Breaking Down September Baseball

As the conclusion of any MLB regular season draws near, baseball fans of teams in contention begin to pay a great deal more attention to each remaining game. For those fans left without any major in­terests in playoff races (sorry again, Cubs faithfuls) the award races provide a bit of intrigue as we barrel towards Octo­ber. This is the reality for enthusiasts of America’s pastime and you better believe it won’t change any time soon.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a quick look at some of baseball’s biggest stories.

AL Wild Card Race: What a ridiculously enthralling and potentially painful year 2011 has been for the Boston Red Sox so far. After an absolutely horrid 2-10 start, the Sox turned it around to roar into the AL East lead with the best offense in baseball only to see the New York Yankees come and re-take that lead and seemingly relegate Boston to a Wild Card berth. Now, those pesky Tampa Bay Rays have climbed all the way back into what was a one-horse race by going 11-6 in September to the Sox’s 5-16. The Rays have the second-lowest payroll in the majors and Boston has the second-highest. Now that’s win efficiency. The Red Sox do have four of their last seven games against the Baltimore Orioles, but they also play six of those games on the road including three at Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, the Rays have six games of their own against New York, so it’s up to the Yankees to decide who joins them in the postseason. With these teams in­volved, there is going to be some great baseball from here on out.

NL Wild Card Race: As a San Francisco Giants fan, I obviously have a bias when it comes to this race. You can’t really blame a fan of the defending World Series champions for wanting to see his team at least make the playoffs, can you? Fine, don’t answer that. The point is, the Atlanta Braves are enjoying a September collapse that is eerily similar to that of the Red Sox. The two teams chasing – the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals – are both on fire and the Braves continue to pour gasoline on the flames. With three series left against sub-.500 teams, the Cards look to be in good shape for making a run. Atlanta finishes the year at home against a Philadelphia Phillies team that has no reason to play hard, other than di­visional pride, so that could bode poorly for San Fran and St. Louis. Regardless of that, you should definitely keep an eye on the standings over the next week and a half.

AL MVP Race: Everyone knows De­troit Tigers ace Justin Verlander has the AL Cy Young award wrapped up and they’ve known it for a while. Still, the question remains if he can pull out the MVP award, as well. With his stat line, I think he has as good a shot as any pitcher in the last 20 years or so with his 24-5, 2.29 ERA, 244 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.91 line. With one more win, Verlander would become the first starter with 25 victo­ries since 1990. The fact of the matter is, there really isn’t anyone else in the Ameri­can League who I see as more valuable to his team. Curtis “Grandy-man” Grander­son leads the AL in runs and RBI, but he’s having an awful September and his season average of .268 does not equal most valu­able player. Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays might make a good case if he keeps his average over .300, with 42 jacks and an OPS over .1000, but the Jays are not even a playoff team. The Tigers have clinched their division with Verlander leading the charge. Others can be argued for, but it sure is hard to argue against this guy.

NL Cy Young Award: This one is a bit more difficult to write about, simply because I despise all three of these pitch­ers. I’m pretty much obligated to, as one plays for my team’s century-old rival and the other two play for the Phreak­ing Phillies. I’m talking of course about Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Each of these pitchers has brought something unique to their team this sea­son, ranging from overall dominance to longevity to plain old masterful pitch­ing. At this point, I believe Kershaw will take home the coveted award based on statistics alone, but the voters absolutely love Halladay and Lee has six shutouts. Kershaw is second in the league in wins, first in ERA and first in strikeouts. Ian Kennedy has had an amazing year for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but everything other than his record pale in comparison to Kershaw who has put up better num­bers on a far worse team. When it comes to Halladay and Lee, there just really isn’t a way to say that one pitcher has outper­formed the other. Perhaps that judgment is a bit unfair since they are both incredi­ble pitchers, but I’m going with Kershaw. Yes, I still hate the Dodgers.

Contact Jordan Plaut at [email protected]