Baseball’s final week of the regular season has arrived. Here’s what we know:
The Brewers haven’t missed National League MVP candidate Christian Yelich: The Brewers are 10-2 since Yelich was sidelined with a knee injury. They are 17-4 during September, a repeat performance of last season when they won 20 games in the final month to make the postseason. The Brewers, who have the tiebreaker to get home field in case of a wild card tie with Washington, have scored 32 runs in their last four games. Their 105 runs scored for September rank second in the National League.
The Dodgers feel better about their closer, Kenley Jansen, but there are still questions: The Dodgers are trying to make it to their third consecutive World Series, but who knows what they’ll get out of their All-Star closer. After a miserable July and August, Jansen’s cutter has improved in September and he had six strong appearances. But in his last two, he’s given up three runs and four hits in two innings. Jansen is 31. Starter Hyun-Jin Ryu was a lock for the NL Cy Young after the first half, but he’s struggled in the second half, and isn’t the favorite for the award. He says he’s made adjustments to his balance that will get him going.
The Cardinals are a dangerous team: They virtually locked up the NL Central title with a four-game sweep of the Cubs in Chicago, winning each of the games by one run. After three years off from October baseball, the Cardinals are back in and their pitching is coming on. All of a sudden, young guys Dakota Hudson (3.38 ERA since the All-Star break) and Jack Flaherty (1.05 ERA since the break) have help in the rotation. Adam Wainwright has a 3.25 ERA since the break, Michael Wacha 3.33 and Miles Mikolas 3.72. The Cardinals were 31-32 on June 9. They have gone 58-35 since.
The Yankees will go with a three-man rotation in the postseason: Luis Severino, their ace pitcher, has been impressive in his last two starts after missing the entire season because of injuries. He was one of 30 Yankees players on the injured list. Severino threw 80 pitches with nine strikeouts Sunday and looked sharp. The Yankees’ postseason rotation will have James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and Severino for Game 3. CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ will move to the bullpen and be used in long relief. With all the days off in the postseason, a three-man rotation might work, especially with the Yankees bullpen.
The Athletics have an ace, too: Like Severino, Oakland lefty Sean Manaea, 27, is back after recovering from injuries all season. He’s made four starts and his 0.80 WHIP says he’s ready to pitch in a wild card game. The Athletics have lost in the wild card round in 2014 and 2018. Last year, they had a strong bullpen and a questionable rotation. They actually tried the opener strategy against the Yankees, but it didn’t work. This year, they are different: Their rotation is stronger and having Manaea back makes them a threat in a win-or-go-home game.
The Braves’ midseason bullpen fixes worked: They started slow, but Atlanta’s Shane Greene (acquired from Detroit), Mark Melancon (acquired from San Francisco) and Chris Martin (acquired from Texas) have stabilized an Atlanta bullpen that was shaky the first half. Martin has four consecutive scoreless appearances, Melancon nine strikeouts in his last seven innings and Greene a 3.12 ERA during September. The Nationals have a shortage of lefties in their bullpen and aren’t sure if lefty Sean Doolittle should close or come in to pitch an opponents’ lefty batters - Cody Bellinger, Bryce Harper, Corey Seager, Freddie Freeman - in a key late-innings situation.
The Twins have reason to be concerned about their rotation: The Twins have a chance for 100 wins this season, but you could never tell by the shape of their rotation. It was thin going into September, and then their best starter, Michael Pineda, was suspended for 60 games on Sept. 7. All-Star José Berríos has slumped in the second half. He’s shown signs of turning it around, but didn’t pitch well in his last start. Kyle Gibson and Martin Pérez are not looking good. Jake Odorizzi is their most reliable starter. The Twins might have to win in the postseason with a bullpen game, something they did twice in a doubleheader sweep in Cleveland during September to re-establish command in the American League Central.