MINNEAPOLIS—Major League Baseball has reached the final week of the regular season, and even though there are only a handful of games remaining there are still a lot of outcomes that have yet to be decided.
The most compelling storyline to watch over the final seven days is the race for the American League wild-card spots where two games separate the Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Add in the Seattle Mariners and it becomes four teams within three. In Toronto, everything else that’s going on in baseball right now takes a back seat to the standings as the Jays try to make the post-season for the second time in as many years, but there are a lot of other key developments to monitor over the final stretch as well.
Here’s a closer look at what’s still at stake:
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has an uphill battle to get back into the mix for a rare feat: leading the league in home runs, RBIs and batting average. Guerrero is batting .315, just behind Houston’s Yuli Gurriel’s .317 for the AL lead, and tied with Kansas City’s Salvador Perez for the most homers at 46. The issue is that Guerrero trails the Royals catcher in RBIs by 10, which is a lot of ground to make up with not much time left to do it. The only Jays player to win the batting crown was John Olerud in 1993, when he finished at .363. The last Jay to lead the league in homers was José Bautista, who finished with 54 in 2010 and 43 in 2011. Guerrero figures to fall shy of the Triple Crown, but there’s an outside chance that a hot streak over the final six games could get him back in the race.
AL Cy Young
Blue Jay Robbie Ray appears to be the favourite, but he still has one start remaining as does his top rival, Gerrit Cole. In fact, if the Yankees decide to use Monday’s off-day to give Cole an extra day of rest, the two could be matched up for Thursday’s series finale. The Jays lefty holds the advantage in most of the key stats. His 244 strikeouts are tops in the majors and he’s the AL leader in innings (188), walks plus hits per inning pitched (1.04) and quality starts (23). A clunker vs. Cole could alter the landscape, but this appears to be Ray’s award to lose. In the NL, Dodgers ace Max Scherzer appears to have it wrapped up.
The AL’s division winners are all set, but in the NL there’s a lot that could change. Alex Anthopoulos’s Atlanta Braves are clinging to a 2 1/2-game lead over the surging Philadelphia Phillies, who had their five-game winning streak snapped on Sunday. In the west, the San Francisco Giants hold a two-game edge over the Los Angeles Dodgers as both teams attempt to avoid the wild card and advance straight through to the division series. The NL wild card, which looked like it would go down the wire, no longer holds that much interest. The St. Louis Cardinals reeled off 16 wins in a row to take a six-game lead over the Phillies, whose best shot would be overtaking the Braves instead.
Forget the wild-card game for just a minute. The Jays might be forced to win an extra game just to get there. If two teams finish tied for the second wild card, they would play game on Oct. 4 with home-field advantage going to the club with the better head-to-head record. If three teams tie for the two spots, they would be designated Club A, Club B and Club C. Club A would host Club B with the winner moving on. The losing team would then travel to play Club C to determine the other wild card. The Red Sox have winning records against both the Jays and Yankees, so they would get choose first and the Jays would get second. That would give them the option of trying to win one of two games on the road or taking their chances in a do-or-die home game. There also could be a play-in game to determine the winner of the NL West. If the Giants and Dodgers finish tied, they would play each other with the winner advancing to the NLDS, and the loser likely taking on the Cardinals in the wild card.
If Guerrero somehow makes a miraculous comeback for the Triple Crown, it’s possible things will change, but entering the final week the clear favourite for AL MVP is Shohei Ohtani. Entering Sunday, the two-way star led Guerrero in Baseball Reference’s wins above replacement (8.5 vs. 6.8) and his combined FanGraphs WAR of 7.7 was ahead of Guerrero’s 6.7. In the NL, Bryce Harper has emerged as a favourite. He holds the edge over Fernando Tatis Jr. in fWAR (6.6 vs. 6.2) and Tatis could be hurt for the Padres’ late-season swoon at a time when the Phillies managed to get back into the race.
Blue Jay Marcus Semien needs one more homer to break the record for the most ever hit by a second baseman. He’s tied with Davey Johnson, the former Orioles manager, who hit 43 in 1973. Semien, who entered Sunday with a .548 slugging percentage, is already a lock to surpass Aaron Hill’s .499 for the highest by a Jays middle infielder.
- If Lourdes Gurriel Jr. returns from a hand injury to face the Yankees, he will have six games to break the record for RBIs in September. He’s tied with Kelly Gruber, who had 30 in 1990.
- The Jays lead the majors with 248 home runs, the second-most in franchise history. The club record is 257, set in 2010. Considering how streaky this team can be, that number is within reach.
Gregor Chisholm is a Toronto-based baseball columnist for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @GregorChisholm or reach him via email: email@example.com