MLB Midseason Check Up

Although teams have already passed the halfway point of the MLB season, we have yet to arrive at the All Star Break.  When a league’s season reaches this point in their schedule, I typically try to review my preseason projections and predictions, determine where I have been right or wrong, and take mulligans on my picks if necessary.  I also try to go division by division and write a brief highlight on how the season is going for each team and what I would like to see them do for the rest of the season.  So…that’s what I am doing with this post.  The only issue is that I wrote my MLB Season Preview on my former site (post can be found here) and will include my projections as I go.

Standings

Projected Standings

Actual Standings (As of 7/6)

Team Team Record Games Back

AL East

Boston Red Sox Boston Red Sox 49-36
Toronto Blue Jays New York Yankees 44-39 4.0
Baltimore Orioles Tampa Bay Rays 44-42 5.5
New York Yankees Baltimore Orioles 40-44 8.5
Tampa Bay Rays Toronto Blue Jays 39-45 9.5

AL Central

Cleveland Indians Cleveland Indians 44-39
Detroit Tigers Kansas City Royals 44-40 0.5
Kansas City Royals Minnesota Twins 43-41 1.5
Minnesota Twins Detroit Tigers 38-46 6.5
Chicago White Sox Chicago White Sox 37-47 7.5

AL West

Houston Astros Houston Astros 58-27
Seattle Mariners Los Angeles Angels 44-45 16.0
Texas Rangers Texas Rangers 41-44 17.0
Los Angeles Angels Seattle Mariners 41-45 17.5
Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics 37-48 21.0

NL East

Washington Nationals Washington Nationals 50-34
New York Mets Atlanta Braves 40-43 9.5
Miami Marlins New York Mets 38-45 11.5
Atlanta Braves Miami Marlins 38-46 12.0
Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Phillies 28-55 21.5

NL Central

Chicago Cubs Milwaukee Brewers 48-40
St. Louis Cardinals Chicago Cubs 42-43 4.5
Pittsburgh Pirates St. Louis Cardinals 41-44 5.5
Milwaukee Brewers Pittsburgh Pirates 39-46 7.5
Cincinnati Reds Cincinnati Reds 37-48 9.5

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers 57-29
San Francisco Giants Arizona Diamondbacks 52-33 4.5
Colorado Rockies Colorado Rockies 50-38 8.0
Arizona Diamondbacks San Diego Padres 36-48 20.0
San Diego Padres San Francisco Giants 34-53 23.5

Preseason Playoff Projections

National League

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. Washington Nationals
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Wild Card #1 – San Francisco Giants
  • Wild Card #2 – New York Mets

N.L. Wild Card Game – San Francisco over New York

NLDS – Chicago over San Francisco and Los Angeles over Washington

NLCS – Los Angeles over Chicago

American League

  1. Cleveland Indians
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. Houston Astros
  • Wild Card #1 – Seattle Mariners
  • Wild Card #2 – Detroit Tigers

A.L. Wild Card Game – Seattle over Detroit

ALDS – Cleveland over Seattle and Boston over Houston

ALCS – Boston over Cleveland

World Series

  • Boston over Los Angeles

Award Projections

  • AL MVP – SEA Robinson Cano
  • NL MVP – NYM Yoenis Cespedes
  • AL Cy Young – BOS Chris Sale
  • NL Cy Young – LAD Clayton Kershaw
  • AL Rookie of the Year – BOS Andrew Benintendi
  • NL Rookie of the Year – PIT Josh Bell
  • AL Reliever of the Year – BOS Craig Kimbrel
  • NL Reliever of the Year – SF Mark Melancon
  • AL Manager of the Year – SEA Scott Servais
  • NL Manager of the Year – NYM Terry Collins

New Projections

Standings

AL East

  • Boston Red Sox
  • New York Yankees
  • Tampa Bay Rays
  • Toronto Blue Jays
  • Baltimore Orioles

AL Central

  • Cleveland Indians
  • Kansas City Royals
  • Detroit Tigers
  • Minnesota Twins
  • Chicago White Sox

AL West

  • Houston Astros
  • Seattle Mariners
  • Los Angeles Angels
  • Texas Rangers
  • Oakland Athletics

NL East

  • Washington Nationals
  • New York Mets
  • Atlanta Braves
  • Miami Marlins
  • Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central

  • Chicago Cubs
  • St. Louis Cardinals
  • Milwaukee Brewers
  • Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Cincinnati Reds

NL West

  • Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Colorado Rockies
  • San Francisco Giants
  • San Diego Padres

New Playoff Projections

American League

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. Cleveland Indians
  • Wild Card #1 – New York Yankees
  • Wild Card #2 – Seattle Mariners

A.L. Wild Card Game – Seattle over New York

ALDS – Houston over Seattle and Boston over Cleveland

ALCS – Boston over Houston

National League

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. Washington Nationals
  3. Chicago Cubs
  • Wild Card #1 – Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Wild Card #2 – Colorado Rockies

N.L. Wild Card Game – Colorado over Arizona

NLDS – Los Angeles over Colorado and Washington over Chicago

NLCS – Los Angeles over Chicago

World Series

  • Boston over Los Angeles

Updated Awards Projections

  • AL MVP – HOU SS Carlos Correa
  • NL MVP – ARI 1B Paul Goldschmidt
  • AL Cy Young – BOS Chris Sale
  • NL Cy Young – WSH Max Scherzer
  • AL Rookie of the Year – NYY RF Aaron Judge
  • NL Rookie of the Year – LAD 1B Cody Bellinger
  • AL Reliever of the Year – BOS Craig Kimbrel
  • NL Reliever of the Year – LAD Kenley Jansen
  • AL Manager of the Year – HOU A.J. Hinch
  • NL Manager of the Year – ARI Torey Lovullo

