Now that it is officially September, it is crunch time for teams in Major League Baseball vying to secure a playoff spot.
Everyone cannot be the St. Louis Cardinals, owning an 85-46 record and a comfortable five-game lead in baseball’s toughest division, the National League Central.
In the season’s final weeks, there are still many teams to keep an eye on as the playoff picture shapes up.
Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto, which currently sits in first place of the American League East, is one of the hottest teams in the game. After playing just .500 baseball in the first half of the season, the Blue Jays made key acquisitions at the trade deadline for Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Ben Revere and LaTroy Hawkins that have paid off big time. Following their 46-46 record in the first half, Toronto has gone an impressive 28-11 to erase the lead the New York Yankees had over the division.
Although the race is certainly not over, Toronto’s lineup will be their key down the stretch. MVP-candidate Josh Donaldson leads the offensive with a .301 batting average, 36 home runs and 108 RBIs on the season. Donaldson is not the only Blue Jay crushing the ball. Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista have also gone deep, producing 30 and 31 home runs on the year, respectively.
Toronto has leads the league in home runs and runs scored. If they continue to provide this much run support for their pitching staff down the stretch, they will likely win the division. Toronto’s weakness is pitching. Outside of David Price, the pitching staff has been rather pedestrian. The Blue Jays will go only as far as their bats will take them this year.
New York Yankees
The Yankees are in the middle of one of the strangest seasons in recent memory. This team has looked awful at times, but great at others. The Yankees are currently in second place in the American League East behind Toronto by one and a half games. New York decided to stay pat at the trade deadline, a smart move at the time considering the team owned a five-game lead over the Blue Jays in July. But those days are over and now the Yankees find themselves in second place.
In the second half the injury bug has plagued the Yankees, which is something you cannot predict. First baseman Mark Teixeira suffered a leg injury in the middle of what has been a career-reviving season for him. The Yankees have also lost starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia to injury. Furthermore, Michael Pineda has not looked like himself yet on the mound after returning from a forearm injury that kept him out for a month.
The upside for the Yankees is that they have the chance to control their own destiny and make a run at the division title in September. The Yankees have seven games remaining with the Blue Jays, a great opportunity to make up ground, or put them in a deeper hole. The safest way for the Yankees to win the division is to beat Toronto themselves rather than rely on help from other teams.
New York Mets
In what has been a surprise to many, the New York Mets are for real. They are in first place in the National League East with a six-and-a-half game lead over the Washington Nationals. The Mets are another team that has benefited greatly from trade deadline deals. New York had the pitching to be a nightmare for any team in the postseason, but they lacked offense. By acquiring Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets now have a legit bat to bolster the middle of their lineup.
During the month of September, it will be interesting to see if the Mets show any signs of cracking under the pressure. It has been a long time since this organization has been involved in meaningful baseball games this late in the season. The Mets have six games remaining with the second-place Washington Nationals, where they will have the chance to rise to the challenge of pressure baseball games.
Ultimately, the pitching staff will always carry this team. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are three young studs with power arms. As long as they continue to receive run support, the Mets will be a dangerous team in the postseason.