Here’s what to keep your eye on during the final nine days of the regular season.
1. Who wins the American League East Division?
Heading into Tuesday’s games, the New York Yankees hold a 1½ game lead over the Baltimore Orioles. The two teams do not play each other again in the regular season. The Yankees have two more games in Minnesota and then play the Jays four times at Rogers Centre. They close out the season with three games at home against Boston. The Orioles have two more at home against the Jays, then three at home against Boston. They close out with three on the road at Tampa Bay. The Yankees have the easier schedule.
2. If the Yankees and Orioles tie for first, what happens?
If both teams qualify for the playoffs, there is no playoff game. The first tiebreaker to determine the division title is head-to-head play. However, the two teams split the 18 meetings between them. The second tiebreaker is each team’s record against the AL East as a whole. Since the Yankees still have 7 against AL East teams and all of the O’s 8 remaining games are, that’s still to be determined.
3. Who will be the No. 1 seeded team in the National League?
Right now it’s a two-horse race between the Washington Nationals, who have 93 wins, and the Cincinnati Reds, who have 92. If the two teams ended up tied, Washington gets the top seed due to it’s 5-2 record over the Reds during the season. This is a big deal because the top dog gets to face the winner of the wild-card game which will likely feature St. Louis at Atlanta. The No. 2 seed would then have to face San Francisco and its stellar pitching.
4. Wild-card fever.
The National League is pretty much a done deal, but the American League remains a battle ground both in the AL East and AL Central. In the latter, the Chicago White Sox hold a slim one-game lead over the Detroit Tigers. Oakland and Baltimore remain as the two top wild cards, but the Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays also have an outside shot. It should come down to the wire.
5. Triple Crown
There hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner — a player who hits the most home runs, drives in the most runs and records the highest batting average — since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. This year the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrerra has a great shot to win the hitting trifecta as he leads the league in both batting average and RBIs while sitting second to Josh Hamilton in home runs. Hamilton has 43 and Cabrerra 42. Hamilton, meanwhile, is suffering sinus and vision problems and remains day-to-day which opens the door for Cabrerra.
6. Josh Hamilton’s health
As mentioned above, Hamilton is having health issues and that could have a tremendous impact on how deep the Texas Rangers go in the playoffs, assuming they either win the West Division or advance as a wild-card team. The Rangers are deep in talent but a healthy Hamilton is a tremendous weapon and if he is ailing it will affect the Rangers. Keep an eye on his health.
7. Andy’s been dandy
For all you New York Yankees haters who have been hoping they would slide out of the post-season, that may still happen, but it’s unlikely. The return of veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte to their rotation has been a tremendous lift to the team and he has won both his starts and not allowed a run since returning following his fractured ankle. Pettitte should have just one more start prior to the playoffs and how he goes could well determine how deep a run the Yankees make this season.
8. What’s going on with John Farrell and the Boston Red Sox?
Good question. The draft Farrell movement remains a strong one in the Boston area and you can bet the house that following the season the Red Sox will fire manager Bobby Valentine. The ball will then be in the Jays and Farrell’s court and how that one plays out will be a major off-season question.
9. The Strasburg debate
Will Stephen Strasburg come back and pitch in the playoffs for Washington? No. End of story. The great young right-hander was on an innings limit this season and was shut down after his Sept. 7 start and 159 1/3 innings. Sadly, his season is over and he is now just a high-paid cheerleader.
10. Is there any reason to attend a Jays game?
Not really. If you have your heart set on catching a foul ball the odds are greatly enhanced now that the fan support has crashed. Chances are, though, it won’t be struck by a Jays player as they aren’t hitting anything these days, not even foul balls. If you want to cheer one player, centre on Edwin Encarnacion, who with 41 homers has an outside shot to win the home run crown.