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Ten games left, 10 things to watch

1. AL wild-card race. As Dayn Perry writes on ESPN Insider, the popular narrative may have those pesky Rays chasing down the high-priced Red Sox, but the reality is that Boston is still in the driver's seat thanks to its favorable schedule. That said, the Red Sox host the Orioles in a doubleheader today and are starting two pitchers with an ERA over 6.00 in Kyle Weiland and John Lackey. Regardless, you have to admire the Rays. In 2008, they beat out the Yankees for a playoff spot with a $43 million payroll compared to the Yankees' $209 million payroll. In 2010, they beat out the Red Sox, with a $72 million payroll compared to Boston's $162 million. This season, they have the second-lowest payroll in the majors at $41 million, while Boston is at $162 million. (And don't forget out the Angels, four games back.)

2. NL wild-card chase. The Cardinals have won eight of 10 and the Giants have won eight in a row, and suddenly those two clubs are just 3.5 and four games, respectively, behind the Braves. The Cardinals have one more game against the Phillies on Monday night, but then close the season with series against the Mets, Cubs and Astros. The Braves play the Marlins and Nationals on the road before closing at home against the Phillies. The Giants have three in L.A., three in Arizona and three at home against Colorado. They're hot. The Cardinals are hot. You never know.

3. NL Cy Young race. I believe Clayton Kershaw has taken the slight lead over Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay in a terrific race, as he leads the NL in ERA, strikeouts and wins. Lee's six shutouts are impressive, but it will be hard to deny Kershaw if he captures the pitching Triple Crown. He makes his next start on Tuesday, facing Tim Lincecum -- the fourth time the two aces will match up this season. The scores of the three previous games: Dodgers 2-1, Dodgers 1-0, Dodgers 2-1. The two starters have allowed four runs (two earned) in the six combined starts.

4. AL MVP race. Justin Verlander seems to have a lot of MVP momentum, and with at least one start left, he could become the first pitcher to win 25 games since Oakland's Bob Welch won 27 in 1990. But no means does he have the award locked up. Curtis Granderson still leads the AL in runs scored and RBIs, but is hitting just .222 in September and his .268 average would be the lowest for an MVP winner since Marty Marion hit .267 in 1944. Jacoby Ellsbury leads the AL in total bases and don't blame him for Boston's September slump: He's hitting .361/.413/.639. And don't count out Jose Bautista, who leads the league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

5. The final days of Albert Pujols? If I had to bet, I'd say Pujols returns to St. Louis. Either way, these final 10 days will be exciting. Not only are the Cardinals hot and back in the wild-card race, but Pujols is on fire, hitting .410 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 16 games this month.

6. Phillies go for franchise wins record. Sitting at 98 wins with 11 games remaining, the Phillies should shatter the club record of 101 wins set in 1976 and '77. They'll also become the first NL team to win 100 games since the 2005 Cardinals.

7. The battle for home-field advantage. Maybe it's not as important as in other sports, but Rangers and Brewers would certainly like to secure home field for the first round. The Rangers are currently one game behind the Tigers for the No. 2 position in the AL. Considering they're 49-29 at home but 39-36 on the road, they'd love to secure that No. 2 slot and also avoid the Yankees in the first round. The Brewers are two games ahead of the Diamondbacks for the No. 2 position in the NL. They're a major-league best 52-23 at home, but under .500 (38-40) on the road. If the Braves hold on for the wild card, finishing ahead of the Diamondbacks also means avoiding the Phillies in the first round.

8. AL batting title. Sure, we all know batting average is overrated, but it's still fun to see who wins the crown. The AL race has Adrian Gonzalez at .333 and Miguel Cabrera and Michael Young at .331. Cabrera has hit over .320 five times but never won a title (he's twice finished second). Young won a title in 2005 when he hit .331. Gonzalez is hitting 49 points higher than his career average entering the season.

9. Matt Kemp versus Ryan Braun. The stats are similar. One guy plays center field. One guy plays left field. One guy is heading to the playoffs, the other is heading home. Kemp may have to have a monster final stretch to have a chance to beat out Braun for NL MVP honors.

10. Jose Valverde. He has 46 saves ... and no blown saves. Can he join Eric Gagne and Brad Lidge as closers to go entire season without a blown save? And would Tigers fans prefer he went the postseason with or without a blown save?