Your guide to the final month of baseball's regular season

It seems like just yesterday that the Rays beat the Red Sox 6-4 with six runs in the bottom of the eighth. Or Giancarlo Stanton hit two home runs in his Yankees debut. Or the Mets beat the Cardinals behind Noah Syndergaard's 10 strikeouts and the Phillies' bullpen blew a late-game lead. Hey, the Orioles were even tied for first place after beating the Twins in 11 innings.

Opening Day was way back on March 29. A lot has happened since then and a lot will unfold over the final month of the season. Here are some key things to focus on before the regular season wraps up on Sept. 30.

Playoff races

A lot going on here, especially in the National League where the No. 2 team (the Braves) and the No. 8 team (the Phillies) are separated by just 3½ games. After two straight Septembers largely devoid of drama, we should have plenty of it this season. The highlights:

1. The three-team NL West race. The best thing is there will be a lot of head-to-head action as the teams all have home-and-home series against one another.

2. Can the A's chase down the Astros? The Astros have a plus-221 run differential and the A's are a mere plus-85, but Houston's lead is just 2½ games. The teams are done with each other, however, so there will be plenty of scoreboard watching. Note: Don't underestimate the Oakland offense. The A's lead the majors in road home runs and runs per game on the road (5.51, a hair above the Astros' 5.50). The A's can score and they have a lockdown bullpen. They have a chance at the upset.

3. NL wild card. The Cardinals have the momentum, but four of their final five series are against the Dodgers, Braves, Brewers and Cubs. In other words, everything is still wide open. Best-case scenario: We get a three-way tie in the NL West and those three teams have the same record as the Cardinals, Brewers and Phillies, who also tie the Braves for the NL East. Seven teams for four spots!

4. NL Central. All that said, the Cubs haven't locked up the NL Central just yet.

5. Home-field advantage. The Red Sox still have a big lead for overall home field, but if they lose before the World Series, it's a little more wide open. But maybe it doesn't matter: The Cubs won Game 7 in Cleveland in 2016 and the Astros won Game 7 in Los Angeles in 2017.

6. AL East. It's 7½ games. Just enough time for an epic Red Sox fade down the stretch.

J.D. Martinez chasing the Triple Crown

Maybe this kind of crept up on us over the past week since Mookie Betts had a 19-point edge over Martinez in batting average on Aug. 15 (.352 to .333), but it feels like this isn't getting much attention yet. Old-school stats aren't dead yet, my friends, and a Triple Crown is still pretty cool. Martinez briefly passed Betts in average, but Mookie went back in front Wednesday (.340 to .337), with Jose Altuve in their rearview mirror at .327. Martinez is one home run behind Khris Davis and one ahead of Jose Ramirez and has an eight-RBI lead over Davis (nobody else is in the vicinity). Yes, we had a fairly recent Triple Crown winner in Miguel Cabrera in 2012, but that was the first one since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

AL MVP race

That leads us to the epic American League MVP race among Betts, Ramirez, Martinez, Mike Trout and Francisco Lindor -- one of the best races we've seen in a long time as all five are putting up monster seasons and would be easy winners in the NL. Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Tuesday that if Martinez does win the Triple Crown, he should be MVP. Voters are a lot smarter than they were in 2012 (when Trout deserved MVP honors over Cabrera), so that's not a guarantee, given the advantages the others have in WAR over Martinez.

NL MVP race

The NL race, meanwhile, has maybe eight candidates if you include pitchers Max Scherzer, Aaron Nola and Jacob deGrom, who have been the three best players in the league. The position player race probably comes down to which guy -- Matt Carpenter, Freddie Freeman, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Javier Baez appear to be the five everyone is talking about -- on a team that makes the playoffs has the best month and a couple of memorable big hits. Note that Lorenzo Cain leads NL position players in both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs WAR, but he isn't viewed as a strong candidate given his lesser offensive numbers.

Cy Young races

It's a three-way battle in the NL between Scherzer, Nola and deGrom and it will be interesting to see if voters hold deGrom's 8-8 record against him despite his minuscule 1.68 ERA. Hey, that's not his fault: He's had eight starts this season in which he pitched at least seven innings and allowed no runs or one run and didn't get the win.

In the AL, the DL stints of Chris Sale and Trevor Bauer have opened up what was a two-man race into one that includes Blake Snell, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Corey Kluber. If Sale comes back soon and makes, say, four starts down the stretch, he may still be the favorite. But the innings advantage that Verlander, Cole and Kluber have over Sale and Snell make them strong contenders even with higher ERAs. Any of those three could reel off a big month, and Snell is on a roll (although given his recent sore shoulder that sidelined him for a couple of weeks, you wonder how hard the Rays will push him).

