There are simply two weeks to go within the 2021 MLB common season, and we’re pumped.
There is a thrilling Nationwide League West race raging between baseball’s two finest groups, the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The wild-card races are crowded in each leagues, with three American League East groups — the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays — entrance and heart. After which there are the gamers trying to put the ending touches on — or make a late push for — every of the postseason awards, from MVP to Cy Younger and Rookie of the 12 months.
So what has us most enthusiastic about these closing 14 days? Which groups have essentially the most at stake? Which end-of-season storylines don’t get as a lot consideration as they deserve? Briefly: How will all of it shake out as September turns into October?
We requested ESPN MLB consultants Bradford Doolittle, Alden Gonzalez, Jesse Rogers and David Schoenfield to reply these questions and extra as we get set for a number of the greatest baseball video games of the 12 months up to now. Subsequent cease: the playoffs!
What are you most enthusiastic about within the closing two weeks of the common season?
Doolittle: There are some enjoyable races for playoff slots and seeds, however I am truly extra amped for the stretch run on the AL hitting leaderboards than something. Can Salvador Perez turn out to be the primary major catcher and Kansas Metropolis Royal to hit 50 homers? Can Vladimir Guerrero Jr. catch Perez and Jose Abreu within the RBI column and win the Triple Crown? Can Shohei Ohtani turn out to be the primary true two-way participant to guide a league in homers since Babe Ruth? I discover these are the issues I preserve checking in on as every night time’s video games play out.
Gonzalez: The AL wild-card race. This was mainly a three-way tie between the Yankees, Crimson Sox and Blue Jays when Friday started, and a few important head-to-head matches stay. The Crimson Sox face the Yankees this weekend and the Blue Jays play the Yankees subsequent week, however each sport these groups play shifting ahead will function excessive stakes. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Aaron Judge, Xander Bogaerts, Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole, Robbie Ray and so many different stars who make up these supremely gifted rosters can be taking part in in pressure-packed moments down the stretch, and nothing is extra enjoyable than that. The AL East is a juggernaut, and it is solely becoming that three of its groups will advance into the postseason. The query is: Which one won’t?
Rogers: The NL wild-card race. If the St. Louis Cardinals beat out each the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds, that can be fairly one thing. And it ought to price Jayce Tingler his job. The Cardinals had as many accidents to their beginning employees because the Padres did however held the road whereas getting wholesome. The way in which to do this, with a much less gifted roster on account of accidents, is to beat the unhealthy groups. Getting into the weekend, the Padres have been simply 40-39 towards minus-.500 groups. The Cardinals have been 50-31. These numbers don’t have anything to do with the distinction between the 2 divisions the groups reside in.
Schoenfield: The Phillies’ four-game successful streak ended Sunday and the Braves’ four-game dropping streak did, too, however Atlanta’s five-game lead has all of a sudden shrunk to a two-game lead. That is thrilling, however my desire stays the NL West race, the place the Giants and Dodgers preserve taking part in at an unbelievably excessive degree. They’re executed taking part in one another, so it is a traditional scoreboard-watching race. Sure, the loser nonetheless will get the wild card, however each groups need to keep away from that play-in sport. All people has an opinion on whether or not they like or hate the wild card, however it is a reminder of why ending in first is so essential and why an awesome division race remains to be the very best baseball has to supply.
Which workforce has essentially the most at stake?
Doolittle: The Yankees. It is a mixture of things: title drought, payroll, aggressiveness on the commerce deadline, preseason expectation and the glare of New York itself. Although it will be a wild-card berth, taking part in on into the postseason would stave off a variety of grief for that group. On condition that lacking out on a wild-card slot probably means a fourth-place end on this 12 months’s AL East, the requires sweeping change could be blaring if that occurs.
Gonzalez: The Yankees, a workforce with the second-highest payroll within the sport and constantly the best expectations. They doubled down in July, parting with prospects to amass Anthony Rizzo in his closing months earlier than free company. Lacking out on the postseason would not simply be a disappointment; it will set off severe questions concerning the make-up of this roster and the way it must evolve with a purpose to critically contend once more. And there are not any straightforward solutions there.
