When we near the end of a season, I always remember some of the improbable turnarounds from death to life (or life to death) that we've seen, even in the recent past.
Who can forget the 2007 Colorado Rockies, who won 13 of their final 14 games to force a one-game tiebreaker with the San Diego Padres for the wild card? They won that game and eventually reached the World Series. With two weeks left in the 2011 season, the Tampa Bay Rays trailed the Boston Red Sox by four games. Thanks to a dramatic chain of events on the final day of the season, the Rays won the wild card. Or how about the 2012 Oakland Athletics, who trailed the Texas Rangers by four games with six to play? The A's went 6-0, including a season-ending sweep in Texas, and won the division.
So anything is possible. There is a glimmer of hope in Oakland or Arizona. Still, the A's trail the Houston Astros by 4½ games in the AL West and the Arizona Diamondbacks trail the Rockies by 4½ games in the NL West and are four games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second wild card, so the odds are long. That means we have much more clarity in our playoff picture -- and also the hopes of chaos in the form of some type of five-way tie probably won't happen. So sad. One of these years.
Anyway, the big questions for the final two weeks:
Who wins the NL West?
The Rockies are a half-game up on the Dodgers (one in the loss column). They have 13 games remaining and the Dodgers 12. And guess what? They start the week with a three-game series in L.A., the final games between the clubs. The Dodgers lead the season series 9-7 and have outscored the Rockies 82-63.
COL: at LAD (3), off day, at ARI (3), PHI (4), WAS (3)
LAD: COL (3), off day, SD (3), at ARI (3), off day, at SF (3)
Small edge in the schedule for the Dodgers, but, who knows, the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals may have mentally packed things in by that final week, so maybe that's a nice season-ending homestand for the Rockies. The Dodgers, thanks to their season edge in run differential and easier schedule, are still the big favorite, according to FanGraphs: 69.4 percent chance to win the division compared to 29.8 percent for the Rockies.
Who wins the NL Central?
The Milwaukee Brewers' chances took a hit on Saturday and Sunday with 3-1 and 3-2 losses to the Pittsburgh Pirates; they're 2½ games behind the Chicago Cubs with no head-to-head matchups remaining. FanGraphs gives the Cubs an 86 percent chance of winning the division.
CHC: at ARI (3), off day, at CHW (3), PIT (4), STL (3)
MIL: CIN (3), off day, at PIT (3), at STL (3), DET (3)
The Cubs essentially finish with 10 games at home since there will probably be more Cubs fans at Guaranteed Rate Field than Chicago White Sox fans. The St. Louis Cardinals are in the thick of the wild-card race, so that final series at Wrigley could have a lot of meaning for them. The Brewers catch a nice break by finishing with the Detroit Tigers. The Cubs are the favorites, but I think this comes down to the final weekend.
Who wins the NL wild card?
The Brewers are three up on the Dodgers and Cardinals, who are tied for the second wild card. The Diamondbacks are four back of the Dodgers and Cardinals. The Phillies are five back. Heck, the Nationals are six back and not completely dead. (OK, good luck moving past four teams.)
Here's the St. Louis schedule:
STL: at ATL (3), off day, SF (3), MIL (3), at CHC (3)
Losing three of four to the Dodgers at home was tough, and now the Cardinals have tough games against the Braves and that tough final week. Not to eliminate the Diamondbacks, but we're essentially looking at five teams for four spots: Cubs, Brewers, Rockies, Dodgers and Cardinals. It may be a good time to pull out the old tiebreaker scenarios.
That's another article, but there is a possibility of say, the Brewers, Cardinals, Rockies and Dodgers all ending up with same record. Here's what happens:
Monday, Oct. 1 -- The Rockies and Dodgers play for the NL West title, the Brewers and Cardinals play with the winner advancing to the wild-card game.
Tuesday, Oct. 2 --The losers of Monday's games play for the second wild-card spot. Just don't ask me what happens if the Diamondbacks somehow rally or the Cubs falter and we end up in a five-way tie.
Who wins home-field advantage for the AL wild card?
Assuming the A's don't pull off that miracle to catch the Astros, the lone question in the AL is home-field advantage for the wild-card game. Is it a big deal? Maybe, although neither team has an abnormal difference in home/road winning percentage.
The interesting thing here is the vastly different nature of the ballparks for two teams that rely on the home run. The Yankees have 133 home runs at home, 107 on the road. The A's have 82 home runs at home, 122 on the road. Several A's starting pitchers have huge home/road splits -- but the offense makes up for that by hitting more home runs on the road. Plus, it's not like the A's will rely on their starting pitcher to go deep into the game anyway.
The Yankees would love to play at home for reasons beyond home-field advantage for one game. They end the season in Boston, so if the wild-card game is in Oakland they'd have to fly across the country to the Bay Area and then back to Boston for the first game of the division series (if they beat Oakland). No fun.
The Yankees do lead the A's by 1½ games, but really it's a 2½-game edge. The teams split six games, so the next tiebreaker is intradivision record. The Yankees are 35-28 versus the AL East and the A's are 33-34 versus the West, so if the teams end up with the same record, the A's are likely headed to the Bronx. Thanks, Baltimore.
