The All-Star break is in the rear-view mirror, the non-waiver trade deadline is just ahead, and every team in baseball will have played more than 100 games when this week ends. The beginning of MLB’s home stretch is starting to come into sight.
A handful of contenders will look different next week than they do right now, which makes the big series of the week all the more important. The first Table Setter of the unofficial second half is here.
Hitters to Watch This Week
José Ramírez, 2B/3B, Indians
For the first time all season, we have someone atop the WAR leaderboards, both Fangraphs’s and Baseball-Reference’s, who isn’t Mike Trout. Ramírez edged ahead of Trout last week, while becoming the first player to reach 30 homers this season.
He’s also the No. 1 fantasy player in standard 5x5 leagues, and is the best bet to be the first player to break baseball’s 30-30 drought this season (though Trout, Mookie Betts and Javier Baez are all likely to join him). No player has had a 30-homer, 30-steal season since Trout and Ryan Braun did in 2012. After finishing third in AL MVP voting last year, Ramirez has a real chance to win it this season.
Matt Carpenter, 1B/2B/3B, Cardinals
The Cubs finally kept Carpenter in the yard on Sunday, which felt like a win in its own right. Carpenter had homered in six straight games before snapping his streak on Sunday. He still surpassed the franchise record of five set by Mark McGwire. Carpenter is now hitting .277/.386/.589 with 25 homers and 53 RBI this season.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies
After sharing the NL home run crown in 2015 and 2016, Arenado came up short last year. There’s nothing wrong with a 37-homer, 130-RBI season, but he’s got the NL crown firmly in his sights again. He leads the senior circuit with 25 jacks after notching his second multi-homer game of the season on Friday.
Arenado is tracking toward the best season of his already excellent career, hitting .310/.394/.592 with 21 doubles and 72 RBI to go along with his 25 homers. The Rockies spend this entire week at home, where Arenado is hitting .370/.447/.694 with 14 of his bombs this season.
Justin Upton, OF, Angels
Upton is riding a five-game hitting streak, during which he has gone 6-for-16 with a pair of homers, four walks and five RBI. He’s enjoying a quietly productive season, slashing .253/.349/.449 with 20 homers and 56 RBI. It has been another disappointing year for the Angels. Upton, however, has held up his end of the bargain as a consistent power bat in the middle of the order.
Manny Machado, SS, Dodgers
Machado starred in his first series with the Dodgers, going 5-for-13 with a double, two walks and an RBI in a three-game set against the Brewers. Machado hit second in all three games with three different players—Max Muncy, Matt Kemp and Justin Turner—hitting in the three-hole behind him. That suggests that Machado will stick in the second slot in the order, even if Turner is forced to the DL after leaving Sunday’s win with tightness in his groin. Machado is hitting .317/.390/.571 with 24 homers and 66 RBI this season.
Pitchers to Watch This Week
The AL Cy Young race is the best award battle in recent memory. Seven pitchers are in position to win the award with a strong final two months, and even the one who finishes with the “worst” season of the group would have cruised to the award in some previous years. With apologies to Blake Snell and Trevor Bauer, we run down the top-five candidates below.
Chris Sale, SP, Red Sox
It’s impossible to imagine a scenario in which Sale doesn’t win the award in his career, which is part of the reason he’s the favorite to emerge from this pack. The larger part is that he’s having an incredible season, posting a 2.13 ERA, 2.11 FIP, 0.87 WHIP and 197 strikeouts in 135 innings.
He was great in his first start of the second half, shutting out the Tigers for six innings while allowing just two hits and striking out nine. Sale will take the ball once this week, facing the Twins on Friday.
Justin Verlander, SP, Astros
Verlander is continuing his career renaissance in Houston, pitching to a 2.19 ERA, 2.75 FIP and 0.84 WHIP with 183 strikeouts in 143 2/3 innings. He failed to notch a quality start in his last outing before the break, surrendering five runs in six innings against the Tigers, though he did fan 12 batters. Before that, the last time he didn’t put up a quality start this season was way back on April 3, his second start of the year. Verlander’s lone start of the week is scheduled for Saturday against the Rangers.
Luis Severino, SP, Yankees
Severino is following up his 2017 breakout season with another monster campaign, amassing a 14-2 record, 2.31 ERA, 2.74 FIP, 1.01 WHIP and 144 strikeouts in 128 1/3 innings in the first half. If the Cy Young voters still value win-loss record as much as they have in the past, Severino enters the second half with a leg up on his competition. He’ll start twice this week, facing the Rays on Monday and Royals on Saturday.
