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The AL Playoff Picture May Take Shape This Week

The A's have a chance to all but secure their playoff position this week. They also might jeopardize it.

This weekend, the A’s host the Mariners for a four-game series. Now, nothing with respect to the postseason will be settled with that, or any, series that takes place this week. The calendar will be flipping to September, and every team in the league will still have 25-plus games left on the schedule. Still, the AL postseason picture is taking on an air of inevitability, and that may only intensify depending on the outcome of the three games in Oakland over the weekend.

The Red Sox, Indians, Astros and Yankees have clear roads to the playoffs. The Yankees may still chase down the Red Sox in the AL East, and the Astros lead the West by just 1.5 games, but those four teams are postseason bound. The A’s, meanwhile, could join them in the as-good-as-in club with a strong weekend. They’ve ridden their scorching two-month run to a five-game lead over the Mariners for the second wild card in the AL. If they hold serve against the Astros to start the week, and then take three or four off the Mariners over the weekend, they’ll make the last month of the season very tough on the team with the longest playoff drought in the four major American professional sports. Even if they take two, they’ll likely go into the final month of the year with a comfortable lead over the Mariners in the wild card standings.

That’s just one series to keep your eye on this week. For the rest, as well as the hitters and pitchers making waves, let’s get to this week’s Table Setter.

Hitters to Watch This Week

Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

Goldschmidt has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball over the last two weeks, going 21-for-48 with six homers and 15 RBI. He’s up to .294/.396/.550 with 30 homers and 77 RBI, making this his third 30-homer season in the least four years. That’s all the more remarkable considering that he was hitting .209/.326/.393 at the end of May. Since June 1, he has hit a blistering .351/.444/.656 in 340 plate appearances.

Anthony Rizzo, Cubs

Rizzo helped carry the Cubs to a 5-1 week last week, going 9-for-21 with three homers, three doubles, six RBI and five walks in the six games. Rizzo got off to a slow start to the season, but he’s right about where we’d expect him to be at this time of year, slashing .272/.369/.467 with 21 homers and 84 RBI. After spending a month leading off for the Cubs, he has settled back into a heart-of-the-order spot, hitting third or fourth in his last 11 games.

Matt Chapman, A’s

Chapman was a monster in Oakland’s weekend series with Minnesota, going 9-for-19 with three homers and five RBI in the series, and helping his team take three of four games. He’s now hitting .282/.366/.523 with 20 homers, 31 doubles and 50 RBI, all while playing league-best defense at third base.

Pitchers to Watch This Week

Aaron Nola, Phillies

In a season that might end with a Cy Young Award, Nola may have just had his best start. He shut down the Nationals last week, tossing eight shutout innings while allowing five hits and striking out nine. Nola is down to a 2.13 ERA and 0.97 WHIP with 169 strikeouts in the same number of innings this year. Some of the shine has come off of pitcher win-loss record, and justifiably so, but Nola still deserves plenty of credit for his 15-3 record this season. The breakout star of the Phillies rotation will take the ball once this week, facing the same Nationals team, and opposing fellow Cy Young contender Max Scherzer, on Tuesday.


Jacob deGrom, Mets

If you’re a fan of history in the making, you have to like deGrom starting against the Cubs this week. At 8–8 with a 1.71 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 214 strikeouts in 174 innings, deGrom has a real chance to be the first pitcher to win the Cy Young without being above .500 in his personal win-loss record. A matchup with a Cubs team that has won five of its last six games will be a tough assignment, and could help deGrom get one step closer to history. The game at Wrigley on Tuesday is his only start of the week.

J.A. Happ, Yankees

Happ has been everything the Yankees could have hoped he’d be in his first five starts with the team. He has picked up wins in all of the outings, pitching to a 2.37 ERA and 0.92 WHIP with 32 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. He’s had a relatively light slate of opponents, facin the Royals, Rangers, Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles, but he has taken care of business each time he has taken the mound in pinstripes. He’ll do that once this week, facing another soft opponent in the Tigers.

Series to Watch This Week

A’s at Astros, Monday through Wednesday

Yeah, we’re going back to this well again. The top of the AL West has produced some of the league’s most dramatic baseball recently, and this series likely won’t be any different. The Astros start this week with a 1.5-game lead over the A’s in the division. There are still five weeks left in the season, but this is the final series between these two teams, making it critical to the A’s hopes of getting atop the division. They have put some distance between themselves and the Mariners, though, holding a five-game lead for the AL’s second wild card. The A’s will send Brett Anderson, Edwin Jackson and Trevor Cahill to the mound, while the Astros counter with Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel.

Cubs at Phillies, Friday through Sunday

The Cubs take a tour of the NL East this week, starting with three games at home against the Mets. When that series wraps up, they’ll travel to Atlanta for a makeup game with the Braves on Thursday, then head back north for a weekend series with the Phillies. The Cubs start this week four games ahead of the Cardinals, and 4.5 games clear of the Brewers, in the NL Central. The Phillies, meanwhile, have struggled of late, going 6-11 in their last 17 games, which has them three back of the Braves in the East. The expected matchups for Cubs-Phillies are Jose Quintana vs. Nick Pivetta, Kyle Hendricks vs. Vince Velasquez, and Jon Lester vs. Zach Eflin.

Diamondbacks at Dodgers, Thursday through Sunday

The Dodgers got a much-needed sweep of the Padres over the weekend, picking up a game on the Diamondbacks, who dropped two of three to the Mariners. The Dodgers remain in third in the NL West, though, with the Diamondbacks 2.5 games ahead of them and one game in front of the Rockies. This four-game set at home is a huge opportunity for the Dodgers to reassert control over the division they’ve owned for the last five years. These teams have one more series with each other during the final week of the season, and there’s no telling what the standings will look like then. The Diamondbacks are slated to throw Robbie Ray, Zack Greinke, Patrick Corbin and Clay Buchholz, while the Dodgers are on line to start Rich Hill, Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu and Walker Buehler.