Down to the wire

The dog days of summer are over and the regular season is coming to an end. The season could not have ended soon enough for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Kansas City Royals and Chicago Cubs, who are dusting the cobwebs off their drivers and putters and getting ready to hit the links after dismal seasons.,September means one thing for baseball fans: playoff baseball is just around the corner.

The dog days of summer are over and the regular season is coming to an end. The season could not have ended soon enough for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Kansas City Royals and Chicago Cubs, who are dusting the cobwebs off their drivers and putters and getting ready to hit the links after dismal seasons.

Also vacationing early are the Boston Red Sox, who, plagued by injuries, have limped down the stretch.

But for Boston’s archrival, the end of the regular season does not mean the end of baseball.

The Yankees once again won the American League East and will enter the playoffs as a strong contender to win the World Series.

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Across town, the Mets have stormed through the National League, winning a N.L. high 92 games, and are also heavy favorites to win it all.

While New York’s two teams have cruised, most teams are still fighting to make the playoffs.

Behind another Cy Youngworthy season from pitcher Johan Santana, The Minnesota Twins have impressively moved into the American League Wildcard lead, despite the loss of rookie phenom pitcher Francisco Liriano.

The Twins, with the hot bats of the “J’s,” Joe Mauer (.343 season average) and Justin Morneau (.326 season average), have their eyes set on the American League Central Division.

The Twins are currently a half game behind the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers have led the division for the majority of the year, relying heavily on the young and old arms of pitchers Justin Verlander and Kenny Rogers. Despite Rogers being Verlander’s senior by almost 19 years, both players are tied for the team lead with 16 wins.

Still lurking in the American League Wildcard hunt are the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox play in the Central Division and are five games behind the Tigers for the division lead and 4.5 games back in the Wildcard race-looking up at the Twins. Chances are the Sox will be left out of the playoffs when all is said and done.

Still up in the air is whether the Twins or Tigers will come out on top of the division.

The Tigers’ struggles of late would make one think the Twins will run away with the division title.

But the Tigers, under the veteran leadership of manager Jim Leyland and players Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez, will show resilience and fight tooth and nail, clawing their way to win their first division title since 1987.

If the Mets can win their first division title since 1988, which they accomplished a few nights ago, a perfect world would have the Tigers pulling through as well. At least Detroit fans hope so.

The race for the National League’s wildcard has been fickle of late.

The San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers have been switching back and forth in the NL West Division standings. The Padres are a half game up in the division, while the Dodgers are standing pretty, one game ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies in the wildcard race.

On Sept. 18, the Dodgers hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back solo home runs in the ninth inning to bring the game against the Padres into extra innings. Nomar, or “NoMAH” (as the Boston faithful adoringly called him for years), Garciaparra hit a game-winning two-run home run in the 10th inning of the dramatic game, putting the Dodgers temporarily in first place, while the Padres have regained the division lead.

Threatening the Dodgers and Padres are the Ryan-Howard-led Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies were obviously not expecting to make the playoffs this year, hence the trade of superstar Bobby Abreu.

Howard has been a beast of late, in the finest sense, giving the Phillies hope. Howard’s home run count is now at 57, to go along with 140 RBIs and a .313 batting average.

No matter how the wildcard and division races turn out in the A.L. and N.L., one thing is for sure: Major League Baseball is only about to get better with the regular season coming to a halt and the postseason waiting in the wings, making September a great time to be a baseball fan.