We’ve reached the point of the MLB season where the rosters are absolutely set now that the trade deadline has passed. Based on their activity throughout that 48 hours of chaos last week, clubs made it clear if they were in or out on improving their odds of contending. The next step is getting to October, so the final two months of this marathon of a sport, all eyes are on the division races, which are even more exciting this year with the extra Wild Card spot, allowing for one less set of teams to mail it in during the dog days of August and September.

Some races are wide-open, and some are pretty much wrapped up. To get a better picture on which teams we need to have our utmost attention on, let’s rank the divisions by which are the most contentious.

  1. THE LEAST CONTENTIOUS: AL WEST

The Astros have owned the AL West and fed off of the bottom-feeders in their division for quite some time now. Even last year, the Mariners snuck up to second place because Houston felt no pressure at all and merely wanted to get to the postseason. Seattle went all-out this trade deadline and got marginally better even following their season-saving 14-game win streak to head into the All-Star Break, and that’s great! They could easily make noise in snapping their historic playoff drought! But they’re still 11 games back behind the consistency of the Astros juggernaut that will remain the kings of the American League until we see it. They even got better at the trade deadline with the massive addition of Mancini, and any sort of fall-off from a top seed in the AL would be unheard of. As for the rest of the division, it’ll come down to how many freebie games the two at the top can take from the atrocious A’s, the mediocre Rangers who did nothing at the deadline, and the Angels partaking in malpractice as an embarrassment to sports.

  1. NL CENTRAL

Similar to the AL West, it’s a race of two teams at the top, the Brewers and Cardinals that have no separation at the top and have hovered around the same record all season depending on who has the better week. However contentious those two teams may be, the vibes around each club are completely dreary. The Cardinals lost out on the Juan Soto sweepstakes while their former star Matt Carpenter is suddenly Barry Bonds on the Yankees and Milwaukee traded their closer Josh Hader for a bag of beans and immediately followed that up with getting swept by the Pirates. It may be the tightest wire-to-wire in standings, but is it all just to pop some champagne, get a division-winner t-shirt, and immediately get knocked out by an NL powerhouse?

  1. AL CENTRAL

The AL Central is a slugfest of mediocrity from a baseball-playing perspective, but has an absolute plethora of drama to it. The Twins are one of the most-cursed postseason franchises in recent memory, and even with their addition of Carlos Correa this offseason, their reliance on an often-injured star Byron Buxton and lack of pitching has created a general consensus that we’re all just waiting for the wheels to fall off. However, the vision around that club may be different, with their expectations higher than ours after they went out and improved their weaknesses with closer Jorge Lopez and pitchers Tyler Mahle and Michael Fulmer. Even in the lead for the division, they’re coasting barely over the .500 threshold.

Below the Twins by 1 and 2 games we have two different types of middling teams that have never gathered momentum to put something together: there is the youngest team in the league, the Cleveland Guardians, who have been plucky enough to overperform expectations with their lack of spending, then the Chicago White Sox, the veteran preseason World Series contenders who have been injured and underperformed, and, in summation, do not care much. As we’ve all waited for them to go on a run to regain the division title from Minnesota, there have been “Fire Tony” chants from the crowd calling for LaRussa’s job and doom and gloom that they made no moves at the deadline. As for the Guardians, they are the embodiment of the movie Major League in that their ownership does not want to spend money to improve them, and the young pups have strung up some mojo on the opposite end of the spectrum of Chicago.

May the least mediocre win.

  1. NL WEST

This used to be an enticing three-team race until the Dodgers swept and decapitated the Giants’ playoff hopes this week, putting them 4 games below .500, 22 games back, and 8 games out of the final wild card just one year removed from winning 107 games in 2021. They speculated selling at the deadline, and unfortunately feel as dead as the Rockies and Diamondbacks at the bottom of the West.

As for the top, get your popcorn ready.

The Dodgers have been the class of the NL for the past decade. They have the highest payroll while also accumulating and developing young talent, and still have a sizable lead in the West at 15.5 games. It would take a lot for

Photo: Denis Poroy / Getty Images

them to be dethroned.

As for October, and the battle of momentum, the battle of mojo, and the battle of having the prospects of winning a World Series, the Padres made moves that said “we’re coming for you” that is going to be contentious and eye-grabbing for the final two months. Last year, the Dodgers took Max Scherzer away from the Padres at the deadline; this year, the Padres took Juan Soto from them, and added even more in the process. The Dodgers are the proven commodity that no one will doubt, but the “no one believes in us” and “overlooked REAL beautiful city of California” rivalry that San Diego carries towards Los Angeles is fantastic, drama-filled, and will define the division for years. Yes, they did just get swept in LA and the Dodgers made a profound statement, but the drama is at an all-time high.

  1. AL EAST

The AL East is a bit of a different type of division race, but is filled with behemoth teams that will eat each other alive and define the standings come October. The Yankees have set the majors on fire, dominating nearly every offensive category with Aaron Judge looking like the next coming of Roger Maris as the runaway AL MVP, but they’ve hit a bit of a lull in the year. They were incredibly fortunate in the first half with health, and now we’re seeing Luis Severino go on the 60-day IL, Mike King is out for the year, and the often-injured Stanton is back on the IL with tendonitis. Their deadline additions of Benintendi and Montas may add some depth after a few other confusing moves, but they got off to a 6-11 start to the second half.

The rest of the AL East will be a beautiful bloodbath of four teams that could each all be AL Wild Card teams, but will have to play one another in the process. The Blue Jays have been the most steady as the lead wild card (though still 9.5 back of the Yanks) and added Whit Merrifield, the Rays feel like they’ve finally been caught up to with devastating injuries to Wander Franco, Manny Margot, and Kevin Kiermaier, but they still have managed to out-nerd the baseball world with their pitching carrying them this far that they just won’t die. The Red Sox have been one of the most-disappointing teams of the year in last place after making the ALCS last year, and they had a minor sale at the deadline, but a team with as much bad-blood with their division and starpower of the likes of Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts will still be tough to beat. The Orioles were expected to be FREE WINS this year and win around 60 games, and here they are, 4 games over .500 and still in position to get hot despite their sell-off of stars at the deadline. 

There are no free wins.

  1. NL EAST

Some might say this division has the most bad-blood in it in the best way possible. Each game at the top has felt like the Roman Coliseum due to the expectations in sports-obsessed passionate cities and animosity amongst their fans. This is the most hopeful the Mets have been in what feels like forever- they’ve coasted at the top of the division and have the one thing they’ve always longed for: consistency. Just the additions of grown men in the room like Buck Showalter and Max Scherzer has made all the difference. Despite dealing with injuries, Jacob deGrom, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, is finally back, too.

The rest of the division has been no-less dramatic. The World Series Champion Braves got off to a bit of a World Series hangover as Acuna Jr. was also coming back from a torn ACL and Ozzie Albies suffered from an unfortunate broken foot, but they’ve had such a deep pitching rotation that they’re finally putting all of the pieces and are hungry and motivated as the hungry shark to put the Mets in their place. They’ve run them down and bridged the gap, but the Mets just won a massive series against them, getting Jacob deGrom back and putting them 6.5 games up now.

Even the Phillies, who we thought were a complete dumpster fire after firing their manager midseason, displaying some of the worst defensive skill possible in the field, and losing Bryce Harper to an injury for significant time, have suddenly put it together and will be fighting amongst the Braves, Padres, Cardinals, and Brewers for a Wild Card spot at 8 games back in the division and tied for the final spot.

All of this while wild Philly, New York, and Atlanta sports fans possibly brawl in the stands.

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