We have two weeks left in the regular season. Four of the division races are over (or virtually over), the Indians are clinging by their stirrups in the American League Central, and only the National League Central, with the Cardinals, Cubs and Brewers separated by three games, looks to promise us those "What's the score in the other game?" moments the rest of the way.
So let's check on what to watch for over the final 14 days -- starting with two key injury updates from Sunday.
Cubs' Anthony Rizzo leaves because of sprained ankle
Rizzo was injured fielding a bunt in Sunday's win over the Pirates, seriously enough that the team took X-rays to make sure there wasn't a fracture. There wasn't, but Rizzo will have an MRI on Monday and we'll learn about the length of his absence.
Obviously, losing Rizzo would be a big blow to a Chicago offense that just erupted for 47 runs in a three-game sweep of the Pirates -- the most runs the Cubs have scored in a three-game series since 1900. The Cubs have a lot of defensive flexibility throughout the roster, but they don't really have a backup first baseman -- Ian Happ replaced Rizzo in Sunday's game, and Victor Caratini and Kris Bryant have started a few games there. Rizzo leads the Cubs with a .404 OBP and his absence combined with Javier Baez being out because of a hairline fracture in his left thumb leaves Chicago scrambling a bit in the infield.
The Cubs do have depth (although Addison Russell also is out right now because of a concussion) and rookie shortstop Nico Hoerner has provided a surprising lift since his call-up, hitting .379/.438/.655 in seven games. The Cubs can still go with Bryant at third, Hoerner at shortstop, Ben Zobrist at second and Happ at first, with David Bote in reserve, but with seven games still left against the Cardinals, they'll miss Rizzo.
Mike Trout out for remainder of season: AL MVP up for grabs?
After Trout missed his eighth game in a row Sunday, the Angels announced he would have season-ending surgery for a nerve issue in his right foot, something called Morton's neuroma (a thickening of the tissue around a nerve leading to the toes, creating pain in the ball of the foot). So Trout's final numbers: 134 games, .291/.438/.645, 45 home runs, 110 runs, 104 RBIs. He leads the AL in home runs, OBP, slugging and WAR. His lead over Alex Bregman in WAR entering Sunday was 8.3 to 7.4 (Baseball-Reference) and 8.6 to 7.3 (FanGraphs). Bregman went 1-for-3 on Sunday and is hitting .295/.420/.579 with 36 home runs, 114 runs and 104 RBIs.
Does Bregman have a chance to pass Trout in the MVP race? Working in Bregman's favor: Trout plays for a bad team and won't play at all the final two weeks. MVP voters don't give as much weight to playing on a playoff team as they used to, but they still give some weight. Also, Trout's 136 total games would be low for an MVP winner, although not unprecedented. Mookie Betts played 136 last year and beat Trout in the voting. Bregman's triple-slash line won't match Trout's, but with a strong final two weeks, Bregman will have impressive counting numbers, will be close to Trout in WAR -- and will play for a division winner.
National League MVP race: Up for grabs?
With Christian Yelich out for the season because of a fractured right kneecap, we still have a two-man (or three-man race). Or, heck, even a four-man race, as we don't want to completely dismiss Yelich:
Cody Bellinger: .304/.407/.625, 44 HRs, 112 R, 108 RBIs, 6.08 WPA
Anthony Rendon: .332/.416/.625, 33 HRs, 112 R, 118 RBIs, 5.51 WPA
Ketel Marte: .327/.387/.590, 32 HRs, 96 R, 91 RBIs, 3.81 WPA
Yelich: .329/.429/.671, 44 HRs, 100 R, 97 RBIs, 7.86 WPA
WPA is win probability added, sort of a proxy for "clutch." Yelich, Bellinger and Rendon ranked first, second and fourth in the majors heading into Sunday (via FanGraphs). With Yelich done compiling counting stats, and Marte probably fourth on the list right now, it looks like a two-man race between Bellinger and Rendon (although Yelich does lead in FanGraphs WAR, WPA and triple-slash line). Rendon has the momentum as he's finishing strong, while Bellinger has a sizable lead in Baseball-Reference WAR thanks to his defensive metrics. This looks like a close vote that could go in either direction.
OK, that NL Central -- and wild-card -- race
We've tried to bury the Cubs. We've tried to bury the Brewers. It's not over yet, with Ryan Braun's go-ahead grand slam Sunday that lifted Milwaukee to a dramatic win over St. Louis tightening the race. The Cardinals are two up on the Cubs and three up on the Brewers, but consider:
• The Brewers have the easiest remaining schedule of any playoff contender in terms of opponents' winning percentage (four against the Padres, three against the Pirates, three at Cincinnati and three at Colorado).
