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MLB's Biggest Storylines Over Final Stretch

The 2023 MLB season is heading into its stretch run as the dog days of summer come to an end. This season has flown by, and there are plenty of interesting storylines to follow over the final month and a half. Her are six big storylines as the season draws to a close. Stay tuned for more MLB content as the postseason gets close. Let's dive right into it.

1. Woah, Hey, Shohei is Gunning for More History.

Stop me if you've heard this before. Shohei Ohtani is yet again putting up ungodly numbers like the unicorn that he is. The Angels, however, after not wanting to be the ones that traded the player of a generation, are seven games out of a playoff spot. They have wasted simultaneously having two of the greatest players of all time on their team and now will virtually without question lose one for nothing in free agency. All that aside, though, Ohtani is on another historic pace this season and is not just running or walking away with the AL MVP - he's crawling. That is how far away he is from the rest of the field. As of August 9th, Ohtani leads the American League in homers (40), OBP (.410), slugging (.666), OPS (1.076), triples (7), total bases (283), and walks (74) as a hitter and in batting average against (.186) as a pitcher. His 9. bWAR is also in the lead in the AL by over three points. He is also flirting to be the first triple-crown winner since Miguel Cabrera in 2012. Ohtani is currently 15 points behind for batting average and six RBI behind Adolis Garcia, the leader in that category.

2. Can Acuña Swipe 70 Bags?

For the first time since Jacoby Ellsbury in 2009, a player has a shot at stealing 70 bases in a season. So far this season, Ronald Acuña, Jr. has swiped 53 bags through 112 games, putting him on pace for 77 steals. That would put him one behind Jose Reyes in 2007 for most steals in a season this century. Even if Acuña can't reach the magic 70-steal mark, he still has a number that few have reached over the last several years. You have to go back to 2017 for the last time a player stole over 50 when Dee Strange-Gordon stole 60 bases for the Miami Marlins. With Esteury Ruiz, of the Oakland A's, currently at 46 steals, we could see the stolen base leaders of the AL and NL have over 50 steals for the first time since 2014. That year, Gordon swiped 64 bags for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Jose Altuve stole 56 bases. Watching the stolen base race as the season winds down will be interesting. It seems like it is something that is coming back into the game.

3. Can the Rangers Hold onto the Division Lead?

Surprising probably everyone but themselves, the Texas Rangers have been one of the most considerable feel-good stories this season. After being projected to finish under .500 and in fourth place in the AL West by FanGraphs ZiPS before the season, the Rangers have been in first place all but one day. Texas currently has a +175 run differential, the best in the majors by a long shot. In the first two months of the season, they started out going 35-20 before dropping off a bit the next two months with a 25-26 record. They started on fire in August, winning their first eight games before losing on August 9. The recent winning ways have helped hold off the steaming Houston Astros, who have won seven of their last ten games. It's going to be a battle down the stretch, as Houston is just two games back.

The Rangers' big trade deadline acquisitions of Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery have worked out wonderfully to bolster their rotation. Montgomery allowed two runs in each of his first two starts with the club while striking out six and five batters, respectively, over six innings each start. Scherzer won each of his first two starts with Texas, striking out 9 and 6 batters, respectively.

The Astros re-acquired Justin Verlander at the deadline, and although he took the loss in his first start back with them, the right-hander went seven strong while allowing two runs against the New York Yankees. He and right-handed relief pitcher Kendall Graveman will be key pieces for the Houston pitching staff down the stretch as they try to track down the Rangers.

4. Who Wants to Win The NL Central?

It doesn't seem like anyone wants to win the NL Central, as the three teams in the running - Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, and Cincinnati Reds - have gone back and forth all season. The Cubs have looked the best of the three, as they have gone 6-3 so far in August and 14-6 in their last 20 games. Over those 20 games, they came away with huge series wins over the St. Louis Cardinals (twice), the Reds, and the Atlanta Braves. Despite that run, Chicago is still 2.5 games back of the Brewers in the division, and a half-game back of the Miami Marlins for the final wild-card spot. Milwaukee has gone just 5-4 in August so far and 9-11 over their last 2. The Reds, who had a flaming hot June and the beginning of July (24-12), have gone just 1-8 in August and 10-17 since the All-Star Break. Even with that falloff, Cincinnati is still tied with the Cubs for second place in the division and 2.5 games back of first. It has been a story of hot and cold for every team in the division this season, and it will come down to who can get hot and stay hot over the final month plus.

5. The Orioles/Rays Fight It Out for the AL East crown.

After the Tampa Bay Rays started off 23-6 in the first month of the season, 40-18 in the first two months and 57-28 in the first three months, they have since gone just 12-19 in July and August. With their hot start, it looked like they would run away with the AL East. But the Baltimore Orioles have since overtaken them, with a 22-12 record so far in July and August. Baltimore is one of the best stories this year - at least on the field (suspending broadcaster Kevin Brown is not a good look). They are currently two games in front of Tampa Bay for the division lead before Thursday's finale against the Astros. The two teams have one more series against each other - a four-game slate in mid-September - which will be huge in deciding the division battle. Trade deadline acquisition Jack Flaherty has struck out 8 in his first two starts for Baltimore as he will be a key for them to come out with their first division title since 2014 and first postseason berth overall since 2016. The Rays last won the division in 2021, winning 100 games before losing to the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS.

6. .400 Might Be Out, but Can Arraez Hit .370?

Luis Arraez has been bidding for the first .400 season since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941. His average has dropped lately, making it less likely to happen. However, he still has a chance to hit for an average that no player has done for quite some time. Perhaps batting average isn't as praised a statistic as it used to be, but it is still impressive when a player does what Arraez has done. The batting average alone doesn't fully show a player's true value. But Arraez has the more advanced stats to back it up. As of August 9, the Marlins' infielder is hitting .369 while also ranking top 10 in the National League for OBP (.414), OPS (.874), doubles (26), OPS+ (141), and bWAR (4.4). The last player to hit over .370 in an entire 162-game season was Ichiro Suzuki, who held a .372 batting average in 2004. Larry Walker was the last player to hit at least .375, hitting .379 in 1999, and Tony Gwynn was the last to hit at least .380 as he hit .394 in the strike-shortened 1994 season. Joe Mauer hit .365 in 2009 as the last player to pass the mark of .360, and Josh Hamilton hit .359 in 2010 as the latest to hit .350 or more. Barring a massive slump for Arraez, he should be able to keep his batting average above .350, which would be an excellent feat for a game that has fallen off batting average-wise the last several years.

Main Image Credit: From Getty Images


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