Baseball enters stretch drive

Labor Day marks the traditional end of summer, and the traditional beginning of pennant races in baseball. As we go into the second week of September, many intriguing storylines have emerged, and there is much drama yet to unfold.

In the American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays have surged to the top led by trade deadline acquisitions David Price, Troy Tulowitzki and Ben Revere. As Wednesday’s play began, Toronto had a 1½ game lead over the second place New York Yankees having won 26-of-34 since those acquisitions. The Blue Jays have a big four-game series this weekend in New York. The Yankees currently hold the first Wild Card spot and have injury issues in their rotation first with C.C. Sabathia and now Nathan Eovaldi.

The Central is all but wrapped up, with the defending A.L. champion Kansas City Royals double-digits in front of the positive surprise Minnesota Twins. On the negative side are the Chicago White Sox, and the Detroit Tigers mired in last place. The West has taken an unexpected turn as the Texas Rangers have climbed to within one game of the first-place Houston Astros at midweek. The Rangers acquired Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels at the deadline in a move seen for the future. Well the future is now for Texas, currently in the second wild card with Minnesota as its closest contender.

Over in the National League, the New York Mets have turned their fortunes around having found offense to go with their stellar young starting pitching. Yoenis Cespedes came over from Detroit at the deadline and has 13 home runs for New York whose lead ballooned to six games over second place Washington on the strength of two dramatic wins over the Nationals to start the week. Washington, seen as the prohibitive favorite before the season, is wondering where it all went so wrong.

St. Louis has been the leader in the Central, and overall in baseball throughout the season. A dramatic come-from-behind win over the Cubs on Wednesday put them at 88-51, five games out front of Pittsburgh and seven-and-a-half ahead of the Cubs. The three best records in all of baseball belong to those three teams, with the Pirates and Cubs seeming on a collision course in the Wild Card Game with any other contenders well behind. The Dodgers have run away from the defending world champion Giants in the West fresh off a recent sweep in L.A., starting pitching the primary reason.

The Royals are well on their way to the best record in the American League, which would give them home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Second place in the East appears certain to play second in the West for the Wild Card, with those division winners also meeting in the Division Series and that Wild Card winner playing Kansas City.

The Cardinals should finish with the best mark in the N.L. meaning they would play the Pirates/Cubs winner in the Division Series. The East and West winners, very likely the Mets and Dodgers, would renew an old-time rivalry in a series sure to be dominated by outstanding pitching. Less than four weeks remain, and the regular season ends October 4—October 5 should any tiebreaker games be necessary. The postseason begins October 6.