Now that the non-waiver Trade Deadline has passed and one-third of the league's players have changed teams -- this is a rough estimate -- we can really settle into the pennant races.Of course, those aren't the only battles taking place. We've also got some Baseball Writers' Association of America hardware
Now that the non-waiver Trade Deadline has passed and one-third of the league's players have changed teams -- this is a rough estimate -- we can really settle into the pennant races.
Of course, those aren't the only battles taking place. We've also got some Baseball Writers' Association of America hardware on the line between now and Oct. 1, and the individual plot points associated with those honors can be entertaining as well.
So here's one man's ranking of all of baseball's races in the home stretch, in order from most to least compelling.
1. National League East
This is going to turn out one of two ways:
A. The Phillies or Braves are going to win a division title that quite literally nobody was predicting at the start of the year. It would be Atlanta's first division title since 2013 and Philadelphia's first since '11.
B. The Nationals, who were seven games back on July 26, are going to storm back to win the title after a summer in which they seriously contemplated trading Bryce Harper and others.
Either scenario is pretty compelling. As of this writing, the FanGraphs-calculated odds of winning the division are 45.3 percent for the Phils, 32.2 percent for the Nats and 22.5 percent for the Braves.
2. NL Central
It boils down to the Cubs and Brewers, but the Pirates and Cardinals are on the periphery. And the last-place Reds have become a real headache for opposing clubs. So this division is a lot of fun right now.
The Cubs probably remain the best team on paper (with a 76.7-percent chance of winning the Central, per FanGraphs), and they've beaten the Brew Crew in eight of 11 meetings, to date. But they haven't been able to separate themselves in the standings so far, and with Yu Darvish, Kristopher Bryant and Brandon Morrow all banged up, who knows? Milwaukee is hunting what would be just its second division title since 1982.
3. NL West
On the one hand, this race is ultra-tight, with the Dodgers, D-backs and Rockies all neck and neck and the Giants looming not terribly far behind.
On the other hand, the Dodgers, who entered the year heavily favored to win the West, were 10 games under .500 on May 16 and have one of the best records in baseball since then. So the time to truly knock Los Angeles out might have already come and gone, especially given the way it fueled up at the Deadline with Manny Machado and James Dozier (FanGraphs gives them a 78-percent chance of winning the division). But that doesn't mean those other clubs can't do it. L.A. still has 23 games left against Arizona, Colorado and San Francisco.
4. American League East
Let's start with the good: The Red Sox and Yankees are both on pace for north of 100 wins -- something that has happened in only three previous division races since the division format was instituted in 1969 (the Yanks and Orioles in 1980 AL East, and the Braves and Giants in 1993 NL West and Mariners and A's in 2001 AL West). And with both of these clubs having stocked up at the Deadline and so much emotion invested in The Rivalry, both clubs have all the incentive in the world to win the division and avoid the one-and-done Wild Card Game.
Now, the reality: The Red Sox took a 7 1/2-game lead into Saturday's game and have been on an absolute tear since the start of July. In record and run differential, it might be the best Boston club, well, ever. A lot of us would love to see these two clubs playing a series that matters the final weekend of the regular season in Fenway, and the ranking here reflects, in some measure, a belief that crazy things can and perhaps will happen in The Rivalry. But man, the Red Sox might actually be running away with a division featuring a fellow triple-digit winner, and that's flat-out impressive.
5. NL Wild Card
At this point, it's just easier to list the clubs that aren't mathematically in the real running for an NL playoff spot -- the Reds, Marlins, Mets and Padres.
It could well be that the second AL Wild Card winner finishes with a better record than the best team in the NL. So this race isn't replete with powerhouse clubs. But the sheer mass of squads involved, including a Pirates club roundly written off as recently as June, means that on pretty much any given day there is a series of magnitude taking place. And this race keeps our hope of a complicated three- or even four-team tiebreaker alive.
6. AL Wild Card
In all likelihood, the top Wild Card spot will just go to whoever loses the AL East. But the second spot has become a legit brouhaha between the Mariners and A's -- assuming those clubs can't make a real run at the Astros in the AL West, which we'll address in a minute -- who still have 10 games against each other.
