One hundred and sixty two games and it will all come down to the last nine. Out of the last 34 days, the Cubs have been in first or tied for first in 32 of those days. A few weeks ago I felt the Cardinals would be the team giving the Cubs the most grief, but just as it has been most of the year; it is a two-team race. So, how many wins are enough? Can the Cubs win 85 or 86 games and take the division?

There is something special about September baseball and most, well all of it has to do with the last two weeks of the season, smack dab in the middle of the playoff hunt. It is even better when the Cubs are in the middle of that playoff hunt. It really feels like a lot of times anything can happen—anything.

Anything can happen example A, suddenly there is a chance the Yankees will make the playoffs and the Mets won’t. If the Mets season ends badly, and by badly I mean becoming the first team since 1938 to blow a seven-game lead in September, who is going to be under fire? Enter obvious contestant number one, Mets manager Willie Randolph. Among the explicit and derogatory accusations that will be made by NY fans and NY papers, inevitably the question will be asked, was Willie Randolph getting the most out of his players?

Although the Phillies make an art of blowing playoff chances, will this year be different? NY fans will tell you no way, Phillies pitching, starting and relieving will never be able to hold off the Mets. Philadelphia fans can counter that with a team that leads the league in hitting, runs, hits, total bases, doubles, RBI, walks, slugging and on-base percentage. Stay tuned.

Anything can happen example B, Boston’s lead in the AL East over the second-place Yankees was seven games less than three weeks ago, but has shriveled to a mere game and a half — and only one in the loss column. Of course, it is of no help to the Red Sox that Eric Gagne has had a convincing 9.00 ERA in 15 appearances or that Hideki Okajima, an eye-opener through August, has been shut down because of fatigue.

While this is typical Yankees/Red Sox style dramatics and ESPN is drooling over it so they can devote 3/4 of their programming to the playoff hunt and the rest of the time to the New England Patriots, in reality both teams will be in the playoffs. One will be the division champ and the other the winner of the wild card.

If the Yankees do win the East, all you will read and hear about is how the Red Sox “choked away” the division. What does that mean exactly? Will the Red Sox season hold less meaning if they only win the wild card? Or was it more important for Francona to head into the post-season with a healthy, well-rested team than forcing players to play hurt or pushing pitchers too hard in an all-out attempt to win the East?

While all that drama is going on in the AL East, quietly a race has shaped up in the NL West too. The funny thing is the Diamondbacks are sitting in first place in the NL West, sporting the best record in all of the National League and what do we really hear about them? Despite recent struggles, the Diamondbacks still hold the reigns to their success.

The Padres aren’t going away either. On Wednesday night, Hairston’s homer gave San Diego its sixth straight win and allowed the Padres to stay one game off the NL West lead behind Arizona and 2 1/2 games over Philadelphia, in the wild card race. Recently Mr. Padre himself Tony Gwynn predicted the Padres will win the division title and the Dodgers are going to come back and take the wild card. While that prediction may be based on sentiment rather than logic, who knows how this race will play out.

And I didn’t even touch on the wild card. In the NL there are six teams that are in striking distance albeit some further than others. San Diego leads the group with Philadelphia 2.5 back, Colorado 4.5 back, Atlanta 5.5 back, Los Angeles 4.5 back and Milwaukee 6.0 games back. Try figuring that one out.

The AL is easier to figure out, well besides the whole Yankees/Red Sox teeter totter we are on. It is almost safe to assume the wild card champ will come out of the East, with Detroit and Seattle being 5.5 and 6.5 games back respectively. Then again we all know what happens when one assumes.

Like I said before, anything can happen. Anything.

All standings are as of Thursday morning, 9/20/2007

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