Team Updates

AL East

  • Boston Red Sox
    • This season marked the first time that the Red Sox have started a year off without David Ortiz since the 2003 season.  It was universally expected that the team would experience some regression offensively and lack power and that is exactly what has happened.  They rank last in the American League in home runs with just 87 and their leader, Mookie Betts, has just 15 of them. What they lack in power, they have made up for by good all-around hitting.  They still manage to rank fourth in the AL in runs per game, sixth in RBIs, and second in hits.  Extra base hits other than home runs make up a significant portion of their offense as they are third in the league in doubles and have eight batters with at least 10 of them.  This doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement, however, as third base has been a revolving door all season long and Pablo Sandoval is continuing to prove he is no longer a major league hitter, no matter his stature.
    • Whatever they are lacking on offense, their pitching has made up for it, for the most part.  They have the third best pitching staff in the American League in runs per game and the best staff in terms of ERA.  Their FIP backs this up, as they rank third in that area as well.  Two big reasons for this have been Chris Sale and an elite bullpen, in which three of their regular relievers have ERAs below 3.00.  They have also gotten surprisingly good pitching from Drew Pomeranz, who has a 3.64 ERA and an almost identical FIP.  They do need Rick Porcello and David Price to pick up their seasons as both have ERAs above 4.00.  Price has pitched much better as of late and if he continues that trend, it will bode well for the team’s success as the season progresses.
    • I tend to believe in the turnaround exhibited by David Price in recent starts and think that he will help solidify the team’s starting rotation.  I do think that regardless of how well Price pitches up to the trade deadline, the Red Sox will need another starting pitcher. Look for them to acquire someone like Jeremy Hellickson, Scott Feldman, or Trevor Cahill.  They also need to address their situation at third base in a manner that doesn’t include calling up Rafael Devers before he is ready. I think that they will eventually make a trade for a productive third baseman and that Mike Moustakas or Todd Frazier could be of interest to the team.  With the large payroll the team has put together and how far down they have already stripped their farm system, I don’t think there is a limit to which GM Dave Dombrowski won’t go to acquire the players the team needs.  I think this is smart but it isn’t worth it for them to give up Devers or Jason Groome to make said moves.
  • New York Yankees
    • This season looked to be a throwaway one for the Yankees after they sold off players last season for prospects.  They were also only minimal buyers on the free agent market this past offseason, leading many to believe that they were content with not making the playoffs again this season.  That has not been the case.  Their offense has been one of the best in baseball with AL Rookie of the Year runaway and MVP candidate, Aaron Judge, leading the way. The Yankees’ offense has been the second best in the league in runs per game and has a pretty high team batting average.  Their lineup, although good, has some serious holes in it, especially at third base and first base.  The key for them though is that they have prospects who will be the team’s long-term solutions at the positions, including Greg Bird and Gleyber Torres.
    • As successful as the Yankees’ offense has been, their pitching staff, and specifically their starting rotation, has been that bad.  Luis Severino has been their only consistently good starter and is the only one with a FIP below 4.00.  Masahiro Tanaka, their expected ace, has been terrible, with a 5.25 ERA in 17 starts and has already given up 21 home runs.  Coming into this season there was a chance that he was going to utilize his opt-out clause after the season but there is virtually no chance of that happening with how his season has gone thus far.  Michael Pineda has also struggled badly this season and has been very inconsistent, going between ace-like performances and well below average ones.  In their bullpen, they have gotten very good pitching from nearly every reliever, apart from Dellin Betances, who has had several rough outings in recent games.
    • I think that the Yankees will generally just stay the course the rest of the season.  They will likely acquire a bat or two for their playoff run but no one that will impede the development schedule of their prospects and no one that will cost much.  I think that Atlanta’s Matt Adams is a very real possibility to end up with the Yankees. He is having an excellent season with the Braves and would fit real well in Yankee Stadium as a left-handed power bat.  He can play first base but is best served as a designated hitter.  At third base, perhaps they look into Todd Frazier or Eduardo Nunez.  All three of these are also free agents at the end of the season.  For their pitching staff, I think they could acquire another reliever but will probably go with their starting rotation unless they can trade for someone with term left on his deal.  I could easily see the Yankees being in the market for Matt Moore, Chase Anderson, Jimmy Nelson, Gerrit Cole, Jose Quintana, or Sonny Gray, all players who could help them this season and moving forward.  These players would cost more in terms of prospects but would be worth it given how poor the free agent market looks to be this offseason.
  • Tampa Bay Rays
    • Before the season began, I had projected that the Rays were going to be near the basement of the division.  I didn’t see them as being able to be competitive, especially in their lineup, and that they would be selling off at the trade deadline.  Like the Yankees, this has not been the case for the Rays.  They appear to have adapted a mindset that is rampant throughout baseball in that they are mashing the ball and hitting a lot of home runs, the second most in the league at this point.  Although they do strike out a lot, they have also managed to maintain an above average on-base percentage. With players like Logan Morrison, Steven Souza, and Corey Dickerson all approaching or surpassing their career highs in home runs, the Rays have had a very good offense.  The question I have for them is what they do at the trade deadline.  They have plenty of holes in their lineup (second base and outfield), so they could acquire players for a playoff run.  However, they are also a small market team with a low payroll, so they have to face the reality of losing Morrison this offseason.  Instead of acquiring prospects for the future, they could trade Morrison to help their farm system, which is why I had them listed as a seller in my trade deadline preview.
    • On the pitching front, the Rays have gotten pretty good performances, especially in the rotation.  Chris Archer has returned to ace form with a 3.95 ERA and a 3.03 FIP and Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi have been good behind him.  They have also gotten really good pitching from 23 year old Jacob Faria in six starts with a 2.11 ERA and a 3.19 FIP.  Their bullpen has been a different story, however, and needs some help the rest of the way if the Rays hope to get into the playoffs.
    • I think that the Rays should just keep mostly the same roster that they’ve had so far this season, with the exception of attempting to move at least one of their starters.  Alex Cobb is a free agent this offseason and the team likely won’t be able to re-sign him so they should try and recoup some assets for him now.  They could also look to move Jake Odorizzi, who has two more years of arbitration left before hitting free agency in 2020.  I think that the Rays should keep Logan Morrison, however, and make a push to re-sign him actually and look to acquire talent for next season and beyond. Look for them to add some help for the bullpen this season, however.
  • Baltimore Orioles
    • It is looking like the time has come where critics of the team may finally be correct.  This Orioles team is not a good one and it is looking like their offense may not even be able to save them this time.  Their offense is actually below league average in runs per game, they haven’t hit a lot of home runs like they usually do, and have the second lowest on-base percentage of any AL team.  A big reason for this is that every regular batter except Jonathan Schoop and Trey Mancini have regressed significantly.  Manny Machado has a slash line of just .215/.283/.308 and has just 41 RBIs on the season.  Chris Davis has only hit 14 home runs on the season and, even worse, has only driven in 26 runs.  Their decision to re-sign Mark Trumbo isn’t working out either and he is on pace for closer to 25 home runs instead of the 47 he hit last season.
    • Their pitching staff has been as bad as would be expected.  They have given up the most earned runs in the AL and by a large margin, and have an ERA above 5.00.  It’s not even as though their underlying numbers are better as their FIP is 5.08, their WHIP is 1.52, and have the lowest ERA+.  They simply have the worst pitching staff in the American League.  Their starting rotation, as would be expected, is the main reason for their struggles.  They don’t have a starter with an ERA or FIP below 4.30 and only have one starter who has thrown more than 100 innings at this point. What I find most alarming is that Chris Tillman, who should be their ace, has been their worst starter, with a 7.90 ERA, a 1-5 record in 11 starts across 49.0 innings pitched.  Their bullpen has been somewhat better as Brad Brach has continued to prove that he is a quality relief pitcher but the absence of Zach Britton for most of the season has hurt the team significantly.
    • I think that there is no other way for the Orioles to go than to sell off and attempt to restock their farm system.  They have one of the worst systems in baseball and prior to the season, they had just one prospect in any of the big three top 100 lists.  With how poor the MLB roster is performing this season and how bare the farm system is, I don’t think there is any other option but to sell off players at the deadline.  Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, Chris Tillman, and Seth Smith are all free agents this offseason.  The problem is that none of them are having good seasons either so getting a lot in return for any of them is unlikely.  I think for the Orioles to get good prospects in return it means them moving players like Adam Jones, Manny Machado, or Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, or Zach Britton.  Moving Jones, Brach, O’Day, or Britton this season would make sense and would give their trade partner more time with the players as all of them have term left on their deals. The issue is Machado, who is having his worst season in the majors. He has one more year left until he becomes a free agent and there is virtually no chance of Baltimore being able to re-sign him next offseason.  I think that they are going to have to move him before that time but this isn’t the season to trade him.  With how poorly he has been playing, his trade value will have taken a serious hit.  I look for the Orioles to go into a brief teardown and rebuild of its roster and that there is no chance they make the playoffs this season.
  • Toronto Blue Jays
    • The Blue Jays have been a major disappointment this season although not an entirely unexpected one.  They have the oldest offense in the American League and one of the oldest pitching staffs.  Two seasons ago and the years prior, Toronto could be counted on to have one of the best lineups in baseball.  Last season, their offense struggled but their pitching staff picked the team up. This season, however, neither has been very good.  Their offense is one of the worst in the league, outscoring only the Angels in runs per game. They are getting on-base decently but have a terrible batting average and have one of the lowest slugging percentages in the league.  The only Blue Jay who is actually hitting consistently well is Justin Smoak, who has 23 home runs and has driven in 55 runs at this point in the season.  Re-signing Jose Bautista has proven to be a really bad move and they should have re-signed Edwin Encarnacion if they were going to re-sign either of them.  Troy Tulowitzki has continued his regression from one of the best players in the team and even Josh Donaldson has struggled since returning from injury.
    • Toronto’s pitching staff has been better than their offense has been but not as good as it was last season and therefore not good enough to pick up the slack and keep Toronto competitive.  Their 4.39 staff ERA isn’t terrible but is still worse than the league average of 4.36. Much of this has to do with Marco Estrada and Francisco Lirano having really bad seasons in the rotation.  Unlucky for the Blue Jays is that both of these players are free agents after the season but have likely cost themselves much of a chance at earning big contracts this offseason.  It has also impacted Toronto’s chances at moving one or both of them at the deadline for high end prospects. They still have a solid pitching rotation moving forward so there is reason for optimism with Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez looking to be members of Toronto’s core in the future.
    • Toronto is at least in a better place than Baltimore at this point because they have marketable players who could be traded at the deadline.  In addition to Liriano and Estrada, Joe Smith, J.P. Howell, and Jose Bautista are all free agents after this season and could be moved.  I also think they there is a chance they look to move Josh Donaldson either at the deadline or over the offseason.  He has one more year of arbitration left before he becomes a free agent and will expect a big pay day and a team overpays him.  Toronto should take advantage of what he has done in recent seasons and move him for a franchise-changing package of prospects rather than letting him walk in free agency or overpaying him.  Toronto has yet to get above the .500 mark at any point in the season and I think are too far out to be considered a playoff contender this season.  I look for them to listen to offers on any of their players as the deadline approaches.