NYY: Off day, BOS (3), BAL (3), at TAM (4), at BOS (3)
OAK: Off day, LAA (3), MIN (3), at SEA (3), at LAA (3)
AL MVP -- With apologies to Mike Trout, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor and Matt Chapman, it feels like a battle among Red Sox teammates Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez and the Astros' Alex Bregman. Martinez now trails Betts by nine points in batting average and Khris Davis by two home runs (he holds a seven-RBI lead over Davis), so his Triple Crown pursuit is still a possibility, if less likely than a few weeks ago. Martinez has been in a power drought (for him) with just three home runs in his past 23 games.
NL MVP -- Still wide open. Lorenzo Cain actually leads in WAR -- defense! -- but he's not going to win thanks to a meager 36 RBIs. Seven other position players are bunched between 4.9 and 5.8 WAR. It may come down to the NL Central race, with Javier Baez and Christian Yelich. Whoever has the best teammates -- and wins the division -- could win MVP hardware.
AL Rookie -- Shohei Ohtani continues to rake and he's up to .290/.370/.587 with 20 home runs. Miguel Andujar has 24 home runs and 83 RBIs for the Yankees and teammate Gleyber Torres has been an even better all-around player. I think Ohtani's late surge gives him a slight edge.
NL Rookie -- Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto both continue to rake as well, but Acuna has been a monster the past two months -- 1.103 OPS in August and 1.058 in September. He should win, and he will win.
Injuries to watch
Mookie Betts, Red Sox: He left Sunday's game with a sore left side, the same injury that sidelined him earlier in the season. Manager Alex Cora said Betts is fine and should be in the lineup Tuesday against the Yankees.
Aaron Judge, Yankees: He was activated over the weekend, but appeared only on defense. He could finally see some at-bats this week.
Aroldis Chapman, Yankees: He threw a bullpen session on Saturday as he comes back from left knee tendinitis and he will throw a simulated game early in the week. Sounds like he's on track to come back the final week and be ready for the postseason.
Matt Barnes, Red Sox: The team's best setup guy, who has been out with left hip discomfort, threw a side session on Friday.
Josh Donaldson, Indians: He's played four games for Cleveland, including three at third base, and gone 2-for-13 with a home run.
Trevor Bauer, Indians: Still on schedule for a late September return from a stress fracture in his right fibula.
Andrew Miller, Indians: He returned last week and has pitched four games, giving up two runs in four innings.
Lance McCullers Jr., Astros: Still on the DL with a right forearm strain, threw 40 pitches in a simulated game last week. If he does return, it will be as a reliever.
Pedro Strop, Cubs: Strained his hamstring while batting and was ruled out for the rest of the regular season. His availability in October remains up in the air.
Brandon Morrow, Cubs: Considering Strop had replaced Morrow as the closer, the Cubs certainly could use Morrow to return from a bone bruise in his right arm (he's been out since July 16). He threw a simulated game on Saturday, but no timetable has been given on his return.
How many games will the Red Sox win? The Red Sox are 103-47 with 12 games remaining. If they can win seven of those games, they'll join rarified company in the 110-win club:
2001 Mariners: 116
1906 Cubs: 116
1998 Yankees: 114
1954 Indians: 111
1927 Yankees: 110
1909 Pirates: 110
Only the 2001 Mariners and 1998 Yankees did it in the 162-game era (and only five other teams in the 162-game era have won at least 108). Somebody wins the World Series every year; what the Red Sox are doing is pretty special (although, let's be honest, the Red Sox have benefited from a stratified league with a lot of bad teams).
Managers on the hot seat: No doubt we'll be seeing the final games for some managers. Buck Showalter in Baltimore (his contract is up) and John Gibbons in Toronto are certain to be gone.
The future for Mike Scioscia -- the longest-tenured manager in the game -- remains up in the air. His contract is up and reports in August said he wouldn't be back in 2019. Scioscia said those reports were "poppycock." However, back in August the Angels promoted Triple-A manager Keith Johnson to the majors to serve as an extra coach. Eric Chavez, a special assistant to GM Billy Eppler, finished out the season as the Salt Lake manager. Given another disappointing season in Anaheim, the signals seem to suggest the Angels will have their first new manager since Scioscia took over in 2000.
Then there's Bruce Bochy, who still has another season left on his deal. I can't envision the Giants firing him, but Bochy will turn 64 next April, the Giants are headed to a second straight losing season, and there is the possibility that they undergo some type of minor rebuild. Bochy may not want to stick around for that -- and the Giants may not want a veteran manager to stick around for that. Bochy told John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle a few days ago that he still wants to manage in 2019. Giants ownership hasn't made any public commitment for 2019 on either Bochy or front office executives Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans (whose contracts also expire after 2019). An amicable parting of the ways wouldn't be shocking.
So long, Captain America: David Wright had half a Hall of Fame career with the Mets, but a long series of debilitating injuries ruined the second half of his career. Still, he's the second-best player in Mets history and after not playing in the majors since 2016, he'll get one final start on Sept. 29, the next-to-last game of the season. If you're a Mets fan, get your ticket now: As of Friday morning, Newsday reported the average ticket price on one resale site jumped from $21 to $246.