As the 2021 MLB season rolls past Labor Day, let's preview the stretch run with some of the key storylines to watch.
NL West race
The Dodgers and Giants just completed their final series of the season with the Giants winning two out of three to take a one-game lead into Monday's action, so there will be plenty of scoreboard watching in the NL West. Both teams entered that series at 85-49, a .634 winning percentage -- the first time since 1962 (also the Dodgers and Giants) that a September series began with both teams owning a .630 winning percentage. This is perhaps the best division race of the wild-card era. Only twice since 1995 have two teams in the same division finished with 100 wins, but both of those races were anticlimactic. In 2001, the Mariners won 116 games and the A's 102; in 2018, the Red Sox won 108 games, the Yankees 100.
This one, however, looks like it's going to be a tug of war the final four weeks. Managers Dave Roberts and Gabe Kapler are both trying to get their pitching staffs through the season and we saw bullpen games from both teams over the weekend. On paper, the Dodgers continue to have the advantage with Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer and Julio Urias leading the way. Since the beginning of August, the Dodgers are 18-2 when those three start. Kevin Gausman has been the Giants' ace in 2021, but he has a 4.68 ERA over his past nine starts while pitching more than five innings just twice in that stretch. Logan Webb has been their best starter of late. With Johnny Cueto and Alex Wood sidelined, the bullpen is going to have to pitch well while also pitching a ton of innings -- fourth most in the majors since the beginning of August.