Rogers: The Padres. Jayce Tingler and his gamers have been too targeted on reeling off a giant win streak as an alternative of taking it one sport at a time. Maybe they acquired down on themselves as soon as the division turned out of attain. They need to actually be down in the event that they’re sitting at dwelling whereas the Dodgers play the Reds or Cardinals within the wild-card sport. The latter workforce was able to pack within the season when it traded for starters Jon Lester and J.A. Happ, however time was on the Cardinals’ facet and so they have taken benefit. Heads ought to roll in San Diego if the Padres do not make it. You may’t say the identical about Cincinnati or St. Louis. The Yankees must be 1a on this dialogue.
Schoenfield: One other vote for the Yankees. There are children who simply completed their Little League careers who’ve by no means seen the Yankees in a World Collection. Given the preseason expectations and the current run of crushing playoff disappointments — the Sport 5 American League Division Collection loss to the Rays in 2020 with Gerrit Cole on the mound, the Jose Altuve dwelling run within the 2019 American League Championship Collection, the 4-0 shutout loss in Sport 7 of the 2017 ALCS — a World Collection-less season, not to mention one and not using a playoff look, might result in Brian Cashman rejiggering the roster, the supervisor and the teaching employees.
Which storyline is not getting as a lot consideration because it ought to?
Doolittle: I would not say that this hasn’t gotten any consideration, however nevertheless a lot it is garnered, it isn’t sufficient: What Max Scherzer has executed for the Dodgers is past unreal. Along with his seven shutout innings at Cincinnati on Sept. 18, Max Scherzer owns a 0.78 ERA over 9 begins with the Dodgers. That’s the finest nine-start stretch of his big-league profession, besting a run he had in 2019 for the Nationals that ended on July 6 of that season. Scherzer was a first-ballot Corridor of Famer earlier than the commerce — an assertion that I do not suppose many would dispute. Regardless of that reality, he dropped right into a high-stakes division race and launched essentially the most dominant stretch of pitching in his profession. He is been so good that it is virtually horrifying to observe him work. He’s simply that dominant.
Gonzalez: Bryce Harper and Fernando Tatis Jr. are seemingly hashing it out for the NL MVP, however Juan Soto has been wonderful for a flailing Nationals workforce. He has an absurd .525 on-base share because the All-Star break and owns a .990 OPS for the season, trailing solely Harper and Guerrero. He is doing this in his age-22 season, after batting .351/.490/.695 by the shortened 2020 season. These Ted Williams comps do not appear so farfetched.
Rogers: Houston’s dominance. As nice because the Rays are, and as sizzling because the Blue Jays have been, it is the Astros who’ve the very best run differential within the American League. They have been in first place seemingly without end and each time Oakland and even Seattle has made a run, the Astros have executed the identical. This is the scariest stat for playoff opponents: Getting into the weekend, Houston was 43-31 towards plus-.500 groups. That is a greater win share than the Rays, Giants and Dodgers have.
Schoenfield: The Brewers have been up to now out in entrance of the NL Central for therefore lengthy that, maybe other than Corbin Burnes, they have not acquired a lot consideration as they deserve. No, their run differential is not as spectacular as that of the Giants/Dodgers/Astros/Rays/Blue Jays, however it is a workforce constructed for October, with the terrific trio of Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta, probably essentially the most dominant nearer within the sport in Josh Hader plus the power to combine and match Eric Lauer, Adrian Houser and a deep bullpen. They should get Willy Adames again and wholesome for the postseason, however this workforce can win the primary World Collection in franchise historical past behind its pitching-and-defense components.
Will any races be selected the ultimate day? Will there be any ties?
Doolittle: Each seem to be sturdy potentialities, if solely due to the cluster of groups competing for wild-card spots in each leagues, to not point out the neck-and-neck division title race between the Giants and Dodgers plus the all of a sudden sizzling race within the NL East with the Phillies and Braves. Within the AL, you’ve got acquired a five-team cluster for 2 spots within the wild-card race — all 5 are inside 4 video games of one another within the loss column. Within the NL, you’ve got acquired 4 groups inside 4 video games of one another competing for one spot. The Cardinals confirmed this weekend how rapidly a workforce can create some separation, however even within the final two weeks, the outlook in all of those races might transmogrify over the course of some days.
Gonzalez: I feel the Giants and Dodgers are destined to go till the ultimate day, probably even past that. There have been greater than 20 cases because the begin of August when the Dodgers have gained and haven’t been capable of acquire any floor on the Giants. It is solely becoming that these two longtime rivals settle it in Sport 163.
