We're quickly nearing the final month of the 2014 Major League Baseball season. We've got a 1.5-game separation in both Central divisions, two games in the AL West, 3.5 in the NL West and some incredible wild card action. Every race is absolutely worth following and most are fun (though the Easts look boring to this point, thanks to the Beltway).
Here are five series we'll be watching closely this weekend.
1. Wild West
The Oakland Athletics held the best record in baseball for most of the season, but have recently been taken down by the Angels. The Angels have won eight of nine and pushed their division lead to two games, thanks to the A's having lost eight of their last 10. This thing is by no means over, though, as the two clubs play seven times before Labor Day. They'll start with a three game set this weekend (yes, we consider Friday part of the weekend in MLB scheduling, just as Monday begins the new week).
The A's have won six of the nine games between the two clubs to this point and the pitching matchups rather heavily favor the A's, but the Angels appear the far better team in the past few weeks.
2. NL Playoff Preview?/STREAKING
The Nationals have stormed out to a seven-game lead in the NL East and sport the best record in the NL by 2.5 games, thanks in part to a 10-game winning streak.
This weekend, the Nationals take on the Giants, who currently hold down the second wild-card spot in the NL. The Giants haven't been able to sustain success much since their outstanding 42-21 start. They had losing records in June and July and are 9-9 in August. They have, however, won four of their last five with the only loss being that weird started-stopped-restarted game from Tuesday/Thursday. Then again, this nice stretch has come against two last-place teams and now they get a red-hot first-place team, so it's a nice test.
Oh, and speaking of that pesky 10-game winning streak, that ties the Nationals with the Royals for the longest winning streak of the 2014 season. Obviously that means pushing it to 11 or beyond means the longest streak of the year by any club. The longest winning streak last season was a 14-gamer by the Braves.
3. Central Showdown
The Brewers have led the NL Central most of the season and now hold a 1.5-game lead over the Cardinals. The Pirates were in the mix before a recent seven-game losing streak helped knock them six games back.
After winning in walk-off fashion Wednesday, perhaps the Pirates can get things back on track. Now is absolutely the time to do it. They'll get the Brewers for a three-game series this weekend, followed by three against the Cardinals, three against the Reds and then three more against the Cardinals.
The Brewers definitely can't afford a letdown, either, because the Cardinals (again, just 1.5 back) face the lowly Phillies this weekend.
4. Hot ... Not
The Braves enter the weekend just one game back of the Giants for the second NL wild-card spot, but are surging with wins in six of their last seven games. The Reds, meanwhile, were once right in the thick of contention but are now just one game ahead of the Mets and Padres in the wild-card standings. They are closer to the Cubs than the Braves.
How bad is it? The Reds have lost 11 of their last 13 and are 10-23 since the All-Star break.
This series began Thursday with, not surprisingly, a Braves win. There are three more games coming. Can the Reds right the ship at all, or will the Braves stay hot?
5. O's vs. Former O's
The Orioles have a nine-game lead in the AL East right now, so unless they blow it -- which is incredibly unlikely -- there's not a ton of standings intrigue with them. There is this, though: They traded Jake Arrieta (along with Pedro Strop in exchange for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger) to the Cubs last season and he's looked like the frontline starter they always wished he would be.
The former Orioles' opening day starter was 20-25 with a 5.46 ERA in his time with Baltimore. For the Cubs this season, Arrieta is 6-4 with a 2.61 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 122 strikeouts in 117 1/3 innings. He's flirted with no-hitters on several occasions, too.
Friday, Arrieta squares off against the Orioles in Wrigley Field.
Fast-forward to Sunday, and it's Tsuyoshi Wada (3-1, 2.75) going for the Cubs against the Orioles. Remember, Wada came over prior to the 2012 season on a two-year, $8.14 million deal with the Orioles. Thanks to Tommy John surgery in 2012 and his ensuing rehab, along with not being very good in Triple-A, Wada saw zero appearances with the Orioles. Now with the Cubs, he's pitching very well.
I'm guessing Orioles fans would like to see their powerful offense do some damage against these two.