Top 10 MLB storylines to watch down the homestretch

New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge is at the head of both the AL Rookie of the Year and MVP races. Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

With the All-Star Game done and the trade deadline past, what's left to be excited about between now and the playoffs? There has been no shortage of fascinating storylines developing around an above-average season of MLB action.

Looking forward, which storylines have the potential to stand out the most as the season moves along to what promises to be a varied and exciting culmination? Here is a look at a handful of the top reasons to stay locked into the mature MLB season.

Can Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt claim his first MVP award? Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

An incredible National League MVP race is taking shape: The National League MVP race is shaping up to have as many viable candidates as there have been in many years. Nolan Arenado is carrying the weight for in Colorado and on pace to lead the NL in RBI for the third straight year, which would make him the first player since George Foster in 1978 to pull off the feat. Meanwhile, Paul Goldschmidt is having another spectacular — yet underrated — campaign in Arizona, with 120 runs, 40 home runs, 20 stolen bases and a .300 average in his sights. Cody Bellinger’s breakout (more on that later) has him in position to become second straight Dodgers rookie to become an MVP finalist as well.

Meanwhile, a handful of Nationals, including Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman, are all at the heart of the very healthy race as well.

There is a pretty great American League MVP chase too: Not so surprisingly, Mike Trout established himself as the early leader in the pack before the thumb injury that cost him just over a month allowed others into the race. While Trout is still firmly in the mix (on pace to top 30 homers and a .700 slugging percentage), Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge and even Chris Sale are all making major claims for the nod as well.

Red Sox and Yankees, plus one: It has been a hot summer in Boston both on and off the field. Between bean ball battles with the Orioles and stars mixing it up with the media, it could be easy to miss the fact the Red Sox have often been in command of the AL East. Meanwhile over in the Bronx, the Yankees have re-established themselves as legitimate contenders this summer and then doubled down on that status with some potent trade deadline activity.

The stakes are once again high in baseball’s premier rivalry, as the Yanks and Sox trade blows over supremacy in the AL. Yet it should not be overlooked that to the south, the Tampa Bay Rays have been one of the most quietly impressive teams in the game and sit within firing range of springing a heist of the division themselves. An AL East-exclusive Wild Card Game could be upon us yet again.

The AL Wild Card is a crowded scene: Speaking of which, the American League is a land of great parity this year, as five teams are within three games of a postseason berth as August settles in. The aforementioned trio from the AL East are among the current leaders in the clubhouse, while the Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels are all looming as well. Whether it be another Trout MVP push fueling the Halos toward springing a spot or the Royals making good on their midsummer turnaround, sorting out the AL’s final postseason spot could go down the wire.

Can the Royals make the most of their resurgence? As for those Royals, there is no team that is more all-in on making the most of the next two months than Ned Yost’s club. With the majority of the core — Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Jason Vargas — all headed toward free agency, this could be the final time within the next few seasons they are armed for such a run. And with GM Dayton Moore deciding against trading off any of these valuable commodities at the deadline and instead favoring making the most of this year, the Royals have pushed all of their chips in to go against all odds as the calendar ticks down.

Rookie Cody Bellinger has been a power machine for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Chasing history in Chavez Ravine: The Dodgers are currently on pace to win 114 games, which would tie them with the 1998 Yankees as the second-most successful season in MLB history. Only the 1906 Cubs and 2001 Mariners have won more. Yet of those three historic regular seasons, only the ’98 Yanks were able to finish the deed and win the World Series.

Currently carrying a .707 win percentage and having built up three winning streaks of nine games or greater on the year — besting the total of every such winning streak in baseball this year, combined — there is only one satisfactory outcome for the Dodgers on the year. However, it will be worth keeping an eye on if they can maintain the absurd pace they are on and enter the postseason still with enough punch to finish the job.

Can the late-arriving Cubs crash the party in October? After a World Series hangover that lasted a full half of a season, the Cubs have regained the form that was expected entering the season. Since coming out of an All-Star break that saw them send a single representative to Miami for the festivities, the Cubs have gone on a 14-5 tear that has propelled the club from 5.5 games down in the NL Central to leading it by a game and a half coming into the weekend.

Armed with a core that knows how to win together and fortified at the deadline with Jose Quintana, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila, the Cubs could be the most dangerous and unlikely underdogs in a very long time — one capable of going blow-to-blow with both of the longtime NL favorites in the Dodgers and Nationals.

Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger chase rookie history: The debuts of both Judge and Bellinger have been something to behold. From first-half sensations, to All-Star Game centerpieces, and now as prohibitive Rookie of the Year favorites and MVP contenders, few players in history have made their initial marks higher than these two. Over the final two months of the season, another race toward history could emerge between them.

Twenty years ago, Mark McGwire cracked a rookie-record 49 home runs for the Oakland A’s, a record which still stands. Since Big Mac’s record run, only one rookie has come within 12 of equaling his mark, when Albert Pujols launched 37 long balls in 2001. Both Judge and Bellinger are slated to fly past Pujols and could easily enter September with 40 each. Judge is currently on pace for 51 on the year, while Bellinger is not far behind with 45. However, with Bellinger’s propensity to double up on his long balls (six multi-homer games), the chase could easily end up being a fight to the finish on setting a new standard.

