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Sep 6, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (15) cannot get to a single by San Diego Padres shortstop Luis Sardinas (not pictured) during the seventh inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

MLB Playoff Races Heat Up As Season Winds Down

As October approaches, and with it the promise of postseason baseball, many teams are still fighting in heated divisional and wild card races while others are well on their way to securing a spot in the playoffs.

American League

AL East

Leaders: Boston (78-61)

In the Hunt: Toronto (1 GB), Baltimore (2 GB), New York Yankees (4 GB)

The AL East is currently the tightest divisional race in the league, with only the Tampa Bay Rays eliminated from contention right now. Boston travels to Toronto this weekend for a series that could go a long way towards determining the division winner. Red Sox infielder Travis Shaw says it will be fun playing in a high stakes series this weekend with the chance to extend their lead.

The Yankees will look to continue their late season push as they take on the Rays in a four game series this weekend, the first game of which, they won last night 5-4.

Baltimore is the only team playing out of the division this weekend as they visit Detroit for a three-game series against the Tigers.

Sep 8, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana (41) hits a two run home run in the fifth inning against the Houston Astros at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 8, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana (41) hits a two run home run in the fifth inning against the Houston Astros at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sport

AL Central

Leaders: Cleveland (81-58)

In the Hunt: Detroit (6 GB), Kansas City (9 GB)

Although the race is not as tight as the AL East, there is still intrigue in the race, highlighted by Cleveland looking poised to take the defending champion Royals divisional crown. Cleveland first baseman Mike Napoli says they’ll need to keep up the good play down the stretch.

Cleveland travels to the Twin Cities this weekend to take on Minnesota in a division showdown in a three game series, while the Royals are in action in Chicago against their divisional rival White Sox.

Detroit will have a chance to make up room in both the wild card and divisional races when they host Baltimore this weekend.

AL West 

Leaders: Texas (83-58)

In the Hunt: Houston (8.5 GB), Seattle (10.5 GB)

Texas has a comfortable lead heading down the home stretch, and have a favorable series this weekend against Anaheim, with a chance to all but end the divisional race.

Houston presents the Ranger’s closest competitors in the AL West, and only sits 2.5 games back of the second wild card spot, but faces an up-hill battle this weekend in terms of making up ground. Houston hosts the Chicago Cubs this weekend, owners of the league’s best record, and a team who’s played well all season.

Seattle has a good opportunity to make up ground on Houston, as they only sit two games behind them and have a favorable matchup this weekend. Seattle battles the division’s last place team, Oakland, in a three-game series.

Sep 6, 2016; Bronx, NY, USA; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion (10) rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run against the New York Yankees during the first inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 6, 2016; Bronx, NY, USA; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion (10) rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run against the New York Yankees during the first inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

AL Wild Card

Leaders: Toronto (77-62, +1 GB), Baltimore (76-63)

In the Hunt: Detroit (1 GB), New York Yankees (2 GB), Houston (2.5 GB), Kansas City (4 GB), Seattle (4.5 GB)

This race is highlighted this weekend by the aforementioned Detroit-Baltimore series. Both teams are 6-4 in their last 10 games, so they come in very evenly matched. Whoever takes two out of three will be in prime position to take one of the two wild card spots. Many of these teams that are in the same division will face off in series with playoff implications as end of the month approaches.

National League

NL East

Leaders: Washington (82-58)

In the Hunt: New York Mets (8 GB)

Washington has all but wrapped up the division, but their worries may extend beyond the current race, as pitching ace Stephen Strasburg exited his last start with elbow pain. It was his first start since coming back from the disabled list because of elbow soreness. It remains to be seen how much time he’ll miss, or if he’ll require a second Tommy John surgery.

Washington is currently in the middle of a four-game series with the Phillies, the first game of which they lost 4-1 last night.

Meanwhile, the defending National League champion Mets are surging at the right time. They’ve won eight out of their last ten games, and are on a five game win streak. They have a three-game series against the Braves this weekend, but the big series is the one after that. The Mets will take on the Nationals from Monday through Wednesday in a three-game series that could have the Mets not only sitting pretty in the wild card race, but within serious striking distance to capture the division.

Sep 4, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Javier Baez (9) tags out San Francisco Giants center fielder Gorkys Hernandez (66) attempting to steal a base in the twelfth inning of their game at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 4, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Javier Baez (9) tags out San Francisco Giants center fielder Gorkys Hernandez (66) attempting to steal a base in the twelfth inning of their game at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

NL Central

Leaders: Chicago Cubs (89-50)

In the Hunt: No one

Although the St. Louis Cardinals are still firmly in the Wild Card race, they sit 16 games behind the Cubs, a nearly insurmountable lead at this point with just over 20 games to go, not to mention how dominant the Cubs have been all season. A preseason favorite to win the World Series, the Cubs seem well on their way to achieving step one of that process, which is winning the division and home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

The Cubs are in Houston to take on the Astros this weekend in a battle of two teams with playoff aspirations.

NL West

Leaders: Los Angeles (79-60)

In the Hunt: San Francisco (5 GB)

Clayton Kershaw returns to the Dodgers in time for their September push after an extended absence. The Giants meanwhile, sit within striking distance of the Dodgers, and are in position to grab one of the two wild card spots, as they try to keep the even-year World Series trend going (2010, 2012, 2014 champions).

The Dodgers are in Miami for a tricky three game series against the Marlins, while the Giants are on the road to take division foe Arizona.

NL Wild Card

Leaders: San Francisco (74-65, +0.5 GB), New York Mets (74-66)

In the Hunt: St. Louis (.5 GB), Pittsburgh (4 GB), Miami (5 GB)

As of right now, the race is between three teams for the two wild card spots, with the Cardinals currently on the outside looking in. They play Milwaukee this weekend, while division rival Pittsburgh takes on the Reds. Down in Miami, the Marlins have a three game series with the Dodgers that could put them back in the race, or send far behind the rest of the pack.

About Jonathan Acosta

Native New Englander. Follow me on Twitter: @jonacosta_10

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