By Scott MacLean
There’s only a handful of weeks left in the Major League Baseball regular season. September is when the contenders battle it out for playoff places and the pretenders start looking towards next year as the rosters expand to a maximum of 40. It also comes on the backdrop of the trading period, the July 31 non-waiver deadline and the Aug 31 waiver deadline, which teams adding to their arsenal or shedding contracts for prospects.
The Houston Astros continue to lead the way in the West despite a blip that briefly saw the Los Angeles Angels pass them in the standings, but since August 1 they’ve put their foot down and already passing the win total I had them pegged for. Dallas Keuchel continues to churn out impressive starts and is the clear favourite for the AL Cy Young award, Carlos Correa will win the Rookie of the Year while Mike Fiers, acquired from Milwaukee along with outfielder Carlos Gomez, no-hit the Dodgers in only his second start for the club. The Texas Rangers made the big pickup of getting Cole Hamels from Philadelphia and have now sit second in the division and in the wildcard chase, while the Angels have slumped badly and need a rapid change to get back into contention. Hisashi Iwakuma may have thrown a no-hitter for the Seattle Mariners but their lost season has seen them fire GM Jack Zduriencik, while the Oakland Atheltics are playing out the string
In the Central the Kansas City Royals are a virtual lock for the division crown, sitting a commanding 13 games up, and made traded for former Reds ace Johnny Cueto and Oakland utilityman Ben Zobrist to fortify their lineup, while their defense and bullpen remain the best in the game. The Minnesota Twins, behind rookie slugger Miguel Sano, are in contention for the wildcard while its not beyond the realms of possibility that the Cleveland Indians or Chicago White Sox could salvage their seasons with a late run at the playoffs. An injury to superstar Miguel Cabrera in the weeks leading into the July deadline convinced the Detroit Tigers to sell rather than buy, with GM Dave Dombroski also leaving.
The East has come down to a slugfest between the two highest-scoring clubs in MLB. The Toronto Blue Jays are looking to end a playoff drought back to their second World Series crown in 1992 (the longest in the game) and are 1.5 games up on the New York Yankees though both seem certainties to reach the playoffs. While New York largely stood pat and Alex Rodriguez continues to defy Father Time, the Blue Jays went all in with blockbuster deals for Rockies icon Troy Tulowitzki and Tigers ace David Price, the former adding to a Murderers Row-esque lineup with Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson who has emerged as the MVP frontrunner. The Tampa Bay Rays continue to hang about on the fringes, helped by efforts like this, the Baltimore Orioles have been undone by a slumping offense, and despite only being outscored by Toronto and New York pitching continues to be the Boston Red Sox’s Achilles heel, something that contributed to the arrival of Dave Dombroski and departure of GM Ben Cherrington in the front office.
The West remains a battle of the old firm – the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants – but neither are in peak form. The Dodgers have been no-hit twice in the past fortnight and manager Don Mattingly continues to enrage fans by hitting Jimmy Rollins and his sub .300 on base percentage in the leadoff spot despite a host of other options. They did pick up Rollins’ long-time double play partner – Chase Utley – from Philadelphia but this team can’t continue to rely on aces Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke no matter how good they are. The Giants are again without outfielder Hunter Pence and again most of the burden has fallen on catcher Buster Posey to keep the offense afloat, and they need wins as they aride the playoff picture for now. After their busy offseason the San Diego Padres were oddly quiet on the trading front this time, and seem to be treading water for the rest of this year, the Arizona Diamondbacks are still in a retooling mode though Paul Goldschmidt is having another excellent season, while its another one of those years for the Colorado Rockies though they got a nice haul and salary relief from the Tulowitzki trade.
In the Central the St Louis Cardinals remorselessly continue on with the best record in the majors. The early season loss of ace Adam Wainright hasnt affected them and had the luxury of being able to add slugger Brandon Moss from Cleveland in a trade. The Pittsburgh Pirates are also almost-certainties for the postseason with their stars Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole at the forefront of that; they also made a nice pickup in Aramis Ramirez who returns to finish off where he played the first 5 seasons of his 17-year career. The Chicago Cubs are well in the mix for the second wildcard; Jake Arrieta leads the majors in wins and no-hit the Dodgers in his last outing and Kyle Schwarber has added his big bat to those employed by Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, but its a race to the bottom for the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinatti Reds, both of who offloaded contracts at the deadlines.
Lastly, the division where its been all change is out in the East. The New York Mets have blown past the Washington Nationals with their offense finally catching up to the standards of their pitching. A series of small moves by the Mets was followed up with the acquisition of slugger Yoenis Cespedes from Detroit and the return of David Wright from injury, though there was this bizarre incident of infielder Wilmer Flores in tears on the field thinking he was about to be traded – he wasnt as that deal fell through. The preseason World Series favourites, the Nationals troubles have mostly been to injury with Denard Span, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Stephen Strasburg all spending considerable time on the disabled list, and ruining the efforts of MVP frontrunner Bryce Harper and big offseason signing Max Scherzer. The Atlanta Braves have slumped badly as they deal in the expiring contracts market while its time to look at prospects for the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies.
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