Now that the Trade Deadline dust has settled, we can settle into the home stretch of the Major League season. Some of the division dynamics have been altered by acquisitions, some award races -- from the BBWAA honors to the Esurance MLB Awards (which include postseason performances; check out last year's winners here) -- look like they're going to come down to the wire and some stuff is essentially on cruise control until we arrive upon October.
So let's run through and rank all of the races, from least to most compelling, as they currently stand.
American League West
I remember some dope thought this had the potential to be the most interesting division race in baseball. Don't know what happened to that guy, but the Astros have had this baby locked up basically since the day you filed your tax returns.
National League East
In the first two and a half months of the season, the Nationals' bullpen allowed an average of 5.6 runs per nine innings with a .798 opponents' OPS.
They took a double-digit lead in the East, anyway.
Man, this was looking like a lot of fun back in mid-June. But then the Dodgers had to ruin it by winning, like, every game since then. At midweek, the Dodgers had a 14 1/2-game lead in the division -- their largest since September 1955, when they were still in Brooklyn (and en route to their first World Series title).
AL Rookie of the Year Award
Aaron Judge can leave the Yankees for the last two months of the season to launch a reality TV show with the D-backs' Brandon Drury ("Judge and Drury") and he'd still waltz to this award.
NL Rookie of the Year Award
Similarly, Cody Bellinger can take the rest of the season to acquaint himself with every episode of "Seinfeld," and he'd be just fine, too. Let's also keep an eye on Best Rookie for the Esurance MLB Awards, which could ratchet up this list quickly, since it combines both leagues. Who would you choose?
Oh, and this also has to be the front-runner for Best Play, Defense.
11. AL Manager of the Year
I guess I wouldn't put it quite at 100 percent, but it's really hard to imagine anybody other than A.J. Hinch winning this one.
10. AL Cy Young Award
Corey Kluber might have made this interesting had he not missed a month with a back issue, and same with Dallas Keuchel had he not twice hit the DL with a neck issue. But Chris Sale is basically lapping the field right now. He coughed up a seven spot to the Indians on Tuesday night and yet was still leading the AL in wins (13), innings (153 1/3), strikeouts (216), adjusted ERA+ (169), Fielding Independent Pitching (2.09), WHIP (0.91) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.71). He's finished in the top six of the AL Cy Young Award voting every year that he's been a starter, and this is the year he'll get over the hump.
9. NL Wild Card
Things can change, and there have been moments in which the D-backs and Rockies appeared to be slipping. But they both fortified their rosters in July, and, for the longest time, the only real question here has been which of these two clubs will win the right to host the Wild Card Game when they inevitably face each other. Even that's not especially compelling, because the road team has won four of the five NL Wild Card Games. Might be time to tank!
8. NL Cy Young Award
We wuz robbed.
Clayton Kershaw's back injury wasn't just a bummer for the Dodgers but for all of baseball, because a legit NL Cy Young Award battle was brewing between Kershaw and Max Scherzer, two guys who were already the subject of one of baseball's best debates.
Scherzer himself left his last start with neck spasms, so we'll see how that situation plays out. But as it stands, he has the league lead in innings (146 1/3), strikeouts (201), FIP (2.84), WHIP (0.84) and strikeouts per nine (12.4). Maybe Kershaw makes a quick recovery and forces the issue (he is, after all the only person in the last 20 years to win a Cy Young with less than 200 innings, having done it in 2014 with 198 1/3), but Max is very much in the driver's seat here.
Actually, in terms of pure numbers, Scherzer's most interesting competition might be Kershaw's teammate, closer Kenley Jansen. But if Zach Britton didn't sniff the Cy with his historic 2016, there's no reason to suspect Jansen will.
Also: Consider how Scherzer would go up against Sale in the Best Pitcher category of the MLB Awards.
7. NL Manager of the Year
I mean, Manager of the Year award races aren't exactly the sexiest stuff, but this one is a little interesting.
The Dodgers will have the best record in baseball, but will Dave Roberts get dinged for having won it just last year? (The only back-to-back winner in either league in the history of this award was Bobby Cox in 2004-05.) The Nationals' Dusty Baker has a good case to win it for the first time since 2000, but the D-backs' Torey Lovullo (a rookie skipper) and the Rockies' Bud Black (who won it in 2010 with the Padres) both took over new teams and have taken them to surprise heights.
6. NL Central
The Cubs were supposed to run away with it, even when they weren't running away with it. Now, after winning 14 of their first 17 after the All-Star break, it seems like … they really might be running away with it. It would be fun if the Brewers legitimately kept the heat on the Cubbies, but there has been significant regression to the mean from that squad in the second half, which is why they didn't go too crazy and blow up the rebuild process at the Deadline (though they do have the flexibility to take on salary with an August waiver claim).
The Cardinals and Pirates look like clubs in the course of transition. The Cubs might have messed with some people's emotions in the first half of the season, but the midseason breather and the Jose Quintana trade rejuvenated them.
