With just a few weeks left to go in the regular season, baseball's pennant races will be a daily story the rest of the month. Some divisions--namely the Central in both leagues--are essentially wrapped up already, but there are still plenty of things left to be decided. Two division races in the National League appear likely to come down to the wire, and both wild card races will be full of intrigue. Let's look into 25 individual players who will play a large part in determining how these races play out.
The reigning NL MVP got off to a slow start in 2021, but that's a distant memory now. Since the all-star break, the Braves first baseman has slashed .326/.398/.517 and driven in big runs as the sole left-handed threat in the middle of Atlanta's lineup. The Braves will need him to continue producing down the stretch as they look to hold both Philadelphia and New York off in the NL East.
The Phillies have seemingly been fighting an uphill battle all season, but their best player, right fielder Bryce Harper, is doing absolutely everything in his power to steal the NL East title for Philadelphia. Since August 3rd Harper has hit well over .300 and crushed 11 home runs. With first baseman, Rhys Hoskins out for the remainder of the season, Harper and J.T. Realmuto are under significant pressure to carry this offense on a daily basis. Philly will need both to dominate down the stretch if they're going to overtake Atlanta.
Mr. Smile has had a tumultuous first season in Queens, but he's got a chance to rewrite the entire storyline with one tremendous month down the stretch. Lindor's '21 campaign to date has included a terrible start, a dust-up with a teammate in the tunnel, a six-week absence thanks to an oblique issue, and frustration over being booed boiling over into an unbelievably childish feud with his home fans. That said. Lindor has been front and center in the Mets' recent turnaround, and two clutch home runs over the weekend in Washington helped secure two more Mets wins. New York is still a long shot to pass both the Phillies and Braves in the NL East, but their dynamic switch-hitting shortstop represents their best chance at an amazin' finish to the regular season.
Similar to Lindor, Baez's tenure with the Mets has gotten off to a rocky start. He was at the forefront of the thumbs-down gesture that he later revealed to be a way to boo the fans back after they were booing the team. Mature. Anyway, since that whole debacle a week ago Baez has really come on offensively. Highlighted by a 4-4 game against Washington on Sunday, he's hit big home runs and showed elite instincts on the bases to help lead New York's charge back to relevance. He'll have to keep playing at this level to give the Mets a shot.
Nola was the ace of the Phillies staff for a long time, and while teammate Zack Wheeler has stripped him of that title, the veteran righty may still be the most important player on Philadelphia's team down the stretch. The Phillies are confident in what they'll get from Wheeler, but Nola has been very much up and down to date. In 27 starts he's 7-7 with a 4.54 ERA in 152.2 innings. With every game of immense importance and uncertainty behind them in the rotation, Philadelphia will have to win virtually all of Nola and Wheeler's starts down the stretch. If they can, the Braves could be in a bit of trouble.
Talk about a change of scenery working wonders, huh? After struggling for most of the season in Kansas City, Jorge Soler was traded to the Braves at the deadline and has absolutely taken off. In just 120 at-bats he's crushed nine homers while slashing .275/.367/.533. When Ronald Acuna Jr. went down for the season Atlanta needed someone to step up in a big way to get back in the NL East race, and Soler may be the primary reason they're currently in first place. The question now is can he keep it up?
The Reds dug themselves a hole when they got off to a slow start in 2021--particularly on the mound--but they've been one of the best teams in baseball in the second half. Entering play on Labor Day Cincinnati is just a half-game behind the Padres for the 2nd Wild Card in the National League, and a big reason why is their young rookie second baseman that isn't talked about enough on the national level. Jonathan India is the hands-down favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year, and he's been a force for the Reds out of the lead-off spot, reaching base at a .380 clip and connecting on 45 extra-base hits. They'll need to continue igniting this offense the next few weeks.