I love September.
The NFL kicks off. Hockey preseason is underway. College football is in full swing. There is no NBA action.
And there are baseball pennant races.
Well, kind of.
The New York Yankees (99-56) have a lead of eight games in the AL East, the Los Angeles Angels (90-63) have a six game lead in the AL West, the Boston Red Sox (91-63) have a seven game lead in the AL Wild Card, the Philadelphia Phillies (89-65) have a six game lead in the NL East, the St. Louis Cardinals (89-65) have an eight game lead in the NL Central, and the Los Angeles Dodgers (93-62) have a five game lead in the NL West.
Basically, all the playoff spots are locked up with one week to play.
All except for two.
The two races left to watch are the races in the AL Central, with the Minnesota Twins (81-73) two games behind the Detroit Tigers (83-71), and the NL Wild Card, with the Atlanta Braves (84-70) three games behind the Colorado Rockies (87-67).
Late season combacks are nothing new for the Twins. In 2006, the Twins were one game behind the Tigers on September 27. The Tigers would lose their last five games, giving the Twins the AL Central Title.
The Tigers would represent the American League in the World Series that year.
In 2007, the Twins were three games behind the White Sox on September 21st. After a sweep of the White Sox, the two clubs finished in a tie atop the AL Central. The White Sox would win the playoff, 1-0.
This season is no different for the Twins. On September 6, they were seven games back, and would lose Justin Morneau and Joe Crede for the season one week later. But now, the Twins have won 11 of their last 12, and are only two games behind Detroit.
While Colorado has battled the San Francisco Giants for the NL Wild Card lead most of the second half, the Atlanta Braves have been lurking in the shadows.
The Braves were in fourth place in the NL Wild Card standings on September 20th, and were six games back.
Now, the Braves are in second place after winning 12 of their last 14, and are only three games back.
Neither team is going to have an easy road to their respective divisional series.
The Twins have four games against the Tigers, and four games against the Royals. They will face Cy Young candidate Zack Greinke (15-8, 2.08 ERA, 229 K) twice after dodging him all year. The four games against the Tigers are in Detroit, where the Tigers are 48-26 this season. The Twins are 31-40 on the road.
The Braves have have games left against the Nationals (52-102) who have the worst record in baseball, and the Florida Marlins (83-72). The Braves will play their last seven games in Atlanta, where they are 39-35. They are 45-35 on the road.
Of these two remaining unsolved pennant races, it is hard to decide who has the better chance to make the playoffs. The Twins' future lies in their own hands, with the critical four games series in Detroit this week. Their season could be over on Tuesday.
The Braves, by far, have the easier schedule, and are 8-4 against the Nats this season. The Rockies have one game left in their series against St. Louis, have three games in Milwaukee, and close out the season in Los Angeles to face the Dodgers.
The Dodgers have clinched a playoff spot, and unless the Rockies make a run at the division title this week, LA will more than likely rest their starters for the playoffs.
The Twins, on the other hand, are 9-5 against the Tigers. The Tigers have four games against the Chicago White Sox (74-81) and four games against the Twins.
If either of these teams are going to make the playoffs, the Twins have a better chance. Not only do the Twins have four critical games against the Tigers, they control their own destiny. Michael Cuddyer has hit .381 with six home runs and 18 RBIs. The Twins are 10-1 during that span.
And speaking of spans, Twins OF Denard Span, who is currently eighth in the AL in batting at .307, is hitting .318 with seven RBI in his last seven games.
And don't forget about Joe Mauer, who leads the league with his .370 average.
The Braves, on the other hand, are going to have to scoreboard watch the rest of the way. They need to become Brewer/Dodger fans for the rest of the season while they beat the crap out of the Nats.
But don't count out the Nats. Many times, playoff spoilers come from the most unexpected places.