From MLB's playoff races to hot seats to milestones, everything we're watching down the stretch

A glance at both standings page and Gregorian calendar will reveal to the baseball-liker that it's getting late out there. Every team is well into the final third of its regular season schedule, and we're winding our way toward the middle of August. With the One True Trade Deadline freshly behind us, we now shift our focus to the various and sundry playoff races, as well as individual awards and possible milestones. 

Shall we begin? People, we shall begin. 

The division races, especially in the American League Central

The greatest of these, of course, is the ongoing derby to determine which 10 teams make the postseason. Right now, let's assume the Yankees win the AL East (10.5-game lead right now), the Astros win the AL West (10-game lead) and the Dodgers win the NL West for a seventh straight year (18-game lead). The rest is in play to varying degrees. 

The Braves are probably going to win the NL East, as they have a 5 1/2-game lead at the moment. They also have a fairly accommodating schedule the rest of the way, and all of that is why the SportsLine Projection Model gives them a roughly a 3-in-4 chance of fending off the Nationals, Mets and Phillies. The Nats are next in the queue with a 21 percent chance of hawking down the Braves for the flag. The Braves are solid favorites, but it's close enough to be considered in play. 

The Cubs are surging at this writing and have begun to put some distance between themselves and the Brewers and Cardinals. When it comes to run differential so far and roster strength, the Cubs certainly look like notable favorites in the NL Central. SportsLine actually gives them slightly better odds than it gives the Braves in the NL East. That said, Milwaukee and St. Louis are, respectively, 3.5 and four games out, so it's very much within range. Also worth noting is that the Cubs have seven head-to-headers left against the Brewers and seven against the Cardinals left to play. 

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians
The Indians are clawing their way back into the AL Central title race. USATSI

The most compelling division race is without question the AL Central. Even though the Twins had an 11 1/2-game lead in the division as recently as June 3, the Indians are now just a single game back. That's because since June 4, Cleveland has gone an MLB-best 40-16. Best of all, these two teams will play each other nine more times during the regular season. SportsLine leans Twins, giving them roughly a 60 percent chance of prevailing, which in part reflects the fact that Minnesota has the AL's easiest schedule the rest of the way. 

The wild-card races, especially in the National League

Here's where the true madness is found. The Indians hold the top wild-card spot in the AL, and they're 3 1/2 games clear of the Rays, who hold the second spot. Hot on their heels are the Athletics, who are a mere half-game back of the Rays. Let's also not forget about the reigning champion Red Sox, who are 5 1/2 games behind the Rays for that final AL playoff berth. The Sox also still have four head-to-head games against the Rays left to play. Over at SportsLine, the system projects the A's to finish with 93 wins (rounding off the average of thousands of simulations) and the Rays with 91. The Red Sox, meantime, are back at 86 wins. 

Over in the NL, the wild-card derby is even more wonderfully muddled. Here's a glance at the current wild-card standings in the senior circuit:

NL Wild-Card Race
TEAMW-LPCTGBSTRK
61-53.535+2.0W3
60-56.517--W3
58-55.5130.5L5
59-56.5130.5L3
59-56.5130.5W6
58-57.5041.5W2
57-59.4913.0W1

Yep, you've got three teams within a half-game of the final spot -- currently clung to (fingernails only) by the Brewers -- and four within a game-and-a-half. At the top of the wild-card heap, the Nationals are hardly secure with just two games of separation. This of course raises the tantalizing possibility of late-hour madness and maybe even a play-in game. 

So how does SportsLine foresee things playing out? Here are the current projected win totals for the teams in question: 

  • Nationals: 88.5
  • Brewers: 85.2
  • Mets: 83.4
  • Cardinals: 83.1
  • Phillies: 82.5
  • Diamondbacks: 82.3

Yeah, that's a six-car pile-up. Let us commence rubbernecking. Everything you see right there is within any reasonable margin for error, which suggests chaos -- beautiful, pleasing chaos -- may be afoot. Of those teams, the Nationals and Cardinals have the easiest remaining schedules, but it's all very compressed even on that front.  

Yankees, Dodgers, Astros race for the top overall seed

Of lesser importance but still notable is the race for top-overall seed and the rights to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Right now, it's a race among the Yankees (.661 WPCT), Dodgers (.658) and Astros (.652). Those three colossuses (collosi?) are all within a game of each other, so here's something else that could come down the wire. Right now, SportsLine leans Dodgers, but that's subject to change on an almost daily basis. The Astros have the easier schedule the rest of the way, at least on paper.

