MLB races heat up, football returns

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With football season so close we can taste it, it was a shift in the MLB standings that caught my eye this week as we continue to work our way through an aggravating NFL preseason.

Here is something you have not heard in a while: there is some trouble in Boston. Despite their impressive record of 90-42 as of Monday, the Red Sox were swept in Tampa Bay over the weekend and found themselves just six games ahead of the New York Yankees in the American League East.

The Yankees, meanwhile, dominated the lowly Baltimore Orioles and picked up a four-game sweep to make up much of the ground they surrendered to Boston at the beginning of the month. We were ready to close the book on the East and give Boston the A.L.’s top seed in October, but it is now far from finished with more than 30 games left on the schedule.

The two teams have six head-to-head matchups left this year. The first set of three will take place from Sept. 18-20 at Fenway Park with the last half coming at Yankee Stadium to conclude the regular season. Regardless of whether Boston can hold on or not, it appears likely that the two teams will finish with the best two records in all of baseball. This, of course, would mean that the second best club in the game will be forced to host an elimination contest in order to qualify for the League Division Series.

It now seems that we can retire any chance of Boston surpassing baseball’s all-time win total in a single regular season of 116. The chances of this were very slim, regardless. 116 wins has been reached just twice before by the 1906 Chicago Cubs and the 2001 Seattle Mariners. If Red Sox fans are upset about this, perhaps they can find solace in the fact that neither of those clubs won the World Series. The Cubs dropped the 1906 World Series to the Chicago White Sox while the Mariners lost to the Yankees in the 2001 ALCS.

The Houston Astros are also dealing with a heated divisional race. As of Monday, the defending champions enjoy a lead of just a game and a half over the Oakland Athletics, who have shown that they are here to stay. Throughout much of the year, it appeared the Mariners would pose the biggest threat to Houston in the West. However, it feels like it is wildcard or bust for Seattle at this point. 
Every National League division is still up for grabs. The Chicago Cubs enjoy the best record in the league (76-53) as well as the largest lead in their division with just a four-game advantage over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Milwaukee Brewers also remain in the thick of things and trail Chicago by four and a half games.

In the East, the Washington Nationals do not seem to be turning their disappointing campaign around anytime soon. They trail the first-place Atlanta Braves by eight and a half games. The Braves lead the Philadelphia Phillies by three and a half games. In the West, the Arizona Diamondbacks lead the Colorado Rockies by just a game and the Los Angeles Dodgers by two and a half.

As we enter the fourth and final week of the NFL preseason, fans continue to be weighed down by the new helmet rules and question the future of the game itself.

But it is business as usual on the injury front. This week, the Jacksonville Jaguars lost wide receiver Marqise Lee for the season with a knee. This is bad news for a team with an already questionable air attack after losing Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns to Chicago and Dallas respectively during the offseason.

The Jaguars will remain a Super Bowl contender entering week one as a team with a dominant defense and a strong ground game with Leonard Fournette. Still, it is worth wondering whether or not a team with Blake Bortles running the most important position can make a deep run in January without many favorable targets to rely on. With former Cowboy Dez Bryant still available, Jacksonville could consider adding another playmaker to keep defenses honest.

Speaking of receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants became the position’s highest paid player with a record extension on Monday. Beckham’s new five year deal could allow him to make a maximum amount of $95 million with $65 million fully guaranteed. He now leaps ahead of Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers as the highest paid wide receiver in the NFL.

This week also marks the opening of a new college football season. Week one will feature a number of intriguing matchups such as Washington (6) vs. Auburn (9), Michigan (14) vs. Notre Dame (12), Louisville vs. Alabama (1), Miami (8) vs. LSU and Virginia Tech (20) vs. Florida State (19).

Texas A&M fans will get their first chance to view the squad under the leadership of new Head Coach Jimbo Fisher. The Aggies will open their season on Thursday night in College Station against Northwestern State (Louisiana).

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