By Marvin A Azrak
Authors note: Dear baseball fans, it’s the true home stretch of the season, and If your wholeheartedly into the sport, please don’t be afraid to switch over to baseball from football over the next month. This is what the last six months have come down too, and I’m just honored to have an opportunity to cover it here at the Jewish Voice. You should feel grateful to have an opportunity to watch history be made daily, as all the chips are pushed to the middle of the table. Don’t be fearful of telling your football fan friend, “Sorry, I need to watch this baseball game”, because soon he may find a love for America’s pastime too. Enjoy this read!
Every year, baseball fans love to debate which regular-season month is the most “important” one of the season, and while all are technically vital because all of the games count, there’s a certain sense of urgency that comes with the season the first month in April, and now the season’s final month in September. As I write this, we’re on day 176 of 186 in the Major League Baseball 162 game marathon, and most teams have already planned their offseason fishing trips, but some are gearing up for one final big swing looking to advance to that extra month of play only the elite are invited too. That’s what everyone calls, “Postseason baseball”, where dreams can be made or crushed with one single play. Major League Baseball only has room for 10 teams on the dancefloor, with four spots requiring that team to turn themselves up a notch if they want to survive the Wildcard round and maintain their ticket at the party.
Without further ado, let’s dive into each playoff spot, and each race within that spot, as we try to separate the contenders from the pretenders, which can be difficult during the home stretch of a marathon. On your mark, get set, GO!
1. Tampa Bay Rays 94-59
2. Boston Red Sox 88-65
This one is as good as done, folks. The Rays magic number to clinch the American League Eastern division is at three, and it can very well happen within the week. Tampa Bay has been a contender for the division all season long, finally grabbing first place for good after a home sweep of the Red Sox at the end of July, and haven’t looked back going 30-17 since, to Boston’s 25-19. Tampa Bay went 6-3 against the Bosox in that period following the momentum-changing trifecta.
1. Chicago White Sox 86-67(DIVISION WON)
2. Cleveland Indians 75-77
Has there ever been a doubt that the Chisox wouldn’t take home this crown by a landslide? Ever since the two-time reigning champions Twins(65-85) started the season on the back-foot in the basement place and never recovered going into rebuild mode, these guys have been the only ones going for a ring in 2021. Now that they wrapped up the AL Central for the first time since 2008 with a 7-2 win in Cleveland Thursday, the real question is can they take down good teams outside of their division which remains to be seen for the White Sox are 10-10 against the other current AL playoff teams; who they will need to knock off to fulfill my pre-season prediction of them making their first fall classic since winning it all in 2005. Meanwhile, Indians(Ah-hem. Excuse me I mean Guardians) fans shouldn’t be discouraged for a second-place finish that can be useful to your young team that may challenge the new champs in 2022. Boasting a young trio of Cal Quantrill, Zach Plesac, and Tristan McKenzie at the back end of the rotation following 2020 CY young award winner Shane Bieber(Hurt) and veteran Aaron Civale and a young stable for relief, Cleveland has held their own going 8-8 against Chicago this year.
1. Houston Astros 91-61
2. Seattle Mariners 83-69
3. Oakland Athletics 82-71
Remember how back at the beginning of the season, the Astros went into Oakland and swept a four-game series from the A’s? Well ever since then, they have done an admiral drop over the past 169 days of maintaining that cushion. Yes, it’s gotten almost level at times, but whether it was Oakland succumbing to the pressure or the Astros ripping off 11 straight wins in mid-June. Houston has made it clear they’re not letting up the West this time around, so we’re putting this in the “Over” column as well.
AL HOME- FIELD:
The Rays lead the Astros by 2.5 games for an honor that will have both teams fighting tooth and nail to the final day of the regular season.
AL Two seed:
The Astros lead the White Sox by 5.5 games for home field in the ALDS, which is something I think they will be able to maintain as we wind down the season. The reason being Houston is simply playing for too much at the moment to lose sight of what’s at stake.
