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7 things to watch in regular season's final week

@RichardJustice
September 22, 2019

Can you believe it? These six months have flown by, and things are moving even more quickly now as some teams prepare for the postseason and others fight and claw simply to get there. Anyway, welcome to the final week of the regular season. Excluding division leaders, we still have

Can you believe it? These six months have flown by, and things are moving even more quickly now as some teams prepare for the postseason and others fight and claw simply to get there.

Anyway, welcome to the final week of the regular season.

Excluding division leaders, we still have nine teams with a mathematical chance at one of the four Wild Card berths. Seedings are still up in the air, and plenty of the individual awards remain too close to call. Since ballots must be filled out before the first playoff game, this final week could make or break a couple of players.

With so much still to do, here are seven things to keep an eye on this week:

1. Will Bryce Harper end the Nationals’ postseason hopes?

Harper delivered one of the electric moments of this season when he homered in his first game at Nationals Park as a visiting player. That was way back in April and reminded us how much he loves the big moment. Here’s another. With the Nationals finishing the regular season with an eight-game, seven-day homestand that includes five against a Phillies team that can still catch them in the National League Wild Card standings, Harper could do some real damage.

The Nationals and Brewers are in a virtual Wild Card tie, but the Nats might be more vulnerable because they finish against the Phillies and Indians, who are battling for an American League Wild Card spot. The Brewers close with six games against eliminated teams, three at Cincinnati and three at Colorado.

Besides the Phillies, who are six games back, the Cubs, Mets and D-backs enter the final week alive but needing to make up at least four games in the Wild Card standings. With four home games vs. the Marlins, the Mets have a chance to tighten things going into the final weekend, when they host three games vs. the Braves.

If the Nationals and Brewers are the two NL Wild Card teams but finish with the same record, the Brewers would be the home team in the one-game playoff because they won the season series, 4-2.

2. Can the Brewers finish this latest September miracle?

Never underestimate the heart of a champion. Or something like that. The Brewers are 11-2 since Christian Yelich sustained a broken kneecap. To think any team could overcome this kind of loss in a tight race seemed unlikely. Yet the Brewers have.

Milwaukee’s 2.56 ERA in those 13 games is the best in the Majors. Offensively, the Brewers are averaging 4.9 runs a game thanks, in part, to Yelich’s replacement, rookie Trent Grisham, slashing .270/.404/.541.

3. Do the Yankees and Astros really want home-field advantage?

In the last five seasons, home teams have a .563 winning percentage (98-76) in the postseason. On the other hand, the AL team with home-field advantage could draw a Division Series against the Rays or A’s. The Astros (102-54) clinched their third straight AL West title on Sunday and begin the final week with a half-game lead over the Yankees (102-55) in the race for the AL’s best record.

The Astros have the tiebreaker advantage. Nothing against the Twins, who have had a magical season and appear headed for the AL Central title. But the No. 1 seed in the American League could be a dangerous place to be considering the AL Wild Card contenders. That first-round ALDS matchup could end up being against the A’s or Rays, and there might not be two better teams in either league at the moment. The A’s are 15-5 this month, best record in the AL, and the Rays are close behind at 13-6. Both have added reinforcements from the Minor Leagues or injured list in recent weeks.

4. Don’t overlook the Cardinals

After three years out of the playoffs, the Cardinals clinched a postseason berth on Sunday afternoon by finishing a four-game sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley Field. They did it in style, winning all four games by one run, coming from behind twice and winning once in 10 innings.

This team was 31-32 and 5 1/2 games out of first on June 9. They’re 58-35 since, with MLB’s lowest ERA (3.42). They are going to roll into October brimming with confidence.

5. Will the Braves, A’s and Twins join the 100-win club?

The Twins haven’t won 100 games since 1965, the A’s since 2002, the Braves since 2003. Yes, it’s a big deal. Beyond that, MLB has never had six 100-win teams in a single season. All three have a puncher’s chance to get there. The Braves would have to go 4-1, the Twins 4-2, the A’s 6-0. It would be a nice way to enter the postseason.

6. Will the healthy Yankees (slowly and cautiously) raise their hands?

Other than settling the final playoff berths, no question is more significant for October than the Yankees figuring out how many healthy bodies they’ll have. Every day seems to bring another scare or two, so we may or may not learn how much the Yankees can count on Gary Sánchez, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton and a long list of others when the Division Series opens.

Severino strikes out 9 in second start of 2019

7. Twenty wins for just Verlander, but 40-homer club may add a few more

Justin Verlander won his 20th game on Sunday afternoon. He has done that just one other time, in 2011, and this time must be especially sweet given the injuries he has had to overcome. Meanwhile, this final week begins with nine players in the 40-home run club, led by Pete Alonso's 50. That number may grow because Alex Bregman begins with the final week with 39, and Freddie Freeman, George Springer and Torres are right behind with 38.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.