The Mariners are trying to overcome the longest postseason drought in North American professional sports, while the A's are trying to make it to October despite having the lowest Opening Day payroll in baseball -- something that hasn't happened at all in the Wild Card era. What's not to love?
7. NL Most Valuable Player Award
This race mirrors the NL Wild Card race in that it is one big shrug emoji right now. In our poll of MLB.com's reporting crew earlier this week, Atlanta's Freddie Freeman was in the pole position but 10 different guys received top-three votes, including Nolan Arenado, Lorenzo Cain, Paul Goldschmidt, Eugenio Suarez, Javier Baez, Christian Yelich, Matt Carpenter and even starting pitchers Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola.
There are at least that many guys who could get hot enough down the stretch to seize this prize.
8. AL Cy Young Award
Chris Sale is in good position to finally get over the hump -- he's been top six in the voting each of the past six years and never won it -- but he's on the DL with shoulder inflammation and September has never been his strongest month.
Three-fifths of the Astros' rotation is in the mix, including Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole and the ageless Justin Verlander (eyeing his second Cy). The Indians' Trevor Bauer or two-time Cy winner Corey Kluber could get it done, as could the Yankees' Luis Severino. Lots of meat on the bone here, and Sale's health is going to have an impact on more than just the AL East race.
9. NL Cy Young Award
As if the NL East race wasn't strong enough, Scherzer, Nola and the Mets' Jacob deGrom all rank in the top three in the NL in ERA. Scherzer could join Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Steve Carlton on the short list of four-time winners. But deGrom could become the first pitcher in history with a sub-2.00 ERA and fewer than 10 wins, which would make for an interesting test of the voters' application of advanced metrics.
10. AL MVP Award
Michael Trout is having his best season. When you consider the fact that he's, you know, Mike Trout, that's impressive.
But does that make him a no-doubt-about-it lock for his third AL MVP Award? Not necessarily. There's always the chance some voters, rightly or wrongly, hold the Angels' lowly record against Trout, whose recent right wrist issue might also be a concern. And with Jose Ramirez, who could conceivably lead the AL in both homers and steals, right behind him in WAR and Mookie Betts right behind him in wRC+, it's possible this gets complicated in the home stretch. The Ramirez and Betts cases might even be complicated by their teammates, Francisco Lindor and J.D. Martinez.
11. AL West
It would be pretty stunning if the Astros coughed up their advantage over the Mariners and A's here, especially considering they are a combined 15-7 against those two clubs and they finish their season with 10 games against the Angels, Blue Jays and Orioles. FanGraphs gives them a 97.4-percent chance of nailing it down.
12. AL Rookie of the Year Award
Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres is the presumptive favorite. But Shohei Ohtani continues to progress toward a return to the mound while seeing a lot of DH days for the Angels, and the sheer novelty of what he's trying to do is worth consideration.
13. NL Rookie of the Year Award
Our latest MLB.com poll had Nationals outfielder Juan Soto well out in front here, with other top-three votes going to the Marlins' Brian Anderson, the Reds' Jesse Winker (before his season-ending shoulder injury), the Phillies' Seranthony Dominguez, the Cardinals' Jack Flaherty and Harrison Bader, the Padres' Christian Villanueva and the Giants' Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez. So like the NL Wild Card race, it's crowded, but it's likely Soto's to lose right now.
14. NL Manager of the Year Award
With so many teams in the postseason mix, it is impossible to handicap this race right now. At the moment, Brian Snitker (Braves), Gabe Kapler (Phillies) and Craig Counsell (Brewers) all have compelling cases, and Clint Hurdle (Pirates) deserves credit for the Buccos' recent resurgence. It's rare for a guy to win this award in back-to-back years, but what if Torey Lovullo's D-backs down the Dodgers?
15. AL Manager of the Year Award
It could be that this award goes to whichever of the AL East's rookie skippers -- Alex Cora (Red Sox) or Aaron Boone (Yankees) -- prevails in that division. But Manager of the Year often goes to the skipper of a surprise squad, and either the Mariners' Scott Servais or the A's Bob Melvin would qualify, depending on who nabs a Wild Card spot.
16. AL Central
The Twins were the Indians' closest competition here, but their postesason odds were unrealistic enough to compel them to sell just about everything that wasn't nailed down at the Deadline. The Tribe will cruise to its third straight division crown.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.