With just under two months left in the MLB season, things are heating up.
As the dog days of July fade away, the playoff contenders are coming more into focus. Other teams are fighting for pride and searching for prospects to help in the future.
Nonetheless, here are four stories from this season and races to watch down the stretch.
Home Runs (Lots of Them)
At this point, MLB’s home run problem is common knowledge.
On one hand, pitchers are publicly commenting on the changing baseball dynamics. Tighter laces mean more home runs despite Rob Manfred’s lack of knowledge towards the changed baseballs,
However, I don’t think this many pitchers would have come out and lied about the baseballs changing if it wasn’t true.
On the other hand, fans love to watch home runs. Nine out of ten times fans would rather watch an 11-9 game than a 3-1 game.
So why do something about the home runs if the fans are happy?
Numbers for home runs, fly balls, and hard-hit percentage are up across the board. Since 2015, the number of fly balls has increased by 2%, while the fly balls at over 100 mph have doubled over the four-year span.
Sure, part of this could be the changing physical dynamics of the ball.
The more likely scenario though is how the game has adapted. As shifts become more commonly employed, averages go down.
Batters have three likely outcomes now. Walks, singles or home runs.
This season has evidenced the continued evolution of the MLB.
AL Wild Card Race
Since the one-game wild-card playoff was established by the MLB in 2012, it has been a hit. More teams have a realistic shot at being part of the postseason, making for more entertaining regular seasons.
With the Yankees and Astros holding firm division leads, while the Twins continue to keep the Indians at bay, Cleveland and Tampa Bay currently sit in position for this year’s game.
Meanwhile, Oakland sits only a half-game behind Tampa Bay as they go through their annual hot second half. All three teams will duke it out during the remainder of the season.
In recent weeks, however, the Boston Red Sox may have put themselves in too deep of a hole. Sitting at 6.5 games behind Tampa Bay, life came at them fast.
Riding a three-game win streak against the Yankees two weekends ago, they held the second wild-card position.
A mere 10 days later and an eight-game losing streak including sweeps from both the Rays and Yankees the following weekend sent them spiraling.
The defending champions have failed to put together quality pitching all season, as it looks as though it has finally caught up with them.
After back-to-back wild card game losses to the Royals and Yankees, the Athletics are due. An Oakland versus New York or Houston first round would prove to be plenty entertaining.
NL Wild Card Race
Much like the AL wild-card race, the NL is highly occupied with postseason hopefuls.
Unlike the AL, this race goes a little deeper than three teams.
With the Nationals and Phillies holding the one and two spots for the wild card standings, separated by a half-game, six teams below them are within five games.
The Reds, Giants, and Diamondbacks remain within striking distance. However, the only realistic contenders that have a shot are the Mets, Brewers, and Cardinals.
After their acquisition of Marcus Stroman, the Mets became the team that nobody in the NL wants to face. Stroman, Syndergaard and Jacob DeGrom are a fantastic trio.
Despite Robinson Cano going down with a hamstring tear, Pete Alonso continues to carry the offense in his unanimous rookie of the year campaign.
The Brewers feature the back-to-back MVP favorite in Christian Yelich and an explosive lineup as well as a solid bullpen. However, their starting pitching may hold them back from advancing past last year’s NLCS.
The Cardinals are a run starved team with good but not great pitching, yet they always seem to be involved. The team has enough veterans that they shouldn’t be counted out.
The Nationals have done a good job of moving on from Bryce Harper, while Harper helps bring Phillies baseball back on the map. A wild card matchup between these two teams is must-see.
Besides, is there a better pitcher over the last seven or so years than Max Scherzer? In a one-game playoff, Philly could be in trouble.
Yankees, Astros, Dodgers or The Field
There has been a clear top three in the MLB all throughout the season. All three have dominated in different ways.
Starting with the Yankees, they’ve stuck to their formula from recent years. Hit home runs and feature a dominant bullpen.
But what if I told you Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, Didi Gregorious, Miguel Andujar, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, C.C. Sabathia, Luis Severino, James Paxton, Domingo German, and Dellin Betances spent or are still spending significant time on the injured list, but the Yanks would still have the best record in the AL?
Crazy talk, but that is exactly what has happened. The Yankees have suffered the most injuries in baseball, but have continued to fight with their next man up mentality.
Failing to add a starter may have hurt them, but will it matter? They have a deep bullpen, one that will probably get back Betances, and maybe even Severino if he can’t get stretched out as a starter in time for the playoffs.
The Astros have also faced the injury bug, but continue to overcome their woes. Unlike the Yankees, their bullpen has proven to be shaky.
Also unlike the Yankees though, they have a stellar rotation. Behind Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke, the Astors have perhaps the scariest three-headed monster of any postseason contender.
With the emergence of Yordan Alverez, acquisition of Michael Brantley and the continued trend towards superstardom for Alex Bregman, the Astors have created a lineup equally as dangerous as New York’s.
A New York against Houston ALCS rematch from 2017 is what baseball needs. These next two months will be a fight for home-field advantage.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, don’t have a top-flight foe to match them though. They are the odds on favorite to advance to their third straight world series.
Lead by MLB MVP candidate Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers continue to hit with seemingly new faces every year. The emergence of Alex Verdugo and Max Muncy added on to the consistency of Joc Pederson, Justin Turner and Corey Seager have made Los Angeles explosive.
They rank first in all of MLB with a sparkling 3.37 team era. It’s not their faults they play in a weak division, they just take advantage of it.
Behind Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Hyun-jin Ryu, their big three is pretty good too. Come postseason time, the horses will need to carry the Dodgers.
This begs the question of “Who else could possibly occupy the world series?”.
The Twins can hit with anyone in MLB, but can’t get quality innings consistently.
The Rays have a deep pitching staff, but injuries and inconsistent hitting may prove to be too costly.
Could the Cubs actually put their talent together and bring out their full potential?
All of these teams have a shot, but at the end of the day give me the Dodgers and the Yankees, if they can get healthy enough, with New York winning their 28th world series title.
- I am a huge Yankees, New York Giants and Los Angeles Lakers fan. However I have a huge passion for all three sports in general across the MLB, NFL, and NBA. I also cover the Cal State Long Beach Men's Basketball team.