• The Cubs and Cardinals play those seven games against each other, so that might help the Brewers. The Cardinals have three against the Nationals, four at Wrigley, three at Arizona and then host the Cubs for three to end the season. The Cubs have seven at home against the Reds and Cardinals and then six on the road against the Pirates and Cardinals.
This is a good moment to remind everyone of the three-team tiebreaker rules. Teams are given A, B and C designation, with the team having the best winning percentage against the other two teams having first choice. Right now, the Cubs are 16-15, the Brewers are 19-19 and the Cardinals are 15-16. It's possible all three teams end up 19-19 against each other. In which case the tiebreaker becomes overall division record.
Anyway, Club 1 (the Cubs, as of now), would pick their designation in the following scenario: Club A hosts Club B. The winner of that game then hosts Club C.
Of course, all of this is complicated by the possibility that we could end up in a three-way tie for the NL Central with another club also tied for a wild card. For example, imagine these final standings:
Nationals: 89-73 (7-7 rest of way)
Cardinals: 88-74 (5-8 rest of way)
Cubs: 88-74 (7-6 rest of way)
Brewers: 88-74 (8-5 rest of way)
Mets: 88-74 (11-2 rest of way)
The Nationals win the first wild card, but then we have a four-way tie with the Mets. The NL Central teams are sorted by A, B and C, and the Mets would be Club D. A hosts B and C hosts D. If D (the Mets) wins, they are the second wild-card team and the winner between A and B would be the NL Central winner. If Club C beats the Mets, then the winner of A and B would play C. The winner of that game would be the division winner and the loser would be the second wild card.
We also could end up with a five-way tie if the Nationals fall back. As of now, MLB has no tiebreaker scenarios in place for a five-way tie. The simplest would be the three Central teams playing out their scenario for the division title and one wild-card spot and then the Mets and Nationals playing a game for the other wild-card spot.
By the way, as of now, the NL wild-card game is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 1, with the AL game on Wednesday, Oct. 2, so that will have to change if we end up with two days of tiebreaker games.
AL wild-card race
The A's have won six in a row to build a 1½-game lead over the Rays, with the Rays 1½ games up on the Indians. The remaining schedules:
• Oakland: vs. KC (3), off day, vs. TEX (3), off day, at LAA (2), at SEA (4)
• Tampa Bay: off day, at LAD (2), off day, vs. BOS (4), vs. NYY (2), off day, at TOR (3)
• Cleveland: off day, vs. DET (3), vs. PHI (3), off day, at CHW (3), at WAS (3)
Anything could happen here. The A's are red hot and have an easy remaining schedule; FanGraphs gives them a 95.6% chance of making the playoffs. The Rays have the tougher schedule, but they're already in L.A. after playing the Angels this weekend and will benefit from three off days. The Indians get the Tigers and White Sox and fading Phillies before finishing with the Nationals, who might have clinched a spot by that final weekend.
Chase for best record and home-field advantage
The Yankees and Astros are tied at 98-53 with the Dodgers one game back. The Yankees' biggest worry right now is getting everyone healthy: Gary Sanchez is dealing with a sore groin, Edwin Encarnacion has an oblique issue and Giancarlo Stanton is supposed to return this week. (Dellin Betances threw eight pitches in his season debut Sunday.) The Astros are still waiting on Carlos Correa. The Astros finish with the Rangers, Angels, Mariners and Angels again. The Yankees get the Angels, Blue Jays, Rays and Rangers. The Astros won the season series over the Yankees, so Houston holds the tiebreaker edge.
Home run crown chase
With his otherworldly second half, Eugenio Suarez has tied Pete Alonso for the major league lead at 47 home runs. In 60 games since the All-Star break, Suarez has hit .304/.386/.724 with 27 home runs. Insane. At the break, he was 11 home runs behind then-leader Yelich. If Suarez does win the home run title, it would be the second-largest gap at the break overcome by a home run champ. Jimmie Foxx trailed the leader by 12 home runs in 1935 and ended up tied for the MLB lead with 36 home runs.
AL Cy Young race
Maybe the best awards race over the final two weeks is between Astros teammates Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Verlander tossed a no-hitter on Sept. 1 and has double-digit strikeout games in nine of his past 11 starts. Cole has given up three runs in his three September starts and is on a run of six consecutive double-digit strikeout games. He also has won 13 straight decisions. Season stats:
Verlander: 18-6, 2.58 ERA, 206 IP, 123 H, 38 BB, 275 SO, 34 HR
Cole: 17-5, 2.62 ERA, 192.1 IP, 130 H, 45 BB, 292 SO, 27 HR
Wow. Who ya got?