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The Home Stretch: Previewing the MLB Division Races

Astros' SP Justin Verlander; Photo via Keith Allison

51 days. There are 51 calendar days left in a season that has seen stunning upsets, shocking reversals of fortune, powerful displays of greatness, and individuals etching their names in the annals of the sport. So far, the New York Mets, San Diego Padres, and St. Louis Cardinals have faltered as favorites while the Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds have emerged as surprise contenders. From now until October, six division titles will be decided, six wild card spots will be awarded, and baseball will be ready to crown its next World Champion.

American League East

The story of the American League East begins with the upward-trending Baltimore Orioles. They showed vast improvement in 2022 and have managed to exceed all expectations in 2023 to find themselves atop the division. The Orioles currently lead the Tampa Bay Rays by 3 games. If both teams continue to perform well down the stretch, then their four-game series beginning Thursday, September 14, in Baltimore’s Camden Yards will be must-see TV, likely deciding the division winner.

The Toronto Blue Jays currently sit 7 games back of the division leader. While they have a very slight chance to win the division, they appear more likely to be destined for a Wild Card berth. They currently hold the last Wild Card spot by 1.5 games over Seattle. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox boast records over .500 but sit double-digit games back in the division and will need to leapfrog Seattle and Toronto for the Wild Card.

Oddsmakers have deemed the AL East a two-horse race from this point forward, with the Baltimore Orioles the favorite at -150 and Tampa Bay close behind at +160. Toronto is sitting a distant third at +1100.

Can Baltimore’s incredible prospect pipeline complete their ascension from the dark days of the rebuild, or will the Rays return to their historic early-season form and seize control of the East?

American League Central

At present, the Minnesota Twins have developed a commanding lead in the Central. The Twins find themselves five games above .500 with a 3.5-game lead over the Cleveland Guardians. Should the Guardians suddenly get hot, they are within striking distance of Minnesota; however, they are more than 8 games back of the final Wild Card spot. While the odds are certainly stacked against Terry Francona and Co., they are graced with 6 remaining games against Minnesota, three at home and three on the road.

Odds in Vegas seem to reflect the relative likelihood of a Minnesota championship in the Central as the Twins currently sit at -700 and the Guardians are at +600.

This division is the worst in the league. The winner will likely not make any noise in the postseason, but a division crown and home-field advantage in the Wild Card series could help them get hot at the right time.

American League West

The 2023 AL West goes deep into the heart of Texas, as the title likely comes down to the Astros or Rangers. The Rangers are perched atop the division’s standings, three games clear of the defending World Champion Astros. The retooled Rangers have been one of baseball’s best stories in veteran skipper Bruce Bochy’s first year in Arlington. After acquiring pitcher Max Scherzer and others at the deadline, the Rangers figure to be a force for the rest of the season. 2.5 games back, however, are Dusty Baker’s Houston Astros. The Astros recently re-acquired Justin Verlander to bolster their pitching staff for the arms race that is the AL West. Should the Astros fail to run down the Rangers, they appear reasonably safe in the Wild Card race and should return to the postseason.

The Seattle Mariners are 5.5 games back of the Rangers but, like Toronto, would need everything to break their way to reel in the leaders. However, the Mariners only trail the Blue Jays by 1.5 games for the last Wild Card spot and appear to be playing their best baseball in August.

Vegas has the Rangers at -125 to take the West with Houston at +130. The Mariners are currently +1100 to win the West. However, they are +160 to qualify for the postseason.

The Rangers could finally see their free-spending ways of the past two offseasons pay off. However, fending off the Astros, who have practically lived in October since 2017, will be no easy task.

National League East

The race for the NL East crown is seemingly over. The Atlanta Braves have circled the field, currently lead Philadelphia by 9.5 games, and show no signs of stopping. While Atlanta has all but sewn up the division, both Miami and Philadelphia register chances to make the postseason. The Phillies currently lead the NL Wild Card standings, 4 games to the good. The Miami Marlins find themselves in the final Wild Card spot, a half game up on Cincinnati and Chicago.

Vegas has all but awarded the East to Atlanta as they are currently -20,000 to win the division. The Phillies appear likely to play postseason ball at -750, while the Marlins are +160 to play for a championship.

This Braves team looks like one of the best in recent memory. Their death grip on the division lead takes away the excitement of a division chase. However, between the Phillies seeking to replicate their magical run to an NL pennant last season and the Marlins inching closer to the end of their rebuild, this division still offers plenty of captivating storylines.

National League Central

One of the more entertaining divisional races this year has come in the National League Central. The Cardinals have largely disappointed this year. In place of St.Louis, the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, and Cincinnati Reds have traded blows all year long and remain locked in a titanic struggle for the Central crown. Currently, the Brewers are 2.5 games clear of Cincinnati and Chicago. The Cubs and Reds are a half game out of the final Wild Card spot. At the trade deadline, Cincinnati appeared poised to run away from their Central rivals. However the front office chose to stand pat, and the Reds have dropped 8 of their last 10 ballgames and are now on the outside looking in. The Brewers have remained rock solid throughout and figure to be resilient down the stretch. The Cubs, meanwhile, have gotten hot lately and have recorded wins in 6 of their last 10.

Sportsbooks currently reflect the close nature of the top of this division. The Brewers are the favorites at -105, and the Cubs at +200 and the Reds at +340.

The shocking Cardinals breakdown has left the door open for a new top dog. The Brewers have the recent October experience, but the Reds’ star rookies might continue to set the world on fire en route to stealing the division crown. And as long as Justin Steele remains a superhuman on the mound, the Cubs remain a legitimate threat.

National League West

The NL West has seen its fair share of turmoil this season. The Arizona Diamondbacks shot out to a surprising early lead and the highly regarded San Diego Padres stumbled out of the gate. Over time, things in the division appear to have stabilized, as the heavily favored Los Angeles Dodgers have now reclaimed first place and are 6.5 games ahead of the second-place San Francisco Giants. The Giants sit five games clear of the Diamondbacks for second place and are safe by 2.5 games in the Wild Card race.

Sportsbooks have adjusted odds to indicate the Dodgers are safe in the division at -1,200. The Giants appear likely to play in October, as they are -295 to make the postseason.

The Dodgers’ dominance over the division seems poised to continue this year despite the fact that many counted them out just a few months ago. A late surge by the Giants could make things interesting, however. Despite their postseason odds looking slim, it will be interesting to see how Arizona finishes the season in attempts to begin establishing a winning culture.



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