Royals, Blue Jays, Mets in first place, but with concerns
The Kansas City Royals are sailing toward their first division title in 30 years, and they've already won 87 games - two fewer than their total in the regular season last year.
For most of this season, the Royals looked like a better version of the team that made a surprising run to the American League pennant in 2014, but they've been out of sorts this September, and amazingly, it's their bullpen that's done some of the damage.
Greg Holland has blown five saves this season, equaling his total over the previous two years. His strikeout rate has dropped, and his ERA is an all-too-ordinary 3.83. He allowed two runs in the 12th inning of a 5-4 loss to Detroit on Friday.
Wade Davis has been outstanding, but Kelvin Herrera has given up five home runs in 2015 after allowing none last season. Herrera was hit hard in back-to-back appearances at Baltimore and Cleveland earlier this month.
The Royals may be good enough this year that they don't need their bullpen to carry them, but it no longer feels like the game is over if Kansas City has the lead after the sixth inning.
It may seem like there's little drama remaining in the regular season, with teams like the Royals and Toronto Blue Jays almost assured of spots in the playoffs. But even teams that are in first place are facing their share of angst.
Blue Jays star Troy Tulowitzki has been out of action with a broken left shoulder blade, and the NL East-leading New York Mets tried again to manage Matt Harvey's workload Sunday night. They lost 11-2 to the Yankees, falling apart after Harvey was pulled early.
The Royals at least got an encouraging start from Johnny Cueto, who is 2-6 since they acquired him from Cincinnati. Cueto allowed two runs in seven innings in a no-decision Friday.
''What we saw tonight is what we expected from him,'' manager Ned Yost said.
Here are a few other developments from around baseball:
The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates have the top two records in baseball, and their NL Central rivals, the Chicago Cubs, are tied for third with Kansas City. If the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs finish 1-2-3 (in any order) that would be unprecedented.
Since the start of divisional play, the top three teams have never been from the same division, according to STATS. Only twice has one division had three of the top four teams. That happened in the AL East in 1978 with the Yankees (100-63), Red Sox (99-64) and Brewers (93-69) and in 1983 with the Orioles (98-64), Tigers (92-70) and Yankees (91-71).
It's remarkable that it might happen now, when there are more divisions and fewer teams per division.
Tim Hudson is set to retire at the end of this season, and it looks like he'll be baseball's active wins leader when he does. Hudson threw six scoreless innings Sunday in San Francisco's 5-1 victory over Arizona, the 222nd win of his career.
Bartolo Colon is second among active pitchers with 218.
Quintin Berry of the Chicago Cubs was caught stealing for the first time in his career Sunday after 25 successful tries since 2012. Berry is the type of player a team can keep on the roster in September as sort of a pinch-running specialist. For fantasy purposes, he can add stolen bases without playing enough to hurt a team's batting average.
Kansas City's Terrance Gore can fill a similar role. He has three steals in six appearances this month.
LINE OF THE WEEK
Kendrys Morales of the Royals became the 10th player this season to hit three home runs in a game, doing it against Detroit in a 10-3 win Sunday. What's odd about Morales' line was that he had more runs (five) than RBIs (three) - the only hitter of the 10 to do that.