Rookie of the Year races

These are much more fun than usual. In the NL, Ronald Acuna Jr. is battling fellow phenom Juan Soto, but Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty also deserves consideration given his 2.87 ERA over 22 starts, with 149 strikeouts in 122 1/3 innings. He hasn't been part of the popular narrative, but after a monster August he's put himself in position to chase down Acuna and Soto. In the AL, it's Shohei Ohtani versus the Yankees' Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. Ohtani may pitch a little in September, so don't forget about the 49 innings he has thrown already -- that would be an overall workload similar to a full-time relief pitcher, so add that to his impressive hitting and I think he's the slight favorite.

Ten big series to watch

1. Diamondbacks at Dodgers, Aug. 30-Sept. 2. The first big showdown in the three-way NL West tug of war is a four-game set at Dodger Stadium.

2. Yankees at A's, Sept. 3-5. The A's may be done with the Astros, but they have a pretty easy schedule the rest of the way, with two series against the slumping Mariners, one against the Rays and this one against the Yankees their toughest tests. They'll have to figure out who starts in place of Sean Manaea and Brett Anderson, but Bob Melvin has plenty of bullpen depth to utilize.

3. Cubs at Brewers, Sept. 3-5. It kind of feels like the Brewers are hanging by their fingernails. They're 11-12 in August and have been outscored by 29 runs, even after making several trade-deadline moves. They have six games against the Cubs in September and they're 4-9 against them -- remarkably, eight of those 13 games have featured a shutout.

4. Astros at Red Sox, Sept. 7-9. The Astros are trying to hold off the A's. Boston's big lead is suddenly in jeopardy (at least a little bit). This could be a playoff preview with playoff intensity.

5. Diamondbacks at Rockies, Sept. 10-13. It's never fun to go into Colorado at the end of a long season, and this series comes in the midst of a brutal stretch for the Diamondbacks. After the Dodgers series listed above, they have two against San Diego, but then come 20 consecutive games against the Braves, Rockies, Astros, Cubs, Rockies and Dodgers.

6. Dodgers at Cardinals, Sept. 13-16. The Cardinals started August one game over .500, but since then they've gone 20-6 -- including a three-game sweep at Dodger Stadium earlier in August -- and have outscored their opponents 131-77 to surge into the wild-card lead.

7. Red Sox at Yankees, Sept. 18-20. The first of six games between the AL East rivals. If the Yankees have any hope of catching the Red Sox, they may need to sweep this series and then hope the season-ending games at Fenway are still in play.

8. Phillies at Braves, Sept. 20-23. The Phillies hope they're still close enough that this series matters. The teams then meet for three games in Philly to end the season.

9. Phillies at Rockies, Sept. 24-27. A four-game series to kick off the final week. This one could decide the NL East, the NL West and the wild card.

10. Cardinals at Cubs, Sept. 28-30. The only series remaining between the two clubs is the final one of the regular season. This could influence not only the NL Central but home-field advantage and the wild card.

Aug. 31 trade deadline

Remember, this is when the Astros picked up Verlander last year, getting him at the last minute -- or even the last second, according to reports. They wouldn't have won the World Series without him. There's nobody of that magnitude who will be traded this year; Josh Donaldson is the biggest name out there, but he just started a rehab assignment from a calf injury and teams will have only a couple of games to assess his health. Others who could be moved and have cleared waivers, according to Mark Feinsand of MLB.com: Andrew McCutchen, Gio Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Justin Smoak and Francisco Liriano.

Can Edwin Diaz break Francisco Rodriguez's record of 62 saves?

Diaz is sitting on 50 saves through 132 games, so if he stays at this pace he'd finish with ... 61.4 saves! So he has a chance. The bad news is after winning 18 games in May and 19 in June, the Mariners went 10-13 in July and are 11-14 in August. The good news is the Mariners never blow anybody out, so Diaz picked up saves in 10 of those 11 wins. Another consideration: Diaz is on pace to appear in 79 games and pitch 79 innings, a heavy workload for a modern closer. If the Mariners continue to fall out of the playoff race, they may back off his usage a bit. (Then again, an extra three or four innings probably won't break him.)

Yoan Moncada chasing a dubious record

Moncada has 184 strikeouts, putting him on pace for 225. The record is 223, set by Mark Reynolds in 2009. I'm just surprised that Joey Gallo is 11 strikeouts behind Moncada.

NL batting crown race

Yes, the batting crown is still a thing. Don't be a Scrooge. This race, however, isn't exactly Tony Gwynn against Wade Boggs. Through Tuesday, five players were bunched at .310 or .311. This is somewhat similar to 2014 when Justin Morneau hit .319 -- for the Rockies, mind you -- to beat out Josh Harrison's .315 mark. (Only seven NL players hit .300 that year.)

How far out of first place will the Orioles finish?

Baltimore is 52 games behind the Red Sox. That would be tied with the 1998 Marlins for most games out of first place in the division era (since 1969). Catching the 1962 Mets, who finished 60½ games behind the Giants, is a possibility as well. Amazingly, however, the Orioles are far from clinching the worst record: The Royals are only 3½ games "behind" them.