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This weekend will help set stage for October

Sox, Tribe meet in potential playoff preview; Braves, Astros closing in on celebrations
September 20, 2018

It's the penultimate weekend of the regular season, and there's so much more to celebrate than just an awesome word like "penultimate." Here are five topics to track this weekend in MLB:1. You again? The Red Sox and Indians don't have much of a postseason history against each other.Well, OK,

It's the penultimate weekend of the regular season, and there's so much more to celebrate than just an awesome word like "penultimate." Here are five topics to track this weekend in MLB:
1. You again? The Red Sox and Indians don't have much of a postseason history against each other.
Well, OK, unless you count the 1995 American League Division Series, 1998 ALDS, 1999 ALDS, 2007 AL Championship Series and 2016 ALDS.
Other than all that, they're total strangers.
An ALCS between these two clubs is a distinct possibility next month, so while AL seeding is set (the top-seeded Red Sox clinched the AL East at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night), it behooves us to pay close attention to their clash in Cleveland this weekend.
Postseason Picture: Where we are right now

It gets started with two stud pitchers getting stretched back out tonight (7:10 p.m. ET). Trevor Bauer will make his first start since Aug. 11, when a comebacker struck him in the right leg and caused a stress fracture. And Chris Sale will be making his third appearance since his most recent return from a shoulder issue, as he, too, readies himself for the October run after missing nearly all of August.

Prior to getting hurt, Sale and Bauer were probably first and second in the AL Cy Young Award race. Maybe they'll still finish with an interesting Cy Young Award argument, but more than anything, they have to prove themselves ready for October.
The weekend series wraps with Adam Plutko opposing Nathan Eovaldi at 7:05 p.m. Sunday. But will that be the last time these two clubs cross paths in 2018? Their history seems to insist otherwise.
Complete MLB standings
2. I want to see you be Brave: The Braves and Phillies entered this year high on upside but low on real expectations. The NL East was supposed to be the Nationals' domain, and, well, no sense rehashing what happened there.
The point is, the unexpected emergence of these two young clubs became one of the season's most fun storylines. And whether one or both would prove to have late-season staying power was, around the midpoint of the season, one of the biggest questions.
We have the answer to that question now. The Braves rose to the occasion, while the Phils faded (or is it phaded?). Ronald Acuna Jr. ignited the top of the order, Alex Anthopoulos made some wily pitching acquisitions, and Atlanta took over first place from Philadelphia -- seemingly for good -- on Aug. 13.

So it's only appropriate that the Braves have a chance to finish off the Phillies with a direct hit this weekend. With the magic number whittled down to four, a champagne celebration awaits Atlanta if it can win just two of the remaining three games in this weekend's four-game set (even though Acuna is actually still too young to even purchase champagne).
With the Braves' first division title since 2013 in sight, it's Julio Teheran opposite Nick Pivetta tonight (7:35 p.m. ET, SunTrust Park).
3. On the Rox: Beset by a bullpen that went backward, the D-backs have, unfortunately, slithered out of what had been a legit three-team race in the NL West. With Arizona's elimination number down to four, the Rockies can effectively finish them off at Chase Field this weekend, in a three-game set that begins tonight (9:40 p.m.) with German Marquez and Zack Greinke on the hill.
Now, the question is whether the Rox can make one last push past the Dodgers. They sit 2 1/2 games back after getting swept in L.A. this week.

A big key could be the condition of Trevor Story, who, prior to leaving Monday's game with an elbow injury, became the first shortstop in history with 40 doubles, 30 homers and 25 steals. An MRI earlier this week revealed only inflammation and no structural damage to Story's UCL, and it's possible he could be back in the lineup this weekend.
That would be huge, because the Rockies' offense can run very hot and cold and the Dodgers are playing their best ball of the season right now. Run differential (Los Angeles at plus-156, while Colorado at minus-9) insists that the Dodgers ought to be running away with this thing, but the Rockies still have a chance to finish with a flourish, beginning this weekend in Phoenix.
4. A great run, sans runs: You should never assume anything in baseball. That said, if you want to assume that Jacob deGrom will pitch great against the Nationals tonight (7:05 p.m., Nationals Park) and get very little run support, well, who could blame you?
These deGrom outings have become great theater, as his Sisyphean struggle to notch victories despite outrageously good individual numbers has become the ultimate referendum on the value (or lack thereof) of the win stat for starting pitchers. And actually, deGrom's Major League-best 1.78 ERA is even more impressive when you consider that he hasn't even had the benefit of going up against the Mets' offense!

Tonight, deGrom tries to improve his 8-9 record opposite Joe Ross and the Nationals. The last time deGrom faced the Nats was back on April 16, when his record (and ongoing) run of 27 straight starts allowing three runs or fewer began. Naturally, deGrom took a no-decision in that game. Little did we know then that this would be a defining trend of his year.
We know it now, and we know that -- losing record or not -- deGrom is still in good position for the NL Cy Young Award.
5. Halo, goodbye: The Astros are on the verge of their second straight AL West title. They've got Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Charlie Morton on the mound in succession this weekend against the Angels at Minute Maid Park, and their magic number is seven. So they're in great shape.
But let's talk about their weekend opponent for a sec.
The Majors' two best hitters this month, as measured by weighted runs created plus, are Shohei Ohtani and Michael Trout. They are putting quite a polish on their applications for the AL Rookie of the Year Award and the AL MVP Award, respectively.

What if they both win? There have only been 14 teams in history to have both the Rookie of the Year Award and the MVP Award -- counting the 1975 Red Sox (Fred Lynn) and 2001 Mariners (Ichiro Suzuki), who had both award winners in the form of a single human being. All of the previous 14 have finished the season with winning records (the Halos are dangerously close to falling short of that goal). And the previous two in the Wild Card era (the 1998 Cubs and those '01 Mariners) reached the playoffs, which obviously isn't happening in Anaheim.
It's a bit of a bummer that these two great players haven't been able to alter the Angels' bottom line and even more of a bummer that Ohtani's right elbow will keep him off the mound for the foreseeable future. But right now, with both of their engines running hot at the plate, they're especially fun to watch -- even if it's the other club that will be popping bubbly soon.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.