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What are the strongest MLB teams in September and which ones can make the playoffs?

As we head into September, some roads to October are paved, others dead ends, and who just might be able to blaze a trail through the dense jungle

As we head into September, some roads to October are paved, others dead ends, and who just might be able to blaze a trail through the dense jungle
Raymond Carlin IIIUSA TODAY Sports

Summer is on the wane. The All-Star break is the halfway point, but it feels so much closer to the end than the beginning. August has now disappeared under the keel and the playoff race tightens up. On some teams, this takes the form of a bow, topping off their beautiful run through the season. On others, though, it may feel more like a noose, strangling off the dying hopes that they had of autumn baseball. And then there are a third group: those who are watching their neatly coiled dreams come unravelled.

Just a month ago, the media was awash with tales of the Yankees domination of the major leagues. Waxing lyrical with stories of tradition and permanence, how the pinstripes of 2020 were harking back to the great Bronx Bombers of the 1940s and 50s, their road to the World Series seemed fixed and inevitable. Then came an abysmal August that saw them drop two series against the Mariners, lose series’ to the Cardinals, the Rays, the Jays, the out-of-contention Angels, and even the troubled Red Sox. All in all, they lost 18 games over the month and saw some of the lustre on their season turn dull. Barring disaster, they will still make the playoffs, but now they enter as a questionable maybe rather than a firm favorite.

Neck and neck with the Yankees through the first half of the season were their biggest American League threat, the Houston Astros. While the first half of the season often felt like they were clinging on for dear life, Houston’s post All-Star play has been revelatory. All of the cogs finally started working together in August and they have put together a solid run through the month. And while they lost 11 games, even dropping series’ to the Red Sox and Orioles, they managed to either win or split with everyone else. Justin Verlander is having a Cy Young-level season and their hitting remains powerful across the board. Plugging the only gap in their lineup right at the trade deadline, the catcher position, with Christian Vázquez has paid dividends, with the former Red Sox man going .381 over the last 15 games.

There is no argument that the best team in baseball at the moment is the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have one of the strongest pitching rotations in the game and picked up big sluggers like Freddie Freeman and Joey Gallo to add to an already formidable offense. Heavy favorites to win it all, they have all the looks of a grinding machine, chewing up opposition and spitting out wins. Mookie Betts has been on fire through August, hitting .328 and an OBP of .400, putting him at the very least in the conversation for the MVP award. With Trea Turner hitting .305 and an OBP of .406 thrown in the lineup, this Dodger team can hit pretty much anybody. Getting those baserunners around has been an issue for them, stranding just over seven men per game, the second-highest in baseball.

The National League has two other teams who are in strong contention as well, the Mets and the Braves. Last year, the Braves came out of seemingly nowhere to quietly make a run into October, stunning the Dodgers and ultimately winning the World Series. They have all of the tools to do that again, with the exception that this year they won’t be coming out of nowhere. On track to break 100 wins for the first time in two decades, Atlanta have been leaning on a superb bullpen that sees Charlie Morton notching up 54 strikeouts in 41.1 innings pitched, as well as Max Fried who seems like he can’t miss the strike zone when he throws.

The Mets’ pitching is less refined, and with Trevor May struggling through his outings, they have leaned perhaps too heavily on Edwin Diaz. They are still solid and can pick up wins when they need to, recently taking a series off the Dodgers. The coming weeks should give them a chance to recuperate, facing the Nationals, the Pirates, and the Marlins over the beginning of the month, although they will need all of their weapons in working order for the back end of September when they finish the season against the Brewers and then the Braves.

Hottest teams in baseball

  • Dodgers
  • Astros
  • Mets
  • Braves
  • Cardinals
  • Yankees
  • Rays
  • Guardians

The Wild Card race

  • Twins
  • White Sox
  • Mariners
  • Blue Jays
  • Phillies
  • Cubs
  • Padres

On the cusp

  • Diamondbacks
  • Orioles
  • Royals
  • Rangers