Breaking down the pennant races for the stretch drive

September has arrived, but the drama hasn't - at least not with either of the local nines.

The Orioles could wind up with the worst record in the majors and the No. 1 pick in next June's draft. The Nationals would need an unprecedented turn of events to make the postseason.

The Nationals need an explosive September and a double collapse by Atlanta and Philadelphia to make the postseason and duplicate what the Phillies did to the Mets in 2007.

That year, the Mets lost the National League East title after having a seven-game lead on Sept. 12 and a 2 1/2-game lead going into their last homestand.

The Mets lost 12 of their final 17 and the Phillies were tied with the Mets going into the last day of the regular season. The Marlins, in New York, pounded the Mets' Tom Glavine en route to an 8-1 win. The Phillies beat Washington 6-1.

The Nationals have traded away key players, so a repeat of the Phillies' 2007 miracle is unlikely. Also, the Nationals haven't shown signs that they can win 10 consecutive games.

Even if the Nationals were to go on a run, the Phillies and Braves play each other seven times in the final two weeks.

Of the two, the Phillies have the best chance to collapse in September. Their defense is weak and their young pitchers behind Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola might battle fatigue.

It's more difficult to make a case for the Braves' implosion, given that Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis are in the NL batting title race and Mike Foltynewicz is among the ERA leaders.

Former Oriole Kevin Gausman has solidified the rotation and another former Oriole, Brad Brach, has helped the Braves bullpen.

The best race is the NL West, three-team race with the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Dodgers.

The three were a game apart on Aug. 1 and 1 1/2 games apart on Aug. 15.

September will be interesting. Arizona plays the Rockies seven times and the Dodgers three times. The Dodgers and Rockies have six games left against each other.

The Rockies need a rotation beyond Kyle Freeland and German Marquez.

The Dodgers have a deep rotation, but their thin bullpen - they traded for the Nationals' Ryan Madson - is a question because of closer Kenley Jansen's health. Of the three teams, the D-Backs have the deepest rotation and bullpen.

After an 18-10 record in August, thanks to the help of newcomers Cole Hamels and Daniel Murphy, the Cubs have the best record in the NL. Hamels has a 0.69 ERA in six starts for the Cubs. Murphy is hitting .311 with a .340 on-base percentage in his first 10 games.

Kris Bryant, on the disabled list since July 14, is back, and the Cubs expect closer Brandon Morrow to be healthy during the final two weeks of the season.

The Brewers, who added starter Gio Gonzalez, outfielder Curtis Granderson and reliever Xavier Cedeno in trades, will get a chance to gain ground in the NL Central because they play the Cubs six times in the next two weeks, first in Milwaukee and then in Chicago.

The Brewers rotation, shaky for September, is set through the Cubs series, so Gonzalez, who had a 7.47 ERA in six August starts for the Nationals, will be used in the bullpen.

But the Brewers say he'll start after the Cubs series.

Cleveland dominates the AL Central, Boston the AL East. And, now that George Springer, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve have returned from the disabled list, the Astros are bound to hold off the surprise Athletics in the AL West. Astros Pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. is out with a forearm strain and is expected to be back in the final two weeks and go to the bullpen for the postseason.

The biggest American League drama is whether the Red Sox can avoid a postseason collapse and win their fourth World Series since 2000.

The Red Sox's last challenging series was after the All-Star break when they swept the Yankees in a four-game series.

If the Red Sox are on, they're tough to beat. They've not lost more than three consecutive games.

Going into Sunday, they lead the AL in runs (774), hitting (.269), OPS (.796) and on-base percentage (.338). They rank second in ERA (3.59) and sixth in fielding (.988).

J.D. Martinez has a chance to win a Triple Crown at .335-39-115. Martinez has given the Red Sox the power bat they didn't have last season.

Martinez and Mookie Betts (.342-29-70) will be AL MVP candidates. Ian Kinsler has played well in replacing Red Sox icon Dustin Pedroia at second base.

The rotation is solid with David Price, Chris Sale, Rick Porcello. And Eduardo Rodriguez came back from the disabled list Saturday with a 12-strikeout game against the White Sox.

Sale is on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, and the Red Sox aren't rushing him. Price is on the disabled list after getting hit with a line drive, but no serious time off is expected.

Boston has the luxury of taking its time with injures players. The Red Sox are confident Sale and Price will be fine, the extra rest a benefit in October.

Maybe the Red Sox and Cubs will be in a World Series that's played in baseball's two oldest parks. Boston's Fenway Park opened in 1912 and Wrigley Field opened two years after that.

At a time when baseball is moving quickly with futuristic analytics, defensive shifts and launch angles, maybe a Cubs-Red Sox World Series is the traditional scenario that baseball needs.

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