MLB pennant chase heats up as fall comes around

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Matthew Tate

15 teams are fighting for six playoff spots as the MLB pennant chase begins to heat up.

Jake Blancher, Associate Sports Editor

With just over two weeks of regular season baseball remaining, the annual “Hunt for October,” during which fringe teams desperately battle to land a vaunted playoff spot, is well upon us. With 15 teams vying for six playoff spots, the last fortnight is sure to break the hearts of some fan bases while electrifying others.

In the National League, only three teams have clinched a playoff berth, the Milwaukee Brewers, the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the latter two fighting to win the West division. At the onset of this MLB season, few could have predicted this collision of longtime rivals, dating back to their time in New York

The Giants, led by veteran infielders Buster Posey, Evan Longoria and Brandon Belt were expected to be a below average team and not relevant this late in the year. However, the breakout play of journeymen pitchers Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani and rising star Logan Webb have led the Giants to the best record in the MLB. 

The Dodgers, boasting the highest payroll in baseball and coming off a World Series win in the shortened 2020 season, had sky high expectations, with some even speculating that they could break the regular season wins record. As if their roster going into the season was not star-studded enough, they added five-tool shortstop Trea Turner and surefire Hall-of-Fame pitcher and perennial Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer at the trade deadline.

These California rivals boast the two best records in the entire league, and the team that loses the divisional race will host the wildcard game. As to which team they will face remains very much uncertain. 

Holding the top wildcard spot in the National League is the St. Louis Cardinals, currently 4 1/2 games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds. The San Diego Padres, led by likely NL MVP and 22-year-old phenom Fernando Tatis Jr., are just 5 1/2 games back and could potentially become the third playoff team from the West if they finish their season strong. NL East rivals Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets are 4 1/2 and nine games back, respectively, and while the Mets are unlikely to secure a playoff spot, despite mathematically remaining in contention, the Phillies could make the cut with impressive play over the next few weeks. 

The final NL playoff spot will go to the victor of the NL East. Currently sitting atop this division is the Atlanta Braves, respectively, and while not yet clinched, they are unlikely to be dethroned.

As for the American League, the outcome of divisional races is far more predictable. The Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros are enjoying commanding leads of their respective divisions and are all extremely unlikely to be overtaken. 

The AL wildcard race is more straightforward. The New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox —  all from the East division —  have locked horns over the two remaining spots and are all within two games of one another.

It has been an up and down season for the Yankees. They were a mediocre 41-39 by the end of June. In July, they improved their play, boasting a 14-9 record before adding lefty power bats Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo at the trade deadline. The Bronx Bombers were glowing red hot in August, only losing eight of 21 games before cooling down in September. 

The Blue Jays are one of the most alluring, young teams in baseball with considerable DNA on their side. Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio are sons of MLB players as is Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who also happens to be in the running for just the second triple crown in the past 53 years

The Red Sox have much improved over their disappointing 2020 campaign, where they finished with a 24-36 record. They are anchored by the left side of their infield, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers who have combined for 57 home runs and 184 RBI’s between the two of them.

Like cooler weather and hurricanes, the close of the regular MLB season is another harbinger of the fall season. So grab your pumpkins and bring on the playoffs.