Rogers: The AL wild card is perhaps determined the day after the ultimate day. So sure, it would come all the way down to that closing Sunday — not less than.
Schoenfield: Sure, with 4 races in play — three groups (and possibly the A’s) for 2 AL wild playing cards, the second wild card, plus the NL East and NL West — I feel there’s a 50/50 probability we get some type of tiebreaker on Monday. When you really need chaos, we get the Braves, Phillies, Cardinals, Reds and Padres all ending with the identical document, making a five-way tie for the NL East and the second wild card (and possibly an NL West tiebreaker as well!). Come on, baseball gods, we want this.
Which workforce goes to win the NL West?
Doolittle: Whereas I stay steadfast that the Dodgers are higher than the Giants, and everybody else for that matter, the easy reality stays that San Francisco has the present edge and has proven zero inclination of regressing to preseason expectations. There are not any remaining head-to-head conferences between them, so at this level, the mathematics very barely favors the Giants. Who am I to argue with math? However… with the lead down to 1 sport, if I feel the Dodgers are the higher workforce, then I sort of have to choose them.
Gonzalez: I nonetheless say the Dodgers, although the Giants have led for therefore lengthy and really gained the season collection (simply barely). The Dodgers are rolling with a rotation of Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and Julio Urias for these closing two weeks; a lineup that includes Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Max Muncy, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Will Smith; and a bullpen with Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, Joe Kelly and Corey Knebel. From a pure expertise perspective, they’re unattainable to match. And I am going to roll with expertise.
Rogers: It’s going to be the Dodgers. San Francisco held out so long as they may however L.A. is a machine proper now. Championship hangovers normally finish in the course of the second half and the Dodgers are not any totally different.
Schoenfield: We preserve ready for the Giants to not less than bend, however their second-best month was August (19-9) and their finest month has been September (13-5 up to now). These six remaining video games towards the Padres all of a sudden do not look so powerful with the Padres self-destructing — and in public, as we noticed Saturday night time with Manny Machado yelling at Tatis. The Giants maintain off the Dodgers, 106 wins to 105.
Who’re your wild-card picks and why?
Doolittle: The Dodgers … and three different groups. Need extra? Ugh. Positive. Within the NL, I nonetheless suppose the Padres are essentially the most gifted of the 5 groups angling for the second wild-card slot, even with their improv rotation. However the Cardinals are the one a type of groups taking part in successful baseball in September and so they simply gut-punched the Padres all weekend. Proper now, I’m taking them. Within the AL, geesh, it is like consuming soup with a fork. Each time you suppose the race is beginning to make clear, somebody will get sizzling and another person goes into the tank. The Yankees are wavering after getting pounded in two dwelling video games towards Cleveland over the weekend, however they’ve collection left towards each Toronto and Boston to make up the hole. I am going with the Yankees and Blue Jays.
Gonzalez: I am going to choose the Yankees and Blue Jays within the AL, and I’ve the Reds successful the second wild-card spot within the NL. The Padres’ remaining schedule is simply too tough, and their rotation is banged up on the fallacious time. If the Reds proceed to get what they acquired from Luis Castillo on Friday, they seem to be a harmful workforce.
Rogers: St. Louis will prevail within the NL. Its closing 13 video games will come towards a Brewers workforce that is clinched and a Cubs workforce that’s unhealthy. Relying on wins towards groups with much less to play for is at all times harmful, because the Reds proved by barely successful 1 of three towards the Pirates not too long ago, however the Cardinals are the Cardinals. They normally prevail when it is shut. One way or the other, someway, the Yankees will squeak in with the Blue Jays. And one way or the other, someway, the Crimson Sox will not.
Schoenfield: The Yankees end with a six-game highway journey to Boston and Toronto after which three at dwelling towards the Rays. They don’t have any video games left towards the Orioles. The Crimson Sox end with six video games towards the Orioles and Nationals. The Blue Jays have a four-game collection towards the Twins and end with three video games at dwelling towards the Orioles. I am going to go together with Boston and Toronto. Within the NL, I am eliminating the Padres. If the Braves, Phillies, Cardinals and Reds all find yourself tied, the components is easy: The Braves play the Phillies for the NL East title whereas the Cardinals and Reds play to remain within the race. The loser of Braves/Phillies performs the winner of Cardinals/Reds for the wild card. There isn’t any present components if the Padres are additionally in that blend. My head hurts.