AL Central

  • Cleveland Indians
    • The Indians have finally gotten into first place in recent weeks after playing in an underwhelming fashion for much of the season.  At the time of writing this, the Indians have built up a 1.5 game lead over the Minnesota Twins in the division.  Both their lineup and pitching got out of the gate slow but their hitting has picked it up slightly and is a big reason for the team’s turnaround. They are an above average offense in the league in terms of runs per game, but are below average in the number of home runs they have hit as a team.  They have made up for this by hitting a lot of doubles and triples, helping to drive up their team slugging percentage.  A look at their lineup shows that they have just two players who have hit at least 15 home runs this season and no one who has driven in more than 50 runs.  They have big holes at catcher, a position they have struggled to get production out of in recent seasons, second base, and center field.  Perhaps most harmful is how big of a regression Francisco Lindor has experienced from last season to this year.  I think that he will eventually rebound and have a productive season by the end of the year, but they need him to be better.  They also can’t do much to address second base with Jason Kipnis locked down for at least the next two seasons.  I do think that they need to figure out someone better than Yan Gomes at catcher. He has a slashline of just .233/.320/.383 and just 5 home runs and 20 RBIs on the season.  He is a pretty good defensive catcher but with the lineup underperforming the way it has been, the Indians need more production out of the catcher position.  They do have prospect Francisco Mejia, who was ranked the 18th best prospect in baseball by BA in the midseason rankings, but he is at least another year away from being in the majors.  I think that they should consider acquiring Tyler Flowers from Atlanta.  Flower is having a very good offensive season and is the best pitch framer in the majors this season.  He may cost a bit to acquire, however, as the Braves love what he has been doing with their pitching staff.  I also look for them to possibly acquire an outfield bat on an expiring contract to help spell Bradley Zimmer, who is struggling in his first major league season.  I look for them to ask about Jose Bautista, Curtis Granderson, or Jay Bruce.
    • Cleveland’s pitching staff has picked up the team’s offense the entire season up to this point.  They have had the lowest ERA of American League teams and also the lowest FIP and WHIP. Corey Kluber is pitching like a Cy Young candidate again, Carlos Carrasco is pitching very well, and Mike Clevinger has made timely starts at the back end of the rotation.  Their bullpen has also been elite once again, with Andrew Miller having a sub-2.00 ERA once again in addition to what Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and Nick Goody have done.  I think that they will need to add a piece to their bullpen just to take some strain off their relievers, who have thrown a lot of innings already.  I also think that they will be in the market for a back end starter with how poorly Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer have pitched and with Danny Salazar on the DL. Jeremy Hellickson, Jaime Garcia, Scott Feldman, and Trevor Cahill are all pitchers that stick out to me.
    • Cleveland, from a talent standpoint, is one of the best teams in all of baseball.  They got all the way to game seven of the World Series before losing a heartbreaker to the Cubs last season.  I think that they were likely the favorite to win the AL Pennant again this season and were picked by many to win the World Series but have underperformed all season to this point.  I think that the team’s front office will do almost anything to acquire the talent necessary to make them a favorite in the postseason once again.  They still have a decent farm system with some talented prospects but it took a serious hit last season when they acquired Andrew Miller.  I think that if the right trade comes their way, the Indians will move one of their high end prospects, but likely aren’t looking to strip their farm system anymore than it already is.
  • Minnesota Twins
    • The Twins have been one of baseball’s most surprising teams this season considering many people, including me, picked them to be one of the worst teams in the league.  Their pitching rotation projected to be among the least talented in the majors and it was difficult to find where runs would come from in their lineup.  Their offense has performed as would be expected as they are below league average in nearly every offensive category, including the key ones of runs per game, home runs, batting average, and slugging percentage.  But that is okay because the Twins also have the youngest offense in the American league at just over 27 years of age.  That bodes well for the future of the Twins because they are already starting to see results from their young players while being able to expect further development from them.  Third baseman Miguel Sano is one of these players and has already eclipsed the 20 home run mark and has more than 60 RBIs.  Beyond Sano, however, the Twins’ lineup is weak.  They have no other batters who have hit more than 13 home runs and the second highest RBI producer is Brian Dozier with 40.  That is unsustainable and it is pretty unlikely that they will remain in playoff contention as the season progresses.
    • As young as the Twins offense is, their pitching staff is one of the oldest staffs in the American League at over 29 years of age.  They also have not been very good, especially in the starting rotation, apart from Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios.  Kyle Gibson, Hector Santiago, and Phil Hughes all have ERAs over 5.00 and they have contributed to the staff having an ERA of 4.80.  Getting good pitching from Berrios has been a great sign for the Twins as he figures to be their future ace and is having his breakout season. There is a good chance that at somepoint after the All-Star break they consider having him skip starts or simply shutting him down when he reaches an innings mark they have in mind.  He has never thrown more than 170 innings at any point in his professional career and I don’t think the Twins will want him throwing 200 innings this season.  Including the 39.2 innings he pitched in the minors to start the season, Berrios has already thrown over 110 innings.  Ervin Santana’s performance this season has been something of a surprise although 2017 marks two consecutive seasons with quality pitching from him.  He has an ERA of 2.99 but his FIP of 4.69 tells a slightly different story.  I do think that he has quite a high trade value and that there is a very good chance they consider moving him at the trade deadline.
    • The key for the Twins is that this season, in addition to last season, is a throwaway one.  They weren’t expected to compete much this year and are more focused on developing their prospects for the future.  They have one of the best farm systems in baseball with some of the best prospects, including Nick Gordon, their long-term answer at shortstop.  I think this season they should take advantage of good seasons from Ervin Santana and Brandon Kintzler and move them at the trade deadline.  Santana has one more year left on his deal and Kintzler is a free agent after this season and both could yield the Twins decent prospects from playoff-bound teams. I even think they should consider trading second Brian Dozier, who is under contract for next season before becoming a free agent. Dozier is having a bit of a down year compared to the previous three seasons, but is still one of the more productive second basemen in baseball.  He was linked to the Dodgers last offseason before they traded for Logan Forsythe and I think the Twins should have made the trade to acquire one or more of the Dodgers top prospects.  The problem is that I don’t know how many playoff teams are going to be in the market for a second baseman because most of them already have that position locked down.  They may be able to move him to St. Louis this season as the Cardinals certainly have a need at the position.  I think that would be a good trade for both teams and Dozier would fit in well with the Cards.
  • Kansas City Royals
    • The Royals offense is not producing well enough once again.  They have scored the third fewest runs per game in the league, have the fewest RBIs, have walked the fewest number of times, and have the lowest on-base percentage.  In other areas, they are still below league average.  In their lineup, only catcher Salvador Perez and third baseman Mike Moustakas are having productive seasons. Moustakas leads the team in home runs with 25 and Perez is the only other Royal with at least 15 of them.  Eric Hosmer continues to prove he is not an elite offensive first baseman, despite hitting for a high average, and has only driven in 40 runs on the season.  They are getting virtually no production off the bench with only six home runs hit from non-starters.
    • Somewhat surprising is how well the Royals pitching staff has been operating this season, getting good seasons out of unlikely sources. In their rotation, Jason Vargas has been the staff’s best pitcher with a 2.62 ERA and even his FIP of 3.80 is still pretty good.  Danny Duffy has also been quite good despite missing some starts due to injury and has posted a 3.51 ERA in 12 starts.  They do need Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy to pitch better if the Royals are going to be serious contenders to get back to the playoffs.  Their bullpen, which had been elite when the Royals won back-to-back AL Pennants, has been really bad this season. Closer Kelvin Herrera has struggled in the role and has given up seven home runs in 34 innings.  Mike Minor has found himself a nice role towards the back end of the Royals bullpen and has been about as much of a lockdown reliever as there is, with a 1.91 ERA in 42.1 innings.  Minor has been a great story to follow as he missed all of the 2015 season and pitched last season in the minors.  He has been a starter his entire career but injuries have forced him into the bullpen and he has found success there.
    • Through the first couple of months of the season, the Royals were playing horribly and looked destined to miss the playoffs for the second consecutive year.  On June 1 they were six games out of first place in the division and in the basement, behind even the White Sox.  It was nearly guaranteed that they were going to sell off all their impending free agents at the trade deadline and work to rebuild their farm system.  On July 9, however, the Royals are just three games back in the division and just a half game out of the Wild Card.  Now, instead of selling at the deadline, they could very well be buyers and allow their roster core to try for one more run at a World Series.  Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Alcides Escobar are all set to be free agents this offseason and were all key contributors to their AL Pennant-winning teams.  I think that the Royals front office will keep this group together and not want to break them up.  They will then determine if they are able to re-sign any of their free agents or just move on from them.
  • Chicago White Sox
    • The White Sox entered the 2017 season as one of the worst teams in all of baseball with virtually no chance at being a playoff team. That is perfectly fine, however, since the team isn’t actually aiming to make the playoffs right now.  Last offseason, they traded away Chris Sale and Adam Eaton in separate deals and acquired two of the top prospects in baseball in return.  Somehow, despite this teardown of the major league roster, they still aren’t as bad as many people would have expected them to be and are tied with the Detroit Tigers at the time of writing this.  Their offense hasn’t been all that bad, despite having the second youngest lineup in the American League.  They are just below league average in most categories except triples and batting average, where they are above average.  Their biggest weakness is in the power department and they have hit the third fewest home runs in the league.  A look at their lineup shows that the White Sox are in good shape.  The veterans that could have market value have all hit fairly well and their younger players have continued to develop and that doesn’t even include Yoan Moncada, their prized infield prospect, who is still in the minors.  Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera have both hit quite well and should have some trade value.  If the White Sox are able to move these two for prospects, it will help them to continue rebuilding their farm system and open up roster spots for young players to get playing time in the majors.
    • Similar to their offense, the White Sox pitching staff has also performed quite well and has helped to keep the team competitive. They are near league average in almost every category but it appears that their defense has much to do with keeping their ERA relatively average.  Their FIP shows that they are actually one of the worst staffs in the league at 4.75, shedding more light on the reality of the situation.  Their starting rotation doesn’t feature a pitcher with an ERA or FIP below 4.00 and only one pitcher, Jose Quintana, has thrown more than 100 innings.  Their bullpen has been much better and there could be numerous relievers that could be attractive to contenders at the trade deadline.  David Robertson, Anthony Swarzak, and Tommy Kahnle all have ERAs below 3.00 and their FIPs are quite comparable.
    • This season is working out quite well for the White Sox in regards to what they were attempting to do.  If you base their season’s success on their record, then they have failed, but if you base it on how likely they are to move expiring contracts, then it has been widely successful.  Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera could be on the move by the end of the month and although it looks to be a weak market for position players, Frazier and Cabrera play positions that could be in demand.  At third base, Frazier is all but guaranteed to draw attention from the Red Sox, who have a serious hole at the position.  I don’t know how much the White Sox will be able to get out of the trade but something is better than nothing in this situation.  I also think that there will be several teams looking to add to their outfield depth at the deadline and Cabrera could be moved fairly easily, assuming their asking price isn’t overly high. I also think that they could move several of their pitchers, especially Jose Quintana and David Robertson, both of whom have been mentioned in trade rumors over the past calendar year. Additionally, they may even be able to move James Shields, who hasn’t pitched horribly but the White Sox would have to retain some of his salary in order to move him.  If they are able to move some of these players for prospects, the team’s future could be even brighter than it already is.  They will also begin to open up roster spots for prospects including Yoan Moncada.
  • Detroit Tigers
    • Basically nothing has gone right for the Tigers so far this season. Their pitching staff has pretty much imploded, their offense is inconsistent and injury-prone, they have an expensive payroll, and they are quite an old roster.  In the lineup, they feature the American League’s third oldest group of hitters, at just below 30 years of age.  They also aren’t a group that is producing overly well, with below league average run production.  They do hit the ball well, walk fairly often, and strikeout relatively infrequently, but have problems with advancing baserunners and scoring them.  A big reason for this is how injured key members of their lineup have been in addition to the down seasons being had by Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Nick Castellanos, and Victor Martinez.  The Tigers have no regular batters with a batting average over .300 and their leading home run hitter, Justin Upton, has just 15 of them.  J.D. Martinez has hit well since returning from injury and has 14 home runs in 52 games but has driven in only 32 runs in total.  That is staggeringly poor run production from a lineup that consists of typically consistent MLB hitters and isn’t good enough to get Detroit back to the playoffs.
    • The Tigers could likely overcome their offense’s struggles if their pitching staff was picking up the slack but that hasn’t been the case. Instead, their pitchers have been even worse.  They give up the fourth most runs per game in the American League and has a staff ERA of 4.91, second highest in the league.  A big reason for this is the high walk rate and relatively low strikeout rate.  When you combine this with giving up the third most hits in the league, you have a really bad pitching staff.  In their starting rotation, only Michael Fulmer is having a good year with a 3.20 ERA in 16 starts. He and Justin Verlander are the only pitchers who have thrown more than 100 innings at this point, causing the team to rely on its bullpen more than it would like to.  Verlander has been particularly bad in comparison to expectations and has a 4.73 ERA and a 4.29 FIP.  Behind him in the rotation, Jordan Zimmermann has continued in his struggle to adapt to the American League and his 5 year, $110 million contract continues to look like a really bad deal for the Tigers.  In the bullpen, the team has been even worse with their closer role being a revolving door after Francisco Rodriguez failed to pitch even close to his career norms.  Everything that could have gone bad for Detroit’s pitching has gone wrong and is taking the team’s chances at winning a World Series with this roster core along with it.
    • Detroit has no other choice at this year’s trade deadline than to sell off any players with trade value.  J.D. Martinez and Alex Avila are both free agents after this season and could both potentially be moved.  The problem is that not a lot of playoff teams need a catcher and Martinez has really bad defensive metrics so not all teams will want to take that kind of risk.  They do have interesting players with term left on their deals whom I think they could move, especially if they are willing to retain some salary.  I think that Ian Kinsler (1 year remaining), Justin Verlander (3 years remaining), and Miguel Cabrera (6 years remaining) could all have some value but would take some work to make these trades happen.  One bright spot for the Tigers is that they have a significant amount of salary coming off the books the next two offseasons and it should help them become competitive again relatively quickly.  They do need to figure out a way to make their lineup more competitive and they actually need good pitchers who can battle in their rotation.

