Predictions for Batting Titles and MLB Stat Races Coming Down to the Wire
The final days of the 2021 MLB season are upon us, and while the postseason picture still needs sorting, some individual statistical accolades are up for grabs as well.
Ahead we've taken a closer look at the seven statistical races realistically ongoing among the big three at the plate (batting average, home runs, RBI) and on the mound (wins, ERA and strikeouts).
Can Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hold on and win the AL batting title?
Who will come out on top in a three-way battle for the AL home run crown?
Which of the two NL Cy Young front-runners will finish with the lowest ERA?
Those are just some of the questions that still need to be answered before the playoffs.
AL Batting Title
1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., TOR: .317
2. Yuli Gurriel, HOU: .315
3. Michael Brantley, HOU: .315
It has been a magical season for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., as he's made the leap from promising young player to bona fide superstar and MVP candidate in his age-22 campaign.
He has a comfortable cushion atop the AL leaderboard in on-base percentage (.407), slugging (.605), hits (183), runs scored (120) and total bases (349), but he still has work to do to become one of the youngest players in history to win a batting title.
It's essentially a three-player race with Houston Astros teammates Yuli Gurriel and Michael Brantley nipping at his heels. The only other qualified AL players hitting over .300 this year are Tim Anderson (.303), Nicky Lopez (.303), Teoscar Hernandez (.302) and Cedric Mullins (.300).
Gurriel (.325) and Brantley (.313) are both swinging the bat well in September, but Guerrero has been on another level with a .340/.415/.617 line in 106 plate appearances as the Toronto Blue Jays try to chase down a postseason berth.
Prediction: Guerrero (.324)
NL Batting Title
1. Juan Soto, WAS: .324
2. Trea Turner, LAD: .321
3. Bryce Harper, PHI: .313
Can anyone catch the red-hot Juan Soto as he looks to claim the NL batting title for the second straight year?
The 22-year-old has raised his average 26 points in September while hitting a blistering .456/.611/.797 in 113 plate appearances. He has 11 multihit games this month, including three-hit performances on Wednesday and Thursday of last week.
Speedy Trea Turner leads the NL with 182 hits, and he's been steady all year with an average over .300 in each month of the season.
If those two slump for a few games, don't count out NL MVP front-runner Bryce Harper, who is hitting .347 since the All-Star break while swinging one of the hottest bats in baseball over the last two months.
The other members of the NL .300 club this year are Nick Castellanos (.310), Adam Frazier (.307), Jesse Winker (.305), Austin Riley (.304) and Brandon Crawford (.303).
Prediction: Soto (.329)
AL HR Leader
1. Salvador Perez, KC: 46
1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. TOR: 46
3. Shohei Ohtani, LAA: 45
The NL home run champion has not yet been decided with Fernando Tatis Jr. (41) leading Adam Duvall by three long balls, but it's the AL race that stands as perhaps the most compelling statistical battle.
Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals has already broken the single-season record for home runs by a catcher. The 31-year-old had never launched more than 27 long balls in a season, but he's gone deep 25 times since the All-Star break at a rate of once every 9.7 at-bats.
However, he has hit just one homer in his last eight games spanning 33 plate appearances.
At the same time, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has not homered in his last eight games spanning 34 plate appearances, and he's hit just one in his last 11 games.
Those two droughts pale in comparison to Shohei Ohtani's, as he has seemingly run out of steam amid a historic season as a two-way player. The AL MVP candidate is hitting .224 with three home runs in 89 plate appearances this month, and he's gone deep just once since Sept. 10.
The Blue Jays close out the year with three games against the Baltimore Orioles, and Vlad Jr. has already taken O's pitching deep 10 times this year. That could be the matchup he needs to make a final push.
Prediction: Guerrero (50)
AL RBI Leader
1. Salvador Perez, KC: 115
2. Jose Abreu, CWS: 113
3. Teoscar Hernandez, TOR: 111
4. Matt Olson, OAK: 109
5. Rafael Devers, BOS: 108
Salvador Perez has an opportunity to be the first catcher since Darren Daulton with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1992 to lead his league in RBI.
