With about a month left in the MLB season, it is time for the elite teams to separate themselves and prepare for a deep run in October. Today, let’s look at the six active division leaders and project what they might do come October. No team has clinched yet, but several teams have small magic numbers separating themselves from a division crown.
New York Yankees (5.0-Game Lead)
Despite having one of the worst records in baseball in the last few weeks, the Yankees are maintaining a lead in the AL East. While the pitching staff, bullpen, and Aaron Judge have maintained a high level of play, the bats have gone quiet in recent weeks. Matt Carpenter and Andrew Benintendi are on the injured list, and Giancarlo Stanton has not played well since returning from injury.
The allure with the Yankees the rest of the way is how they played in the first half of the season. They were on a ridiculous pace, showing how good the team can be. They have fallen off considerably, but the Yankees do have plenty of talent. In a playoff series, the Yankees would also have the best player in that series regardless of the opponent.
Cleveland Guardians (Tiebreaker)
The Guardians have been in a tailspin of late – winning just two of their last 10 games – but they hold the tiebreaker over the Minnesota Twins. Cleveland’s rough patch can be attributed to tough competition (including the Seattle Mariners), but the Guardians could stave off the Twins and Chicago White Sox for the last month.
Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale are dealing with injuries at the moment, but the Guardians have three capable starters and a lock-down bullpen. They have six relievers with at least 25 innings pitched and a sub-3.00 ERA with the elite duo of Emmanuel Clase and James Karinchak slamming the eighth and ninth innings shut. The Guardians could go deep in the playoffs in the same way that the 2014 and 2015 Kansas City Royals did.
Houston Astros (10.0-Game Lead)
The Astros are now the cream of the crop in the American League. They have a strong collection of hitters including MVP candidate Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Kyle Tucker. As a team, the Astros have an OPS+ of 110, 10% better than the MLB average this season. However, the pitching staff is even better.
The Astros have a dominant five-man rotation led by Justin Verlander. Verlander is an AL Cy Young front-runner, pitching to a 1.84 ERA. Behind him, the Astros sport Framber Valdez (146 ERA+), Jose Urquidy (109 ERA+), and Cristian Javier (125 ERA+). Even Luis Garcia has held his ERA below 4.00 across 135 innings. The bullpen has a bevy of strong arms including Ryne Stanek and Bryan Abreu.
New York Mets (1.0-Game Lead)
The Mets sit just one game ahead of the Atlanta Braves, but they do have the benefit of an easier schedule in the final month. The Mets have six hitters with an OPS+ of 120 or better, but they have had inconsistencies in the other three spots in the lineup. However, any Mets’ struggles have been relative. They are still second in the NL record-wise, and they have a 55.4% chance of winning the NL East.
The lineup might be nice, but the 1-2 punch in the rotation is historic. Jacob deGrom has a sub-2.00 ERA since coming back, and Max Scherzer will receive Cy Young votes despite missing time this year. Walking into a potential playoff series, the Mets will have the best two pitchers in the series, and they have a third good starter in Chris Bassitt (117 ERA+).
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St. Louis Cardinals (8.5-Game Lead)
The devil magic is in full effect in St. Louis. The Cardinals have perhaps the two scariest hitters in baseball with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. Tyler O’Neill has turned his season around after a slow start. Lars Nootbaar and Albert Pujols have also mashed in 250 plate appearances each. The Cardinals bring elite defense, baserunning, and clutch performance to the table.
The rotation is not quite as good as some of the competition, but the Cardinals do have veterans in Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright. Both pitchers have been effective, and they can pitch deep into games. Jack Flaherty is returning soon, giving the Cardinals three starters even if they cannot trust the resurgent Jordan Montgomery. At the end of the bullpen, Ryan Helsley has a sub-1.00 ERA.
Los Angeles Dodgers (19-Game Lead)
The Dodgers entered play on September 5 with a magic number of 10. They even have an eight-game lead on the best record in the NL, so they will be locking up home-field advantage through the NL playoffs by the end of September. The Dodgers are relentless with a slew of spectacular bats. Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman are as effective of a duo as it comes in baseball, and the likes of Will Smith and Trea Turner have been hitting above a 125 OPS+.
However, the pitching staff once again takes the cake. Even without Walker Buehler for the remainder of the season, the Dodgers have a team ERA+ of 147. Of the 21 pitchers to throw at least 10 innings, 20 have an ERA+ above 100. Not to be outdone, 12 of the 21 have an ERA+ above 150, including five pitchers who have made at least 10 starts. At least three Dodgers will earn Cy Young votes.
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