Labor Day is behind us, and we've got September ahead for the next 29 days of relevant, dramatic, thrilling regular-season baseball with the crisp air of the postseason looming. It's the best time of year to be a fan, and the second day of the month is as good a time as any to take a look at what we'll see before October.
Well, at least what we can see.
A glance at the current Major League standings doesn't exactly provide clarity, save for a few divisions. There might be surges, there might be collapses. It's the nature of the sport and the nature of the month.
Here are five things, among many, to keep an eye on:
1. Intrigue Central: Last year, the three-team National League Central race was all the talk during the final month -- and October, as St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati all made the postseason. This year, both Central divisions are getting a lot of deserved pub.
We'll start with the NL Central, where the Cardinals have moved into the top slot and the Brewers are standing in for the Reds as the team battling them all the way to the wire. Meanwhile, the Pirates are still in the mix, not giving up by any stretch.
In the American League Central, the Royals are becoming the Pirates of 2013. They haven't made the playoffs in a long time (since 1985, if you're scoring at home), but they're leading their division and one good month will get them into the October mix, where anything is possible.
But then there are the Tigers, and even with slugger Miguel Cabrera hobbling a bit with a sore ankle, it looks like the two teams will duke it out for the next few weeks, with six head-to-head matchups coming up: Sept. 8-10 in Detroit and Sept. 19-21 in Kansas City.
2. Crosstown traffic: The last time we saw an intramarket Fall Classic was the 2000 Subway Series, with the Yankees beating the Mets. The math for the possibility of another one this year is a bit muddled at the moment, but consider this: six neighboring teams -- three in each league -- are still very much alive in the pennant race. In other words, the odds aren't too bad.
You've got the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles both running away with the East titles, the Angels and Dodgers are both in first in the West, and the A's and Giants are in very good Wild Card shape.
3. Wild world: Expanding the Wild Cards made last year's pennant race incredibly intense and left stats gurus recalculating the probabilities and potential matchups up until the very end of the month. Expect more of that this time around.
As of Tuesday morning, the A's and Tigers held the two top AL Wild Card spots, while the Mariners (1 1/2 games back), Indians (four), Yankees (four) and Blue Jays (5 1/2) were all in position where a couple of good weeks of baseball can put them in.
And in the NL, the Giants and Brewers were first and second, but they were followed by Atlanta (1 1/2), Pittsburgh (two), Miami (5 1/2), Cincinnati (seven) and San Diego (7 1/2).
4. Don't forget the awards: The MVPs, Cy Youngs, Rookies of the Year, Gold Gloves and Managers of the Year won't be known until November, but there's good prognosticating to be done over the last sixth of the season. The Angels' Mike Trout has got a good chance to move up from his two-year runner-up spot for the AL Most Valuable Player Award, and the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton might be the front-runner for the NL MVP Award.
Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers will try to do what might be unthinkable (if he weren't Clayton Kershaw) by closing out his second straight season with an ERA under 2.00 en route to his third NL Cy Young Award in the past four years. Felix Hernandez of the Mariners will try to rebound from a recent rough patch to clinch his second AL Cy Young Award.
Jose Abreu of the White Sox would appear to be the AL Rookie of the Year Award favorite, and a strong September will get him AL MVP Award consideration, too. The rest of the awards will be worth debating.
5. Farewell to The Captain? The Yankees are still in the playoff hunt, but they'll need a great month to seal the deal. That means it's possible the last 29 days of September could be the last 29 days the remarkable career of their legendary shortstop, Derek Jeter.
A look at the schedule shows that New York has 17 more home games to celebrate No. 2, including the series against the Red Sox that starts tonight and ends Thursday. Jeter's final home game, if the Yanks do not qualify for October, will occur on Sept. 25 against Baltimore.
If we can predict one thing about this crazy and awesome month of baseball, it will be that there won't be many dry eyes in the Bronx on that historic night.