When the Astros clinched the American League West on Sunday, there was a common theme running through their clubhouse. Even as they celebrated, there was a sense of unfulfilled business."We set out to do more than this," George Springer said, echoing similar comments from virtually all of his teammates.He's not
When the Astros clinched the American League West on Sunday, there was a common theme running through their clubhouse. Even as they celebrated, there was a sense of unfulfilled business.
"We set out to do more than this," George Springer said, echoing similar comments from virtually all of his teammates.
He's not alone.
This baseball season is down to its final 14 days, and there's unfinished business here, there and everywhere. That's especially true of the undecided playoff berths and seeding, but it goes deeper than that, with virtually every contender looking at a lengthy to-do list.
Here are 10 things that still need to be decided over the next two weeks:
1. AL East
The Red Sox are spending their 49th consecutive day in first place and have a three-game lead over the Yankees. They've won eight of 11 and have an interesting schedule: three games apiece in Baltimore and Cincinnati before finishing at home with three against the Blue Jays and four against the Astros.
Current seeding would have the Astros and Red Sox playing one another in an AL Division Series. So if you like Red Sox-Astros on your menu, you could have nine of those games in the next three weeks, if the ALDS were to go the distance. The Yankees keep charging, having won 11 of 14 entering a home series against the Twins on Monday. They've trimmed the Boston lead from 5 1/2 games to three this month and have a rotation good enough to make them a dangerous postseason club.
2. National League Central
The Cubs are rolling, having won six in a row, including a three-game sweep of the Cardinals this past weekend. The Brewers get their crack at the front-runners with a four-game series that begins Thursday at Miller Park. Everything has come hard for the Cubs in this post-title season, but they're ending it just about where they expected to be. They begin a 10-game road trip on Tuesday against the Rays before going to Milwaukee.
3. Second AL Wild Card spot
The Angels and Twins have shadowed one another for six weeks, and they begin this final stretch with Minnesota leading by two games. The schedule isn't doing either team any favors. The Twins have three road games against the Yankees and three against the Indians, but they also play the Tigers seven times. The Angels have three home games against the Indians this week, then go to Houston for three against the Astros.
4. NL Wild Card Game
It's the D-backs and Rockies, right? These two teams have been the NL Wild Card front-runners for the entire second half of the season. Only thing is, the Brewers have scratched and clawed the entire season and are still within striking distance -- 2 1/2 games behind Colorado. The Cardinals are 4 1/2 back despite a tough weekend at Wrigley Field.
5. AL's best record
The Indians (93-57) lead the Astros (91-58) by 1 1/2 games, and both teams say it matters and that they will continue to play it that way even after having clinched their division. Houston has righted its ship by winning 12 of 17, but Cleveland is a runaway train: 24-1 since Aug. 24 and 33-5 since Aug. 11.
6. NL's best record
The Dodgers (96-53) are closing in after taking two of three from the Nationals (90-59) this weekend to open up a five-game lead. Los Angeles has had one of the stranger seasons any team has ever had, with stretches of 91-36 and 1-16. Now the Dodgers have won four of five and can almost begin looking ahead to an NLDS match against the NL Wild Card Game winner.
7. Bryce Harper, Nationals
No player is more important than Harper. He changes not just the Nationals, but maybe the whole NL landscape with his presence in the middle of the lineup. Harper has not played since suffering a bruised left knee on Aug. 12, and while he has begun to take batting practice, his recovery will be one of the critical storylines in these final two weeks.
8. David Price and Mookie Betts, Red Sox
Could manager John Farrell use Price in some sort of Andrew Miller super-reliever role? That's what Farrell will attempt to figure out in these last two weeks as his team tries to close out the AL East and get Price comfortable after a season in which left arm problems have limited him to 11 starts. Maybe more pressing is getting Betts healthy. He has been bothered by a sore right hand for a while, and he left Sunday's game in the fifth inning.
9. Jacob Arrieta, Cubs
Just when he was back to his Cy Young Award-winning form (1.69 ERA in 11 starts), Arrieta suffered a right hamstring injury on Sept. 4 that has put his playoff status in doubt. The Cubs are hoping he can return for this weekend's series against the Brewers, which would allow him a tuneup or two in preparation for the postseason.
10. Lance McCullers, Astros
McCullers will need at least another bullpen session as the Astros decide on his availability for the remainder of the season due to what is being described as "arm fatigue." He was one of baseball's most dominant starters in the first half of the season, with a 2.69 ERA after 15 starts and a spot on the AL All-Star team. But McCullers has made just one start since July 31.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.