With two weeks remaining, Major League Baseball's 2013 regular season is coming to a close with compelling races for the four Wild Card berths, a remarkable American League playoff chase, the National League Central title and an array of other storylines on the field. From the standings:
Six American League Clubs are within 3.5 games of a Wild Card berth.
- The Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers lead the Wild Card race with identical 81-67 (.547) records. The two Clubs meet tonight in St. Petersburg as Alex Cobb (8-3, 3.08) takes the hill against former Rays hurler Matt Garza (9-5, 3.79). The Rays are vying for their fourth Postseason in the last seven years and the Rangers are aiming for their fourth consecutive Postseason.
- The Cleveland Indians (81-68, .544, -0.5) are on pace for their best season since appearing in the American League Championship Series in 2007. Tonight the Indians play at Kansas City, where Scott Kazmir (8-8, 4.24) will face James Shields (11-9, 3.38).
- The Baltimore Orioles (79-70, .530, -2.5) are looking for their second consecutive Postseason for the first time since 1996-97;
- The New York Yankees (79-71, .527, -3.0), who have used a club-record 56 players this season, will seek to avoid missing the Postseason for the second time since 1995.
- The Kansas City Royals (78-71, .523, -3.5) currently have their best winning percentage (.527) since the abbreviated 1994 season.
Three N.L. Central rivals - the Pittsburgh Pirates, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds - are competing for the division crown and the two N.L. Wild Cards.
- The Pirates and the Cardinals sit atop the division with identical 87-62 (.584) marks, while the Reds (84-66, .560) are 3.5 games back in the division.
- The Pirates have earned the tiebreaker over the Cardinals via their 10-9 mark in head-to-head play, and Pittsburgh currently has a 7-6 edge over the Reds, with six games remaining.
- The expanded Postseason format, instituted in 2012, allows for three Clubs from the same division to qualify for the playoffs, and this season the trio of N.L. Central Clubs could mark the first such occurrence.
- In the race for the second Wild Card, the Washington Nationals (79-70, .530) are now only 4.5 games behind the Reds. The Nats have MLB's best record since August 9th at 25-10.
The Atlanta Braves are pacing the Senior Circuit with an 89-60 (.597) record. The Braves last posted the National League's best record in 2003, when they shared MLB's top mark at 101-61 along with the New York Yankees. The Braves (52-22, .718) have MLB's best record at home.
The Pirates, who feature a homegrown nucleus that includes Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer and Gerrit Cole, are currently on track to reach their first Postseason since 1992. The Bucs have posted 19 sellouts at PNC Park this season, matching the Club record set during their first year of play at PNC Park in 2001.
The Dodgers, at 86-63 (.577), lead Major League Baseball in attendance at 3,585,885 per game, averaging an MLB-best 45,973 per game. With 26 sellouts, the Club already has its highest total since 2004.
The Red Sox hold MLB's best record at 92-59 (.609) and have already won 23 more games than last year (69-93), marking the club's largest increase in wins - outside of strike-shortened seasons in 1981 and 1994 - since the 1946 Pennant team (104-50) won 33 more games than 1945 (71-83).
The Detroit Tigers, in contention for their third straight Postseason, could pursue a second consecutive American League pennant, a feat the club last achieved in 1934-35.
The Oakland Athletics are aiming for the second straight A.L. West crown for the first time since the "Moneyball" A's of 2002-2003.
Players to watch down the stretch include:
Yankees closer Mariano Rivera (6-2, 2.30 ERA, 43 saves), Baseball's all-time saves leader with 651, who is in the final chapter of his legendary career. The Panama native has reached 40 saves for the ninth time in his career, tying Trevor Hoffman for the most such seasons all-time. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the only pitcher ever to record a 40-save season at age 40 or older, and he has now done so twice (also 44 saves at age 41 in 2011). Rivera is a five-time World Series Champion, the 1999 World Series Most Valuable Player, the 2003 ALCS MVP, the 2013 Ted Williams All-Star Game MVP and the final player who will ever wear Jackie Robinson's number 42, which was retired for all players not already wearing it in 1997. The Yankees will honor Rivera on Sunday, September 22nd before their game against the San Francisco Giants, and Mo's final regularly scheduled home game is Thursday, September 26th against the Rays.
Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, who will retire after the season. A member of the Colorado organization since being a Rockies' first round pick in 1995, Helton is the Club's all-time leader in nearly every offensive category. The three-time Gold Glover has a career .317 batting average, a .415 on-base percentage, a .539 slugging percentage, 2,505 hits, 367 home runs and 1,397 RBI. Helton and Hall of Famer Stan Musial are the only two players in Baseball history with at least 2,500 hits, 550 doubles, 350 home runs and a .315 average. Helton's final regularly scheduled game at Coors Field is Wednesday, September 25th against the Boston Red Sox, in a renewal of the 2007 World Series.
