The hunt for October is down to 15 teams

The past 170 days of baseball created many memories: Miguel Cabrera traded swings with Chris Davis, battling for an unprecedented second Triple Crown; Mariano Rivera pitched in his final All-Star game and young guns like Yasiel Puig and Jose Fernandez made themselves known on the national stage.

Fifteen teams have a chance to continue their season at the end of the month to claim a postseason berth for a chance to reach the pinnacle of professional baseball.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, powered by $220-plus million in team salaries, finally put all the pieces of the puzzle together to have a run at a division title. The Dodgers sit at 86-62 with an 11.5 game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West. After being 9.5 games back June 22, the Magic Johnson-led team resurged to take a lead in the division July 24 and hasn’t looked back.

The Atlanta Braves are in a similar position. Despite being plagued with injuries and losing key contributors like Tim Hudson and Jason Heyward, the Braves are 89-59 and have a commanding 11-game lead over the Washington Nationals in the NL East. The team is led by All-Star Freddie Freeman’s 99 RBIs and first-year Brave Justin Upton’s 25 home runs.

The NL Central is a closer race and will likely feature three playoff teams from the same division. The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates lead the division with identical 86-61 records with the Cincinnati Reds trailing by 2.5 games.

The Cardinals are no strangers to the postseason and what it takes to make a September run. Backed by Allen Craig’s 97 RBIs and Adam Wainwright’s 2.96 ERA, St. Louis is in a good position to win the division; all 14 remaining games are against teams under .500. The team is also hitting an unprecedented .326 with runners in scoring position.

As for the Andrew McCutchen-led Pirates, the team is experiencing its first winning season since 1992. The Bucs will play six of their final nine games against the Reds. Each divisional game will not come easy as seen from the Cardinals-Reds 16-inning matchup Sept. 4, the longest game in the 11 seasons of Great American Ball Park.

The Reds control their own destiny in the division. While they can’t directly affect the Cardinals, the six games against the Pirates could give them a 4.5-game lead over Pittsburgh with two 3-game sweeps.

The Reds will rely on star players like pitcher Homer Bailey who threw a no-hitter July 2 to go with his previous one in 2012 and Joey Votto who leads the NL in on-base percentage (.430) and posted a career-high 118 walks. All three NL Central teams desire a division title rather than play a one-game playoff in the first round of the postseason.

The Nationals, who were picked by many experts to make a deep postseason run, sit 5.5 games behind the Reds for the second wild-card spot.

The AL West belongs to the Oakland Athletics and its up-and-coming roster of young players. The Athletics have a comfortable 5.5 game lead over the Texas Rangers with an 87-61 record. The A’s unlikely ace Bartolo Colon is having a career year with a 15-6 record and 2.85 ERA.  Josh Donaldson is also having a stellar year with a team-best 87 RBIs, 42 multiple-hit games and 18 multiple-RBI games.

The Boston Red Sox have bounced back after a dismal 2012 campaign to prove many analysts wrong, sitting at an MLB-best 91-59 record with an 8.5-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox have a powerful offense, one that featured seven different players with a home run in a Sept. 4 win over the Detroit Tigers.

The AL Central will likely go to the Tigers who have a 85-63 record and a 5 game lead. The dominant Tigers offense is led by Miguel Cabrera’s MLB-leading .348 average and 133 RBIs. His 43 home runs, seven back of the leader Chris Davis, is the only thing holding him back from his second Triple Crown in as many years.

The Tigers have a very consistent pitching staff; the top-four in the rotation combine for 58 wins. It would be difficult to choose who the ace of the staff would be. The former Cy-Young winner Justin Verlander is accompanied by 2013 Cy-Young candidates Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer to create a deadly three-headed rotation entering October.

While all three divisions in the AL appear locked up, the two wild-card slots are heavily contested. The Rays and Rangers are tied at 81-66 and possess the spots. However, four other teams are within striking distance.

The Cleveland Indians sit 1.5 games back and play 11 of their remaining 14 games against teams under .500. After the Indians depart from Chicago, they will visit the Kansas City Royals in a crucial 3-game series. The Royals are only 3.5 games back in the division and will follow the Indians series with a 3-game series against the Rangers starting Sept. 20.

The New York Yankees, despite all the distractions surrounding Alex Rodriguez’s alleged performance-enhancing drug use and longtime Yankee great Derek Jeter’s multiple visits to the disabled list, sit only three games back. The team would like to see one last run in the postseason with its future Hall-of-Fame closer Mariano Rivera calling it a career at the end of the year.

The Baltimore Orioles are 3.5 games back despite having Chris “Crush” Davis, the MLB-leader in home runs with 50.  The Orioles are in a difficult position; 10 of the team’s final 14 games are against the division-leading Red Sox and wild-card-leading Rays.

Only 15 days are left in the hunt for October baseball. For 10 teams, a chance to play in the coveted World Series is within their grasp. For the other five, their memorable 2013 seasons will come to an early end.

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