1. Atlanta Braves 80-70
2. Philadelphia Phillies 78-74
3. New York Mets 73-79
The “NL Least” has lived up to its name being the least exciting division to be invested in. None of these three can be taken seriously for World Series consideration and are currently fighting for the right to hang a small banner in their ballpark next season, before probably being victims of the Brewers in the NLDS. We still don’t know how the Mets managed to waste a seven-game lead in a race that was there for the taking even when they were going through that 2-11 stretch against the Dodgers, and Giants. They have failed miserably, allowing the Braves, and Phillies to catch a second wind. Yes, Bryce Harper is having an MVP-caliber season but these Phillies haven’t changed in performance since last season. Meanwhile, the resurgent Braves are 13-13 since their nine-game win streak yet still lead this “diaper dash” by two games, and three in the loss column. Philadelphia isn’t innocent either, for after going on an eight-game win streak to rescue first place from the laughable Metropolitans, the team responded by going 4-11 to drop out of that spot faster than an empty, busted hot-air balloon falling from the sky. I’ll give credit where credit does though, they have managed to go 15-9 recently meaning it’s gut-check time over the final two weeks.
Here’s what they got left:
3 vs PIT(That’s the last place teams right there)
3 @ ATL
3 @ MIA(Another last-place team)
If they don’t go 5-1 over those six games against last-place teams, it’s hard to see them winning the division. As for that series in Atalanta, whoever takes that one home will likely move onto October.
[email protected](up 3-0 in series as of this writing won 11-4, 6-1, 9-2. I did predict them before this series to take 3 of 4, so let’s see if ARI can take one from them)
3 vs NYM
After they face Arizona, it only gets tougher from there. With a two-game lead, they can go 9-5 down the stretch if Philly goes 9-3. But the most important thing will be taking that home series against their division rivals next week, and since Atlanta is 7-9 against them this season, that won’t be one easy task.
PREDICTION: Phillies win the division finishing with an 86-76 record to the Braves 85-77. They will win on the final day of regular season play, which is the opposite of last year when they were eliminated in the season finale.
1. Milwaukee Brewers 91-62
2. St Louis Cardinals 82-70
It’s been inevitable for a matter of months now, and with the magic number at three, the Brew Crew can clinch the division they lost by a hair last year this weekend against the Mets. The real question is can they snatch the one seed from the Dodgers-Giants winner.
I would personally like to save the best race for last, but I can’t due to the Wildcard.
1. San Francisco Giants 99-54
2. Los Angeles Dodgers 98-55
They’ve been the best two teams in baseball all season long, with the Dodgers not surprising even the most casual baseball fans, especially after the acquisition of Max Scherzer, but the Giants have risen from #23 in most people’s power rankings to being the most influential team in the game today, inspiring vets in sports everywhere that age is just a number.
3vs ARI(104 losses on the season)
This race is honestly too close to call, so I’ll leave it up to both teams to sort out and am hereby predicting a game 163, with the Dodgers prevailing as champions of the West once again.
1. Boston Red Sox 88-65
2. New York Yankees 86-67
3. Toronto Blue Jays 85-67
4. Seattle Mariners 83-69
5. Oakland A’s 82-71
We have a lot to unpack here, and we will begin at the top. Since being swept by the Yankees in August, the Bosox have gone 19-11, to wrestle back momentum for the NO 4 seed, while the Bombers have struggled following the 13 game win streak, and finished Sunday 7-15 since that time. However, in-game one of their home series against the Texas Rangers, a Gary Sanchez bomb, a three-run third inning, and some clutch pitching by the bullpen gave the Yankees a 4-3 win. In-game two, Joey Gallo went deep against his former squad, while Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton chipped in with bombs of their own, as Jordan Montgomery went five strong innings, and Luis Severino(Making his first MLB appearance in 707 days) polished off the final two frames to lock down the 7-1 win. Game three saw New York begin things on a sluggish note, getting down 3-0 in a must-win no backup affair over the lowly Rangers. But a two-run double by Kyle Higashioka brought the Yankees within a run in the fifth. After a sports center-top, 10 worthy throws by Texas Aolis Garcia to nab the Yankees backup catcher at the plate stopped the momentum cold. After the game was tied via a wild pitch in the sixth, the Yankees turned to their bench hoping for another spark-plug. What they got was a sensational Gary Sanchez pick-off throw in the top of the eighth, before a two-out double by Joey Gallo, go-ahead RBI knocks by Gleyber Torres, and Gio Urshela, as well as a two-run bomb by the Kraken, put the cherry on top of a season-saving 7-3 victory to complete the sweep.