AL West

  • Houston Astros
    • In my opinion, the Astros are the best team in all of baseball with only the Dodgers being in the same tier..  They are first in the American League in nearly every offensive category – runs per game, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, strikeouts, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage – and by a wide margin in some cases.  Their offseason additions of Brian McCann, Josh Reddick, and Carlos Beltran have all contributed in big ways to give the Astros a very deep and balanced lineup.  Behind their regular starters are numerous depth batters such as Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Marisnick, both of whom can play multiple positions and have been key to giving players rest when needed.  I couldn’t discuss Houston’s offense if I didn’t mention their three best players – Carlos Correa, who is likely the front-runner for AL MVP, George Springer, who could also finish in the top five in voting, and Jose Altuve, who once again leads the league in batting average.  I don’t think that there is any position that needs to be addressed at the trade deadline.  They are too consistent, too deep, and too good to change anything about them at this point.
    • In addition to how well Houston’s offense has clicked so far, their pitching staff has pitched nearly as well.  They rank third in the league in runs per game and ERA, lead the league in strikeouts, and are second in FIP and WHIP.  They have been good in both the rotation and in the bullpen.  Their problem is that they have dealt with a lot of injuries to their starters with Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton, and Dallas Keuchel all missing time this season.  All three have pitched really well when healthy and Keuchel may have even been the favorite to win the AL Cy Young if he hadn’t missed starts. If they have a need in their rotation it is for a fifth starter to replace Joe Musgrove, who doesn’t appear ready to be a major league starter quite yet.  A veteran starter who could come in and simply eat innings would be extremely helpful because it would allow the Astros to manage Lance McCullers’ innings as the playoffs approach.  I do, however, think that Houston could be best served to go out and acquire an ace-like pitcher who can come in and create one of the best 1-4 rotations in all of baseball.  They have been rumored to be heavily in on Oakland’s Sonny Gray now that Gray has bounced back from his down season last year.  They could also inquire about Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole or the White Sox’s Jose Quintana.  It seems that Houston is interested in acquiring a starter with term left on his deal, largely with the goal of combating the potential of losing Dallas Keuchel to free agency in two years.  I am also pretty certain that the Astros will add an arm or two to the bullpen just to give some rest to their current relievers.  Their relief pitchers have been really good this season but they can’t be expected to continue pitching at this level all season long.
    • I think that if Houston can simply acquire a veteran innings’ eater starting pitcher, they stand a good chance at representing the AL in the World Series.  However, if they can add a Sonny Gray, Jose Quintana, or Gerrrit Cole, they will absolutely be the favorites in the American League.  That is because even if David Price finds his game once again, there isn’t another AL team that can compete with Houston’s rotation.  They certainly have the pieces necessary to acquire a big name starting pitcher because they still have one of the best farm systems in baseball with several of their prospects blocked from advancing to the majors.  I think that the only young players/prospects that are untouchable are Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Lance McCullers, and Joe Musgrove.  I think anyone else is pretty much open game and if the Pirates/White Sox/Athletics are looking to rebuild their farm systems, the Astros can make that happen.
  • Los Angeles Angels
    • The Angels have somehow managed to stay in the race for a Wild Card spot despite Mike Trout being out since the end of May.  Their lineup isn’t overly productive even with Trout in the lineup but especially bad without him.  Their leading home run hitter is still Trout with 16 and have just two other batters with more than 10 home runs.  Only Albert Pujols has at least 50 RBIs and Kole Calhoun is the only other player with at least 40 of them.  They just aren’t a productive lineup and have virtually no protection for Trout and Pujols.  This is shown in their AL rankings where they are last in runs per game, doubles, and slugging percentage.  Two areas where they succeed are in the run game, ranking first in stolen bases, and have struck out well below the league average.
    • If you are still confused as to how the Angels remain in playoff contention with such a bad offense like I am, a look at their pitching staff can shed some light.  They rank fourth in the league in runs per game and are just above average in many other categories. They have been able to win many of their games in slim fashion, barely outscoring their opponents.  I feel that a big reason for their pitching staff succeeding is due to their bullpen because they don’t have a starting pitcher with an ERA below 4.00.  A big reason for this is the absence of Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker from their rotation.  They have a good bullpen and have several relievers who have built up their trade value this season.
    • I think that the Angels will be an interesting team as the trade deadline approaches.  They are in contention for a Wild Card spot but aren’t truly a contender to win the AL Pennant.  Even when Trout returns from injury, the Angels still don’t have a good enough lineup to compete with those of Houston or Cleveland.  They would need a lot of help to become that type of true contender and they have a really bad farm system due to trades and poor drafting and developing.  I don’t think it would be smart trading what few valuable prospects they have for a small chance at getting into the Wild Card game.  Instead, I think they should look at trading players on expiring deals who have trade value such as position player Cameron Maybin, Yunel Escobar, and Danny Espinosa as well as relievers Bud Norris, Yusmeiro Petit, and David Hernandez. The Angels may have a difficult time moving their position players since there isn’t much of a market for them.  Maybin could be moved because teams often look for outfield depth at the trade deadline but they may struggle to trade Escobar and Espinosa. They shouldn’t have a difficult time at all moving any of their relievers because almost every potential playoff team has a need for additional relievers.  Finally, I think that if the front office wants to add a veteran starting pitcher that costs virtually nothing in prospects, it would be a good move for them.  I’m thinking someone like James Shields from the White Sox may work only because Chicago will be looking to rid themselves of him.  This means, however, that the White Sox would have to retain a portion of his salary for the rest of this season and next.
  • Texas Rangers
    • Virtually nothing has worked out well for the Rangers’ offense so far this season.  It started with Adrian Beltre missing the first two months of the season and taking awhile to heat up even after he returned to the field.  The rest of their lineup has also been relatively unproductive and is the epitome of the new plate approach of getting more of an uppercut on the ball with the goal of hitting home runs.  Joey Gallo, the Rangers’ leading home run hitter with 21, also has just 41 RBIs and a batting average of .194.  It doesn’t get any better throughout their lineup, as Mike Napoli also has a sub-.200 batting average, and only Elvis Andrus has one above .300.  They are getting virtually no production out of the catcher position, where neither Jonathan Lucroy nor Robinson Chirinos have hit well and Lucroy has even been bad defensively. Despite the Rangers ranking near the top of the league in runs per game and home runs, they have the third worst batting average. They simply don’t have good hitters outside of a select few and they will likely look to upgrade spots in the lineup.
    • Even if the Rangers’ offense wasn’t struggling like it is, their pitching staff hasn’t thrown well enough to make them a true threat in the playoff race.  As a staff, they are below league average in runs allowed per game, hits given up, walks allowed, strikeouts, FIP, and WHIP.  Two big reasons for this are their bullpen, where they have struggled to find a consistent closer, and the top of their rotation.  Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels have both pitched below expectations as Darvish has already given up 14 home runs and Hamels has only struck out 28 batters in 51.1 innings.  Both have to be much better from here on out if the Rangers have any hope at making the playoffs.
    • With as much as the Rangers have given up in recent years to acquire players, they have to continue going all-in on attempting to win a World Series with this roster group.  They still have a few decent prospects that they could use in a trade to acquire help, but won’t be able to compete in the same trade markets as the Astros or Red Sox.  The Rangers need pitching help desperately, both in the rotation and bullpen.  I think they could trade for someone like Marco Estrada, Alex Cobb, Jaime Gracia, or Johnny Cueto, all who figure to be free agents at season’s end.  They will likely only be able to trade for someone on an expiring deal unless they are willing to give up Nomar Mazara or Rougned Odor.  I don’t think that the season’s outlook is overly great for the Rangers and think they will have a difficult time making the playoffs.
  • Seattle Mariners
    • Apart from Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and Nelson Cruz, the Mariners have gotten very little run production out of their lineup. Ben Gamel has been a welcomed surprise for Seattle as he has a batting average over .300 in his first full season in the majors. In general, they need to simply be better because they currently rank just above league average in most offensive categories when should be near the top.  They desperately need more production out of their outfielders so I look for them to acquire help at the position as the trade deadline approaches.  I think that Jose Bautista could be really good for the Mariners because they need power and he can provide that.  It would give them a really bad defensive outfield but that may be what they have to deal with.  Bautista would also likely be really cheap to acquire.  I also think that the Mariners may have interest in Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, and Hunter Pence.  Pence does have a no-trade clause in his contract so he would have to waive it in order to be traded but his personality would fit so well in Seattle.
    • If the Mariners are just above average in offensive categories, they are generally just below average in pitching categories.  They give up an average of 4.83 runs per game and have actually given up the most home runs of any American League staff with 137.  This is evident by looking at the pitchers in their staff, where they have been dreadful both in the rotation and bullpen.  Only James Paxton has an ERA below 4.00 in the rotation as well as the only starter with a FIP below 4.50.  Staff ace Felix Hernandez missed all of May and most of June with a quad injury and hasn’t been his normal self so far, with a 4.44 ERA and 5.10 FIP on the season.  The Mariners are going to need him to pitch much better the rest of the season as well as Yovani Gallardo, who hasn’t been good at all.  They are also going to need better pitching out of the bullpen with no one stepping up to be a true shutdown reliever.  This has been especially problematic at the back end of the pen, where closer, Edwin Diaz, has just 13 saves on the season and just 16 as a staff. The front office all but guaranteed to address their struggles in both the starting rotation and bullpen.
    • After having as much payroll tied up into Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, and Kyle Seager, the Mariners have made it known that they are willing to do just about everything possible to win a World Series.  The problem is that they just aren’t that good and have almost no help coming from the farm system anytime soon, and especially not pitching prospects.  In the same vein, the Mariners also don’t have the pieces necessary to make a trade for one of the big pieces on the trade market but will rather have to settle for the secondary market.  Consider Trevor Cahill, Scott Feldman, Jaime Garcia, Jeremy Hellickson, and Mike Pelfrey as trade targets.  They absolutely have to address their pitching problems at the trade deadline and I think they will.  The Mariners have no chance at making the playoffs without a better pitching staff and even with one, they may still struggle.
  • Oakland Athletics
    • I don’t think I am the only person who has been confused by what the Athletics have been doing in recent seasons.  They gave up a haul several seasons ago to acquire Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzjia and have been reeling ever since.  They aren’t given the budget by ownership to spend big in free agency and have had a bad farm system the past couple of years.  This has led to a major league roster that is one of the least competitive ones in recent memory. They began this season fielding a lineup that was full of reclamation projects, boom-or-bust hitters, or just simply bad players.  They ended up adjusting their roster so that they are now starting as many young players as possible.  If they aren’t going to be competitive this season, they might as well give their young prospects as much playing time as possible.  This hasn’t equated to on-field success, however, and their offense ranks near the bottom of the league in nearly every category.  They are fourth worst in runs per game and RBIs, last in hits and batting average, and have the second most strikeouts.  They have managed to get a lot of extra base hits, ranking fourth in doubles and fifth in home runs.  A perfect example of a player that hits a lot of homers but also has a high strikeout rate is Khris Davis, who has 24 home runs and 60 RBIs while having also struck out 117 times.  They’ve gotten surprisingly good seasons out of Yonder Alonso, who had just 39 career home runs entering this season and already has 20 at the All-Star break, and 25 year old Ryon Healy, who is developing into a good, everyday batter for the Athletics.  I think that we will see Oakland sell of as many of their expiring contracts at the trade deadline as possible.  They are losing around $40 million in salary over the offseason and acquiring as many prospects as they can from expiring deals is smart.  Utility infielder Jed Lowrie and first baseman Yonder Alonso are both on expiring contracts and could be on the move as both have had pretty decent seasons.
    • Oakland’s pitching staff has been absolutely horrible this season and rank near the bottom of the league in nearly every statistical category.  One piece of good news is that the pitchers who they needed to pitch well for development or trade purposes have done so.  Sean Manaea, their 25 year old left-handed prospect, has taken over as the Athletics’ most consistent starter, leading the rotation in starts, ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts, ERA+, and FIP.  His ability to take a step forward this season is key to Oakland’s ability to be competitive in the future and will likely be their ace once Sonny Gray has been moved.  Speaking of Gray, he has had a very nice bounceback season, with a 4.00 ERA and a 3.58 FIP in 78.2 innings. However much his trade value was impacted last season with his poor pitching, it has likely rebounded this year and the A’s should have numerous teams lining up to acquire him.  The rest of their rotation has been decent but will get a boost in the next few seasons as a majority of their top prospects are starting pitchers and should make for an impactful rotation in the future if Oakland decides to keep them all.  In their bullpen, the Athletics have not been very good.  They have several relievers who they have tried using and have ERAs over 6.00.  The good news is that the relief pitchers who they could move at the deadline are having pretty good seasons.  Ryan Madson, Santiago Casilla, and Sean Doolittle could all be moved as they are all having pretty good seasons and are actually under contract for next year as well.  I think that if the team decides to move these three that they will get several nice pieces in return.
    • It appears as though Oakland may finally be turning their franchise around after several down seasons.  They are incredibly non-competitive at the major league level but have a lot of good prospects who are developing nicely.  They especially have impactful pitching prospects such as A.J. Puk, Grant Holmes, and Frankie Montas.  What they need are some impactful hitting prospects.  They already have shortstop Franklin Barreto in AAA and he should get a September call-up and will likely start next season in the majors.  They also used both first round picks in this year’s draft on hitters, a multi-position player and an outfielder.  I think they focus on acquiring prospects with solid hit tools in any trades they make at the deadline.  If they are able to flip some of their expiring contracts for prospects, it will accelerate their rebuilding plan.

