FOX Sports MLB Analyst
There are less than 30 games remaining in the MLB regular season and so much is still to be determined. From an MVP battle for the ages to the home run king to a three-way divisional race and wide-open wild-card chases, this September will be one to remember. The baseball season is generally regarded as a marathon, but now is when it becomes a sprint.
With that, let’s dive right into the top storylines for the home stretch of the 2023 season.
5. Acuña or Betts?
The MVP race in the National League, for the majority of the season, has been a blowout. There was Ronald Acuña Jr., and nobody really close to him. Well, that has changed, as this has become quite a competition over the past month. In fact, Mookie Betts has become the odds-on favorite to win the award. At this point, it’s neck-and-neck and is anybody’s to win. Personally, I’m expecting Acuña and Betts to both be fantastic in the final weeks.
I really think we’re going to see a 30/70 year from Acuña, which would be unprecedented (he’s a homer away from the first 30/60 season!). On the other side, you have Betts leading the NL in WAR and OPS and hitting .316. I still give Acuña the slight edge right now, but this race isn’t close to being decided.
4. Who’s going to lead the majors in homers?
Here’s guessing Shohei Ohtani will finish first in the American League and Matt Olson in the National League. Ohtani (44) has a nine-homer lead, while Olson (43) is up four on Pete Alonso. The bigger question is, which league leader will come out on top, and will they get to 50? Fifty remains a remarkable number, and I believe Ohtani and Olson will both get there. As for who’ll come away with the overall crown, all the uncertainty with Ohtani’s injury makes this a trickier estimation. But I know 50 home runs is something he really wants.
Braves’ Ronald Acuña Jr. or Dodgers’ Mookie Betts for NL MVP?
3. Who’s winning the NL’s wild wild-card race?
Entering Thursday, there are four teams within three games of each other for the final bid. The Phillies are the top wild-card seed and sitting pretty with a five-game cushion. The Cubs are next and they’re two games up. Then things get really interesting. The Giants, Diamondbacks, Reds and Marlins are all bunched up and none of them have been consistent in the second half. But barring something crazy, one of them will make the postseason. These races are part of what make the sport so exciting this time of year.
2. Can the Orioles hold onto the AL’s top seed?
OK, the Orioles first need to win the AL East. The Rays have played their way out of a summer slumber and remain hot on Baltimore’s heels. This division doesn’t belong to anyone, yet. And with Felix Bautista out indefinitely, the Orioles might not be the AL favorites they once appeared to be. But the push to win their division could set them up to be the No. 1 seed in the league given how many wins that will probably require. Also, the Orioles still hold a seven-game lead over the No. 2 seed. The importance of finishing first overall and securing home-field advantage cannot be overstated for these Orioles, whose roster features so little playoff experience. The next four-plus weeks, therefore, present a good test as the Rays are threatening to reclaim both the division and No. 1 seed and the Mariners, Astros, Rangers are within reach of stealing the top spot.
Can the Orioles win the AL East without Félix Bautista?
1. Who’s going to win the AL West?
The most fascinating development to monitor in September is the AL West race. I think we’re in store for one of the best divisional finishes in a long, long time. Three really good teams are involved, and they’re all doing different things. The Mariners are in the midst of their best 50-game stretch since 2003 and have been baseball’s most exciting club in the second half of the season. They’re on a historic pace, and so is Julio Rodríguez.
The Rangers, of course, are trending in the opposite direction. It was only a few weeks ago that they were up 10 games on the Mariners. They enter the weekend in third place. Then there’s the Astros, who can look like the World Series team that they have been and then disappear within the same week. The unpredictability of this trio, and the fact that they’ll go head-to-head several times in late September, guarantees an exciting finish.
Ben Verlander is an MLB Analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the “Flippin’ Bats” podcast. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. He spent five years in the Tigers organization. Follow him on Twitter @BenVerlander.
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