The difference between the two teams’ trajectories has been widely attributed to their performance against the 48-104 Baltimore Orioles, with the Bombers going a meekly 11-8, compared to 12-3 thus far for the Red Sox.
As for the Blue Jays, they looked all but officially out of it after a 10-7 loss to the White Sox dropped them to 66-60 on August 26 which dropped them to eight games back of the Yankees for the first wildcard, and four back of Boston in the loss column for the second. But suddenly, series wins over Detroit and Baltimore sent the Jays into a big home weekend series against the Oakland A’s, who they trailed by two games in the AL Wildcard race. Game one seemed like it would go by the wayside, as Toronto trailed 8-2 with just four outs remaining. But it was at that very moment where their fortunes turned, and it was that inning where Jays fans everywhere started to believe in a squad that just a week ago, seemed lifeless and was ready for their season to end. They inched two runs closer on an RBI single by Vlad Guerrero JR, and an Alejandro Kirk RBI walks to keep the bases gold for Lourdes Gurriel Jr, who deposited a grand slam into the left-field seats to bring new life to Canada and even the finest at 8. After Oakland would pull back in front with two in their half of the 9th, the Blue Jays roared back with a Bryveic Valera single, and a George Springer double to set up Marcus Semien against Athletics closer Sergio Romo. The turning point of the Blue Jays playoff chase came with one swing from the man facing his former squad, as he launched one out of sight for a walk-off blast that sent Toronto on their way back to pennant chase baseball.
The Blue Jays would take care of business the next couple of days winning those games 10-8, and 8-0 to leapfrog Oakland in the standings before flying to New York where they battled a Yankee team they trailed by four games for the AL Wildcard. When the dust settled four days later, the Jays had pitched, hit, and defended their way to a four-game sweep(8-0, 5-1, 6-2, 6-4) clinching the season series, and pulling even in the loss column with their division-rivals in the process. The international boys wouldn’t stop there, and took three of four from Baltimore at Camden Yards, including a 22-7 victory in the finale to improve to 14-2 over their previous 16 games, and tie the Red Sox for the top AL Wildcard spot. As we sit here on September 23rd, the Jays have split six games against the Rays in the past week and took two of three from a Twins team they face again tonight in Minneapolis for the beginning of a four-game-set. They’re currently a .5 game behind the Bombers in the AL Wildcard race but are tied in the loss column.
Vladdy is having the season of his life and entered Thursday with a 323 BA(Juan Soto at 325), and 46 HR (MLB lead) both AL-bests.
The Mariners meanwhile have hung around, and have continued to the astonishment of many remain in the Wild Card hunt. Contrary to the Yankees, and Jays we haven’t seen a winning streak from the M’s rather steady and consistent play that saw them enter their series in Oakland this past week at 80-69, to the A’s 82-67 in a battle with both teams on the outside looking in as the final two weeks of this marathon have dawned upon us. The opener featured a three-RBI game from Kyle Seager, and a brilliant 7 innings of one-run ball performance by Tyler Andreson, leading Seattle to a 4-2 victory. In-game two, a big blast by JP Crawford, six innings of two-run ball from Marco Gonzalez, and three scoreless from the bullpen ensured Seattle pulled even with their AL-West rivals winning it 5-2. The stellar pitching rolled into Wednesday, with Chris Flexen twirling seven frames while limiting the A’s to one run, and racking up 8 strikeouts in the 4-1 series clincher. Looking to complete mop-up duty against the A’s on Thursday, Seattle needed to weather a sleepless start, quickly getting behind 3-0, before an RBI double by Abraham Toro got them on the board. In the fifth, Cal Raleigh blasted off for two, before a Mitch Haniger HR in the sixth tied things up again. But the real hero came from an unlikely source in Luis Torrens, who socked a go-ahead two-run bomb putting the Mariners ahead for good in a 6-5 sweep-sealing victory. “Sea us rise” is right!