NL East

  • Washington Nationals
    • The Nationals are pretty much the National League equivalent of the Houston Astros this season.  Their offense ranks first in the league in runs per game, hits, doubles, RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage and rank in the top five in home runs, stolen bases, and walks. They have the deepest lineup in the National League and that includes the loss of Adam Eaton for the season and Trea Turner likely to miss an extended period of time after being hit in the hand with a pitch at the end of June.  First baseman Ryan Zimmerman is having the best season of his career at age 32 with a .330/.373/.596 slashline, 19 home runs, and 63 RBIs.  Second baseman Daniel Murphy is building off his MVP runner-up season in 2016 with an equally-impressive year by batting .342 with 14 home runs and 64 RBIs and leads the league in doubles with 29.  Finally, we have to get to Bryce Harper, who started the season off looking like the Harper who won the MVP Award in 2015 but has cooled of a bit.  He still has a slashline of .325/.431/.590 with 20 home runs and 65 RBIs and is back to being one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball.  As long as he continues to have protection around him in the lineup and provides protection for other hitters, Harper and the Nationals are going to continue pacing the league in batting.  They have no real needs that have to be addressed on the offensive side of things and can be patient in waiting for Turner to return.
    • On the pitching side of the game, the Nationals have, in my opinion, the best starting rotation in the majors.  Ace Max Scherzer is likely to win a second consecutive Cy Young Award this season, Stephen Strasburg has continued to be one of the most electric pitchers in the game with a 3.43 ERA and 3.13 FIP in 112.2 innings, and Gio Gonzalez has bounced back from one of the worst seasons of his career to one of his best.  They do have problems at the back end of the rotation, where both Tanner Roark and Joe Ross have struggled, but in almost any playoff series, the Nationals would have the upper hand with their 1-3 starters.  Where they have struggled quite badly is in the bullpen as they still have yet to find a competent closer and have already blown 14 saves as a team this season.  They have tried at least three different pitchers in the closer role with their most recent attempt being signing Francisco Rodriguez to a minor league deal.  It is the worst kept secret in baseball that the Nationals are going to acquire a consistent closer at the trade deadline.  David Robertson of the White Sox seems to be the most likely candidate for the team to acquire.  I also think that they may trade for a depth starting pitcher such as Marco EstradaJaime Garcia, Scott Feldman, or Trevor Cahill make some sense.
    • This may be the best opportunity the Nationals will have during the Bryce Harper era to win a World Series.  The Cubs are having a down year, the Nationals are still able to runaway with the division before the Braves finish their rebuild, and they still have a solid farm system from which to trade. They also only have Harper under contract for one more season before he is set to become a free agent and the Nationals are going to want to take advantage of that as much as possible.  I don’t think there is any end to which the front office won’t go to set them up the best way possible for the postseason.
  • Atlanta Braves
    • The Braves’ major league success is of very little importance to the franchise. They have gone all-in on a teardown and rebuild and have built up one of the best farm systems in baseball with a lot of pitching depth.  Shortstop Dansby Swanson has graduated from the minors to the major league club this season and is performing adequately, although not stellar.  Their veterans, and especially those who they have traded for in the past calendar year, have all hit quite well.  Second baseman Brandon Phillips has hit 19 doubles with a .280/.326/.411 slashline and Matt Adams has hit 13 home runs and driven in 35 RBIs in 44 games with the team.  That doesn’t even include Matt Kemp, who has continued to revitalize his career with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs to go along with a .293 batting average. Finally, there are the players who aren’t prospects but are also pieces of the team’s future – Freddie Freeman and Ender Inciarte. Prior to Freeman going on the DL after taking a pitch on the hand he looked to be a candidate for NL MVP and has continued to hit well since returning.  Inciarte earned his first All-Star nod by batting over .300 and has 112 hits already on the season.  The Braves’ offense is the only thing keeping them in the hunt for the playoffs, yet I don’t think there is any chance that they can add enough to make them true contenders.  I think it is pretty clear that the Braves should trade their veterans with the goal of adding to their already impressive prospect depth.  I think that both Phillips and Adams could have trade value and the only question will be whether or not the Braves can find a landing spot for either of them.  I could see the Yankees having interest in Adams because they have a hole at first base/DH and his left-handed swing would play well in Yankee Stadium but they may struggle to move Phillips, who is a veteran second baseman.
    • If the Braves’ hitters are keeping them in contention for a Wild Card spot, their pitchers are pushing them further from it.  Their starting rotation has been absolutely abysmal thus far and that is even with veterans in it to help their young starters continue to develop.  Out of their regular starters, only Mike Foltynewicz has an ERA below 4.00.  I think that when the Braves front office signed veterans R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon and traded for Jaime Garcia, there was a goal of trading them for assets at the trade deadline.  At this moment, Colon has been designated for assignment and is in the minors, Dickey has a FIP above 5.00 and another year on his deal, leaving only Garcia out of the three with a real chance of being moved.  In their bullpen, it’s a slightly different story.  Jim Johnson has been consistently good in the closer role with 19 saves and a 2.42 FIP and has one year left on his deal.  The Braves have also gotten good pitching out of Jason Motte and Sam Freeman, two pitchers who I think the team would consider trading.  Motte is a free agent at the end of the season and Freeman has three years of arbitration left before reaching free agency.  All three have enough trade value and there are enough playoff-bound teams in need of relief arms that all of them should be dealt at the deadline.
    • It appears that the Braves’ rebuild is slightly ahead of schedule as they are already seeing results at the major league level and are on the bubble of being a Wild Card team.  With their roster where it currently is, I don’t think they have any chance making the playoffs and it would require quite a lot in talent to get them to the status of being a strong contender.  Instead, I think they should sell off whatever players then can get value out of.  Brandon Phillips and Kurt Suzuki are both on expiring deals and could be moved for fringe prospects, while Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis could be moved if the Braves agree to retain some salary.  They also have Matt Adams, who doesn’t really have a role for the team moving forward despite being cost controllable, and would be better served playing in the American League, as well as catcher Tyler Flowers, who would be valuable to teams but I doubt that Atlanta would consider moving him.  As far as pitchers are concerned, the Braves are likely open to moving any relief pitcher a team wants, plus veteran starters are likely available.  It has been rumored that they could be open to moving Julio Teheran for the right price, and if that trade comes along, it should be considered by the Braves. With four years left on his deal with a modest salary, it would cost several top prospects from another team.  I look for Atlanta to be starting a lot of young players before season’s end and move forward in their rebuild.
  • Miami Marlins
    • The Marlins are in a really difficult situation, largely the result of Jose Fernandez’s tragic passing last fall.  He was the Marlins’ ace, their best overall player, and one of the most exciting and dominating players in all of baseball. When he passed, the chances of the Marlins competing for a World Series in the near future went with him.  The reason for that is because he was their pitching staff essentially.  Sure they had starters that slotted in the rotation behind him, but his absence forced everyone to move up in their roles and pitch above what their talent levels are.  Miami’s offense had already developed into one of the better lineups in the majors and that has continued this season.  They may not hit a lot of home runs or other extra base hits, but they do hit the ball well and get on-base at a solid clip.  Justin Bour, Marcell Ozuna, and Giancarlo Stanton all have hit at least 20 home runs but no other Marlin has more than 10.  Stanton has perhaps finally shown that he can be more than a slugger, which he is still, but now he is more well-rounded. Ozuna is having a breakout season, with 23 home runs, 70 RBIs, and a .316 batting average.  Their issue is that they have very little lineup depth and lack production out of third base and shortstop.  They have already made a trade that sent shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria to Tampa Bay for two fringe prospects. That seems to be the plan the Marlins front office may carry out as the trade deadline approaches and Ozuna’s name has been mentioned in trade rumors linking him to the Cardinals.  The problem I see with trading a player of that caliber is that the team is for sale and moving any players with marketability will therefore lower the value of the team and make it more difficult to sell.
