In the final 14 days of the MLB season here’s what we’re most looking forwards to

In the final 14 days of the MLB season here's what we're most looking forwards to

The MLB regular season in 2021 is just two weeks away, and we can’t wait. Between baseball’s two best clubs, the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers, a fascinating National League West race is brewing.

In the final 14 days of the MLB season here’s what we’re most looking forwards to

As we prepare for some of the biggest baseball games of the year so far, we asked ESPN MLB experts Bradford Doolittle, Alden Gonzalez, Jesse Rogers, and David Schoenfield to answer those questions and more. The playoffs are up next!

In the final two weeks of the regular season, what are you most looking forwards to?

Doolittle: There are several exciting competitions for postseason spots and seeding, but I’m more excited for the AL’s late-season hitting leaderboards. Can Salvador Perez, a Kansas City Royal, become the first primary catcher to hit 50 home runs? Is Vladimir Guerrero Jr. capable of catching Perez and Jose Abreu in the RBI race and winning the Triple Crown? Can Shohei Ohtani become the first real two-way player since Babe Ruth to lead a league in home runs? As each night’s games unfold, these are the items I find myself checking in on.

Gonzalez: The American League’s wild-card chase. When Friday began, it was essentially a three-way tie between the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays, with a handful of crucial head-to-head matchups remaining. The Red Sox take on the Yankees this weekend, and the Blue Jays take on the Yankees the next week, but every game these clubs play in the future will be high-stakes. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Aaron Judge, Xander Bogaerts, Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole, Robbie Ray, and a slew of other talents who make up these tremendously talented lineups will be playing in high-pressure situations down the stretch, and nothing beats it. The AL East is a force to be reckoned with, and it’s only fitting that three of its teams will make the playoffs. Which one will not, is the question.

Rogers: The National League wild-card race. It will be quite a feat if the St. Louis Cardinals defeat both the San Diego Padres and the Cincinnati Reds. Jayce Tingler’s career should be jeopardised as a result. The Cardinals had as many injuries to their starting pitching staff as the Padres, but they were able to hold the line as they recovered. With a less talented lineup owing to injuries, the only way to accomplish this is to defeat the bad teams. The Padres had a 40-39 record against.500 or below clubs before the weekend. The Cardinals had a 50-31 record. Those figures have nothing to do with the divisional differences between the two teams.

Schoenfield: The Phillies’ four-game winning streak came to a stop on Sunday, as did the Braves’ four-game losing skid, but Atlanta’s five-game lead has dropped to just two games. That’s exciting, but I’d rather watch the NL West competition, where the Giants and Dodgers continue to play at a ridiculously high level. This is a typical scoreboard-watching race now that they’ve finished playing each other. Although the loser still receives the wild card, both teams prefer to avoid the play-in game. Everyone has an opinion on whether the wild card is good or bad, but it’s a good reminder of why finishing first is so crucial, and why a strong division race is still the finest baseball has to offer.

What is the most at stake for each team?

The Yankees, according to Doolittle. It’s a confluence of circumstances, including the team’s title drought, salary, trade deadline aggressiveness, preseason expectations, and the spotlight of New York. Even though it would be a wild-card berth, advancing to the postseason would spare the team a lot of embarrassment. Given that missing out on a wild-card spot would almost certainly result in a fourth-place finish in this year’s AL East, the clamour for wholesale changes would be loud.

Gonzalez: The New York Yankees, who have the sport’s second-largest salary and consistently the highest expectations. They went all-in in July, giving up prospects to sign Anthony Rizzo in the last months before he became a free agent. Missing the playoffs would be more than a disappointment; it would raise major issues about the makeup of this roster and how it needs to change in order to compete again. And there are no simple solutions.

The Padres, according to Rogers. Instead of taking it one game at a time, Jayce Tingler and his teammates have been too fixated on stringing together a long winning run. Perhaps they were depressed after the divide was beyond of grasp. If they’re at home watching the Dodgers play the Reds or Cardinals in the wild-card game, they should be down. When the Cardinals acquired pitchers Jon Lester and J.A. Happ earlier in the season, they were ready to pack it in, but time was on their side, and they took advantage. If the Padres don’t make it, heads should roll in San Diego. The same cannot be said of Cincinnati or St. Louis. In this debate, the Yankees must be ranked first.

Schoenfield: I’m going to vote for the Yankees again. There are kids who have just finished Little League and have never seen the Yankees play in a World Series. Given the high preseason expectations and a recent string of crushing playoff disappointments — the Game 5 American League Division Series loss to the Rays in 2020 with Gerrit Cole on the mound, the Jose Altuve home run in the 2019 American League Championship Series, the 4-0 shutout loss in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS — a World Series-less season, let alone one without a playoff appearance, could lead to a rethinking of the team’s playoff strategy.

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