September is a month full of beginnings. It is a month that owns the beginning of football on Sundays and the month marks the beginning of fall. As the leaves begin to slowly fall, baseball is nearing the end of its season. The nearing end of the baseball season is also the true beginning of baseball. This is a time where division leads start dwindling down and the wins are worth much more. Every season, baseball has close playoff races, and this one is no exception.
There are a number of teams with comfortable division leads this September. The New York Yankees are sitting on a nine-game lead over their rivals, the Boston Red Sox in the American League East, while the Detroit Tigers continue their winning ways with a five-game lead in the AL Central. The Oakland A’s share a similar lead in the AL West, with a 5.5 game lead. With each team having just over 20 games left in the season, the division leaders in the AL will stay that way. The only team that may stumble on its way to October is the A’s, but that means the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim must go on a hot streak.
The AL wild card race has all the makings of being among the most memorable in recent years. There is no doubt the AL wild card is coming from the Central, which is a nice difference to have this season. The norm is to have the Yankees win the East and then have Boston take the wild card. With Boston out of the picture, the final playoff spot will be awarded to either the Chicago White Sox or the Minnesota Twins. The Twins may have the small half a game lead over Chicago now, but they lack the resources to overcome the pressure of the White Sox.
Minnesota will watch their season slowly come to an end unless they have a pitcher not named Johan Santana step up. The Twins have a team that can challenge any other, including Chicago, but the edge goes to the White Sox. They have solid pitching, a good coach and an MVP-caliber player, Jermaine Dye, who is having the season of a lifetime, being in the top 10 in most hitting categories. Dye, a favorite MVP candidate among baseball experts, alone is the player that can lead his team to October.
Both teams face a tough schedule throughout the rest of the season, but guess who plays each other in the last series of the season? Stay tuned for Chicago vs. Minnesota at the end of the month.
The same scenario can be seen in the National League. No team comes close to the New York Mets in the NL East. It is safe to say that the Mets are definitely on their way to the postseason, having a division lead of more than 16 games. The St. Louis Cardinals have not looked like the strong team we have been used to seeing, but they will prevail having a comfortable six game lead over the Cincinnati Reds. The NL West is another story.
The NL West is always up and down, and it is difficult to predict who will come out on top. When the Los Angeles Dodgers are hot, the San Diego Padres are not. When the Dodgers struggle, the Padres start a small winning streak. Billingsley picking up an injury will hurt the Dodgers, and so will Brad Penny starting to pitch like teammate Mark Hendrickson, and that is no compliment. The Padres look to have an edge in their rotation with the addition of David Wells. If the Dodgers want to at least win the wild card, their offense must produce consistently on a daily basis, and get their pitchers to go deep into games, letting Grady Little use Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito in the later innings.
The Philadelphia Phillies, Florida Marlins and San Francisco Giants are on small streaks of their own, catching up to both the Dodgers and Padres. Despite their streaks, I still see the Padres advancing, with the Dodgers taking the wild card because they have a better pitching staff and offense.
Baseball is heating up, and there is no better time to watch the sport than now. Teams like the Marlins and Phillies, both of which were well below .500 during the season, prove that it is not how you begin the season but how you end it.