MLB Rumors: 5 Things To Watch For In Stretch Run Of Season As September Hits, Playoffs Loom [POLL, VIDEO]

Mike Smollins
By Mike Smollins @MikeSmollins
on Sep 01, 2016 09:00 AM EDT
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With September in full swing, the hunt for October and playoff baseball heats up in Major League Baseball.

Between playoff runs and battles for awards, rosters are set to expand on Thursday as the race to the postseason continues. Around the league, there is plenty at stake now that it's September.

Here are five things to watch for down the stretch.

1) Races Are Wild

The summer may be ending, but with the MLB season nearing its end, the NL and AL Wild Card races are hotter than ever.

In the Senior Circuit, the Giants (72-60) own a two-game cushion for the top spot, while the Cardinals (70-62) own the second and final playoff spot. They have plenty of company hunting them down. The surging Mets (69-64) are only 1 1/2 games back, while the Pirates (67-63) are two back and the Marlins (67-66) are 3 1/2 as they look to start September by avoiding a four-game sweep from the Mets.

Over in the AL, the Red Sox (74-59) enter September with a two-game lead atop the Wild Card standings. The Orioles and Tigers, meanwhile, enter the new month with identical 72-61 records to place tied for the second and final spot. The Astros (71-62) are one game back, the surging defending World Series Royals (69-63) are 2 1/2 out, the Yankees (68-63) are three back and the Mariners (68-65) are four back.

2) Chicago Fire

The Cubs have been the hottest team in the MLB all year long and appear to be headed deep into the postseason if all goes right. Chicago enters September with an MLB-best 84-47 record and will likley end up being the first team to clinch a playoff berth barring a monumental collapse. The Cubs enter the playoffs with a 14.5-game lead in the NL Central.

3) Division Dominance

The Cubs aren't the only team entering September with a strong lead. The Nationals own a nine game lead over the Mets entering the new month as Rangers have jumped out to an 8.5-game lead over the Astros.

There are some close races too, as the AL East is very tight. The Blue Jays own a two-game lead over the Red Sox and a four-game lead over the Orioles. The Indians division run over the Tigers is at just 4 1/2 games entering the stretch run. Out in the NL West, the Dodgers' lead over the rival Giants has shrunk to just 1.5.

4) MVP Battle

The MVP races in both leagues should come down to the wire. In the NL, Daniel Murphy, who ranks second with a .341 batting average, is having the best year of his career. Cubs teammates Kris Bryant (.305 batting average/35 HR/89 RBI) and Anthony Rizzo (.294/26 HR/93 RBI are also deadlocked in a race and Nolan Arenado, who plays for the sub-.500 Rockies (which could be a detriment to his chances) leads the NL in homers (35) and RBIs (113). Dodgers rookie Corey Seager should also be considered.

Over in the AL, Jose Altuve, who leads the MLB with a .351 batting average, is among many candidates who are deserving of the hardware. Edwin Encarnacion (AL-leading 106 RBIs), Mike Trout (.319 average that ranks fifth in the AL) and Josh Donaldson (34 homers to rank third in AL) headline a list that includes Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Manny Machado among others.

5) Adios, Papi

As David Ortiz calls it a career, he has been on an absolute tear leading to his swansong. Ortiz leads the majors in doubles (42), slugging percentage (.622) and OPS (1.022), while his third in RBIs (102) and fourth in on-base percentage (.400). The Boston DH is also batting .313 and has 31 homers. With the Red Sox entering September in playoff position, Big Papi may ride off into the sunset with another deep playoff run.

Which current MLB division leader do you think has the best chance to win the World Series?

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