The first five months of the 2022 MLB season have been exciting and unpredictable in so many ways. We’ve seen no-hitters, cycles, continued brilliance from Shohei Ohtani, and perhaps the biggest blockbuster trade ever. This year’s postseason should be incredible, with so many good teams featuring the game’s biggest stars primed to take part in October. Before then, though, let’s look at 15 things to watch during the final month of the regular season.
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There have been six seasons in which a player crushed more than 61 home runs–but all six came from Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds and were a direct result of the steroid era. Because of that, many fans, analysts, and league personnel still consider Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in 1961 the legitimate single-season record. And that may very well fall in the next few weeks. Yankees’ superstar Aaron Judge blasted his 55th long ball on Wednesday afternoon, and it will quite the story if/when he eclipses Maris.
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Who’s the AL MVP?
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Back to Aaron Judge. He’s hitting over .300, and He’s likely to crush over 60 home runs. And leads the majors in RBI. So he should be the unanimous MVP, right? Well, not so fast. What Shohei Ohtani is doing is literally unprecedented. We’ve simply never seen someone who is an ace starting pitcher and a dominant offensive force simultaneously. Right now, Ohtani is 2nd in the American League in home runs and 4th in the American League in ERA. Just think about that. What Judge has done this season is nothing short of spectacular, but as long as Ohtani keeps doing what he’s doing, it’s hard for me not to consider him the MVP every season.
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Paul Goldschmidt’s pursuit of the Triple Crown
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
There has not been an offensive triple crown winner in baseball since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, but Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has a legitimate opportunity to accomplish the improbable feat this month. Goldschmidt currently leads the NL in batting average and RBI, and trails only Philly’s Kyle Schwarber in home runs. This could come all the way down to the wire, but it would be really cool if he really did pull this off.
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Who’s going to win the NL East?
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
This is undoubtedly the most fascinating divisional race down the stretch. Both the Mets and Braves will play key roles in how the National League playoffs unfold, and both are clearly two of the very best teams in baseball. After trailing the Mets by as many as 10 games in early June, the Braves went on an insane 64-24 run to actually pull even with New York on Tuesday night. This will likely come down to the final week of the season, and the clubs actually meet in Atlanta on the final weekend of the year. The stakes are high because the division winner will have a bye and the opportunity to set up their pitching the way want in the postseason.
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Can Baltimore steal a playoff spot?
Jessica Rapfogel-USA TODAY Sports
The Orioles were not supposed to contend for a playoff spot in 2022, as their promising rebuild seemed at least another year or two away. The organization seemed to indicate they felt the same way when they traded away Trey Mancini and Jorge Lopez at the deadline. But the young O’s have become one of the most likable and easy to root for teams in baseball this summer, and while it’s still a longshot at 4.5 games back, Baltimore has six games remaining with Toronto and could potentially steal a playoff spot in the American League.
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Will Sandy Alcantara win the NL Cy Young award?
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Miami’s ace Sandy Alcantara has been the best pitcher in the National League all year, and he’s certainly deserving of the Cy Young award. The righty is a throwback pitcher who consistently goes deep in his outings and has already thrown an impressive four complete games. He leads the Majors in innings, and only Julio Urias has a slightly better ERA in the NL. Alcantara is coming off a bad outing against the Braves, but as long as that wasn’t a foreshadowing of things to come, he should be able to finish strong enough to capture his first Cy Young.
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How will the AL Central race shake out?
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Other than the dogfight in the NL East, the AL Central is the only division that is still up for grabs. Minnesota led the Central for most of the first half, but the Guardians have come on strong over the last month and a half to take a 2.5-game lead. The Twins and Guardians play each other eight more times over the next couple of weekends, and the way those games shake out will quite likely determine the outcome of the division race.
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Which Dodger will lead the majors in hits?
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
The high-powered Dodgers are easily the best team in Major League baseball. They’ve got a line-up littered with all-stars, and have the kind of depth every club is envious of. This team truly has an abundance of riches, but they’re headlined by the top three hitters in their batting order; Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, and Trea Turner. Freeman and Turner are currently in a neck and neck battle for the MLB lead in hits, with both on pace for over 200.
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Can Tampa Bay actually catch the Yankees in the AL East?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
For most of the last five months, it was a foregone conclusion that the Yankees would capture the AL East title. The Bombers got off to a historic start to the 2022 season and carried that momentum for most of the first half. Since the all-star break, though, things have not gone nearly as swimmingly. New York had a rough August that coincided with Tampa Bay getting hot. Hot enough to cut the Yankees’ lead all the way down to 4.5, and with one more head-to-head series left this weekend, they’ll have a chance to cut into that even more.
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How many wins will the Dodgers finish with?
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Back to how good the Dodgers are. Baseball’s best team has already won 94 games, and while they might ease off the gas and rest some starters the next couple of weeks, they’ll easily surpass 105. But how many more? 110? More? The 2001 Mariners won 116, a record that still stands. It’s unlikely LA will reach that total but how close can they come?
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Can the Brewers get back into the playoff race?
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
For most of the first few months, the Brewers were locked in a tight race with St. Louis in the NL Central, but after the all-star break, the Cardinals have made it clear they’re the class of this division. So where’s that leave the Brewers? Well, as of Wednesday night in a tough spot. Milwaukee is nine games behind the Cardinals and 3.5 out of a wild card spot. They need to go on a run over the next few weeks, or they’re going to finish on the outside looking in.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
I touched on the brilliance of Shohei Ohtani earlier, but it really cannot be overstated just how amazing he is. It’s a shame that an Angels team that employs both him and Mike Trout–easily two of the very best players in the sport–is so consistently inept at building a team around them. Los Angeles is going to miss the playoffs yet again, so these last few weeks will be your last chance to see Ohtani in action until next spring.
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Does the lottery affect how teams play down the stretch?
Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports
During the negotiations to end the lockout, last March, MLB instituted a draft lottery meaning the team with the worst record will no longer automatically secure the number one pick in the draft. That should spark an increase in competitiveness as clubs are not going to be willing to tank down the stretch in hopes of landing a better draft position anymore. Under the former system, Washington, Oakland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh would currently be in a fight to finish the worst in September.
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No collapse in San Diego this time around?
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
The Padres got off to a terrific start a year ago before fading mightily down the stretch and missing the playoffs entirely. That should not be the case this time around. Milwaukee is the only team that could conceivably steal a postseason spot from San Diego, but the Padres have a nice cushion over them at the moment. This team has dealt with a lot of unnecessary adversity in 2022–much of it caused by Fernando Tatis Jr.–and it would be a nice achievement for them to earn a postseason berth and try to make an October run.
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Seattle ends long postseason drought
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
The Seattle Mariners are currently mired in the longest postseason drought across the four major American sports, as they have not participated in the playoffs since all the way back in 2002. But good news M’s fans, that stretch of ineptitude has reached its conclusion. Led by their dynamic rookie star Julio Rodriguez the Mariners are in a prime position to grab one of the wild card berths in the American League, and once they get in, they won’t be an easy out.
Justin Mears is a freelance sports writer from Long Beach Island, NJ. Enjoys being frustrated by the Mets and Cowboys, reading Linwood Barclay novels, and being yelled at by his toddler son. Follow him on twitter @justinwmears.
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