Two weeks left in the regular season. Stay focused. You're not going to win your fantasy football league anyway. Here's a quick rundown on the important races to follow:
Division races still up for grabs
The New York Yankees last led the American League East on July 31, but have been closer than three games on just two days since Aug. 4, both times 2.5 games behind. You get the feeling that, if they could get it down to two games, then maybe the Boston Red Sox feel that little added bit of pressure. The Yankees have gone 11-5 in September, but the Red Sox have gone 9-6. So Boston's lead is three games with 13 remaining. Remaining schedules (of course, the schedule-makers couldn't do the fun thing and schedule two Boston-New York series the final two weeks):
Yankees -- Minnesota (3), at Toronto (3), Kansas City (1), Tampa Bay (3), Toronto (3)
Red Sox -- at Baltimore (3), at Cincinnati (3), Toronto (3), Houston (4)
Prediction: Tie. We deserve a tie somewhere, somehow. A tiebreaker game would be played Oct. 2, a Monday, with the loser then hosting the wild-card game on Oct. 3. Who would start that game? Right now, our pitching schedules have Chris Sale in line to start the final Sunday of the regular season, but it's much more likely he goes Wednesday-Monday-Saturday, which would give him four days of rest before the division series starts on Oct. 5. In other words, no matter how the rotation falls, he's unlikely to be in line to start either a division tiebreaker game OR a potential wild-card game.
Meanwhile, in the National League Central, the Chicago Cubs basically eliminated the St. Louis Cardinals with a three-game sweep this weekend. Their lead over the Milwaukee Brewers is four and the Cubs do play four in Milwaukee the final week -- and remember that the Brewers swept the Cubs at Wrigley last weekend.
Prediction: Cubs take it.
American League second wild card
Well, so much for our seven-way tie. This has basically turned into a two-team chase between the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels. The Twins are just 8-8 in their past 16 games, but in this race to mediocrity, that has been good enough to keep a two-game lead over the Angels. That's not even a joke. September records for wild-card contenders:
Good job, everyone!
Twins -- at Yankees (3), at Detroit (4), Cleveland (3), Detroit (3)
Angels -- Cleveland (3), at Houston (3), at White Sox (4), Seattle (3)
The Twins get seven games against the Tigers. That should help them hold on.
National League second wild card
That road trip to Los Angeles and Arizona probably saved the Colorado Rockies' season -- they won all four games in L.A. and the first two in Arizona. With a 2.5-game lead over the Brewers, their odds of winning the second wild card register about 88 percent. They head out on another road trip, but it's to San Francisco for two games and San Diego for four, before finishing up at home against the Marlins and Dodgers. The Brewers are without ace Jimmy Nelson the rest of the way and have tough series against the Cubs and Cardinals.
Prediction: Rockies hold on.
In the AL, the Cleveland Indians are 1.5 games up on the Houston Astros. In the NL, the Los Angeles Dodgers have recovered from losing 16 of 17 and are six up on the Nationals. Cleveland's next three series are at the Angels, at the Mariners and hosting the Twins, so no easy ones there, but they're so hot right now they should hold off the Astros. They also hold the tiebreaker edge if they finish with the same record, having won the season series 5-1.
Prediction: Indians, Dodgers
American League Cy Young race
I was listening to the Kansas City Royals-Indians game on the radio on Sunday as Corey Kluber was spinning seven shutout innings and, at one point, the Indians broadcaster cheered that "Chris Sale has had a terrific season, but Corey Kluber has had a better season." My first thought was that enthusiasm may have been ripe with a little homerism, but it does feel like Kluber has the momentum. He now owns a notable lead in ERA and has cut into Sale's lead in innings and strikeouts:
Kluber: 17-4, 2.35 ERA, 191.2 IP, 129 H, 34 BB, 252 SO, 7.1 bWAR, 6.5 fWAR
Sale: 16-7, 2.86 ERA, 201.1 IP, 153 H, 41 BB, 287 SO, 5.9 bWAR, 7.6 fWAR
Sale should get those final three starts, but Kluber may get only two more starts -- with an off day on Monday, he probably starts again on Saturday and then once the final week. If Sale gets to 300 strikeouts that could help his case, and he also owns the lead in FanGraphs WAR. It wouldn't surprise if Terry Francona backs off Kluber's pitch counts a little bit as well, although he'll have plenty of time off between his final start and the first game of the division series. Point being: I think it's still basically a coin flip. When Kluber won in 2014, he barely edged out Felix Hernandez. This one will be close as well.
National League Cy Young race
Max Scherzer has allowed 11 runs in his past two outings, which suddenly opened up this race. Zack Greinke has had a run of outstanding starts while Clayton Kershaw leads in ERA and is tied with Greinke in wins. Those seem to be the top three guys, with apologies to Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg. And don't ignore Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, who is 5-0 with 38 saves, a 1.27 ERA and 101 strikeouts against just seven walks. Relievers don't get the support they once did, so he's probably a long shot.
Prediction: Kershaw. He starts Monday, so should get three more starts, which gives him a chance at 20 wins. If he gets 20 while leading in ERA, I think that may push him over the top in a split vote, even though he won't come close to 200 innings because of the 40-day DL stint.
American League MVP race
Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor got a lot of play for their unbelievable production during Cleveland's 22-game win streak, but this still looks like Jose Altuve's award thanks to his .348/.409/.556 line. He leads Mike Trout and Aaron Judge in both Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs WAR (with Ramirez fourth in both). My only hesitancy is that while MVP voters have gotten a lot smarter, they still naturally side to the RBI guys and Altuve has only 77 RBIs. That seems a little weird since he has hit third in the order almost all season -- yet he's .348 with men on and .310 with runners in scoring position.
Prediction: Altuve. Trout's only chance is if the Angels make the playoffs. Even then, he'll likely fall short as voters can't look past the 45 games he missed.
National League MVP race
No consensus has developed here, although public opinion seems to have narrowed the field to Giancarlo Stanton, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and maybe Anthony Rendon (Joey Votto will get a lot of top-five votes, but with the Reds mired in last place, he is an unlikely winner). Stanton had possibly emerged as the favorite despite playing for a non-playoff team, but he has hit .170 in September with three home runs, so his pursuit of reaching 60 is in jeopardy. If he gets to 60, maybe he's back to being the front-runner. Can he hit six in 13 games? The Marlins do have three games in Arizona and three in Colorado, two homer-friendly parks. The two Rockies need to make the playoffs to have a chance.
Prediction: Goldschmidt. With Arenado right behind. They're 1-2 in RBIs. Arenado has the amazing defense, but also carries the Coors Field anchor (although he has hit a solid .289/.359/.543 on the road). Goldschmidt has a much higher OBP without playing half his games at Coors. Arenado has the best chance to do something dramatic these final days to help the Rockies clinch a playoff spot. Another big moment -- like his three-run homer off Kershaw that kicked off that four-game sweep of L.A. -- could get him the extra credit he needs.