Table Setter: Christian Yelich Surges for Brewers; Big Week for Astros Awaits

Beyond the excitement of the trade deadline, this week in baseball brings important AL East and AL West showdowns and a World Series rematch.
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Manny Machado, Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ and many of this summer’s other most-discussed trade targets have found new homes, but the trade deadline will likely still dominate the headlines to begin this week. After that, we turn the calendar to August, the time when it no longer feels silly to pay daily attention to the standings. Let’s get these final couple days of July started with the Table Setter.

Hitters to Watch This Week

Christian Yelich, Brewers

Yelich has been on a tear the last two weeks, going 28 for 54 with four homers, seven doubles and 15 RBI in his last 13 games. He has at least one hit in all of those games, and has 11 multi-hit games in that span, including all of his last six. Yelich is now hitting .318/.384/.527 with 15 homers, 21 doubles and 57 RBI in his first season with the Brewers.

Rhys Hoskins, 1B/OF, Phillies

Hoskins has been on a power binge to start the second half, going 13 for 41 with seven homers and 14 RBI since the All-Star break. He had an eight-game hitting streak snapped on Sunday, but remains one of the hottest hitters in the league heading into a big two-game series for the Phillies in Boston. Hoskins is hitting .260/.368/.509 with 21 homers and 70 RBI on the season.

Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Orioles

Schoop may not be in Baltimore much longer, and he’s doing everything he can to hit his way onto a contender leading up to the trade deadline. Schoop is on a 12-game hitting streak, during which he has gone 19 for 55 with seven homers and 16 RBI. He has suffered through a mostly dreadful season, and the hot streak has him up to just .244/.273/.447. The power is for real, though, and he now has 17 bombs for the season. He’s young enough to be a piece for the next contending team in Baltimore, but he’ll be one of the most-discussed players over the next couple days.

José Ramírez, 2B/3B, Indians

Jim Thome was inducted into the Hall of Fame over the weekend after spending 20 years as one of the league’s most-feared sluggers. Ramírez isn’t what anyone would call a slugger, but he’s trying to do something the Indians haven’t seen since Thome was in his heyday. With one homer on Monday or Tuesday, Ramírez will be the first Cleveland hitter with 31 or more homers by August 1 since Thome did it in 2001. The Indians kick off this week with a three-game series against the Twins, who will send Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson to the mound in the first two games. Ramírez is 11 for 24 with zero homers against Santana, and 7 for 24 with one homer against Gibson.

Juan Soto, OF, Nationals

The 19-year-old Soto is one of the few bright spots for a Nationals squad that is increasingly looking like it will be one of the most underachieving teams in recent memory. Soto, however, has exceeded the immense hype, hitting .310/.418/.567 with 13 homers, 13 doubles and 36 RBI in 249 plate appearances. He’s been hot since the All-Star break, going 12 for 34 with four homers and eight RBI in 40 plate appearances.


Pitchers to Watch This Week

Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees

Tanaka has been excellent in his last two turns, his second and third starts since returning from the DL. He tossed his third career shutout in his last trip to the mound, blanking the Rays while allowing just three hits and striking out nine. If Tanaka can be a healthy, reliable No. 2 to Luis Severino, the Yankees will have a real chance to overtake the Red Sox and avoid playing in the wild-card game. He’s scheduled for two starts this week, taking on the Orioles on Tuesday and Red Sox on Sunday.

Cole Hamels, Cubs

The Cubs acquired Hamels from the Rangers last Friday for three players, including current major leaguer Eddie Butler. The 34-year-old Hamels isn’t having his best season, pitching to a 4.72 ERA, 5.20 FIP and 1.37 WHIP in 114 1/3 innings. He was victimized by his former home park, however. Hamels had a 6.41 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in 59 innings in Arlington this year, allowing 16 homers. In 10 road starts covering 55 1/3 innings, he had a 2.93 ERA and 1.23 WHIP, with seven homers allowed. Hamels will make his Cubs debut Wednesday against the Pirates.

Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks

Greinke has been lights-out in his last three starts, allowing two runs on 12 hits with 26 strikeouts against one walk in 22 2/3 innings. He has won all three of those starts, and has won seven consecutive decisions dating back to the middle of June. He’s putting together his best season since joining the Diamondbacks in 2016, amassing a 2.96 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 1.05 WHIP and 143 strikeouts in 136 2/3 innings. He’s scheduled to make his next start Thursday against the Giants.

Luis Castillo, Reds

Things are finally starting to click for Castillo, who entered this season as a breakout candidate but has spent all of it with an ERA north of 5.00. He put a bow on his month of July over the weekend, tossing seven shutout innings with nine strikeouts in a win over the Phillies. Castillo made five starts in July, pitching to a 2.25 ERA and 1.04 WHIP with 25 strikeouts against four walks in 28 innings. He lowered his ERA to 4.98 with his outing against the Phillies, the first time all year it has been below 5.00. He’ll next take the ball sometime in Cincinnati’s weekend series with the Nationals.

Carlos Rodon, White Sox

Like Castillo, Rodon just tied up an impressive July, during which he totaled a 1.88 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 27 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings covering four starts. The 25-year-old has been beset by injury for much of his career, but he’s finally showing what he can do when he stays healthy. He has made nine starts this season and has a 3.24 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings. The White Sox could make some trades that would shuffle their rotation, but Rodon should next take the mound over the weekend in Tampa.

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Matchups to Watch This Week

Astros at Mariners, Monday through Wednesday

Yeah, the Yankees and Red Sox get together this weekend, and that’s realistically the biggest series of the week. They’ve received the series-to-watch treatment earlier this month, though, and as significant as the AL East race is, the AL West needs some attention, too. The Astros enter this week four games ahead of the Mariners, and six games clear of the A’s. They can put some real breathing room between themselves and the rest of the division with the three-gamer in Seattle. The Astros will send Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel to the mound, while the Mariners counter with James Paxton, Mike Leake and Wade LeBlanc.

Yankees at Red Sox, Thursday through Sunday

The Yankees have the second-best record and third-best run differential in the league, but without a strong finish to the season, they could go out of the playoffs in one game. They’re 5 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East, and are already staring down the frightening potential of being a 100-win team that has to play in the wild-card game. Every game they play with the Red Sox is a big one, and they’ll get four cracks at reducing their deficit this weekend. Matchups could change since this is a weekend series, but the Yankees are scheduled to go with, in order, CC Sabathia, Luis Severino, J.A. Happ and Masahiro Tanaka. The Red Sox will oppose them with Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi and David Price.

Astros at Dodgers, Friday through Sunday

After the three-game series in Seattle, the Astros will head south for a three-game weekend set with the Dodgers in Los Angeles. This will be the first time the two teams see one another since last year’s World Series. The Astros just suffered their first sweep of the season, at the hands of the hapless Rangers, no less, and will have to get through those three big games in Seattle before this. The Dodgers, meanwhile, start this week half a game in front of the Diamondbacks and are coming off a weekend during which they took three of four from the Braves. They, too, begin the week with a tough series, hosting the Brewers for four games. The Astros are slated to throw Justin Verlander, Lance McCullers and Gerrit Cole, while the Dodgers will likely go with Alex Wood, Ross Stripling and Kenta Maeda.