2011 MLB Races Heating Up: Things to Watch in September

The 2011 pennant race will soon be heating up and although things appear to be relatively quiet, there are definitely some headline stories to keep an eye on as we head down the stretch.  Here's a summary of a few of the biggest baseball stories heading into September:

The Battle for the AL East

The Red Sox lead the Yankees by a half game in the AL East, setting the stage for another epic battle between the Sawks and Yanks. Their remaining schedules are very similar - both teams will play 13 of their remaining 26 games at home.  For the Sox, 23 of those 26 games will be against divisional opponents with their only non-division opponent coming up this weekend; a three-game series at home against the Rangers.  The Yankees will play the Angels and Mariners for 3 games each and the rest of their games are against foes from the AL East.

This race will all come down to a critical three-game series at New York September 23-25.  The winner of that series will more than likely have a huge impact on determining who wins the AL East.  Regardless, it appears as though both teams will be heading into the postseason (right now, the Yankees have an 8.5 game advantage in the wild card race).

Rangers Stumbling Towards the Finish Line - Halos Making a Push

On August 19th, the Rangers were 20 games above .500 and it seemed as though they were poised to run away with the AL West but the end of August proved to be unkind to Texas as they lost 7 out of their final 11 games in August, including two games against the Angels.  The Angels, once an afterthought, sit just 3.5 games back and are seemingly in great shape to make things very uncomfortable for the Rangers.  The Rangers will only play 9 of their remaining 24 games within the friendly confines of Arlington, where they boast a .611 win percentage (compared to a pedestrian .515 win percentage on the road).  Outside of their division opponents, they will also have to deal with Boston, Cleveland and Tampa Bay (with 9 of 12 games being on the road).  The Angels will play 15 of their remaining 25 games at home, where they have maintained a .576 win percentage so far this season.  Aside from that discrepancy, they will have to deal with four non-division opponents (compared to the Rangers three).  They get the Twins and Yankees at home and the Orioles and Blue Jays (4 game set) on the road.

The postseason hopes of these two teams could come down to the final three games of the season.  The Angels will host the Rangers for, what should be, a critical three game series.  Are you excited, yet?

Can the Diamondbacks Keep it Up?  Can the Giants Bounce Back?

The Snakes are 6 games up on the Giants and winners of nine of their last ten games.  Meanwhile, the Giants went an abysmal 11-18 in the month of August, winning one series the entire month.  The message in the clubhouse for each of these teams down the stretch is simple - win games within the division.  The Diamondbacks play 22 of their remaining 25 games against NL West counterparts (and 13 of 25 at home) and the Giants don't play a single non-division opponent.  The only non-division opponent for the Diamondbacks is the Pirates, who have stumbled mightily in the second half.  If the Giants lose the upcoming three-game home series against the Diamondbacks (which starts tonight), they may not be able to rebound.  Honestly, nothing surprises me in the Wild NL West.  The Dodgers are streaking (9-1 in their last 10 and 11.5 games back)... who knows, maybe they can make a push.  Crazier things have happened, right?

Can Verlander Do Enough to Vault Himself into the MVP Race?

Justin Verlander became the first pitcher to win 20 games before the end of August since Curt Schilling in 2002.  He has been a beast and is the clear-cut favorite for the AL Cy Young.  The question isn't whether he'll win a Cy but whether he'll become the 19th pitcher in baseball history to win the MVP award and the first since Dennis Eckersley in 1992.  The AL MVP list is lengthy with plenty of worthy candidates - Curtis Granderson, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Bautista, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia are all having MVP seasons but Justin Verlander is certainly having a season for the ages.  While it would take a truly remarkable finish to garnish enough attention to sway the vote from a position player, it could happen.

And the NL Cy Young Award Goes To...

Clayton Kershaw certainly has the numbers and has done it playing for a bad team but you can't overlook what Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels have done in Philadelphia.  The trio have lived up to the lofty expectations - they have been a "historic rotation" thus far - but history tells us that multiple players from one city aiming for one award ends up splitting votes.

So there you have it... those are our story lines heading down the stretch.  What are you watching for?


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