The Major League Baseball postseason is approaching quickly. In just a few weeks, teams will duke it out until only one is left standing.
Until then, there’s plenty to sort out during the regular season. With roughly four weeks to go, there are a number of exciting things to watch. Who will win the final American League wild card? Will Aaron Judge get it together? Where the heck is Bryce Harper?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. Below, we’ve compiled 10 of the most interesting storylines to watch as the regular season concludes. Some division races may be over, but there’s still plenty of drama around the league.
CAN THE DODGERS REBOUND FROM THEIR COLD SPELL?
The question for the Los Angeles Dodgers was once, “How many games can they win?” Now it’s more like, “Will they ever win back-to-back games again?” The Dodgers are mired in a slump in which they’ve lost 10 of their last 11 games entering play Wednesday. The only reason that’s not too big of a deal is they had 90 wins on Aug. 24. Their falloff has lined up with a 12-game winning streak by the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks. Still, they’re 11.5 back in the NL West. So, no, the world isn’t crumbling for the Dodgers, but it will be interesting to watch where they go from here. Do they rebound and go on another hot streak or do they hiccup into the postseason? (Mike Oz)
WHICH TEAM WILL WIN THE SECOND AL WILD CARD SPOT?
The most exciting playoff race is the American League wild card, where roughly seven teams are still in the hunt. Notice we said “exciting,” and not best. Every one of those clubs has significant flaws, though the Los Angeles Angels made the biggest moves at the waiver deadline. They could be the favorite, though the Minnesota Twins refuse to go away. The Texas Rangers could be the sleeper, though. They are just 1.5 games out and have the best run differential of the group. (Chris Cwik)
CAN THE ROCKIES HOLD ON?
After finding themselves with a 7.5 game lead for the National League wild card at the All-Star break, the Colorado Rockies have stumbled in the second half. The team posted a record under .500 for the first time all year in August, and now hold a three game lead in that second wild card spot. They are still in the driver’s seat, but things are getting worrisome. It doesn’t help that the club hasn’t made the postseason since 2009. It’s possible that will add some unnecessary pressure as the club fights to end that drought. (Cwik)
AARON JUDGE’S SECOND-HALF SLUMP AND THE MVP
Speaking of people who have fallen off a cliff, here’s Aaron Judge. The New York Yankees rookie phenom was THE story of baseball’s first half and now … has anybody seen Aaron Judge? Oh, there he is, hitting .183 since the All-Star break with just eight homers. Ouch! Lucky for the Yankees, Gary Sanchez has gotten hot and helped keep them strong in the playoff hunt. But Judge’s slump has severely hurt his MVP chances. No one is going to take the AL Rookie of the Year from Judge, but Jose Altuve and Mike Trout have zoomed past him in Wins Above Replacement, so the MVP award probably isn’t coming to the Bronx unless Judge turns this around in September. (Oz)
BRYCE HARPER’s RUSH TO GET BACK BY THE POSTSEASON
The Washington Nationals are hoping to advance past the National League Division Series for the first time in franchise history. It would be much easier for them to accomplish that with Bryce Harper. The 24-year-old was in the midst of yet another MVP-caliber year until suffering a knee injury in August. At this time, it’s unclear when he’ll be back. Reports claimed Harper wasn’t close to running yet, which makes his availability for the postseason tight. He’s only in Washington for one more year, so the team will have to make a tough choice if Harper wants to take the field at less than 100 percent. (Cwik)
WHO IS THE BEST TEAM IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE?
Both the Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians have been, at different times, the best team in the AL. The Astros owned the title all of the first half. Lately, it belongs to the Indians who have rattled off 13 wins in a row. The Astros still have a few more wins than the Indians, but Cleveland has the momentum. Houston is getting healthy now and just added Justin Verlander as a much-needed rotation arm, so seeing which of these teams ends up with home-field in the AL ought to be fun to watch. (Oz)
THE NL MVP COULD BE A HIGHLY-CONTESTED RACE
Giancarlo Stanton already has over 50 home runs, so the race is over, right? Well, it’s complicated. Hitting 50 home runs doesn’t guarantee a player the MVP, especially when their team misses the playoffs. That may sound dumb, but that’s the way the voters have leaned. While Stanton’s home run lead is impressive, there are plenty of other worthy candidates, including Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, Charlie Blackmon and the criminally underrated Anthony Rendon. Stanton may seem like a slam dunk for some, but the reality is that we could be headed for one of the most contentious MVP debates in years. (Cwik)
JUST HOW MANY HOME RUNS WILL GIANCARLO STANTON HIT?
Hey, maybe Stanton makes the whole MVP debate moot by hitting 60+. There aren’t many instances of that happening, so that may be what pushes voters over the edge. In the event Stanton hits 62 or more, it wouldn’t be without controversy. While Barry Bonds holds the single-season record with 73, some still try to cling to 61 as the legitimate record. Major League Baseball won’t alter that, but it will lead to various talking heads finding ways to rationalize 62 being less than 73. There’s also the issue of the ball. MLB claims it’s within the specifications, but that range is laughably large. So, uh, prepare for fun? (Cwik)
KEEP WATCHING THE RED SOX
In the final weeks of the season, the Boston Red Sox are one of the teams you most need to watch. (Pun not intended. OK, maybe it was sort of intended.) Sure, we can wait to see what kind of punishment comes Boston’s way after the sign-stealing drama of the past two days. Should it involve vacating some wins, that could be big in a tight AL East/AL wild-card race. If not, the Red Sox still aren’t out of harm’s way. The Yankees are keeping it close (3.5 games entering play Wednesday) and as a team with as much preseason hype as the Red Sox will feel the pressure to deliver. (Oz)
CAN THE CUBS FIND THEIR MOJO IN TIME?
The Chicago Cubs are in first-place in the NL Central, but that doesn’t really tell the story of the 2017 season. The Cubs got off to a slow start — like they’d been celebrating a World Series win too hard or something. By July, they got it together and moved past a so-so bunch of teams to reach the division throne. August was fine, but not amazing and now they have a four-game lead. Will they win the division? Probably. But these Cubs certainly don’t have the mojo they did last season. They made some big trade-deadline moves and their lineup is as deep as ever, so the capability of getting back to the World Series is there. The competition is just fierce, especially in the NL. (Oz)
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