    • The Marlins’ pitching staff, and their starting rotation specifically, have performed as well as would be expected in their first season without Jose Fernandez.  They have a staff ERA of 4.93 and their rotation only has two starters with ones under 4.00, Dan Straily and Jose Urena, the latter who has spent part of the season in the bullpen. Beyond those two, Edinson Volquez has a 4.19 ERA, Tom Koehler an 8.00, Jeff Locke an 8.16, and Adam Conley  a 7.53.  They have been really bad. The staff as a whole has walked the most batters and has struck out the fifth fewest in the league.  Their bullpen has been much better with a majority of their relievers having ERAs below 4.00.  I have to imagine that at least a few of them will be moved at the deadline since bullpen arms are traditionally the most sought-after trade targets.  Dustin McGowan, David Phelps, and AJ Ramos could all be on the move in a few weeks.
    • If Jose Fernandez were still alive, I actually think that the Marlins would be competing for a Wild Card spot this season.  However, following the loss of him, Miami is essentially back at square one with their pitching staff.  They have a very poor farm system and are basically starting over with building a strong one.  I don’t think that there is any other path for the team’s front office to take than to trade any players not definitively in their future core for high end prospects.  Trading Marcell Ozuna is likely the first piece to be moved and could be the start to rebuilding their farm system.  This franchise is likely at least two seasons away from truly competing for the playoffs unless the new ownership group that comes in is willing to spend some serious money, both on free agents and in the international market.
  • New York Mets
    • Basically nothing has gone right for the Mets this season despite there being high expectations placed on the team after making the playoffs two consecutive seasons.  Their offense actually hasn’t been too bad despite having the oldest lineup in the National League at almost 30 years old.  They rank above league average in runs per game, doubles, RBIs, walks, strikeouts, slugging percentage, and second in home runs.  The problem is that they are a very slow team, don’t run the bases well, and have stolen the fewest bases in the league.  They do have several hitters (Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto) who are having good seasons but the Mets are getting no production out of third base or first base.  Their lineup has also been injury-riddled with Yoenis Cespedes missing a chunk of time and David Wright has missed the entire season far.  The Mets’ season is basically a loss at this point as they are 10.5 games out of the Wild Card and the Nationals are running away with the division.  They are going to have to sell off any expiring contracts they have, of which they have several with trade value.  Outfielders Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce could both be attractive to teams looking for left-handed bats with power.  Lucas Duda is available but is a really bad hitter and likely won’t be moved.  On the bright side of things for the Mets, outfield prospect Michael Conforto has finally gotten regular playing time in the majors and is excelling, even making the All-Star team.  Another piece of good news is that they have shortstop prospect Ahmed Rosario in AAA and he is one of the best prospects in baseball and will likely get a September call-up.
    • If there is one specific reason why the Mets are completely out of playoff contention, it is their pitching staff.  Starters Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Robert Gsellman, and Steven Matz have all missed starts this season, leaving their rotation in shambles. Even when Harvey has been able to make starts, he has been really bad with a 5.25 ERA and a FIP that is nearly a full run worse. It is at the point now with Harvey’s struggles on the field and his off-field problems, that the Mets may even non-tender him this offseason and not bring him back next season.  However, they have to hope he can come back and pitch even at league average and squeeze some trade value out of him.  The Mets have gotten good pitching from Jacob deGrom once again but he can’t lead this rotation himself.  Without Syndergaard, their rotation is much weaker and suddenly the Mets’ excellent rotation that looked so promising just two years ago is now full of questions.  I think that if Syndergaard is unable to come back before mid-August, the Mets might as well shut him down for the full season and just let his arm rest.  In the bullpen, the Mets haven’t been much, if at all, better.  The only good thing is that they should be able to move one or two of their relievers at the deadline for prospects – Addison Reed and Jerry Blevins.
    • As I mentioned above, nothing has gone right for the Mets this season.  They should have been competitive with the Nationals for the division championship instead of being near the basement. They have to be as big of sellers as possible on the trade market as the deadline approaches in order to work towards being successful next season.  I also think that they need to make some decisions on their starting rotation.  It seems like a foregone conclusion that Matt Harvey won’t be back next season, having given them more headache than production in recent seasons.  With quite a lot of salary coming off the books this offseason, the Mets could be buyers on the free agent market for a starting pitcher.  I also think that they will have to make a decision on Terry Collins’ future as their manager.  He is in the final year of his contract and has been questioned a lot in regards to his on-field decision making but it wouldn’t make any sense for the front office to fire him at this point.  The Mets are going to want to figure out their roster pretty quickly because the Nationals aren’t going anywhere in the division and the Braves should only continue getting better, and that doesn’t even include other National League teams.
  • Philadelphia Phillies
    • The Phillies are a really bad team, easily one of the worst in baseball, which is a problem, because they shouldn’t be at this point in their rebuild.  Their offense has been near the bottom of the league in almost every offensive category, with triples being the only category where they are at or above league average.  They don’t do anything well; they don’t get on-base often enough, they don’t steal enough, and they don’t drive in runs enough.They have four players with at least 10 home runs but only one with 15 or more, Tommy Joseph with exactly 15 of them.  They also don’t have any players with 50 RBIs and there leader is Maikel Franco with 45. Their struggles wouldn’t be such a problem if the batting order was filled with veterans who don’t matter to the Phillies’ future success, but it isn’t.  They have just one regular batter, Howie Kendrick, who is at least 30 years old and all the rest are between 24 and 28. Many of the hitters who they were looking to rely upon when their rebuild was completed an most of them have regressed significantly.  Third baseman, Maikel Franco should be relied upon to be their big threat in the middle of the order but he can’t get on-base and is almost guaranteed to be an out when he is up.  His slashline is .217/.274/.384 with just 13 home runs and has a BABIP of .215.  The issue I see is that his metrics haven’t changed and doesn’t have an elevated fly ball rate and isn’t pulling the ball more than normal.  He’s just having a really bad season.  Center fielder Odubel Herrera has also regressed with a .256/.292/.393 slashline and is having the worst season of his young career.  The Phillies are going to need their young players, both those in the majors already and those in the minors, to perform better.  Even top prospect J.P. Crawford has seen his development stagnate and is struggling very badly in AAA.  I don’t even see them having many options in the lineup to offer at the trade deadline with only Howie Kendrick as a valuable on an expiring deal.  He has hit quite well in 33 games this season but has dealt with injuries throughout the season, is currently on the DL, and may not be able to be moved at the deadline.
    • Although I would argue that the Phillies’ struggles on offense is a surprise, I am not shocked at all by their issues in the pitching staff. They lost veteran Clay Buchholz at the very beginning of the season and will likely miss the entire year, which set the season off on a bad note.  Jeremy Hellickson, who accepted the team’s qualifying offer last offseason has been much worse than last season, and Jerad Eickhoff as regressed quite a bit from last season.  This events have led to the staff having a 4.63 ERA and being worse than league average in most categories.  One big issue is that as a staff they have given up the second most home runs in the league and have struck out the second fewest batters.  Two bright areas are that Aaron Nola has bounced back from his down season last year and that their bullpen has been decent.  In their pitching staff, they should have several quality pitchers who can be moved at the deadline. Jeremy Hellickson may still be able to be traded but they won’t get much in return, and relievers Pat Neshek, Luis Garcia, and Joaquin Benoit will all draw interest.
    • The Phillies have to make a decision if they are going to continue pursuing their path of a rebuild.  They should be more towards where the Braves are right now than where they currently are and that’s concerning.  They need to see more development from their young players and for their prospects to continue progressing towards the majors.  A good thing is that they will have a ton of money to spend this offseason so they can probably sign enough free agents to make them at least competitive next season.

