Let’s take a look at what’s going on in the divisional races:
* If the season ended today, the Red Sox would be considered the favorite to represent the American League in the World Series, but watch out for Texas. The Rangers might be having trouble beating Oakland in the AL West, but it is hard to argue with the Rangers’ deep bullpen and a rotation led by Yu Darvish, Matt Garza and Derek Holland. And prospect Martin Perez has come out of nowhere to be a consistent winner. Biggest surprise about the Rangers: They were the top run-producing team in the AL during August.
* The Red Sox have waited patiently for Clay Buchholz to return from a neck injury, and he should be back for the final two weeks. Buchholz was 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in his first 12 starts before being sidelined. Jon Lester has dominated since the Red Sox gave him a 10-day break in July. John Lackey might be their best pitcher, although he hasn’t had run support, and Jake Peavy has been the stud they were hoping for when they acquired him from the White Sox. ... Former Orioles pitcher Koji Uehara, the third closer the Red Sox have used, has been lights-out after injuries to Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey. Uehara has 85 strikeouts and nine walks going into Boston’s series with the Yankees.
* Speaking of time off, it seems to be a trend for managers to give struggling pitchers a mental break. The Red Sox did it with Lester, the Nats did it with Dan Haren and the Rays gave Jeremy Hellickson a stint in the minors and he came back strong. Hellickson didn’t go to the minors. Instead, while the Rays were in Oakland, he threw a bullpen at Tropicana Field and then went home and watched his teammates on TV.
* If schedules play into the equation, then Cleveland has got an advantage. The Indians lost five consecutive games to end August, but in September, they have six versus the White Sox, four each against the Astros and Twins, and three versus the Mets. The Indians offense is struggling, and they will know more this weekend about whether their ace pitcher, Justin Masterson, can return from an oblique injury. ... The Indians lead the majors with five walk-off home run victories, but they don’t seem to be catching on: They drew only 9,962 fans for a game against the Orioles this week.
* The Royals are on the fringe of the AL wild card race, but that doesn’t make sense statistically. Since the All-Star break, they led the AL with the lowest ERA (2.74), while their offense ranks fifth in run production. The Royals’ fate should be sealed for good, given they play the Tigers the next two weekends.
* The Pirates are in a battle to win the National Central, and general manager Neal Huntington says there is no time to celebrate their first winning season since 1992. “Our job is to win the division, so we haven’t accomplished anything yet,’’ Huntington said. Back in the 1992, the Pirates’ Barry Bonds had 34 steals and 39 home runs and was the NL MVP. Pitcher Doug Drabek was their best pitcher and a NL Cy Young candidate. Jay Bell was their shortstop and now is their hitting coach. John Wehner, now a team broadcaster, was the Pirates’ third baseman. That season, the Pirates got their 82nd win versus the Phillies, whose right-fielder was Ruben Amaro, now the Philadelphia GM.
* Thanks to expanded rosters, the Reds have been able to use speedy prospect Billy Hamilton, who has 230 stolen bases in the last two minor league seasons, in key situations. In two games versus the Cardinals, Hamilton was able to steal vs. the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina, who nails 50 percent of runners trying to steal, and score crucial runs. Hamilton had 75 minor league steals this season, even though his OPS dropped from .420 to .308.
* An historic note: When the Tigers visited Boston’s Fenway Park this season, the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera became the first Triple Crown winner to appear in a game there since Carl Yastrzemski’s final season at age 43 in 1983. Yaz was the AL Triple Crown winner in 1967, when he led the league with .301 average, 44 home runs and 121 RBIs. He also led the AL with a .418 on-base percentage that season.
* If the Reds are going to falter, it would seem this would be a good weekend. The Reds, who haven’t had a dominating streak all season, play the Dodgers at home, but then the schedule gives them a break: Four of their final six series are against the Cubs, Brewers, Astros and Mets. The Reds play the Pirates on each of the final two weekends of the season.