The emergence of Nicky Lopez as a .300 hitter alongside hit machine Whit Merrifield at the top of the Kansas City Royals lineup has provided him with ample opportunity to drive in runs, and his 62 RBI since the All-Star break are tied with Teoscar Hernandez for the MLB lead during that time.
Reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu, who has paced the AL in RBI each of the past two seasons, is right on his tail. He tallied 60 RBI in 60 games last year, but he has gone quiet in the power department with just one home run in September.
Instead, the biggest threat to overtake Perez is Hernandez.
In the No. 5 spot in a loaded Toronto lineup, he has the benefit of stepping into the batter's box immediately following Marcus Semien, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. He already has 25 RBI in 24 games this month, while hitting .341/.422/.705.
Prediction: Hernandez (121)
NL ERA Leader
1. Max Scherzer, LAD: 2.28
2. Corbin Burnes, MIL: 2.29
3. Brandon Woodruff, MIL: 2.52
4. Walker Buehler, LAD: 2.58
This is a two-pitcher race unless both of the guys at the top get blown up in their next start.
Max Scherzer has gone 7-0 with a 1.43 ERA in 10 starts since joining the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline. He allowed six hits and five earned runs in five innings last time out, but that start came at Coors Field, so there's no reason to think he won't bounce back.
His next scheduled start is Wednesday against the San Diego Padres, and he has dominated them in two starts since heading to the Dodgers. He allowed two hits and struck out 10 in 7.2 scoreless innings on Aug. 26, and he blanked them for eight innings of one-hit ball on Sept. 12.
That will likely be his final regular-season start.
Corbin Burnes will take the ball for the final time on Oct. 2 against the Dodgers if he sticks to his current schedule, though it wouldn't be surprising to see the Milwaukee Brewers shuffle things to set up their playoff rotation.
He tossed eight no-hit innings earlier this month against Cleveland, and he has allowed more than three earned runs in a start just twice since the All-Star break.
Prediction: Scherzer (2.23)
AL Strikeout Leader
1. Robbie Ray, TOR: 244
2. Gerrit Cole, NYY: 237
3. Dylan Cease, CWS: 221
Robbie Ray appears to be a lock to win the AL ERA title (2.68), and he could bolster his AL Cy Young case by capturing the strikeout crown.
Even when he struggled with his command last year, he still racked up 68 strikeouts in 51.2 innings, and he stands as baseball's all-time leader among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings pitched at 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
You read that right!
He should get one more start to pad his strikeout total, as his next time through the rotation is lined up for Thursday against the New York Yankees. He has just eight strikeouts in 9.2 innings against the Yankees this year, but his lead after Saturday might be big enough to hold up even without a gaudy total in his final outing.
Meanwhile, Gerrit Cole has tallied double-digit strikeouts just once in his last eight starts.
The Yankees ace was shelled by Cleveland on Sept. 19, but he bounced back with a strong outing against the Boston Red Sox on Friday. He tossed six strong innings for the win but tallied a modest six strikeouts.
His final start of the year is scheduled for Wednesday against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Prediction: Ray (251)
NL Strikeout Leader
1. Zack Wheeler, PHI: 240
2. Max Scherzer, LAD: 232
3. Corbin Burnes, MIL: 230
The one might already be a wrap with Zack Wheeler on track to make two more starts before the regular season ends.
However, he has struck out 10 or more batters just twice in his last 18 starts, and his next outing is Tuesday against an Atlanta Braves team that is swinging it well with 5.1 runs scored per game in September.
A middling strikeout total in that game could open the door for one of the NL Cy Young front-runners to swoop in with a strong finish.
Then again, Wheeler's final start will be against the Miami Marlins, who rank second-worst in the majors with 1,472 strikeouts, so even if he has a dud against the Braves, that might be enough for him to clinch the NL title.
Two years into his five-year, $118 million contract, Wheeler is shaping up to be one of the best long-term pitching signings in free agency in recent memory.
Prediction: Wheeler (257)
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and accurate through Saturday's games.