"The feeling's back," Anthony Rizzo said. "All those good vibes we've had for the last couple years are back."
Good for the Cubs, bad for the Central.
5. AL MVP Award
That photo of Judge standing next to Jose Altuve on the basepaths just before the All-Star break was the perfect illustration of how great players can come in all sizes in this sport. It also doubled as the MVP pecking order -- Judge on top, Altuve beneath him.
But Judge's somewhat predictable statistical fade in the second half (he was never going to maintain the highest-ever batting average on balls in play or one of the 30 greatest offensive seasons in history, by wRC+) has flipped things around, as illustrated here by my elite Microsoft Paint skills:
Man, the American League MVP picture has really changed... pic.twitter.com/TTVLlZFulB- Anthony Castrovince (@castrovince) July 26, 2017
Because of Altuve's consistency, it's hard to see him surrendering his spot as the best player on the AL's best team (I'm sure he wasn't celebrating Carlos Correa's injury, but it certainly helped his candidacy, given the concern that the two could split some votes). Judge could still surge back to the top spot, and Mike Trout, even with the six-week absence and another going-nowhere Angels team, is going to have an interesting case when all is said and done.
But Altuve's standing tall right now.
4. AL Wild Card
As of this writing (entering Wednesday's play), there are seven teams within five games of a Wild Card spot, not including the three division leaders. Of those seven teams, only four have a winning record (Yankees, Royals, Mariners, Rays) and only three have a positive run differential (Yankees, Mariners and Rays, though the latter two are in single digits). The safest bet at the moment would be the Red Sox or Yankees winning the East and the runner-up taking one of the two Wild Cards. But when a simple 5-1 stretch is about all it takes to totally change the conversation about a club with regard to the Wild Card, it's madness.
The sentimental favorite here has to be a Mariners team trying to end the game's longest October drought (their near-miss in 2014 still stings).
Per FanGraphs, these were the AL clubs with the most realistic postseason odds at midweek:
Astros: 100 percent
Red Sox: 91.9
3. AL Central
The Indians and Royals are responsible for the past three AL pennants, and now, because the Tribe has fallen short of projection and the Royals have exceeded it, they've got a legit division tussle on their hands. With the Twins, Tigers and White Sox all having subtracted at the Deadline, there could be opportunity for both of these ballclubs to soak up some September wins against their intra-division also-rans. That could play a part in the Wild Card picture.
But whether or not that's the case, an Indians team for whom anything short of a World Series title will be considered a disappointment is being seriously pushed by a Royals club that, having lengthened the lineup and pitching staff at the Deadline, is giving its expiring core one last shot at October glory. That's pretty decent drama.
The best part is the Indians and Royals still face each other 10 more times.
2. NL MVP Award
The Senior Circuit MVP picture really deserves its own article, complete with advanced analytical breakdowns and pie charts and graphs and chemistry beakers. So for the sake of brevity here, just look at the five top OPS marks at midweek and the respective WAR marks of the players attached to them:
1. Bryce Harper, 1.048 (4.4 bWAR)
2. Paul Goldschmidt, 1.007 (4.9)
3. Joey Votto, 1.005 (4.4)
4. Anthony Rendon, 1.005 (5.0)
5. Justin Turner, .992 (4.3)
OK, that's close and complicated enough (and you have to wonder if Harper and Rendon cancel each other out on some ballots). But this list doesn't even take into consideration the Colorado guys (Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado will both have strong cases), or the Dodgers' record specifically since Bellinger came aboard or, you know, the gazillion other numbers a voter can use to consider a guy's case or pull other players into the conversation.
What you hope -- particularly if you're an NL MVP Award voter this year -- is that somebody legitimately pulls away from the pack in these last two months. The race is on.
1. AL East
I suppose it would be more dramatic if Christian Vazquez shoved his catcher's mitt in the face of Judge, a la Jason Varitek and A-Rod, or if David Price scrapped not with a Red Sox broadcaster like Dennis Eckersley but a Yankees coach, a la Pedro and Don Zimmer. But baby steps, people. This rivalry is slowly but surely being revived, as evidenced by Dave Dombrowski turning the tables on Brian Cashman, who had referred to the Red Sox as the "Golden State Warriors" when they added Chris Sale in the offseason.
"I think Brian probably has made them the Golden State Warriors," Dombrowski said after the Yanks added Sonny Gray, Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Jaime Garcia at the Trade Deadline. "And we're the significant underdogs, when I'm listening to the MLB Network. I would anticipate, like he said earlier in the year, that he didn't know how the Red Sox would lose a game, I think it'll be the same. I don't know how they'll lose a game right now."
Beyond the attention absorbed by Boston and New York, the Rays are still a nice little sleeper here, with a lineup that can mash and a bullpen deepened by their Deadline deals.
The only bummer to the East race is that the Yanks and Red Sox don't face each other again after Labor Day weekend. Even the schedule-makers were caught off-guard by the Yankees' resurgence.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB Network contributor and MLB.com columnist. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.