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MLB playoffs: 5 storylines to watch as the MLB season enters the home stretch

MLB

The MLB season is entering its stretch run and things are heating up all over the place, thanks in large part to one of the most exciting trade deadlines of all time. Teams are surging, others are collapsing, and most of the divisions are still in play, aside from the dumpster fire that is the AL Central.

Here are five of the most compelling storylines we’ll be watching over the final two months of the MLB season.

MLB storylines: The AL East

Sweet fancy Moses, this MLB division is fun to watch. Four teams – the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Toronto Blue Jays – are vying for essentially three playoff spots, the division title obviously being the most coveted. The Oakland Athletics are trying to chase the Houston Astros in the A.L. West. If they don’t catch the Astros, they will be in the wild card mix with this A.L. East group. At least two A.L. East teams will make the playoffs. We will see if the third-place team in the division is also able to get in.

The Rays hold a lead over Boston, while New York and Toronto are both less than three games out of an MLB wild-card berth. Right now, the Red Sox are in the most danger here because they still don’t have the pitching to match other contending teams. A bad stretch or a week where the offense cools off could sink them.

If I had to guess, I’d say Tampa Bay holds onto the division and the Yankees take a wild-card spot, most likely matching up in the playoffs with the Athletics. The Red Sox and Jays will stay home.

The Sudden Three-Team Race in the NL East

About a month ago, the Mets were cruising along in the MLB season, enjoying a small lead in the NL East by just a couple of games. But all felt right – here were the Mets living up to expectations! Then Francisco Lindor landed on the IL with an oblique injury. And then NL Cy Young candidate Jacob deGrom also went on the IL with more arm and elbow troubles. And then the tailspin began. Now the Mets are in third place in the division, looking up at the Phillies and Braves.

Those two teams only have a game on New York, and the Mets expect to get Lindor back soon and deGrom as well, as long as his upcoming MRI comes back clean. The Phillies have a Cy Young candidate of their own in Zack Wheeler, along with a potential MVP candidate in Bryce Harper, who has been playing out of his mind since the All-Star break, so Philadelphia looks poised to take control of the division… but this is truly a three-team race.

Who Will Win the AL MVP?

The American League MVP race is particularly interesting, as it essentially comes down to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Shohei Ohtani. In any typical year, Vlad Jr. would be the no-brainer choice, thanks to an eye-popping .311/.405/.619 line with 35 home runs, 88 RBIs, 87 runs scored and a 174 wRC+. Just insanity. But then there’s the two-way star: Ohtani is both an MVP and Cy Young candidate, doing something we haven’t seen in baseball in about 100 years. Without him, the Angels would be an utter trainwreck. So it comes down to the usual question of how much do you reward a player if the team around him isn’t playing so well?

If I had a vote, right now, I’d have to give it to Ohtani.

The NL Wild Card

The Dodgers and Padres have had a stranglehold on the National League wild card standings most of the MLB season, but the Reds have been hot enough recently to at least make it interesting. Word has it that Fernando Tatis Jr. will be back for the Padres soon, possibly playing in the outfield, which might help wrap things up. The Reds are 4.5 games out of the second wild-card spot with only three games left against the Dodgers, so it’ll be an uphill climb for Cincinnati to make up that ground.

The AL Wild Card

Here’s the really interesting wild-card race. Among the Athletics, Red Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays, it’s truly a toss-up. The Mariners are still in the mix but have ceded ground. Best of all, there is plenty of inter-divisional action to be played among those teams; it’s a cliché this time of year, but every game truly counts. The team I’m most interested in here is the Blue Jays. The offense is solid and they picked up Jose Berrios, Joakim Soria, and Brad Hand at the trade deadline to try to shore up the pitching. Toronto is playing hot at the moment, as they sit in fourth place still 11 games over .500. The AL East is no joke.