Tigers in line to claim the top overall draft pick

Not exactly inspiring stuff, but it's one of the few consolations for those rooters of miserable teams. Right now, the Tigers are in line to claim the top overall pick for the second time in the last three years. They're currently on pace to be one of the worst teams in modern baseball history. The Orioles, who took Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman No. 1 overall this past June, are three games "behind" them. Also in the running are the Royals, who are five games back of the Tigers. K.C. hasn't picked No. 1 overall since 2006, when they selected Luke Hochevar. 

Individual awards, especially NL Rookie of the Year

Hardware hangs in the balance. The AL MVP may come down to Mike Trout of the Angels (the best player and the favorite) against a selection of Yankees (DJ LeMahieu probably most prominent among them). Also in the discussion are Alex Bregman of the Astros, Matt Chapman of the A's, and maybe even Boston's Xander Bogaerts. In the NL, Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers is probably the favorite with reigning MVP Christian Yelich a threat to repeat. Don't be surprised if Anthony Rendon of the Nationals emerges as a real threat. He's got the numbers, and his Nats have surged back into contention. Others to watch include Max Muncy of the Dodgers and Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna of the Braves.

As for the Cy Young Awards, in the AL it's probably Justin Verlander's to lose. Former teammate Charlie Morton, now with the Rays, is in the mix, as is current teammate Gerrit Cole. Mike Minor of the Rangers is another. In the NL, Hyun-jin Ryu of the Dodgers probably leads all comers. Max Scherzer merits consideration, as he does pretty much every year. Now that Mets ace Jacob deGrom has found his level, he's become a repeat possibility. 

pete-alonso-1400.jpg
Pete Alonso is expected to shatter the Mets single-season homer record and possibly win Rookie of the Year. USATSI

Rookie of the Year in the AL right now looks like a race among Brandon Lowe of the Rays, Yordan Alvarez of the Astros, John Means of the Orioles and Zach Plesac of the Indians. In the NL, it probably comes down to Pete Alonso of the Mets against  Fernando Tatis Jr. of the Padres. This one may be the most compelling of all award races insofar as the possibility of a photo finish is concerned. Mike Soroka of the Braves is the darkhorse (a very worth darkhorse, it should be noted). 

Manager of the Year? Who cares, dude. 

A few milestones to keep an eye on

Mere weeks remain, but some milestones remain in play. Most prominently, new Astro Zack Greinke needs just two more wins to reach 200 for his career. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen needs just six saves to get to 300 for his career. If Yankees lefty CC Sabathia returns from the IL in time to make seven more starts, then he'll crack the top 25 all-time in career games started. He also needs just 48 more strikeouts to crack the top 15 all-time on that list. 

pujols.jpg
Albert Pujols is approaching Willie Mays on the all-time home run list. USATSI

Albert Pujols of the Angels is 10 homers way from tying Willie Mays (660) for fourth place all-time. Pujols' teammate Mike Trout is on target to register the fourth 10-WAR season of his career. That would put him in mega-elite company. Ian Kinsler of the Padres needs just two hits for 2,000. 

On the team level, the Twins with 224 home runs are on pace not only to break the record (267, set by last year's Yankees) but also to become the first team ever to hit 300 home runs in a season (they're on pace for 316, so there's room to breathe). In matters very much related, the Twins are also in first place.

How the premium free-agents-to-be finish up

Mike Axisa is our man in the chopper when it comes to the 2019-20 class of free agents. Names like Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Hyun-jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler, Cole Hamels, Yasmani Grandal, Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel and Marcell Ozuna are poised to hit the market, and how they fare over the remainder of the season will have bearing on what their markets look like. Also bear in mind that J.D. Martinez has an opt-out, and it figures to be a close call on whether he uses it.

Managers on the hot seat

gabe-kapler.jpg
Gabe Kapler of the Phillies might be without a job at season's end if he can't lead his team to October baseball. USATSI

Managers who may not be employed in 2019 include Gabe Kapler of the Phillies, Mickey Callaway of the Mets and Davey Martinez of the Nationals. How the playoff races shake out will of course have great bearing on their status moving forward. As for the rebuilders, might Rick Renteria of the White Sox, Ron Gardenhire of the Tigers, Scott Servais of the Mariners and Andy Green of the Padres be frittering away job security? Perhaps they could use strong finishes. 

Hey, you, get to watching. 

CBS Sports Writer

Dayn Perry has been a baseball writer for CBS Sports since early 2012. Prior to that, he wrote for FOXSports.com and ESPN.com. He's the author of three books, the most recent being Reggie Jackson: The... Full Bio

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