This anything but normal MLB regular season is coming to an end, faster than normal because of the shortened 60 games season rather than the normal 162 game season. Fans have not been in attendance to any games this season due to COVID-19 but are hoping to be able to watch baseball from the stands in 2021. (Photo used by permission of the Chicago Cubs instagram)
The MLB season is winding down with each team having less than ten games left to play and that means that it’s desperation time for some teams as they try and do a late push to get into the playoffs. Let’s take a look at the top two teams in each division and how they got to this position. (All records and teams who have clinched are of the games through September 23)
Atlanta Braves (34-22 clinched NL East): The Braves being on top of the NL East isn’t much of a surprise with the offense being led by Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr and a weak division made the Braves huge favorites to win the division from the beginning of the season. Lately the veterans, Freddie Freeman and Travis d’Arnaud, have been leading the charge with both Albies and Acuna out with injuries. The offense has been the highlight for the Braves, with averaging 5.9 runs per game which leads the MLB, and a team batting average of .271% which is second in the MLB. The pitching has been the challenge for the Braves, especially the starting pitching. The Braves’ pitching staff has a combined 4.56 ERA (Earned Runs Average) which is on the lower end of the MLB. The starting pitchers have been all over the place with two of them doing really good with an ERA below 2 while the other two starting pitchers have ERA’s over 7. The Braves might be able to make a deep playoff run with the offense that they have but if they want a chance at the World Series they are going to need their starting pitching to step up.
Miami Marlins (28-28): The Marlins are surprisingly in second place. They are on the lower end of the MLB in both runs per game (4.56) and ERA (4.64). Their offense is led by Miguel Rojas, Jesus Aguliar, and Starling Marte (acquired by Miami by trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks during the 2020 season), all veterans of the game. Their starting pitching staff is really young (no one over 25 years old) but have been really consistent and solid, with four of the five pitchers being around a 4 ERA. The Marlins have been fighting through the whole season and every series, with winning at least one game in every series but two. As of now they are in the playoffs but they need to keep fighting because they are only half a game up on the Phillies for the second division spot in the playoffs and there are a lot of teams close in the wild card that would make it difficult for the Marlins to sneak into the playoffs.
Chicago Cubs (32-24 clinched at least playoff appearance, still can clinch NL Central): First year manager David Ross has gotten a very veteran team to lead and has been doing a good job at leading them. No one on the Cubs offense has really jumped out this season, with the highest batting average of an individual player is .280% (Jason Heyward) and averaging 4.53 runs per game. The Cubs have been led by the two headed starting pitching monster of Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish (one of the front runners for NL Cy Young), they have a combined 2.40 ERA. The Cubs bullpen has been a little shay except for closer Jeremy Jeffress who has a 1.69 ERA. There’s not really much of a surprise that the Cubs are in this position because they have been in this position for the past four years.
St. Louis Cardinals (27-26): The Cardinals pitching has carried them to this point. The Cardinals pitching staff has a combined 3.94 ERA, which is the eighth best in the MLB. Meanwhile the offense has been struggling, only being able to put up 4.26 runs per game, seventh worst in the MLB and only one player on the Cardinals has a batting average over .300%. The Cardinals are fighting hard for a playoff spot, only having a one game up on the Cincinnati Reds for the second playoff spot in the NL Central division.
Los Angeles Dodgers (39-17 clinched NL West): With being one of the preseason favorites to win the World Series, it is no surprise that they are dominating. The Dodgers had the second best record in the MLB and only got better by acquiring Mookie Betts in a trade with the Boston Red Soxs. The Dodgers have had an amazing offense, scoring 5.78 runs per game, second in the MLB, and they also have five players with at least 10 home runs. The pitching for the Dodgers has also been stellar, having a MLB leading combined 3.06 ERA. If the Dodgers stay hot both offensively and pitching, they are going to be really scary to face in the playoffs.
San Diego Padres (34-22 clinched playoff appearance): The Padres are definitely a surprise to be doing this good after going 70-92 last season. The Padres have made a complete turnaround from last season, going from 16th to 7th in the MLB in ERA and 27th to 3rd in runs per game from last season to this season. The Padres had a pretty solid starting pitching rotation with two of their pitchers having an ERA under 3 but then they made it even better at the trade deadline by acquiring Mike Clevinger from the Indians in a massive trade. The offense has been headlined by young studs, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Jake Cronenworth (contender for NL rookie of the year). If the Padres are able to keep up their run production then they are looking to be serious World Series contenders this season and for years to come too.
