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Reidy: The Final Week: MLB Playoffs, Awards Updates

One week sure can change a lot. Just seven days ago, four of the six divisions were still up for grabs. Now, only one is still being contested in addition to the two final Wild Card pushes. While the final week’s dramatic element is diminished, there is still plenty of action left on the table. With October less than 48 hours away, here’s how the landscape of baseball is coming together.

American League

 The New York Yankees finally prevailed in the competitive American League East, clinching the division with Tuesday’s 5-2 win in Toronto. They are set to occupy the second seed in the AL, falling behind Houston but avoiding the Wild Card round. Meanwhile, in the AL Central, the entire baseball world waited all summer for the White Sox or Twins to leave Cleveland in the dust; it never happened. The Guardians dropped 10 runs on Texas to win the division Sunday, and they’ll likely host a three-game series against the third Wild Card team.

Toronto, Tampa Bay and Seattle — in that order — are still fighting for the three AL Wild Card positions. With a handful games separating the three teams, the tiebreaker scenarios must be noted. The Rays own the head-to-head tiebreakers with both teams, while the Mariners have taken five out of seven from the Blue Jays to gain that tiebreaker. The Orioles are still the only other team with a mathematical chance, though their odds have been stiffened based on recent performances. Seattle lost two series in Oakland and Kansas City, but Baltimore failed to take advantage and gain ground, dropping several winnable games to Detroit and Houston. Should the O’s make a late surge, Seattle and Tampa Bay each hold the tiebreaker over them, while they have an 8-8 record against Toronto with a 3-game set still to be played.

National League

St. Louis is officially back on top of the NL Central for the first time since 2019 after Milwaukee took the division last year. Fittingly enough, the Cardinals clinched the pennant in Brewers territory on Tuesday night. As the third division winner, they’ll host a three-game Wild Card series against either San Diego, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee. The Braves are already playoff-bound in the first Wild Card spot, so contention only exists for the remaining two positions. This three-team race is identically tight to the aforementioned AL version, so tiebreakers must be invoked once again. The Phillies have the edge on both competitors, while the Padres hold a leg up on the chasing Brewers.

A storybook ending is clearly on tap for the NL East. Entering Wednesday night, the Mets and Braves were tied atop the division, each with 97 wins and each already bound for the big dance. There will be no “Game 163’s” to break divisional stalemates this year, so the most storied pennant race of the year may come down to the 19 head-to-head games. This weekend, Truist Park will host the final three games of the Mets-Braves season series, which New York currently leads 9-7. Atlanta has the pitching advantage on Friday with Max Fried. However, with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer — two of the best starters in the game — closing out the weekend for New York, the Mets will almost certainly pick up one game to clinch the tiebreaker. To end the regular season, the Mets host Washington and the Braves visit Miami. Given the circumstances, New York appears to have the inside track, but anything goes in the final week.

MLB Awards

Expect to see two first-time MVP winners announced in November. Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge has become the first American League player to hit 60 home runs since Roger Maris in 1961. As Judge closes in on Maris’ AL record of 61 round-trippers and continues to dominate national attention, he will take home the prestigious AL Most Valuable Player award. On the other side, Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has distanced himself from the pack with a .318 batting average, 35 home runs and 114 RBI as of Wednesday. The 35 year-old also captured headlines with a 25-game hitting streak earlier in the summer, so the NL MVP award should be all his.

The Cy Young award leaders may be even more secure than the MVP frontrunners. In the AL, Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander is barreling toward his third Cy Young, a remarkable feat at the ripe age of 39. Verlander leads all qualified starting pitchers with a 1.82 ERA, pacing a dominant Houston rotation in 2022. The NL Cy Young race requires a bit of explanation. On the surface, Julio Urias appears to have the best case with an NL-best 2.24 ERA for the playoff-bound Dodgers, yet Sandy Alcantara of the middling Marlins leads the pack with a 2.32 ERA. Why? Urias has pitched seven or more innings four times this year; Alacantara has done that on 21 occasions. Additionally, Miami’s ace leads the league with five complete games, an extremely difficult mark to reach in the modern game.

This year’s crop of major league rookies has electrified the sport, and the accompanying Rookie of the Year races have been equally captivating. Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez, despite spending the time on the injured list this month, is primed to take home the AL award. Rodriguez was the first rookie to reach 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases this year, and he carries an impressive OPS just shy of .850. He also has the advantage of national attention, helping lead a contender in Seattle and producing a runner-up finish in this year’s Home Run Derby. The NL ROTY battle is the closest major award race out there, and it’s between two Atlanta teammates. Outfielder Michael Harris has the slight edge with 19 homers and 64 RBI in just 108 games as of Wednesday. Starting pitcher Spencer Strider is currently dealing with an oblique injury and won’t be available for a signature performance against the Mets, so Harris’ lead should only expand.

Contact Tyler Reidy at treidy3@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this sports authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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