NL Central

  • Milwaukee Brewers
    • The Brewers are the National League’s version of the Twins in that they are also one of the most pleasantly surprising teams in the majors.  For most of the season, I didn’t take the Brewers seriously and was just waiting for the Cubs to get their act together and then the division would be locked down.  The Brewers have one of the most electric lineups in the league, despite also being one of the youngest.  They rank in the top five in runs per game, doubles, RBIs, and slugging percentage.  That doesn’t even include being first in home runs and tied for first in stolen bases.  They are also, however, last in the league in strikeouts.  Somehow this balance of hitting many home runs, stealing a lot of bases, while also striking out at an alarming rate has led to success for them and they have consistently led the division by several games.  Eric Thames has hit pretty well in his first season back in North America after playing in South Korea for three seasons.  He started out the season as the hottest hitter in baseball but has since cooled off considerably. They have also gotten the best version of Travis Shaw that he has ever shown.  The Brewers acquired him from Boston for reliever Tyler Thornburg, which is ironic because the Red Sox could desperately use a third baseman like Shaw.  They have also gotten very good seasons out of Orlando Arcia in his second season in the big leagues and from Domingo Santana.  I’m not certain how heavy the Brewers will be in on the trade market at the deadline but, even if they are, I don’t think they can add much to their offense.  They have no real weaknesses in the lineup and just need their batters to continue to hit well.
    • Milwaukee’s pitching has been throwing the ball consistently well during the season.  Although they have a younger than average pitching staff, they have the fourth lowest ERA (4.08) in the league and their FIP is just a third of a run higher (4.37).  Their starting rotation has been really good with Jimmy Nelson developing into the staff ace with a 3.30 ERA and Chase Anderson having a 2.89 ERA in 16 starts.  Even veteran Matt Garza has thrown the ball wall to the tune of a 3.98 ERA in 72.1 innings.  Their bullpen has been every bit as good as their rotation has with Corey Knebel seizing the reins as the team’s closer and Jared Hughes carving out a nice role for himself after being released by the Pirates earlier in the season.  I think that if the Brewers want to be true contenders this season, they are going to need help in the pitching staff.  Their rotation doesn’t have enough depth to it and recent reports have stated that they are scouting Sonny Gray, Gerrit Cole, and Jose Quintana.  I think it would be smart for the Brewers to acquire a starter with term left on his deal because they don’t have the budget to sign a front line starter in free agency.  They also have the prospects necessary to make any trade possible.
    • I am very surprised by how well the Brewers have played this season and am buying into them finally.  They continue to hold a lead in the NL Central and have even extended their lead over the Cubs in recent weeks.  They likely won’t have this easy of a path to the playoffs again anytime soon and should take advantage of it. Trading a couple of higher level prospects for an ace starting pitcher would be smart because it would help them this season and in the future.  The key thing to keep in mind about the Brewers is that they have one of the best farm systems in baseball and should continue to focus on the future when their prospects graduate to the majors.
  • Chicago Cubs
    • The Cubs have struggled more this season than I think anyone would have predicted.  Their offense is essentially the same as last season apart from Dexter Fowler and David Ross, but they have regressed by quite a bit compared to 2016.  They are in the bottom half of the league in nearly every offensive category and aren’t playing Joe Maddon style of baseball.  In their lineup, they don’t have any players with at least a .400 on-base percentage, although Kris Bryant is at .399, and no .300 hitters.  Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez are all playing worse than they did in 2016 and Kyle Schwarber was even sent down to the minors for a couple of weeks after batting sub-.200 so far this season.  The only batter who is having a good season after last year is Anthony Rizzo, who leads the team in home runs and RBIs.  It does appear that Jason Heyward has regained his ability to hit the ball consistently and although his batting average is just .254, it is still better than the .230 average he had last season.  There doesn’t seem to be many areas for the offense to be upgraded except for left field, if they want to sit Schwarber more often.  They simply just need their batters to play up to their skill levels and the Cubs will be right back in the mix for the division lead.
    • As a unit, the Cubs’ pitching staff hasn’t been that bad but this is mostly due to their bullpen picking up the shortcomings of their starting rotation.  Their bullpen has just one regular reliever with an ERA above 4.00 and the majority of them are at or below 3.00. Wade Davis has come back from injuries to re-establish himself as one of the most dominant closers in the game and Koji Uehara continues to pitch well even at 42 years of age.  Beyond those two, their bullpen is made up of just solid arms who can be relied upon to shutdown games.  Their biggest issue is in the rotation, where only Eddie Butler has an ERA below 4.00 and he has only made 11 starts.  The Brett Anderson experiment has worked and he is currently on the DL and Jake Arrieta has continued his downward slide from the Cy Young Award winner he was in 2015.  John Lackey no longer appears to be that reliable veteran starter and has already given up 24 home runs on the season.  Kyle Hendricks has regressed to something closer to his actually abilities and has a 4.09 ERA and Jon Lester, typically one of the most consistent pitchers in the game, has struggled at times.  The Cubs need to find at least one impact arm for the rotation at the trade deadline if they have any chance at running down the Brewers and making the playoffs. They also have to consider next season and beyond as Arrieta, Lackey, and Anderson are all free agents this offseason and none are likely to be back.  To me, that means that the Cubs will be in the market for one of the starters with term left on his deal – Sonny Gray, Jose Quintana, Gerrit Cole.  I wrote in my trade deadline primer that it would be smart for the Cubs to inquire about Arizona’s Zack Greinke because he is pitching so well this season and is under contract through the 2021 and would help take the strain off the team from having to replace their three starters.  The Cubs also have the prospects necessary to make this deal a reality and certainly have the budget to take on such a big contract.  If they aren’t interested in trading for Greinke or decide to wait until the offseason, then they are all but certain to trade for a cheaper pitcher such as Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, or Marco Estrada. I also think that it would make some sense for them to inquire about San Francisco’s Matt Moore.
    • I still think that the Cubs are going to end up winning the division, which is likely their only course to making the playoffs.  They are currently 5.5 games behind the Brewers for the division lead, which is certainly achievable but only if Milwaukee has a post All-Star break collapse or the Cubs start playing up to their abilities.  This roster is one of the most talented in all of baseball but needs help in the starting rotation if they want a chance at repeating as World Series champs.
  • St. Louis Cardinals
    • The Cardinals’ offense has been very underwhelming so far this season and has had a lot of difficulty scoring runs.  They are just below league average in all scoring categories but have managed to hit a lot of doubles and have walked well.  Their lineup lacks anyone with any sort of pop and Dexter Fowler and Matt Carpenter are tied for the team lead in home runs with 14.  That is a problem considering Fowler is a lead off hitter and hasn’t been doing that well this season.  Their leader is RBIs is Jedd Gyorko with just 45 of them and that isn’t enough to drive a playoff-bound offense.  They are getting no production out of second base or shortstop and their outfield situation is a mess.  They are going to need help in at least one of these areas at the deadline if they have a hope of making the playoffs this season.  I actually think it would be smarter for them to maintain their roster this season and add a big piece to their offense in the offseason, such as Miami’s Marcell Ozuna.  I also think it would be smart of them to inquire about a solid hitting second baseman such as Brian Dozier or Ian Kinsler.
    • The Cardinals’ pitching staff has been the main reason that the team is still in the race for the division.  Their starting rotation has been really good apart from Adam Wainwright and that even includes the loss of Alex Reyes at the start of the season to injury. Carlos Martinez, Mike Leake, and Lance Lynn all have ERAs below 3.75 and Michael Wacha has one at 4.10.  As mentioned above, Wainwright is the outlier with a 5.20 ERA.  Their ERAs don’t tell the entire story, however, as all but Lynn have FIPs below 4.00 and his is 5.19.  Their bullpen hasn’t been as good as the rotation, with Trevor Rosenthal struggling quite a bit and Kevin Siegrist has an ERA of nearly 5.00.  Even closer Seung-hwan Oh, who was so dynamic and electric last system, hasn’t been nearly as consistent this season.  As a staff, the Cardinals are a top five group in the National League in nearly every category and they should be as good next year.  They could lose Lynn in the rotation but should be able to replace him fairly easily, either through free agency or from the farm system.
    • This season appears to be a loss at this point for the Cardinals. That doesn’t mean that they need to sell of players at the deadline or go into a downward spiral.  Instead, I think they need to maintain their roster and add to it through trades and free agency.  They need help in the lineup and should go out and finally get a quality offensive outfielder as well as a second baseman.  I also think that there will be a lot of people questioning the job status of manager Mike Matheny.  He has struggled at in-game management since becoming their manager in 2012 and this season the Cardinals have regressed in areas they are typically good in, including baserunning.  They lead the National League in outs recorded on the bases, which includes outs while attempting to advance on a fly ball, being doubled off on a line drive, or thrown out while attempting to advance on a wild pitch, but doesn’t include stolen base attempts or pick offs.  This means that they are struggling in the most basic areas of baseball and, to me, that comes back on the manager.
  • Pittsburgh Pirates
    • Entering the 2017 season, there didn’t appear to be a lot of hope for the Pirates with how good the Cubs looked.  It seemed that this season was going to be a down year as they were likely to trade Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole but be better for it in the long run with their highly ranked farm system.  Their season outlook only got worse after Starling Marte tested positive for a banned substance and was suspended for half the season.  He is a key piece to their offense and generally their best all-around hitter.  So it is surprising that the Pirates still sort of find themselves in contention for the division despite having a losing record.  Their offense has really struggled this season, especially at hitting for power and converting baserunners into runs.  They do hit a lot of triples, however, walk often, and have struck out the fewest times in the league, yet still sit near the basement in batting average.  A big reason for this is their abysmal .279 BABIP, a metric that usually self-regulates but hasn’t bounced back to near league average (.299) yet.  This likely means that their lineup is filled with hitters with poor approaches at the plate.  They put the ball in play very well but have fairly high fly ball rates and if the fly balls aren’t line drives, it is better to hit ground balls.  The Pirates are also below average in converting fly balls into home runs with only Josh Bell and McCutchen above league average.  I find it alarming how few unproductive their lineup is and that includes McCutchen bouncing back from last season.  I think that there is a very good chance he will be dealt at the trade deadline but it could very well wait until the offseason for him to be moved.
    • Despite having the second youngest staff in the National League, the Pirates once again have one of the best staffs in baseball.  They are above league average in most categories and give up relatively few home runs, rarely issue walks, but don’t strikeout batters near enough.  Their starting rotation isn’t performing as well as would be expected as Gerrit Cole is still seeming to refuse to accept the role of staff ace, while Ivan Nova has been their best pitcher.  There are numerous reasons for fans to be optimistic as Jameson Taillon is pitching well and Tyler Glasnow is throwing well in AAA after struggling in the majors.  I also think that Cole will be moved either by the deadline or over the offseason and the Pirates should be able to get a nice return for him.  In their bullpen, they have capitalized on the trade they made with Washington last season, acquiring Felipe Rivero for Mark Melancon, and Rivero has pitched much better than Melancon this season.  Rivero has also worked himself into the closer role because of how poorly Tony Watson was in that role earlier in the season.  The Pirates should be able to move Watson at the deadline and perhaps get a return similar to the one they got for a Melancon.
    • Although this season isn’t what the front office or fans would like it to be, it should work out well in the long run.  They should be able to move McCutchen, Cole, and Watson either this season or in the offseason, helping to strengthen their farm system.  Additionally, trading McCutchen will open a spot for highly ranked prospect Austin Meadows, if they think he is ready to play in the majors this season.  They still have solid pitching prospects that should develop into quality starters and with the potential issues facing the Cubs moving forward, the Pirates could be right back in the mix for the division title in 2018 and 2019.
  • Cincinnati Reds
    • Although the Reds are in the middle of a rebuild and aren’t as far along in theirs as the Braves, Phillies, and Twins are in theirs, the Reds are playing a lot better in 2017 than most people likely would have projected.  Their front office has put together a solid lineup that already features pieces for their future when the rebuild is complete.  As an offense, the Reds rank in the top half of the National League in every category except doubles and walks.  Two big reasons for this have been Joey Votto, one of just two players in baseball with more extra base hits than strikeouts, and Zack Cozart, who is having his best season in the majors and was an All-Star. The Reds also have Adam Duvall, who is their premier power hitter, but is still batting .278 on the season and Scott Schleber, who has also hit 22 home runs.  The Reds have a pretty balanced lineup with quality bats at nearly every position.  I think that if they wanted to further their teardown, they could easily have the best farm system in baseball.  Their front office will have to at somepoint, if they haven’t already, make a decision on their hitters who are in their mid-20’s and aren’t prospects but also aren’t veterans.  These include Eugenio Suarez, Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton, and Scott Schebler.  I think that it is a guarantee that they move Cozart at the deadline because he is a free agent this offseason and the Reds are unlikely to re-sign him.  The only question I have is whether they can find a trade partner for him.  Most of the playoff-contending teams have their shortstop position locked down except for maybe Washington depending on Trea Turner’s injury situation.
    • If the Reds’ offense has been surprising this season, their starting rotation has not been.  As a staff, the argument could be made that they are the worst in baseball, but that is not because of their bullpen, where nearly every reliever has pitched well and has built up trade value.  Instead, in their rotation, nearly everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.  They have had pitchers go on the DL due to bad injuries, they have had to send down prospects who aren’t ready for the majors, and they’ve had just poor pitching. Their only starter who is even close to league average is Scott Feldman and he still has a 3.94 ERA in 18 starts.  They have plenty of good pitching prospects in the minors but I’m uncertain if it would even make sense to call them up with how poor the team is playing.  I do think that the Reds could be in a place of power at the deadline if they are willing to trade some of their bullpen arms. Raisel Iglesias, Blake Wood, and Drew Storen could all be moved and would likely yield the team a good return.
    • Cincinnati is on a good path as far as their rebuild is concerned.  To not be in the basement of the league this early in their plan is something to be praised.  I really like their lineup and think that there are enough good pieces to build around in the future.  They are going to have to figure out their pitching staff but with their farm system, they should be able to put together a good rotation when they are ready to compete.