Tampa Bay Rays (37-20 clinched AL East): The Rays have the third lowest payroll in the MLB, yet they have the best record in MLB. The Rays are notorious for using their very low payroll to the best of their ability and being a playoff contender most years. They’re led offensively by Brandon Lowe and Joey Wendle, who have a combined .270% batting average. Their pitching is really carried by their bullpen, who have a combined 2.54 ERA. The Rays have just been a solid team that has the sixth best ERA and the tenth best runs per game in the MLB. They haven’t been flashy or overwhelmingly good, they’ve just kept quiet and won games. I’m not sure if they are a true World Series contender but the Rays have done nothing but surprise people so they might be able to pull it off.
New York Yankees (32-24 clinched playoff appearance): With the Red Sox’s struggling this year, it is a surprise that the Yankees aren’t dominating the AL East, but injuries have left them having to fight hard to get to this position. The Yankees have had a MLB record 30 players get put on the injured reserve list this season. Two key starting pitchers for the Yankees that are still on the IR and will miss the remainder of the season are James Paxton and Luis Serverino. Despite all the injuries the Yankees have still been able to have the twelfth best ERA and are third best in the runs per game category in the MLB. The Yankees are mostly healthy now and looking to push their way to a World Series victory.
Minnesota Twins (35-22 clinched playoff appearance): The Twins are a veteran team, and the experience has helped them. The Twins offense is led by 40 year old Nelson Cruz, who has a batting average of .314% and has 16 home runs. The Twins are another team that can get runs in a hurry with having four players that have more than 10 home runs this season. The pitching for the Twins has been dominant — they have the third best ERA in the MLB at 3.51. The starting pitching is a beast of its own, with Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, Rich Hill, and Michael Pineda, who all have an ERA under 4.
Chicago White Sox’s (34-22 clinched playoff appearance): The team from the south side of Chicago has a similar story to the San Diego Padres. The White Sox’s went 72-89 in the 2019 season and are now one of the top teams in the MLB. The White Sox’s are fifth in the MLB in both ERA and runs per game. They are led offensively by veterans Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu, who both have more than 10 home runs and batting averages over .330%. They have four starting pitchers who have an ERA under 3.60. The two big names on that dominant starting pitching staff is lefty Dallas Keuchel and Luis Giolito (who threw a no-hitter this season. They also have a stud closing pitcher Alex Colome who has 12 saves and a 0.89 ERA. The White Sox’s are a really good team that can get runs in a hurry if needed (fifth in the MLB in home runs) and are looking like really good contenders for the World Series.
Oakland A’s (34-21 clinched AL West): The boys from the Bay area have been making noise in the AL West and dominating the division, clinching the division with five days left in the season, and even over the reigning AL pennant winners Houston Astros. Some of the success of the A’s might be because of the weak division that they are in, only having one other team over .500% and the other teams being at least six games under .500%. The A’s are 24-12 in the AL West and 9-9 against the NL West. The A’s offense has been struggling, having the fifth worse batting average in the MLB and no players batting over .235% on the team. The pitching has been the bright spot for the team, the team’s combined 3.69 ERA is sixth best in the MLB. The question for the A’s is if they are going to be able to keep up their success outside of the AL West.
Houston Astros (28-28): The reigning AL pennant winners are weirdly struggling this season even with a decently weak AL West division. The offense has been led by two unlikely players in Michael Brantley and Kyle Tucker, who have a combined .293% batting average. The Astros offense hasn’t been the best at producing runs, fourteenth in the MLB with 4.65 runs per game. The pitching has been headlined by a pitcher that is on the team but only pitched one game, Justin Verlander. The 37 year old, two time Cy Young award winner pitched one game for the Astros this season before getting injured and now needing Tommy John surgery, which puts him out for the rest of the season. The Astros have used the weak AL West to their advantage, going 15-10 against teams other than the A’s in the AL West and went Just like the A’s the Astros’ big question is how good they are going to be during the postseason against teams outside of the AL West.