As for the A’s, they’ve been unable to win when it has mattered the most, and after being swept by the Jays, and Mariners, are starting to see their wildcard hopes slip away. Over the past 30 games(A’s have a 12-18 record), Oakland relievers have a 5.70 ERA with 11 blown saves in the process, and their 28 blown saves account for the second-most in the AL this season. It will take some winning, and some luck to make it back to the playoffs for a fourth straight season.
3 vs NYY
3 vs TB
Okay, so before I make my prediction on which two teams will make the playoffs, let’s first take a deep dive into this upcoming Yankees-Red Sox series that begins Friday at Fenway Park. As Red Sox slugger Kyle Schwarber put it, “I’m pretty sure Fenway is going to be rocking for this next series, we’re ready for the challenge. This is going to be a taste of the Postseason.”
GAME 1: Gerrit Cole(15-8, 3.03 ERA) vs Nathan Evoldi(10-8, 3.58 ERA)
Eovaldi has pitched around 5 more innings than Cole this season and has allowed 7 less HR & (this is the biggest shocker-) given 6 fewer free passes. 38 BB, 21 HR for Gerrit, and 32 BB, 14 HR for Nate. Eovaldi vs NYY this season: 7 ER in 31.1 innings, including 4 HR. He struck out 34. Cole vs the Red Sox this season: 9 ER in 19 innings, including 4 HR. He struck out 25. Gerrit is also coming off a Sunday home outing, where he served up seven runs on 10 hits in 5.2 innings of the Yankees 11-1 no-show against Cleveland.
When you take all of that into account plus the fact Boston previously torched Cole for six runs each at Fenway this past June & July, and have also gone 6-1 at home against the Bombers this season, I see the writing on the wall. The Bosox take game one.
GAME 2: Nestor Cortes JR(2-2, 2.79 ERA) vs Nick Pivetta(9-7, 4.63 ERA)
Both of these pitchers are more long relievers than starters so the bullpen will be called upon, where I believe the Yankees will be able to find a way to score some runs late and hold down the fort in the ninth courtesy of Aroldis Chapman, and even up this series.
GAME 3: Jordan Montgomery(6-6, 3.55 ERA) vs Eduardo Rodriguez(11-8, 4.97 ERA)
Pitchers with high ERA’s means it will likely turn into a pitchers duel with both trying to wear each other down for the crucial series victory. Ultimately, I see the Yankees finding a way mainly because they will have more to play for at this point, while Boston would enter Sunday Night baseball still on top of them by two games in the standings.
Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez go deep into the Fenway night as the Bombers take it 6-5.
WHO WILL MAKE IT IN?
1. Boston Red Sox 95-67
2. New York Yankees 93-69
3. Toronto Blue Jays 92-70
4. Seattle Mariners 90-72
5. Oakland A’s 88-74
Whoever wins that Yankees-Blue Jays next week’s series will probably be the one advancing, and I have New York taking two of three at Rogers Centre, but it can go either way. Meanwhile, as great of as. a story as they are, I don’t think the young Seattle Mariners will have enough to make that hail-Mary push into a wildcard spot, while the A’s will simply just run out of time to find themselves after they fall in a series to the Astros this weekend, and be eliminated in the last week of the season.
It will come down to Gerrit Cole vs Chris Sale at Fenway Park on October 5th at 8:00 PM ET
1. Dodgers 98-55(Clinched four seed)
2. St Louis Cardinals 83-69
3. Philadelphia Phillies 79-74
4. Cincinnati Reds 78-75
5. San Diego Padres 77-75
6. Mets 73-79
The Dodgers have already clinched the first wildcard so we won’t talk about them. However, these St Louis Cardinals have struck yet again, having rattled off 12 straight wins to take a commanding lead in the fight for the final Wild Card spot. They have also witnessed the Reds fall into a state of weariness, having dropped 18 of their last 27, including losses to the lowly Marlins, Cubs, Tigers, and Pirates. But while the Phillies seem to have more eyes on the NL East title than the Wild Card, we won’t sit over here and gloss over the astounding free-fall of the San Diego Padres. SD has gone 43-54 after their 34-22 start to the season, but especially in September where they currently possess a 6-13 record. Injuries have decimated them over the past month, particularly on the pitching side: Yu Darvish(5.21 ERA), Dinelson Lamet, Chris Paddack, Drew Pomeranz, Matt Strahm and even Jake Arrieta (Only acquired to add depth in the wake of the other injuries) have all seen opportunities for production fail due to injury. But the hitting has remained renowned with Fernando Tatis JR being one of the only three players who could say they have 40+ HR on the season, and Manny Machado having a 281 batting average.
