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MLB Playoff Race: The Storylines to Watch this September

From historic individual seasons to epic collapses, Boardroom takes you through everything to watch in the last month of the MLB regular season.

College football is underway and the NFL isn’t far behind. It’s all part of the sporting world’s annual changing of the guard as Labor Day comes and goes, school starts in the Northeast, and pumpkin spice lattes become a little more acceptable compared to their egregious August debut. 

Sure, it gets easier for the casuals to forget about baseball as it competes in a football-dominated sporting landscape — and that’s a mistake. There are still four weeks left in a regular season featuring an exciting MLB Playoff race, furious competition for regular season awards, and more. With so much on the line for so many players and teams, there’s truly never been a better time to get locked in.

From divisional races and possible record-breaking achievements to potentially epic collapses, let’s identify five storylines you must pay attention to down the stretch.

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Aaron Judge is Keeping the Yankees Alive

Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is falling.

But that’s not Aaron Judge‘s doing. He has eight home runs in his last 13 games and 54 on the season, carrying the New York Yankees on his broad shoulders as their offense has become pathetic by the week.

Judge is on pace to break Roger Maris’s single-season American League home run record of 61 — a mark that some say should be considered the overall home run record (that’s a whole other debate we don’t have time for here). And you may have heard that the prohibitive AL MVP favorite— despite Shohei Ohtani doing things we’ve never seen before— is a free agent after the season, putting together the best contract year we’ve seen in a long time.

Yet Judge’s Ruthian efforts haven’t been enough to save the Bronx Bombers from an absolute free-fall — a slow-motion train wreck that makes the weekend L Train in Brooklyn look functional. After a 12-5 win in Boston on July 8, the Yankees were 61-23 and up 15.5 games in the AL East, putting them on pace for an all-time great regular season. They’re 20-31 since then, with their lead down to five games as the Rays and Blue Jays close in.

It’s unlikely, but not impossible, that New York loses the AL East and plays in the wild card round of the playoffs. And man, would heads roll if the Yankees exit the playoffs early. It’s up to Judge to not just guide the Yankees to the playoffs and beyond, but to stave off what once seemed incomprehensible… and then to ask for one of the largest and most-deserved contracts baseball has ever seen.

Pujols and Goldschmidt are Chasing History

We discussed this here at Boardroom.tv a couple of weeks ago, but the St. Louis Cardinals are giving legends like Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright one last playoff run before their impending retirements, and man is Pujols making the most of it.

Possibly the greatest right-handed hitter to ever live, Pujols has nine home runs in his last 65 at-bats, giving him 695 and putting 700 within reach over the next four weeks. Every plate appearance is must-watch TV for the 42-year-old kicking Father Time’s ass.

And let’s not forget about Paul Goldschmidt, National League MVP favorite and chaser of a feat that hasn’t been achieved in 85 years. He’s looking to become the first National League hitter since the Cards’ Joe Medwick in 1937 to win the Triple Crown. The superstar first baseman is hitting .328, leading the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman by four points. He has 107 RBI, one better than the Mets’ Pete Alonso, and is two home runs behind the Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber (36). If Goldy achieves this feat, it would be a monumental achievement that would make him a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame.

The NL East Gets Spicy

Like their crosstown rival Yankees, the New York Mets held a double-digit-game lead in their division that has disappeared like Brendan Fraser’s career (until just recently). What was a 10.5-game lead on June 1 is now down to one over the defending champion Atlanta Braves. But unlike the Yankees’ collapse, the Amazins are nearly as good as they’ve been all season, just two games below their season-high 37 games over .500.

It’s the Braves who have been hotter than Death Valley in July, at 61-24 since June 1, after dropping 27 of their first 50 games. Led by Austin Riley and Matt Olson on offense and Max Fried, Kyle Wright, and rookie sensation Spencer Strider on the mound, Atlanta is putting itself in strong position to not just win the division but make noise again in the postseason. The Mets have gotten monster seasons from Alonso at the plate and Edwin Diaz on the mound, making Timmy Trumpet a household name.

Circle Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 on your calendar. These two teams’ showdown in Atlanta is the most important series left this season, and it could easily decide the division crown.

Can Anyone Stop the Astros?

We wrote a few weeks ago that another deep Houston Astros playoff run seems inevitable, and that has not changed.

Houston would have to go at least 21-6 to break its franchise record for regular season wins of 107, but it’s not out of the question for a team that’s been insanely hard to beat following a 7-9 start. AL Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander’s right calf injury could stand in the way, but a Grand Canyon-deep rotation and a balanced offense led by Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, and Jose Altuve have the Astros primed to make their fourth World Series appearance in the last six years.

Can Anyone Stop the Dodgers?

Los Angeles is 50 (fifty) games over .500 at 92-42 with an embarrassment of riches on its roster, despite All-Star Walker Buehler and top reliever Daniel Hudson out for the season. Tony Gonsolin, who’s an absurd 16-1 this season with a 2.10 ERA, should return this month to join a stacked rotation where every member has a sub-3 ERA, including Clayton Kershaw, Tyler Anderson, and Julio Urias. Mookie Betts and the newly signed Freeman are two of the six NL hitters with an OPS better than .900, Trea Turner will finish with a 20-20 season and likely a .300 average, and Will Smith is raking at catcher.

The playoffs will probably go through Chavez Ravine, and it’ll be extremely tough to score on the team with baseball’s top team ERA, third-best bullpen ERA, and the most runs scored in baseball (720) by a whopping 54. Good freaking luck.