September has arrived and, with it, the stretch run of MLB’s regular season. Four weeks from now, the postseason matchups will be set barring some sort of very plausible chaos in the NL. This will be one of September’s moving weeks, with six series featuring teams in playoff position, or within one game of a postseason. Three of those are between NL teams, with all three teams in the bunched-up NL West playing a crucial series this weekend. Let’s get ready for the craziness in this week’s Table Setter.
Hitters to Watch This Week
Christian Yelich, Brewers
Yelich put an exclamation point on the Brewers weekend series in Washington on Sunday, belting a grand slam that put the series finale and rubber match out of reach. He has been the hottest hitter in the league the last two weeks, going 24-for-66 with nine homers and 21 RBI in his last 15 games and 362/.413/.746 since the All-Star Break. The NL MVP contender is now hitting .316/.381/.559 with 27 homers and 81 RBI on the season.
Javier Baez, Cubs
Baez is right there with Yelich in the NL MVP race, adding even more intrigue to the Cubs-Brewers series this week (more on that later). Baez hit his 30th homer and drove in his 100th run of the season on Sunday, making him the first player in Cubs history with 30 homers, 100 RBI, 20 steals and five triples in the same season. In case you’re curious, Cubs history dates to 1876. Baez is hitting .299/.331/.581 to go along with those gaudy counting stats, and the slugging percentage leads the NL. After being plagued by inconsistency at the plate in the first few seasons of his career, Baez has truly arrived.
Stephen Piscotty, A’s
Piscotty left the yard twice in the A’s win over the Mariners Sunday, giving them a crucial split in the four-game series. Time’s running out of the Mariners to erase the deficit in the wild card standings, and treading water in head-to-head matchups works just fine for the A’s. Piscotty has been swinging a hot bat over the last two weeks, going 19-for-55 with six homers and 15 RBI in his last 14 games. He’s now hitting .262/.318/.472 with 21 homers and 68 RBI on the season.
Pitchers to Watch This Week
Blake Snell, Rays
Snell was excellent again in his last trip to the mound, allowing two runs—one earned—on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings against the Indians. He struck out nine and walked just one, winning his 17th game of the season. Take out a July 12 start that Snell left early with a shoulder issue that sent him to the DL, and he hasn’t allowed more than one earned run in a start since June 14. The 25-year-old has a 2.02 ERA and 1.01 WHIP with 177 strikeouts in 151 2/3 innings to go along with the gaudy 17–5 record. He’s scheduled to make one start this week, facing the Orioles over the weekend.
Kevin Gausman, Braves
Gausman took his first no-decision in a Braves uniform in his last start, ending a string of four straight wins. It was no fault of his, though, as he allowed one earned run on five hits in six innings, striking out four and walking none. He has made six starts for the Braves, amassing a 1.66 ERA and 0.87 WHIP with 26 strikeouts in 38 innings. The Braves have a huge week ahead, during which Gausman will make one start, facing the Diamondbacks over the weekend.
Aaron Nola, Phillies
For the first time in nearly three months, Nola surrendered more than three runs; the Cubs took him deep three times, scoring four runs in 5 2/3 innings and handing him his fourth loss of the season. Even in the substandard outing, Nola struck out 11 batters, flashing at least a little bit of dominance. He has a 2.23 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 188 strikeouts in 181 2/3 innings this season. Nola’s next start is slated for Saturday against the Mets.
Series to Watch This Week
Astros at Red Sox, Friday through Sunday
Plenty of series have playoff implications this week, but it’s hard to ignore what could very well be a preview of the ALCS. The Red Sox are actually in one of their worst stretches of the season, going 4–5 in their last nine games. At 94-44, they still comfortably have the best record in the majors, and are almost certain to win the AL East. The Astros are 9–2 in their last 11 games, and sit 2.5 games ahead of the A’s in the AL West. They’re slated to throw Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel in the weekend series, while the Red Sox will counter with Eduardo Rodriguez, Chris Sale and David Price.
Cubs at Brewers, Monday through Wednesday
The Cubs enter this penultimate series with the Brewers with a five-game lead in the division, making this a huge three games on both sides. If the Cubs win the series, the Brewers may need to sweep the three-gamer in Chicago next week to have a chance to win the division. If the Brewers win it, they’ll keep the Cubs within arm’s length. If they sweep it, they’ll be breathing down the Cubs’ necks. The pitching matchups for the series are Cole Hamels against Zach Davies on Monday, Mike Montgomery against Wade Miley on Tuesday, and Jose Quintana against Jhoulys Chacin on Wednesday.
Yankees at A’s, Monday through Wednesday
Unless the Yankees can make up a 7.5-game deficit in the AL East, or the Mariners can erase the 5.5 games by which they trail the A’s, both of which are longshots, this will be the AL Wild Card matchup. The Yankees will almost certainly have the luxury of setting up their pitching rotation for that game, which would mean a second straight Wild Card Game start for Luis Severino. The A’s may have to play it down to the wire, and with Sean Manaea out, it’s hard to say who they’ll tap in a do-or-die scenario. These are two teams defined by offense, however, and a single game between them at Yankee Stadium to advance to a Division Series matchup with the Red Sox would be, on paper, one of the best matchups in the dual wild card era.
Braves at Diamondbacks, Thursday through Sunday
The Braves have distanced themselves from the Phillies and stretched their lead in the NL East out to four games. The Diamondbacks have regressed and now trail both the Dodgers and Rockies in the NL West, though they’re just one game out of first. Even with an NL East crown starting to come into focus for the Braves, any series between two contending NL teams could ultimately have significant effects on what’s shaping up to be an intense wild card chase. The Braves are scheduled to go with Anibal Sanchez, Kevin Gausman, Julio Teheran and Touki Toussaint in this series, while the Diamondbacks are in line to throw Zack Greinke, Patrick Corbin, Clay Buchholz and Zack Godley.
Dodgers at Rockies, Friday through Sunday
The Dodgers are coming off arguably their most critical series of the season, taking three of four from the Diamondbacks over the weekend. The Rockies, meanwhile, have played uneven ball of late, losing four of six after winning seven of nine. Still, they stayed within a half-game of the Dodgers and edged in front of the Diamondbacks in the standings. These two teams have three games remaining with one another after this series, and the Rockies still have seven games left with the Diamondbacks. The Dodgers and Diamondbacks have one series remaining, kicking off the final week of the regular season against one another in Arizona. The Dodgers are slated to send Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Alex Wood to the mound in this weekend’s series, while the Rockies have Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland and Tyler Anderson penciled in for the three games.