Games matter more in September. They don’t of course. But they also do. As chances to make up deficits grow thinner and the magic numbers trickle down into single digits, the spotlight shines bright on teams on the precipice – that tantalising balance between glory and anonymity. September baseball is exciting, thrilling, heart-pounding and nerve-wracking.
Unless, of course, it isn’t. You see, a lot of teams are good but a lot more teams are bad. And for fans of those sorry teams on the bad side of the equation (NO NAMES PLEASE), September is just a cruel extension of a miserable season.
But what if I told you that it doesn’t have to be that way. What if I told you there was… another way. For one month – and one month only – you can commit sinful adultery on your pathetic excuse of a team and chase that youthful feeling of postseason glory. Morally questionable? Maybe. When does that ever stop you?
So, here is the ultimate guide to who to support in September if your team has been eliminated, separated into handy sections to help you choose the perfect late season fling.
IF YOU LOVE…
- WINNING. New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros
Well duh, who doesn’t? And these three teams love winning with a capital L-O-V-E. In fact, they probably have more wins than they need come to think of it? More than anyone should need. Selfish. Anyway, all three teams all but have their divisions wrapped up and September will be more about fine-tuning and putting the finishing touches on a great season.
For the Dodgers and Astros, the bullpen appears to be the main area of concern, with late inning relief proving far from automatic at the moment. The Yankees have a dominant bullpen but shaky starting pitching – oh and half their regulars are on the disabled list, returning from the disabled list or about to head to the disabled list. If you want to agonise about only winning 100 games this season – pick one of these teams.
- RIVALRIES. Chicago Cubs, St Louis Cardinals
Whilst there are no divisions that are mathematically sewn up already, only one looks likely to host a genuine September pennant race. In the American League, those pesky Indians just keep coming back at the Twins, but a 5.5 game lead is pretty comfortable at this point in the season. The NL Central is a dumpster fire of mediocrity, and though the Cardinals three-game lead makes them favourites, their arch-rival Cubs will chase them every step.
The schedules? The Cubs/Cards rivalry will see six head-to-head match-ups in September, including a particularly tasty final weekend series at Busch Stadium. If you want drama, loud crowds and some potential final day division deciders – pick one of these teams.
- FUN, UNDERRATED TEAMS: Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins
What do these guys have to do to earn some love? The Atlanta Braves have proved that 2018’s division title was far from a fluke with an impressive encore season – and a lineup that contains the likes of Freeman, Acuna and Albies is always going to be a ton of fun to watch. The Minnesota Twins have the kind of offense that keeps starting pitchers up at night, and in the excellent Max Kepler they have a European star to get behind.
On the flip side, how much do these teams stand to gain in September? With the #1 seeds out of reach they’ll spend more time looking over their shoulder than staring ahead but will be trendy picks for an October run – should they get there. If you want loud offenses, eager fanbases and clubs with the talent minus the fanfare – pick one of these teams.
- THE UNDERDOGS: Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics, Cleveland Indians
Small budget teams that have a knack for defying the odds. To sell the A’s as a ‘Moneyball’ team is to undersell their incredible ability to find and develop elite talent, from third baseman-cum-magician Matt Chapman to useless starting pitcher-turned-elite reliever Liam Hendricks. The Rays have a bevy of astonishingly talented arms and enough useful bats to be a bonafide contender even in a tough division. The Indians are hard to imagine as ‘underdogs’ but having been widely written off at the start of the season they are riding a wave of Carlos Carrasco-fuelled feel-good spirit towards a wildcard berth.
All three teams have the misfortune of being (all but) out of the division race, which means they’re locked in a three-way battle for two wildcard spots. They won’t play each other again the rest of this season which makes the battle slightly less intriguing, but if small market clubs defying the odds is your thing – pick one of these teams.
- PURE UNADULTERATED CHAOS: Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets
Ahh, the NL East. Where average teams go to die. I’m being a bit harsh grouping the Nats in with the other two teams given they all but have a wildcard spot secured at this point, but with all three teams playing each other at some point in the final month, this looks like our best shot at chaos.
The Phillies and Mets have no-one to blame but themselves for their shortcomings, with a potent cocktail of line-up struggles and bullpen calamities that have them on the outside staring in barring some September miracle. But team chaos believes in miracles. For that matter, why not support the Red Sox, Brewers or… wait a sec really… Diamondbacks?! Baseball is a crazy sport and a month is a long time when teams play every day.
So why not cheat on your everyday team? You’ve given them 130 games of support already and all you’ve received in return has been a sub-.500 record and a disturbing lack of sleep. The postseason is what dreams are made of – so dare to dream this September.