S eptember is usually a significant milestone in the baseball calendar as it is when teams can increase their roster from 25 players to 40, allowing those who performed well in the minor leagues a chance at The Show.
But not this year.
This year, 1 September marks the halfway point of the season, a chance for teams to review and push on, or blow it all up and trade away the high-salaried players as they start the much-maligned “rebuild” phase of the franchise.
At the start of the shortened season, everyone anticipated some upsets; with a 60-game season the cream doesn’t get as long to rise to the top. The flipside being that a few key losses, of games and personnel, could derail an entire season.
One thing agreed on was the New York Yankees and the LA Dodgers would both be present in the later rounds of the playoffs and, until a week ago, that seemed to be playing out as expected. In Los Angeles, the Dodgers have been on cruise control and currently lead the whole league in wins, and now sit comfortably atop the NL West.
Back east in New York, the Yankees seemed to be on a similar path until last weekend. Then the Bronx Bombers hit a speed bump when they lost four starting players in a couple of days, including MVP frontrunner Aaron Judge.
Those injuries lined up with an eight-game losing streak that is the worst the Yankees have recorded in a quarter of a century, and although a couple of weekend wins over the Mets have righted the ship, the American League East is wide open.
That dip in form started against division rivals Tampa Bay Rays, who continued their good hitting to take advantage. The Rays managed seven wins during that time to leapfrog the Yanks and put a comfortable lead between the two teams.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Yankees as just over their shoulder the Toronto Blue Jays also fight to get into the post-season and ten games between the teams in the next month.
Elsewhere in the American League, the Central division has the top three teams separated by a slim margin. Cleveland and Chicago White Sox are tied atop the division, but the Minnesota Twins are not giving up.
Minnesota know this could be a make-or-break week for their hopes of winning the division as it starts with a three-game set against the White Sox. The Twins know a sweep here could put them above their rivals and hot on the heels of Cleveland.
Chicago will also know how important this series is as they have the toughest schedule of the three teams over the next month.
In the AL West the Houston Astros were expected to be the team to beat and while they currently sit in second, no one is surprised to see the Oakland A’s once again sneaking into the playoff picture. The biggest surprise in the division is the Los Angeles Angels sitting dead last, with one of the biggest payrolls in baseball.
The National League East has last season’s champions, Washingon Nationals, but they will need a second-half turnaround like they achieved last year. The Nationals are currently in last place but in a division that is so tight they will know they can still catch the division-leading Braves.
In the NL Central, the Chicago Cubs look like they have the division in their grasp. There is still time for the Brewers, Reds and Cardinals to catch up, but with the Cardinals having 35 games in the next 30 days and the Reds and Brewers slipping, the Central is all but wrapped up.
Back to the NL West, the Dodgers are supposed to win the division, but the San Diego Padres aren’t giving up hope. The Padres know they can get into the playoffs without winning the division, but they are still making the Dodgers stay honest as they snap away at their heels.
So it’s nice to finally reach a point where, despite the disruption, the MLB season enters its last month with everything on the line, and a second half that could, fingers crossed, be drama-filled, on the diamond of course.
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