- How has Rougned Odor turned his season around? And just how good is Khris Davis. Those are just two of the several topics addressed in our weekly preview.
Forget about the fact that it’s August 6 and all the AL divisions are essentially spoken for, with at least one of the league’s wild card spots locked up, as well. Take a look at what’s happening in the National League. No division leader has a cushion greater than 1.5 games. Two teams are within 2.5 games of the second wild card spot, while three more are within five games. You have to go back to the NL of 2010 to find the last time either league was as up for grabs in all three divisions and the wild card this late in the season. Don’t worry about the lack of intrigue in the AL. The NL has got enough for both leagues.
Hitters to Watch This Week
Khris Davis, A’s
Davis is on an absolute tear over the last two weeks, hitting .302/.371/.830 with nine homers and 21 RBI in 62 plate appearances. The A’s have overtaken the Mariners for the second wild card spot in the AL, leading their division mates by 2.5 games. They’re doing it behind one of the league’s best offenses, and Davis is right at the center of it all. When he was on the DL at the end of May, the team went 3-6 and averaged 1.67 runs per game. With him hitting cleanup, they’re scoring 5.02 runs per game. Davis is hitting .253/.329/.542 with 30 homers and 85 RBI on the season.
Rougned Odor, Rangers
Odor entered the second half hitting .239/.319/.378. He’s now hitting .272/.352/.472 just three weeks after the All-Star Break. Odor has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball in the second half, going 24-for-60 with seven homers, five doubles and 16 RBI. In three short weeks, he went from having a terrible season to a good one, based on what the back of his baseball card now looks like. It’s an incredible run, and illustrates just how quickly a player can turn a season around, even this deep into the year.
Christian Yelich, Brewers
Yelich has hit has way into MVP contention, slashing .326/.387/.542 with 17 homers, 25 doubles and 59 RBI this season. He had a 15-game hitting streak broken last week, but has hits in all four games since then. Over his last 20 games, he’s 40-for-84 with six homers, 11 doubles, two triples and 17 RBI.
Bryce Harper, Nationals
Harper has five multi-hit games in his last six contests, going 10-for-26 with a homer, five doubles, six RBI and four walks against one strikeout in that span. The miniature hot streak has raised his batting average 11 points, OBP nine points, and slugging percentage 16 points. The Nationals are still a full arm’s length behind the Phillies and Braves in the NL East, and they’ll need Harper to be this good the rest of the season if they are going to salvage what has been a monumental disappointment.
Nelson Cruz, Mariners
Cruz has four homers in his last five games, giving him 29 on the season. This will be his fifth straight year with at least 30 homers, and he has a good chance to make it five straight with at least 39. He’d be the 11th player with five such consecutive seasons, joining Barry Bonds, Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr., Ralph Kiner, Mark McGwire, Rafael Pameiro, Alex Rodriguez, Babe Ruth, Duke Snider and Sammy Sosa.
Pitchers to Watch This Week
Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks
Greinke is putting together a fine season that is seemingly flying under the radar. The 34-year-old owns a 2.96 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 148 strikeouts in 142 2/3 innings, easily his best year since joining the Diamondbacks in 2016. He has been lights-out in his last four turns, pitching to a 1.26 ERA and 0.63 WHIP with 31 strikeouts against two walks in 28 2/3 innings. He takes the ball once this week, starting Tuesday in the middle of a huge three-game series with the Phillies.
Rick Porcello, Red Sox
Porcello made one of the best starts of his career his last time out, tossing a one-hit complete game against the Yankees. After allowing a solo homer to Miguel Andujar in the third inning, Porcello retired 21 straight batters in a dominant effort. He struck out nine and didn’t walk any, shutting down one of the best lineups in baseball to kick off a series that may have locked up the AL East for the Red Sox. His next start is scheduled for Thursday in Toronto.
Jon Gray, Rockies
Gray shut down the Brewers on Sunday, allowing one run on four hits in eight innings, striking out eight and walking two. It was the fifth time in his last six starts that he completed at least seven innings while allowing two runs or fewer. After a dreadful first 10 weeks of the season, Gray has turned everything around since the middle of June. In his last six starts, he has a 2.43 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 44 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings. This is the Gray the Rockies need if they are going to get into the postseason for the second straight year. He’ll make one start this week sometime during the Rockies weekend series with the Dodgers.
Carlos Carrasco, Indians
There has been some talk of the Indians moving Carrasco to the bullpen in the postseason, going with a three-man rotation of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger. Carrasco, however, is making a strong case to stay in the rotation. Since coming off the DL on July 6, he has a 1.99 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 42 strikeouts against four walks in 31 2/3 innings. He dominated the Twins in his last start, throwing 7 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing four hits while striking out 10 and walking none. He’s scheduled to take the ball twice this week, facing the Twins on Tuesday and White Sox on Sunday.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Kershaw is starting to hit his stride, notching six straight quality starts and shutting down the mighty Milwaukee and Atlanta lineups in his last three starts. He’s one of the few players who could single-handedly turn his team into the favorite for the pennant, but with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks tied atop the NL West, a third straight trip to the NLCS is too far into the future for the Dodgers to think about just yet. Kershaw will get one start this week, facing another strong offense in Oakland on Wednesday.
Matchups to Watch This Week
Phillies at Diamondbacks, Monday through Wednesday
No first-place team in the NL has a lead larger than 1.5 games over its nearest competitor, which almost certainly means were getting at least one great race in the senior circuit over the next two months. Two of those teams, the Phillies and Diamondbacks, get together for a three-game set in Phoenix to start the week. Not only are these games huge in terms of these two holding onto their leads in the NL East and NL West, respectively, but they could also factor into the wild card race, should one or both of these teams fall out of first. The Phillies enter the series at 63-48, two games ahead of the Diamondbacks in the overall standings. The Phillies will send Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez to the mound, while the Diamondbacks counter with Zack Godley, Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin.
Dodgers at A’s, Tuesday and Wednesday
These two teams get together for a brief, two-game series in Oakland to start their respective weeks. The Dodgers are tied with the Diamondbacks in first in the NL West, while the A’s have overtaken the Mariners for the second wild card in the AL, 2.5 games in front of their division rivals. The A’s are one of the hottest teams in baseball, having gone 12-4 since the All-Star break, and 19-6 in their last 25 games. At 67-46 overall, they have the fourth best record in baseball, better than any team in the NL. Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw will start the two games for the Dodgers, while the A’s will go with Sean Manaea and Brett Anderson.
Brewers at Braves, Friday through Sunday
The Brewers have the second-best record in the NL, but all it gets them, for the time being, is a wild card spot. Having said that, they’re just one game behind the Cubs in the Central, and have eight games remaining with the division leader, giving them more than enough opportunity to claim the NL Central crown for the first time since 2011 and second time ever. The Braves, meanwhile, start this week 1.5 games behind the Phillies in the NL East and in control of the senior circuit’s second wild card spot. The Brewers took three of four from the Braves in Milwaukee just before the All-Star break, and this will be the last time these teams get together in the regular season. Pitching matchups aren’t yet locked in since this is a weekend series, but the Brewers are on track to start Freddy Peralta on Friday, Wade Miley on Saturday and Chase Anderson on Sunday. If the Braves remain on schedule, they’ll go with Kevin Gausman, Julio Teheran and Sean Newcomb.