- Where will Manny Machado be playing in August? What unlikely team could end up in the World Series? Our staff has your answers.
This story appears in the July 16, 2018, issue of Sports Illustrated. For more great storytelling and in-depth analysis, subscribe to the magazine — and get up to 94% off the cover price. Click here for more.
We're more than halfway through the 2018 season, which means the trade deadline is creeping nearer and playoff contenders will be established. The SI staff weighs in on some of the bigger questions facing Major League Baseball in the second half of 2018.
What unlikely team could make the World Series?
Emma Baccellieri: Given how favored they were entering the season, it might seem strange to label the Cubs "unlikely." But if going essentially the entire first half without ever getting a hold on first place in the division doesn't make a team unlikely, what does? The Cubs are better than their first-half record showed, with the best offense in the National League, and it shouldn't be surprising to see them go all the way.
Ben Reiter: The San Francisco Giants. A potential darkhorse is hard to find in this season of superteams (Astros, Red Sox, Yankees) and talented upstarts (Braves, Phillies). But the Giants are 1.5 games out of a Wild Card spot with a rotation of Madison Bumgarner and four guys you’ve barely heard of. What happens if Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija are healthy for the stretch run?
Jack Dickey: I'm not sure it's so unlikely anymore, but the Brewers have turned into the kind of team that could plow deep into October. With their three-headed bullpen monster (Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel, and the lethal Josh Hader) they have the defining asset of recent Royals and Indians pennant-winners. They probably need another starter, though.
Jon Tayler: If the Braves can add a starter and a reliever to bolster their rotation and bullpen, then they have a real shot at surviving the postseason gauntlet. That offense is legitimate, and Washington’s slide in the NL East standings has bought Atlanta some breathing room—assuming it can hold off equally surprising Philadelphia.
What team will Manny Machado play for on August 1?
Emma Baccellieri: The Dodgers. It almost makes too much sense not to happen, with the hole created at shortstop by Corey Seager's injury. The Dodgers don't have much space available to make new acquisitions while still staying under the luxury tax threshold, but they do have just enough to take on Machado.
Ben Reiter: The Golden State Warriors. If that somehow falls through, the Philadelphia Phillies' shortstops have a .630 OPS, third-worst in the majors. But did have the Orioles held on to Machado too long to get multiple top prospects for just three months of his services?
Jack Dickey: I'm afraid it'll be Baltimore. While any contender in theory could use Machado, the pool of potential acquirers is realistically limited to those with holes at shortstop or third—the Phillies, Brewers, Diamondbacks and possibly the Dodgers. Of those teams, only Arizona has enough riding on 2018 to surrender the super-package the Orioles will likely want. But if the Diamondbacks are negotiating against themselves, what reason will they have to meet Baltimore's asking price?
Jon Tayler: The Phillies need help in a few different places, but the left side of the infield should be a priority. Maikel Franco simply isn’t cutting it at third base, and at shortstop, top prospect J.P. Crawford has been ineffective and hurt. Machado would solve either problem, and Philadelphia has the prospect capital to make a deal work. Plus, adding Machado now would give the team the inside track on signing him this winter.
What contender has the biggest trade deadline need?
Emma Baccellieri: Cleveland's bullpen has been a disaster all year, after Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith departed in free agency over the winter and weren't replaced. The result? They've regularly ranked among the worst in baseball in just about every relief metric this season. Cleveland has been lucky to get as far as they have with a bullpen this weak, and they likely won't be able to go much further without shoring it up.
Ben Reiter: The Cleveland Indians. A bullpen with a 5.17 ERA will be enough to win an etiolated AL Central, but will probably ensure an ALDS exit, especially now that Andrew Miller likely can’t pitch two innings every night. The Indians badly need relief, with the Padres’ southpaw Brad Hand probably topping their list, as well as everybody else’s. Hand—who is 28, and under club control through 2021—will require at least one of the tight-fisted Tribe’s top prospects, catcher Francisco Mejia and starter Triston McKenzie, and possibly both.
Jack Dickey: Cleveland badly needs relievers, but the Brewers' need for another starter or two is the most glaring of any around the league. If Jhoulys Chacin pitches a Game 1 or 2 in the NLCS, it's hard to imagine the series lasting all that long.
Jon Tayler: Before the season, most looked at the Brewers’ rotation—headed by the uninspiring Chase Anderson and featuring such mediocrities as Jhoulys Chacin and Wade Miley—and felt it needed more. Fast-forward to July, and that sentiment still holds. Chacin has been surprisingly strong, and Milwaukee has gotten boosts from Junior Guerra and rookie Freddy Peralta. But it’s still an uneven and thin starting five—one that would benefit greatly from adding another above-average arm. There are few if any aces on the trade market this summer, but even someone like veteran Blue Jays lefty J.A. Happ would go a long way toward stabilizing the rotation for a pennant run.
Which Awards Race Is the Closest?
Emma Baccellieri: The AL Cy Young. A month or so into the season, Justin Verlander was a clear frontrunner here—but that's since changed, with an outstanding string of performances from Luis Severino. The 24-year-old is throwing harder than ever, and he's made scoring on him nearly impossible. The conversation also has to include Chris Sale, who's on track for the best season of his career, and Corey Kluber, who's been almost as dominant as he was when he won the award last year. There hasn't been too much differentiation between these guys' numbers, and their second-half performance could determine everything here.
Ben Reiter: AL Cy Young. Justin Verlander seemed a lock—and Kate Upton certain of saving her hilarious, R-rated tweets in defense of her hubby for another year—until a couple of weeks ago. But two straight rough starts caused Verlander’s ERA to skyrocket (albeit to the low altitude of 2.12) and allowed six other legit contenders—Luis Severino, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole, and perhaps Blake Snell – to make a race of it again. Have at it, Kate.
Jack Dickey: Give me the AL Cy Young race. A month ago Justin Verlander had practically engraved his name on the trophy. But the Astros righty (who still sports a 2.12 ERA) turned human again in June, opening the field to Luis Severino, Chris Sale, and Corey Kluber. Each of the four represents a distinct career phase—Severino is 24, Sale is 29, Kluber is 32, and Verlander is 35—but they're all likely to pitch this October.
Jon Tayler: The AL Cy Young race is loaded and tight. Luis Severino, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Houston’s fearsome duo of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Aces all, and each a viable candidate to take home this year’s trophy. To them, you can add dark-horse contenders like Trevor Bauer (second in the AL in Fangraphs WAR), James Paxton and Jose Berrios. The Junior Circuit doesn’t lack for top-flight starters this season.