Gerrit Cole, SP, Astros
Cole raced out of the gates in his first season with the Astros, striking out 36 batters in his first three starts. He has slowed down just a bit since then, but went into the All-Star break with a 2.52 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 0.98 WHIP and 177 strikeouts in 128 1/3 innings. Cole’s running fourth or fifth in this crowded race, but still has plenty of time to get back to the top of the heap. He’ll make his first start of the second half Tuesday with the Astros in Colorado to take on the Rockies.
Corey Kluber, SP, Indians
Kluber is no stranger to this race. He has won the award twice, including last year when he beat out Sale and Severino. Kluber is doing his thing again this season, putting up a 2.76 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 0.91 WHIP and 132 strikeouts in 133 2/3 innings in the first half. The strikeout total is lower than we’re used to seeing from Kluber, but clearly that isn’t hindering his performance.
He’s dealing with an issue in his right knee that forced him to get an injection, but he isn’t expected to miss any time. In fact, he’s scheduled for two starts this week, beginning with a matchup against the Pirates on Monday, He’ll also take the ball Sunday in the series finale in Detroit.
Matchups to Watch This Week
Dodgers at Phillies, Monday through Wednesday
This is a challenging week for the Dodgers, a seven-game tour through the top of the AL East. It starts on Monday in Philadelphia, where they’ll kick off a three-game set with the Phillies. Both teams won two of three in their first series of the second half, and enter this week as first-place teams in their respective divisions. The Phillies will get an up-close-and-personal view of what could have been in this series when they deal with Manny Machado, whom they were reportedly close to acquiring last week. The Dodgers will throw Ross Stripling, Kenta Maeda and Walker Buehler in this series, while the Phillies counter with Zach Eflin, Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta.
Diamondbacks at Cubs, Monday through Thursday
The Diamondbacks dropped the first two games of their weekend series with the Rockies before salvaging the finale on Sunday. They start this week with a tough assignment, heading to Chicago for a four-game series with the Cubs. The Cubs have been one of the hottest teams in baseball this month, going 15-5 in their last 20 games. They’ve opened up a 3 1/2-game lead on the Brewers in the NL Central, while the Diamondbacks have fallen 1 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the West.
The scheduled pitching matchups are Patrick Corbin and Luke Farrell on Monday, Clay Buchholz and Kyle Hendricks on Tuesday, Robbie Ray and Jon Lester on Wednesday, and Zack Godley and Mike Montgomery on Thursday.
Astros at Rockies, Tuesday and Wednesday
The Rockies had their seven-game winning streak snapped on Sunday, but they’re back into the thick of things in both the NL West and Wild Card races. They wrap up July with a tough stretch, however, that starts with a quick two-gamer against the Astros. The defending World Series Champions bring a 66-36 record into this week, and now sit five games ahead of the Mariners in the AL West. They’ll send Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton to the mound, a couple of pitchers who have spent the balance of their careers in the NL and have plenty of experience with Coors Field. The Rockies will go with Tyler Anderson and Jon Gray.
Dodgers at Braves, Thursday through Sunday
After wrapping the three-game series in Philadelphia, the Dodgers head south to stage a four-gamer with the Braves. Atlanta split a pair of games with the Nationals over the weekend, with middle game of the series rained out. The Braves barely trail the Phillies in the NL East, so they’ll start the week as big fans of the Dodgers before hosting them over the weekend.
Max Fried, Anibal Sanchez, Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb are slated to take the mound for the home team. The Dodgers are on schedule to throw Rich Hill, Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood and Ross Stripling in the series.
A’s at Rockies, Friday through Sunday
The Rockies tough week wraps with a three-game series against the surging A’s, who are now just a few games behind the Mariners for the second Wild Card spot in the AL. The A’s took two of three from the Giants to open the second half, and have now won 17 of their last 22 games.
Billy Beane should be active in the trade market over the next week with starting pitching on the shopping list. If they can add one middle-of-the-rotation or better arm, they’ll put themselves in even better position to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2014, where they dropped the Wild Card Game to the Royals. Sean Manaea will face German Marquez on Friday, Brett Anderson and Kyle Freeland will take the bump on Satruday, and Frankie Montas and Antonio Senzatela will face off in the finale on Sunday.