How far can Giancarlo go? Thus far, Giancarlo Stanton has been able to avoid the annual calamity that curves him reaching the guaranteed lofty heights that his awe-inspiring power shows. There is still the chance of that sort of unfortunate circumstance rearing its head again, but it is fair to start wondering just how high he could run up his homer tab on the year if he can remain healthy.

Stanton’s current season high in long balls stands at 37, which he has reached twice. He currently sits only four shy of that number in 40 less games than when he tied that career high in 2014, the last time he played as many as 130 games. He has a real shot at reaching 50 this season and could go further if his July/August pace of a homer per every eight plate appearances is sustainable — and his health is as well.

Young guns on the rise: One of the hallmarks of the later rungs of the year is the next generation of talent around the game debuting. While the best prospects are waiting shorter than ever to make their ways to Major League Baseball, as with the cases of Gary Sanchez a year ago and Corey Seager the year before, August and September can still hold some revelations in the form of debuting prospects.

This year’s batch has already begun to make its own respective waves. In Boston, third baseman Rafael Devers has become the first player in modern MLB history with at least 13 hits and three homers in his first eight games, all of which have come while he is the youngest player in baseball at 19. Meanwhile, shortstop Amed Rosario has reached the Mets, outfielder Lewis Brinson returned to Milwaukee, catcher Carson Kelly has made his way to St. Louis and Ozzie Albies has reached the Atlanta infield. Over the next few months, the likes of top prospects J.P. Crawford, Brent Honeywell and Austin Meadows, among others, could make their way from the rungs of the minors as well.

Most anticipated 2017 second-half call-ups in MLB

Matt Whitener is St. Louis-based writer, radio host and 12-6 curveball enthusiast. He has been covering Major League Baseball since 2010, and dabbles in WWE, NBA and other odd jobs as well. Follow Matt on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

QUIZ: Name every MLB team's career leader in WAR

How many of the career team leaders in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) can you name in six minutes?

Good luck!


*indicates player accumulated WAR with franchise under another name.

ARZ / 51 / 88-09
Randy Johnson
ATL / 142 / 54-76
Hank Aaron
BAL / 95 / 81-01
Cal Ripken
BOS / 123 / 39-60
Ted Williams
CHC / 84 / 1871-97
Cap Anson
CHW / 74 / 30-50
Luke Appling
CIN / 77 / 63-86
Pete Rose
CLE / 79 / 1896-16
Nap Lajoie
COL / 61 / 97-13
Todd Helton
DET / 144 / 05-28
Ty Cobb
HOU / 79 / 91-05
Jeff Bagwell
KC / 88 / 73-93
George Brett
LAA / 52 / 86-02
Chuck Finley
LAD / 67 / 56-69
Don Drysdale
MIA / 30 / 10-
Giancarlo Stanton
MIL / 76 / 74-93
Robin Yount
MIN* / 165 / 1907-27
Walter Johnson
NYM / 79 / 67-86
Tom Seaver
NYY / 142 / 14-35
Babe Ruth
OAK / 76 / 1901-17
Eddie Plank
PHI / 106 / 72-89
Mike Schmidt
PIT / 120 / 1897-17
Honus Wagner
SD / 68 / 82-01
Tony Gwynn
SF / 154 / 51-73
Willie Mays
SEA / 70 / 89-10
Ken Griffey Jr.
STL / 128 / 41-63
Stan Musial
TB / 48 / 08-
Evan Longoria
TEX / 91 / 91-11
Ivan Rodriguez
TOR / 57 / 79-98
Dave Stieb
WAS* / 55 / 74-92
Gary Carter

NFL considering ‘McDaniels rule’ allowing assistants to take new jobs during playoffs

Tony Parker: My quad injury was ‘hundred times worse’ than Kawhi Leonard’s

Jets ‘serious contender’ for Suh, reportedly offered most money

Bennett faces up to 10 years in prison after grand jury indictment

NCAA tweaks rule about braces to pave way for Haas return


Report: Giants will pass on QB unless Sam Darnold is available

Cowboys reportedly intend to keep Bryant after Hurns signing

Kyrie to undergo ‘minimally invasive’ knee procedure

Aldon Smith reportedly arrested again, violated protective order

Manziel ‘hopeful’ about NFL future after impressive workout

Chip Kelly’s agent made up report about offer from Tennessee

The 'Superman returns to board city' quiz

NHL Weekender: Rule change coming in time for the playoffs?

The Rockets might be the best team ever

Top 10 players at every MLB position for the 2018 season

Six biggest takeaways from Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen games

The Raptors' young bench could lead Toronto to the NBA Finals

Ranking all 30 MLB pitching rotations heading into 2018

2018 first-round NFL Mock Draft (March 20, 2018 edition)

Brad Marchand has the Bruins rolling, whether you like it or not

There is no more waiting around for a QB during the NFL Draft

The 'Rush to judgment' quiz

Ranking all 30 MLB lineups heading into 2018

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Yardbarker Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

The 'Superman returns to board city' quiz

NHL Weekender: Rule change coming in time for the playoffs?

The Raptors' young bench could lead Toronto to the NBA Finals

Top 10 players at every MLB position for the 2018 season

The 'Rush to judgment' quiz

Ranking all 30 MLB pitching rotations heading into 2018

The 'Catch me if you can (understand the catch rule)' quiz

Brad Marchand has the Bruins rolling, whether you like it or not

2018 first-round NFL Mock Draft (March 20, 2018 edition)

Ranking all 30 MLB lineups heading into 2018

For Publishers
Company Info
Follow Yardbarker