The air may be cooling, but MLB’s playoff races are blazing toward the finish. It’s a shame kids are headed back to school, because there are several big matchups in September that will wind up determining the league’s eight-squad postseason.
Put the kids to bed early on these particular dates, because you’re not going to want to miss a pitch…
A’s @ Yankees (8/30-9/1)
A “next man up” mentality has defined what’s been a memorable and historic Yankees season. After continuing to win against all odds, their feelings of invulnerability came crashing down earlier this week, as they lost each part of a three-game visit to Oakland. With those victories, the Athletics, seemingly forgotten in true Moneyball fashion, officially announced their candidacy as a legitimate contender in the American League.
Opening September on the right note is crucial for the A’s. Their remaining slate in the final month after the Yankees series includes only four games against contenders, coming in the form of a quartet in Houston, who currently lead Oakland in the AL West by 9.0 games. They’re also tied for the second Wild Card spot with the Tampa Rays and merely a half-game behind Cleveland for the first. Every game matters now, and beating the Yankees is a statement to the league. New York, eight up on Tampa, has the AL East in their sights, but would love nothing more than to ensure Games 1 and 7 of a potential ALCS are held in The Bronx. Conquering their Oakland demons would go a long way.
Mets vs. Phillies (@ PHI: 8/30-9/1; @ NYM: 9/6-8)
The Mets and Phillies rivalry never truly took off. It’s occasionally ignited, most recently in the onset of the 21st century, but neither team has remained consistently good enough to truly keep the feud going.
That could well change in this potentially fiery September. The Mets are dangerous because they have nothing to lose and everything to prove after months of league-wide ridicule. Seeing them as legitimate competitors for one of the NL Wild Card spots was ludicrous even back on August 1. Philadelphia, on the other hand, would have major egg on their face if they have nothing to show for a very expensive offseason.
The division is probably far too gone for either squad. The wild card slots, on the other hand, are very much open for business. The Phillies were a game behind Chicago for the last one entering Tuesday’s action, and the Mets were a game behind their hated Pennsylvania enemies. Late-regular season battle between New York-Philadelphia rarely disappoint, especially when playoff livelihood is on the line. Just ask Desean Jackson.
Astros @ Brewers (9/2-3)
Let’s throw in an interleague series just to mix this up. We’re talking about membership for the World Series, after all. The Brewers are the National League’s defending top playoff seed, but this season has been a bit of a struggle. Their Central division will likely occupy the last guaranteed NLDS spot. Milwaukee, St. Louis, and the Chicago Cubs have each failed to take advantage of perceived mediocrity.
September’s starts will be of utmost importance for the Brew Crew, who sit 2.5 games behind the Cardinals for the division lead. August ends with series against both of their competing divisional foes before they welcome the Astros. It’s a matchup that’s huge for both sides: Houston is currently neck-and-neck with the Yankees and Los Angles Dodgers for homefield advantage throughout the MLB postseason. Wins are paramount for both sides in the big picture, and going toe-to-toe with a quality opponent and coming out on top is, at the very least, a big moral-booster.
Indians vs. Twins (@ MIN: 9/6-9/8; @ CLE: 9/13-15)
No matter how this season falls for the Minnesota Twins, the small-budget squad has to be admired for its resiliency. A sizable lead in the AL Central evaporated as Cleveland sought to extend their monopoly on the title to a fourth season. Losing three of a four-game showdown at home in the second weekend of August could’ve served as the ultimate dagger. But the Twins responded with a four-game road sweep in Texas as the Indians faltered against the Mets. A slim lead has since been re-established for Minnesota.
Furthering the importance of these final three-game sets is the fact that the runner-up is not guaranteed a wild card slot. Cleveland, in fact, engages in a series against wild-card contenders from Tampa Bay starting on Friday. That set will likewise be huge, but they can’t be caught looking ahead.
Braves vs. Nationals (@ ATL: 9/5-8; @ WAS: 9/13-15)
The Nationals better enjoy the rest of August. Their five final games to round out the month come against the lowly Orioles and Marlins. Washington has gone 8-2 in their past ten. This victorious decalogue included a 6-1 tally against playoff hopefuls in Chicago and Milwaukee has allowed them to create a four-game cushion in the Wild Card hunt.
But what if the surprisingly strong Nationals wanted more? All this winning has allowed them to reach a manageable deficit of just five games behind Atlanta for the division lead. They’ll have seven opportunities to earn an instant trip to the NLDS in September.
But the Nationals have to be careful. August cupcakes turn into September veggies pretty quick. Save for another Miami reprieve late in the stretch, every single one of the Nationals’ September foes (Mets, Twins, Cardinals, Phillies, Indians) has something to play for. The Braves’ series may be their best chances at squeezing past Atlanta for a division title, but the rest of their opponents are ready to take advantage of any opportunity.