Following up his historic Triple-Crown winning 2012 season - the first such milestone in Baseball in 45 years - Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera currently leads the Majors with a .350 batting average and 133 RBI, while his 43 home runs rank second in the game. The Venezuela native leads MLB in both on-base percentage (.443) and slugging (.654).
Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, who leads MLB with 50 home runs. The Texas native is the third player in Major League history to hit 50 homers and 40 doubles in a season, joining Babe Ruth (59 HR/44 2B in 152 G in 1921) and Albert Belle (52 HR/50 2B in 143 G in 1995). Davis has 91 extra-base hits on the year; the next closest player in MLB has 70.
Dodgers pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the lefty/righty Cy Young Award-winning tandem fronting the Los Angeles rotation. Kershaw, the 2011 N.L. Cy Young winner, leads the Majors in ERA (1.94), innings pitched (223.0) and WHIP (0.93), and he paces the N.L. in strikeouts (214). With one more win, Greinke, who is unbeaten in his last eight starts, could reach 15 wins for the third consecutive season and would join Max Scherzer as the only pitchers in the Majors to reach 15 or more victories each year since 2011. The first-year Dodger, who won the 2009 A.L. Cy Young, is also hitting .340 (18-53) at the plate this season.
Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, the five-tool All-Star who ranks second in the N.L. with 177 hits; third with a .326 batting average and a .406 OBP; tied for fourth with 37 doubles; and fifth with a .517 slugging percentage. He is one home run shy of his third straight season with at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, which would put him alongside Barry Bonds (1990-92) as the only Pirates to achieve that feat.
Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, the Cuban sensation who is on track to finish the season with the highest batting average (.338) and on-base percentage (.405) for a Los Angeles rookie, while his .550 slugging percentage would rank second behind only Mike Piazza's .561 mark in 1993. Overall, Puig's .338 average could be the highest by a Major League rookie since Ichiro Suzuki's .350 mark with the Seattle Mariners in 2001.
Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer, who leads the Majors with 19 wins and ranks second in the A.L. with 227 strikeouts and a .199 opponents' batting average. Since the start of 2012, the A.L.'s starting pitcher in the 2013 All-Star Game has gone 35-10 for an A.L. best .778 winning percentage in that span. Twenty-three of his 30 outings this year have been quality starts.
Angels outfielder Mike Trout, who has 181 hits, 23 home runs, 33 stolen bases, and A.L.-best totals of 104 runs scored and 100 walks. The 2012 A.L. Rookie of the Year is closing in on becoming the only player in MLB history with at least 200 hits, 25 homers, 30 steals and 100 runs in his age 21 or younger season.
Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, who has retired each of his last 37 batters faced, the longest stretch for any reliever since Bobby Jenks retired 41 straight in 2007 with the White Sox. Only three of the 37 outs have made it to the outfield, while 16 have come via strikeout. Uehara has not allowed a run in his last 30.1 innings, marking the longest single-season scoreless streak for a Red Sox reliever since Dick Radatz had a 33.0 inning stretch from May 13th-June 14th, 1963. Among A.L. relievers, Uehara ranks first in WHIP (0.56), walks per nine innings (1.2), ERA (1.06) and opponents' batting average (.126), and he is tied for first with 94 strikeouts.
The lineup of the Cardinals, who currently have five of the National League's top seven hitters with runners in scoring position: Allen Craig (1st, .454); Matt Carpenter (3rd, .404); Matt Holliday (4th, .377); Carlos Beltran (5th, .374); and Yadier Molina (7th, .351). In his first season as an everyday player, Carpenter leads the N.L. with 116 runs scored, 183 hits, 50 doubles and 58 multi-hit games. With his 50th double, 115th run and 180th hit last night, Matt Carpenter became the first MLB player since Dustin Pedroia in his 2008 A.L. MVP season to amass those three marks (50, 115, 180). The last Cardinals player was Albert Pujols with 51 doubles, 133 runs and 196 hits in 2004. The feat has only been achieved 36 times in MLB history, with six of those belonging to the Cardinals (Pujols 2003‐04, Stan Musial 1946 & 1953, Joe Medwick 1936).
Reds teammates Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo, who have combined to reach base in 267 of their 294 appearances this season. Votto, who ranks first in the N.L. with a .432 OBP, has reached base 290 times via hit, walk or hit by pitch, leading the Major Leagues. Choo ranks second in the N.L. with a .422 on-base percentage. The pair could become the first set of teammates to finish first and second in the N.L. in OBP since Pedro Guerrero (1st, .422) and Mike Scioscia (2nd, .407) of the Dodgers in 1985.
Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons and Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, both of whom are having extraordinary defensive seasons, according to various advanced metrics.
In addition, Major League Baseball remains on track for the last 10 years, including 2013, to rank as the 10 best-attended individual seasons in the sport's history.