11 record over the final stretch and that might not be enough.
Of their 30 remaining games, the Cubs have the most favorable schedule with 16 games against teams under .500 that include the Reds, Pirates, Padres, and a pair with the Seattle Mariners. If the Cubbies’ can go 20-10 over the final month, I like their chances of overtaking St. Louis and claiming their third division title in four years.
The Atlanta Braves currently hold a 5.5-game lead over the Washington Nationals. The odds are by far in the Braves’ favor, who have 27 games remaining with 13 against teams under .500. To pile on, Atlanta’s final eight games are against the San Francisco Giants, Kansas City Royals, and New York Mets, so I don’t see the final stretch of the calendar causing any major problems.
The Nationals could conceivably make a run at the Braves with six quick games against the likes of the Marlins and Mets. However, the Nats have to go on the road to face the Minnesota Twins, Braves, and Cardinals. By the time the Nationals return home for their final eight games, this race could be over. I have the Braves taking the NL East handily.
American League Races
The Houston Astros are up on the Oakland A’s by just 9.0 games, but it feels like a million because the Astros are just that much better than the rest of the AL West. They pretty much had their third consecutive division title wrapped up at the All-Break Break.
The AL Central is another division that doesn’t feel particularly close. The Twins are up on the Cleveland Indians by just 3.5 games, but it feels like it should be more than that because of the way the Twins are winning. Minnesota scores, and scores a lot. It doesn’t seem like this freight train is slowing down anytime soon so I don’t see the Indians catching the Twins.
The New York Yankees own the NL East with an 11.0-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays. As well as the Rays have played this season, there’s no chance they catch New York. With their first division title since 2012 essentially in hand, the Yankees will quickly shift their focus to ending another draught. If the Yankees don’t make the World Series, this would be the first decade since their inception that the Bronx Bombers didn’t make an appearance in the Fall Classic.
Wild Card Races
NL Wild Card
There’s nothing like a consolation bracket to give you hope after you’ve been steamrolled in division play. That being said, I believe the Nationals will secure the first Wild Card slot because of the fervor with which they’ll be pursuing the Braves. So, the race is on between whomever comes in second in the NL Central and the Philadelphia Phillies for the second spot in the Wild Card Game.
I hold true to the belief that the Cubs will take the NL Central, so that leaves the Cardinals playing for the Wild Card. Put simply, the Phillies do not have a nearly as favorable schedule as the Cardinals and will have a tough time climbing back from the current 4.0-game deficit. With a favorable schedule and the urgency to win games in the NL Central race, I have St. Louis edging Washington for the second spot in the Wild Card race.
AL Wild Card
The AL Wild Card race is heating up and looks like it’ll make for a great way to punctuate the season. The Indians currently sit atop the Wild Card standings with a 1.5-game lead over the A’s, but the Rays are hanging tough after a brutal 4-6 stretch last week.
The Indians have the most difficult stretch to close out the schedule with half their games coming against quality opponents, so I don’t foresee Cleveland keeping things together for that tough of a gauntlet and they likely fall out of the top two spots.
The Rays have a favorable slate with just 11 games against winning teams, but four of those games come at home against the Boston Red Sox and you’re never sure which version of the Red Sox will make the trip to St. Petersburg. With a favorable schedule, the Rays will go on a run and take a Wild Card spot.
Despite everything, Oakland has managed to stay strong in the hunt for a Wild Card berth. The A’s finish out the season with the easiest schedule of the trio and need only to make it through a three-game set in New York before playing the rest of the way against sub-.500 teams.
So, I’ll take Oakland and Tampa Bay in my AL Wild Card Game with the Rays sticking to the A’s in a one-game series.