NL West

  • Los Angeles Dodgers
    • If the Nationals have the best rotation in the National League, the Dodgers have the best lineup in my opinion.  What had the potential to be their shortfall this season has become their strength and even their platoon-heavy order hasn’t become a hindrance. Reigning NL Rookie of the Year, Corey Seager, is having a strong follow up season with a .298/.395/.502 slashline and Justin Turner is hitting an outrageous .377.  Even the loss of Adrian Gonzalez, which typically would have been problematic for them, isn’t a big deal as Cody Bellinger received his call up early in the season and is crushing the ball and running away with NL Rookie of the Year in the process.  He has been so good that the return of Gonzalez actually hurts the Dodgers.  They have even gotten good production from Yasiel Puig, hoping to overcome the struggles of Joc Pederson. They have no real holes in their lineup but would likely make the move for a productive outfielder if the deal cam along.  I think perhaps they could have interest in Detroit’s J.D. Martinez or even Ryan Braun if he is made available by Milwaukee.
    • The Dodgers’ pitching staff is a half run per game better than the next closes staff and this has been the result of great pitching in both the rotation and bullpen.  With an ERA of 3.15 and a FIP of just 3.46, the Dodgers lead the league in both categories as well as walks issues and strikeouts.  A big reason for this is their bullpen which features Kenley Jansen and his insane 28.5 K/BB ratio.  Also in the pen are Pedro Baez and Josh Fields with their respective ERAs of 1.43 and 2.93.  When the Dodgers have a lead entering the eighth inning the game is all but over and that doesn’t even include how difficult it is to score against them throughout the early innings. Clayton Kershaw is back to dominating despite having already given up 18 home runs, the most he has ever issued in a season. His 14-2 record and 2.18 ERA across 132.1 innings means that he will likely be a finalist for NL Cy Young once again.  Behind him in the rotation is Alex Wood, who most likely wasn’t even supposed be a starter this season but has a 1.67 ERA in 13 stars and has a 10-0 record.  The rest of their rotation is pretty good as well even with Rich Hill’s lingering blister issue appearing occasionally.  There is certainly a chance that the Dodgers will trade for a starter to help in case of injury but if they don’t, they should still run away with the division.
    • It appears as though it may finally be the time for the Dodgers to take the next step with this roster group.  Having a quality lineup that can hit both righties and lefties means that they aren’t as likely to be shutdown by a Jon Lester come playoff time.  They also have one of the best rotations in baseball and the best pitching staff overall.  There are very little areas for improvement on this roster and they should be one of the favorites to reach the World Series from the National League.
  • Arizona Diamondbacks
    • The Diamondbacks have rebounded very nicely from a particularly difficult stretch for the franchise in which they traded away Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte, and Touki Toussant to the Braves in separate trades.  Their former front office regime then signed pitcher Zack Greinke to the most lucrative contract in franchise history and essentially handcuffed their team for the duration of the deal as long as their remains where it has.  Despite all of those moves, the Diamondbacks still find themselves pretty firmly in the playoff race with a two game lead over the second Wild Card team. Their lineup has been pretty good and scores just over five runs a game on average, thanks in large part to Paul Goldschmidt, who is having an MVP-caliber season once again.  Jake Lamb is also hitting the ball well for the second straight season and was chosen as an All-Star this year as a result.  The problem I see is that neither A.J. Pollock nor David Peralta are hitting much and if something happens to Goldschmidt, the Diamondbacks are in a lot of trouble. They have enough holes that need to be addressed but hardly any prospects from which to trade.
    • The most surprising part of the Diamondbacks is their pitching staff which ranks second only to the Dodgers in the NL in most scoring categories.  Staff ace Zack Greinke has bounced back from his down 2016 season and could be a Cy Young candidate at season’s end with a 2.86 ERA in 18 starts.  They also have Robbie Ray and Zack Godley in their rotation and both have sub-3.00 ERAs and have been key contributors to the staff.  I believe that the Diamondbacks are the only team in baseball with three starters who have thrown more than 100 innings each, which is key for them as it takes a lot of strain off their bullpen, which has been okay.
    • I think that the Diamondbacks will end up staying put at the trade deadline simply because they don’t have many prospects of any real trade value.  Their farm system was stripped by the previous regime and trading what few prospects they do have for playoff rentals would be a step in the wrong direction for the franchise. I wrote in my trade deadline preview that I think they should consider trading Zack Greinke this offseason simply to free up the salary unless ownership gives the front office a sizable budget increase. The good news for the Diamondbacks is that their roster should remain largely intact over the offseason as most of their key players are either under contract for several seasons or are only in their arbitration years.
  • Colorado Rockies
    • The Rockies basically went all-in on 2017 when they signed Ian Desmond in free agency last offseason despite not having a position for him to play.  Despite Desmond’s struggles to stay healthy, the Rockies have one of the best offenses in baseball, which shouldn’t be surprising.  What is surprising, however, is that they are doing it with basically no production out of Carlos Gonzalez, nothing out of the catcher position, and Trevor Story regressing.  They are getting an MVP-like performance out of Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon has found a power swing never tapped into before, and Mark Reynolds is hitting a lot of home runs as usual but he’s doing it with a solid batting average for once.  What is also surprising is that the Rockies have been winning away from Coors Field and find ways to win at home besides out-slugging their opponents.  It is also shocking that they may need help in the lineup at the deadline instead of just the pitching staff, something that didn’t seem like it would ever be possible.
    • It is always difficult to judge Rockies’ pitching staffs because they play half their games at Coors Field, a stadium that always plays up bats.  So the fact that their staff, the youngest in the NL, is also above average in runs allowed per game, is pretty spectacular. It has been largely a joint effort by both the rotation and bullpen, especially as their starters are all younger than 30 years of age. I wrote in my preseason piece about the Rockies that there has appeared to be a change in mindset in their starters in that they don’t have to try and be perfect in their home starts.  Instead, they just need to focus on beating the opposing pitcher and realize that the park affects both pitchers the same.  I think that ultimately their pitching will still be their Achilles’ Heel until they develop more but they at least have a competitive rotation for the first time in several years.  They do need to add an arm or two to the bullpen to add to the stellar seasons had by Greg Holland and Jake McGee and they should also acquire a veteran starter such as Ervin Santana or a ground ball pitcher.
    • At the time of writing this, the Rockies have a seven and a half game lead in the Wild Card and should be able to maintain that lead as the season progresses.  Being able to beat up on the Padres and Giants should help with that and if they are able to add a starter, they will be a tough out in the Wild Card game.
  • San Diego Padres
    • The fact that the Padres are five games above the Giants for the division basement is more of a product of how poorly the Giants are playing as opposed to how well San Diego is.  The Padres have the least talented roster in baseball and easily the worst lineup, with Wil Myers being the only player casual fans could identify. But this is the path that the front office set forth after the spending splurge a couple of seasons ago failed.  They have already built their farm system back up pretty well and that will only get better as they had high draft picks and accumulate prospects in trades. 2017 is about the Padres playing young prospects and seeing how they develop, both in the minors and at the major league level and that is beginning to happen.  Hunter Renfroe has hit well, Manuel Margot is getting accustomed to big league pitching, and Myers is their best player.  The Padres don’t even have any batters who have trade value and they would be willing to part with, but that’s not surprising considering they have a payroll of just over $41 million and just over $8 million committed for next season.
    • If there is one surprise for this team it is how their pitching staff has pitched above its abilities considering the Padres put out one of the least talented rotations in recent memory.  Trevor Cahill, Jhoulys Chacin, and Clayton Richard have all thrown well enough to garner trade attention and are possible candidates to be moved at the deadline.  In the bullpen, they also haven’t been bad and I think anyone except for Jose Torres is open to be traded.  This probably working out better than expected because I feel that the Padres entered this season with the hopes of being able to trade players but if they were unable to, it’d still be okay.
    • Similar to the Braves, Twins, White Sox, Reds, and Brewers, the Padres’ 2017 season was of little meaning to the franchise.  The fact that they aren’t in the basement of the NL West is surprising and also actually a hindrance to their rebuild.  They need to continue to accumulate top picks in order to convert them into future big leaguers.  They are already on a good path with a solid farm system and that should only get better.  Perhaps in five or six seasons, the Padres could have a roster similar to that of the Astros, as long as they scout well and hit on picks.
  • San Francisco Giants
    • Entering 2017, the Giants were at least one of the favorites to win the NL West and to make the playoffs.  Some even probably picked them win the NL Pennant after they signed Mark Melancon last offseason to cure their closer problems of last year.  Instead of those expectations coming to fruition, the Giants are in the basement of the division and five games behind the Padres.  A big reason for this is that they have had a truly unproductive lineup this season, despite being the second oldest in the league.  They are scoring under four runs per game on average, which is just not enough to consistently win games.  A big reason for their scoring shortfalls is that they are last in the league in home runs with 75, which is 12 behind Pittsburgh, who has the second lowest total. They are also below average in both batting average and on-base percentage and last in the league in slugging percentage.  In their lineup, they have just two players with at least 10 home runs and their leader, Brandon Belt, has just 16 of them.  Although Buster Posey is having another elite year, the Giants don’t have anyone who can be counted on for a timely home run when they need it. Hunter Pence has regressed this season and is hitting just .252 with six home runs and 35 RBIs.  It seems as though everyone in their lineup, with the exception of Posey, has taken a step back this season and they don’t have the lineup depth to overcome such a slide.  The Giants have just Eduardo Nunez with trade value and who is a free agent at the end of the season.  The problem is that he is injured and hasn’t hit well when he has been healthy.  They could also see if they could trade Pence but he has a full no-trade clause and is pricey, but if the Giants were to retain some salary, perhaps they could get some prospects for him.  They should be open to trading just about anyone in the lineup except for Posey and Brandon Crawford, which I think they are, but they don’t really have anyone else with much chance of being traded.
    • Pretty much the same issue that is occurring with their lineup is happening in the Giants’ pitching staff.  They have allowed just over five runs per game this season, a full run more than they have scored, and have a staff ERA of 4.68.  One of their biggest problems is that they aren’t striking out enough batters and rank near the bottom in the National League.  A reason for this is the absence of Madison Bumgarner, who is likely to miss the rest of the season with how poorly the team is playing.  That has left the Giants’ rotation in shambles and none of their starters has an ERA below 4.50.  Jeff Samardzija is having another really bad season and even Johnny Cueto has struggled.  In their bullpen, Mark Melancon has not been the answer to their problems but, instead, has been one of the worst closers in baseball this season.  The Giants don’t even have many options of pitchers to move at the deadline as Cueto is likely to opt-out of his contract after this season, Samardzija has too many years and too much money left on his deal, Matt Moore is struggling too much this season, and there is no way they will move Bumgarner, and they shouldn’t.  That leaves only low level relief as being able to move and that won’t yield the Giants much in return.
    • This season is completely out of reach for the team this season and will now switch their focus to 2018 and beyond.  They have a lot of holes to fill but already have a very expensive payroll and a poor farm system.  They should get some salary relief if Cueto opts-out but not much and they need to address their starting rotation and give more punch to their lineup.

*All stats and information came from mlb.com, baseball-reference.com, spotrac.com, fangraphs.com, espn.com, and rosterresource.com.

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