By MITCH WEAVER
t’s down to the final stretch in the M.L.B. season, and the most exciting month of baseball is swiftly approaching: October.
September too is always filled with its fair share of drama. Who could forget the Phillies overtaking the division from the Mets in 2007? (Mets fans have tried to, at least). What a season it has been.
The state of Missouri has done nothing short of dominating the baseball world, with the Cardinals and Royals having the best records in their respective leagues. The trade deadline this year was arguably the most exciting anyone has ever seen, with names like Cole Hamels, David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, Yoenis Cespedes, Carlos Gomez, Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist changing uniforms, to name just a few. The Toronto Blue Jays made waves at the trade deadline by acquiring Tulowitzki and Price in an all-or-nothing move that has catapulted them to the division lead and a heated battle with the Evil Empire for the A.L. East Crown.
The A.L. Wild Card seems like it will be the most intriguing race to end the season, with the Yankees/Blue Jays consistently at the top. However, there are also five teams within six games of the final spot. There have been six no-hitters: Chris Heston, Max Scherzer, Hamels, Hisashi Iwakuma, Mike Fiers and Jake Arrieta. Along with the no-no’s, overall pitching has been incredible, headlined by Clayton Kershaw’s 251 strikeouts and Zack Greinke’s 1.68 earned run average (E.R.A.) thus far.
The Mets’ young guns (Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah “Thor” Syndergaard and Steven Matz) have taken the M.L.B. by storm, leading the Mets to a division lead heading into September over the underachieving Washington, D.C. Nationals.
Offense has hardly suffered, however. Bryce Harper is having an MVP-worthy and historic year. Josh Donaldson leads the M.L.B. in R.B.I.s and is the likely AL MVP, making Oakland wonder “What the hell were we thinking?” Finally, Mike Trout.
As the season comes to a close, here’s how I would rank the top 10 teams in baseball:
1) St. Louis Cardinals: At 37 games over .500, they are the best team in baseball. With a dynamite pitching staff led by Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez and an offense that somehow hasn’t missed a beat with Matt Holliday and Matt Adams for much of the year, they are the most complete team in baseball.
2) Kansas City Royals: They burst onto the scene last year by sweeping their way to the World Series, only to lose (single-handedly) to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants. However, this season they are way better with the additions of Zobrist and Kendrys Morales paying dividends. The road to the A.L. Pennant will go through Kansas City.
3) Pittsburgh Pirates: What a shame they have to play in the N.L. Central. It looks like the Buccos playoff hopes will rest on a one game playoff for the third-straight year, but not to worry — Gerrit Cole should put those worries to rest. Andrew McCutchen has remained the most exciting player in the N.L.
4) Chicago Cubs: Again, what a shame they have to play in the N.L. Central. Joe Maddon has done incredible things with the team from the North Side of Chi-town. Anthony Rizzo has been the leader they need while Kris Bryant has lived up to the hype (and then some). Jake Arrieta has everything the Orioles wanted prior to trading him, and the young Cubbies have brought life back to the friendly confines.
5) Toronto Blue Jays: Prior to July 31, the Jays would not have sniffed the top 10. Then, Alex Anthopolous went all in, and the Jays find themselves atop the A.L. East. They will be a dangerous playoff team, featuring the best lineup in the M.L.B. and Price starting Game 1.
6) New York Mets: The Amazin’s have been nothing short of amazing this year. With a pitching staff that is the envy of every team in baseball and a revitalized lineup following the trade deadline, the Mets look to make a statement in the last part of the season. They are similar to the 2010 Giants, who happened to win the World Series.
7) New York Yankees: The Yanks are back. In first or second place all season, the health of A-Rod and Mark Teixeira along with solid play all around has made the Yankees primed for a playoff run. Could we possibly have another Subway Series?
8) Los Angeles Dodgers: Featuring two of the top three pitchers in baseball, the Dodgers sit atop the N.L. West looking to get Don Mattingly off the hot seat once and for all. Kershaw and Greinke have been unreal, while Adrian Gonzalez has led the offense.
9) Houston Astros: Well, this comes as a surprise to everyone besides Jeff Lunhow and AJ Hinch. The Astros have gone from a laughingstock to the best positioned team for the present and future. They have the best farm system in baseball, the likely A.L. Cy Young winner in Dallas Keuchal and the next Alex Rodriguez (without the drama, hopefully) in Carlos Correa.
10) Texas Rangers: Another Texas-sized surprise. Prince Fielder has returned to form following a neck injury, and the Rangers find themselves in the playoff hunt. Snagging Cole Hamels at the trade deadline bolstered the team, and Manager Jeff Banister has done an incredible job.
Finally, here are my predictions for the World Series and choices for post-season awards:
World Series: Kansas City Royals defeat the Chicago Cubs
N.L. MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
A.L. MVP: Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays
N.L. Cy Young: Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs
A.L. Cy Young: Dallas Keuchal, Houston Astros
N.L. Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
A.L. Rookie of the Year: Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
N.L. Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs
A.L. Manager of the Year: Joe Girardi, New York Yankees
Platinum Glove: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
Comeback Player of the Year: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees