With just three weeks left in the 60-game regular season, many intriguing teams and division races will make plenty of noise down the stretch. I’ll take you through five storylines that I believe are the most captivating.
Don’t Sleep on the Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have been a pleasant surprise this year, in part due to their offensive success. They currently rank seventh in all of baseball in slugging (.447), despite not having their best hitter Bo Bichette (who has not played since August 15th). Teoscar Hernandez, Rowdy Tellez, and Randall Grichuk have led the Blue Jays’ upstart offense, as each of them had an OPS over .900 in August. With Bichette seeking to return as early as next week, the offense will become even more dangerous. On the pitching side, Toronto has a formidable top of the rotation led by ace Hyun Jin Ryu and the recently-acquired Taijuan Walker, who pitched six scoreless innings in his Blue Jays debut. While winning an AL East crown is pretty much out of the realm of possibility, they have just under an 85% chance to reach the playoffs according to FanGraphs and will match up well against a higher seed come the postseason.
Cardinals and Cubs
Just a month ago, the Cubs got off to a blazing start while the Cardinals had to put their season on pause due to a team-wide COVID-19 outbreak. Fast forward to September 7th and the Cardinals sit only 1.5 games out of first place. Why has the gap narrowed? The Cubs’ rotation, with the exception of Yu Darvish, has faltered and their offense has the fourth highest K% (26.1%) in the majors. Meanwhile in St. Louis, the offense has had several pleasant surprises such as Harrison Bader and Brad Miller, who complement former All-Stars Paul DeJong and Paul Goldschmidt quite nicely. The Cardinals rank third in the majors with a 3.51 team ERA thanks to a solid top of the rotation and a deep bullpen. Going forward the Cardinals do not have to face an opponent that currently has a record above .500 after their September 8th doubleheader against the Twins, while the Cubs have eight games remaining against the top three teams in the AL Central. The road to the top of the division is much easier for the Cards in the remaining weeks of the regular season.
Move Over Twins
Heading into the 2020 season, the Twins were the overwhelming favorites to repeat as AL Central champs after they set the single season home run mark in 2019 and had tremendous pitching staff depth. Injuries and many underachieving performances have led to a decline in the long ball while the back end of the bullpen has lacked consistency. Either the Indians with their stellar pitching staff (2.78 team ERA) or the White Sox with their elite offense (10.0 offensive WAR), will come out on top of the AL Central at the end of the regular season. The Twins will find themselves in the 2020 Playoffs, but most likely as the top wild-card holder in the AL.
Keep an Eye on the Dominant Padres
The Dodgers will indeed win the NL West and finish with the top record in baseball. However, the Padres have exceeded expectations this year thanks in large part to over-achieving play on both sides of the ball. Six of their Opening Day starters have an OPS of at least .830, while starters Zach Davies and Dinelson Lamet have posted ERAs below 3.00 to complement the unsteady performances of Chris Paddack and Garrett Richards. The Padres made the most noise at the trade deadline–adding more offensive fire power with the additions of Austin Nola and Mitch Moreland–while Mike Clevinger became the rotation’s number one option. After a tough start, San Diego’s bullpen has posted a 2.94 ERA over the last seven days and recently acquired Trevor Rosenthal to take on the closer role. Outside of a three-game series with the Dodgers, the remaining opponents for the Padres all rank in the bottom ten in the majors in team ERA, which should provide momentum heading into the Postseason.
The Marlins’ Insane September Schedule
After missing seven games in July and early August due to a COVID-19 outbreak the Marlins will play 25 games in just 21 days starting September 7th, without any days off. After playing three in Atlanta, the Marlins return home to play seven games in four days against the Phillies, three games against the Red Sox, and five games in three days against the Nationals. They then finish the season with a seven-game road trip consisting of a four-game series in Atlanta and a three-game series with the Yankees. Five of their six upcoming opponents had ERAs in the bottom half of the league over the past 14 days, which bodes well for a team that lacks thunder offensively. At the same time, their starter and reliever ERA both ranked in the top ten during that span. While the Marlins are in the thick of the playoff race and have favorable matchups ahead, their grueling schedule moving forward may prevent them from reaching their first postseason berth since 2003.