However, despite the “X W-L” per MLB.com which is what they should statistically be well-respected at 81-71, San Diego has been unable to find the “Clutch gene” like they did last season, and as a result, seem like they’re about to wrap up stunning collapse fans of the team, and baseball will want to forget.
I won’t go into the schedules here, because this honestly doesn’t even feel competitive, to say the least, with the Cardinals having just gone into American Family Field, and picked apart the Brewers in four games(5-2, 2-1, 10-2, 8-5), have now just activated starters Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty, and have seven games left against the fourth-place Cubs, as well as three more with this same Brew Crew to finish off the regular season. The magic number to officially put this away is at 5, and considering how ST Louis was 55-56 on August 9th, is mightily impressive.
SERIES TO WATCH THIS WEEKEND:
Yankees vs Red Sox
Astros vs Angels(HOU MN is 3 for AL West title)
Marlins vs Rays(TB MN is 3 for East)
Dodgers vs Diamondbacks(49 game difference between them in NL West)
Giants vs the Rockies
CURRENT PLAYOFF MATCHUPS:
AL: Yankees @ Red Sox
NL: Cardinals @ Dodgers
AL: WC game-winner @ Rays
White Sox @ Astros
NL: WC game-winner @ Giants
AL: Vlad Guerrero JR leads Shohei Ohtani 46-45, but both have excelled in other categories, with Ohtani being a pitcher, and Vlad leading the American League with a 322 batting average.
NL: On one hand, There’s 22-year-old superstar Juan Soto of the Nationals who’s 325 batting average paces the majors and 106 runs in second in the NL behind Freddie Freeman of Atlanta at 117. On the other hand, it’s Bryce Harper who put together an MVP-caliber season of his own with a .312 batting average, 33 HR, and 80 RBI for the Phillies.
CY YOUNG WATCH:
In the AL, It’s down to Gerrit Cole(3.03ERA) against Robbie Ray(2.72 ERA), with the two slated to face off Thursday in Toronto.
In the NL, it’s not a question for Max Scherzer has separated himself from the pack ever since he’s joined the Dodgers. Ever since the trade deadline coming over from the Nationals, he’s 7-0 in 10 starts with a 1.43 ERA, with 85 strikeouts, and a 0.71 WHIP. On the year, he’s 15-4 in 29 starts with a 2.28 ERA and has struck out 232.
He’s the X-factor for a Dodgers repeat this year, and if they need to win a big game, he’s the guy they will without a doubt turn to lead them onward.
MVP: Tatis Soto Harper(via CBS) BA .285 .𝟑𝟐𝟓 .312 OPS .988 1.029 𝟏.𝟎𝟓𝟎 HR 𝟒𝟎 29 33 RBI 𝟗𝟒 92 80 XBH 68 51 𝟕𝟑 SB 𝟐𝟓 9 13 wRC+ 159 170 𝟏𝟕𝟐 WAR 6.4 𝟕.𝟐 5.5
UPDATED MLB POWER RANKINGS:
6. Red Sox
8. Blue Jays
10. White Sox
16. Cincinnati Reds
17. Cleveland Indians
18. Detroit Tigers(74-78)
19. LA Angels(72-80)
21. Colorado Rockies(71-81)
22. Kansas City Royals(69-83)
23. Chicago Cubs(67-85)
24. Minnesota Twins(67-85)
25. Washington Nationals(63-89)
26. Miami Marlins(64-88)
27. Pittsburgh Pirates (57-94)
28. Texas Rangers(55-97)
29. Baltimore Orioles(48-104)
30. Arizona Diamondbacks(48-104)