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MLB Week 23: A Look Ahead at Key Storylines and Matchups

Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Justin Morneau
Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Justin Morneau

Sep 1, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Justin Morneau (36) warms up before playing the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park. Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to September. The Major League Baseball season is down to its final month, and division and wild card leaders now have magic numbers on their minds. Still, though, nearly half the teams in baseball could say they still have a shot to qualify for the postseason, but some have a much more realistic chance than others. So, from here on out, every week will be incredibly important across the MLB. Here are a few things to watch for this week.

New Faces, New Places – Thanks to a few late waiver trade deadline deals, a handful of players have joined contenders for the playoff push. And many of them are players whose names were floated around prior to the non-waiver trade deadline in July. Now they’ll spend their first week contributing for their new clubs. Among the notable players who have new homes for September are John Axford with the Cardinals, Jason Kubel with the Indians, Justin Morneau with the Pirates, Michael Morse with the Orioles, and Michael Young with the Dodgers. Only Young has yet to debut with his new team, but he will take a utility type of role for L.A., getting occasional starts at first and third base. Morneau and Morse figure to get regular time with their new clubs, while Kubel will mix in at designated hitter, in the outfield, and off the bench.

Another Rivera RecordMariano Rivera is already the greatest closer of all-time, and owns plenty of records, but there is one he doesn’t have yet that he could match this week. Rivera has eight 40-save seasons in his illustrious career, which is actually one shy of Trevor Hoffman‘s all-time record of nine. They are the only two players with more than four such seasons. Rivera is currently sitting on 39 saves this year, so number 40 could come at any time. He and his Yankees have series this week against the Sox, both White and Red. While it would be extremely unlikely, if Rivera is able to hit the 50-save plateau, he would become the first player ever to do that three times. The only other pitcher to do it twice is Eric Gagne.

Nationals Charging – The Washington Nationals spent about the first 4 1/2 months of the season as an afterthought, despite such huge pre-season expectations. Now, though, they’re in the playoff conversation for the first time. Thanks to a 16-11 August, which was the team’s best month of the year, they are now just 6.5 games out of a wild card spot. That’s still a significant amount of ground to make up in the final month of the season, but it’s not impossible. Washington still has 17 of 26 games against teams below .500 while the three NL Central teams ahead of them will beat up on each other a bit and the Diamondbacks still have seven more against the Dodgers. If the Nats want to have any chance of escaping the regular season, they’ll need to make up some  ground this week. They have three games each against the Phillies and Marlins. Anything less than 3-3 and their players can start booking tee times for October.

Matchups of the Week – Like last week, many of MLB’s most important games come from the NL Central and, specifically, the Cardinals. Last week, St. Louis hosted the Reds for three, then traveled to Pittsburgh for three. They split, going 3-3 and remaining in a first place tie with the Pirates. This week, the Cards are right back at it again with four in Cincinnati, then three more at home against Pittsburgh. With the Reds just 3.5 games back, this is a huge week for all three teams. Meanwhile, Texas begins a three-game series in Oakland on Monday, with first place in the AL West on the line. The A’s trail the Rangers by just one game. Below are some of this week’s intriguing pitching matchups and more important series with potentially huge implications.

Monday – Adam Wainwright-Matt Latos, Doug FisterJohn Lackey, Stephen StrasburgCole Hamels

Tuesday – Chris SaleHiroki Kuroda, Max ScherzerJon Lester

Wednesday – Yu DarvishJarrod Parker, Jordan ZimmermannRoy Halladay, Shelby MillerBronson Arroyo, Hyun-Jin Ryu- Jorge De La Rosa

Thursday – Jake PeavyIvan Nova

Friday – Felix DoubrontAndy Pettitte, Mike MinorCliff Lee, A.J. BurnettJoe Kelly, Matt GarzaC.J. Wilson, Alex CobbHisashi Iwakuma

Saturday – John Lackey-Matt Latos

Sunday – Jon Lester-Hiroki Kuroda, Chris Sale-Chris Tillman, Clayton KershawHomer Bailey

Series of the Week – Tigers-Red Sox (Monday-Wednesday), Orioles-Indians (Monday-Wednesday), Rangers-Athletics (Monday-Wednesday), Cardinals-Reds (Monday-Thursday), Red Sox-Yankees (Thursday-Sunday), Dodgers-Reds (Friday-Sunday), Tigers-Royals (Friday-Sunday), Pirates-Cardinals (Friday-Sunday)

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