MLB playoff races heat up before October

Christopher Gibson, Courier Staff

Football may be dominating the sports world headlines, but the race for the playoffs in the MLB is still going. With the closing stretch happening, some teams need to find a groove (and some luck) if they want to continue playing come October.

If you take a look at the divisional races that are happening, you’ll see that all but two are out of reach. The Yankees lead the AL East by nine games, the Houston Astros lead the AL West by 10.5 games, while in the National League, the Atlanta Braves lead the NL East by 9.5 games and Los Angeles Dodgers lead the NL West by a whopping 17.5 games. The only two divisions that remain somewhat contentious are the Centrals.

In the AL Central, the Minnesota Twins are looking down at the Cleveland Indians, sitting five games ahead of them. However, that doesn’t mean they are home free yet. The Twins still have five divisional series left, with one of those series being against the Indians.

In the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals are leading the division by four games with the Chicago Cubs looking to catch them. Same as the AL Central, the Cardinals aren’t a lock-in yet to win the division. Three out of six of their remaining series come against divisional opponents, and two of those divisional series are against the Cubs.

Most MLB analysts and writers predict that the current leaders of these divisions will end up holding their lead and winning the division. I couldn’t disagree more. With both of the Centrals’ current leaders having plenty of division games left, there is no way that either the Indians or the Cubs won’t creep up and take the division. And the team that I think has the better chance to do exactly that is the Cubs.

Even though the Cubs have racked up the injuries as of late with Craig Kimbrel, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant and their star Javier Baez, they have the talent and the depth to make the push. Their starting rotation, while not as good as they have been the last couple of seasons, has the talent and ability to go there over the last couple of series and make big outs. Names like Jon Lester, Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks are what the Cubs have going for them on the mound, and opposing batters know that when these guys have their grade-A stuff going, that they are hard to hit off of.

The position players for the Cubs are probably the biggest key item for them to make their push. Talent and depth are not an issue for the Cubs. With both of their middle infielders out, the team called up prospect Nico Hoerner to play shortstop and have Ben Zobrist, who just returned himself, and Tony Kemp to play second base. The team added a key piece in their depth chart over the season, trading for outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, who has been on a tear since joining the team back in July. Castellanos will be teaming up with Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward to keep a fairly consistent outfield together during the team’s division push.

Another factor that could really help or hurt the Cubs is the remaining schedule for the team. After a four-game series against the San Diego Padres, which started on Monday, the remaining five series are all against division opponents. If they can find their groove and stick with it, the team can make up a lot of ground, given that the Cardinals don’t sweep every series. However, if they lose those series, not only will it hurt the Cubs’ chance to win the division, but it could knock them out of the Wild Card spot.

Both Wild Card races are tense. In the NL, the Nationals currently hold the top Wild Card spot, up two and a half games on the Cubs. The Cubs, who currently hold the second Wild Card spot are up two games on the Brewers, who are hot right now and show no signs of letting that stop, with the Diamondbacks only half a game back of them. The Phillies are only half a game back of the Diamondbacks and three games back from the Cubs.

In the AL, the Wild Card race is a lot less crowded, but still super tight. Currently, the Rays hold the top Wild Card spot, up one and a half games on the A’s, who hold the second Wild Card spot. The Indians are only half a game back from the A’s, with the Red Sox a distant eight games away from the A’s. Like I said; less crowded, but still up for grabs.

So, while everybody starts to think more and more about the NFL, remember to take time to sit back and watch how the drama in the MLB works out. With the NL Central being the one of the most contested and interesting divisions left, who knows? Maybe the last game of the season between the Cubs and the Cardinals could be for the division and that would be way more exciting than week four of the NFL.