This installment of our stock report looks at the impact of a healthy Carlos Correa and the bad, bad Braves bullpen.
Welcome to the latest installment of 3 Up, 3 Down as we take the temperature of what's going on across MLB. Our latest edition includes notes on Luke Voit’s stellar season and the Braves bullpen woes, but first, we’ll discuss Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s arrival and his impact north of the border.
↑ The Vlad Jr. Bump ↑
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. failed to go yard in his first series against Toronto (you can thank Chad Pinder for that), but baseball’s top prospect has already made his mark with the big-league club. Guerrero doubled to right to kick off the bottom of the 9th against Oakland on Sunday, putting the winning run on base before being pulled for a pinch runner. Even Guerrero’s foul balls are violent. When he puts them in play, look out: He could match some Statcast records by season’s end.
Vlad Jr. ended the weekend just 3-for-12, but he’s already making an impact in the middle of Toronto’s lineup. The Jays swept the weekend to advance to 14–14, treading water as Tampa Bay and New York battle for the division’s top spots. Guerrero’s promotion elevates an otherwise pedestrian lineup. Randal Grichuk and Justin Smoak should see more quality pitches as Guerrero lurks in the cleanup or five-hole, and behind him, Brandon Drury will have plenty of RBI opportunities. Vladito is the lone thumper in Toronto’s lineup, but his presence alone should play a big role in elevating the Jays to a more-respectable mark.
↑ Luke Voit, Hitting Everything in Sight ↑
Amid a cast of unknowns and career journeymen, the Yankees are cruising along, winning nine of their last 10 including a sweep of the Giants over the weekend. What’s the reason for New York’s success minus a slate of impact bats? Look down the first base line.
Luke Voit is on an absolute tear to start his second season in New York. He’s reached base in 39 consecutive games, posting a .935 OPS and eight homers in 26 games. As injury uncertainty looms over the franchise, Voit keeps mashing every chance he gets.
The 28-year-old feasted in San Francisco over the weekend and against the Angels before that. He is slashing .433/.528/.867 in his last seven games, with four dingers and 10 RBIs. Voit's been a savior for New York throughout the season’s first month, and will be a potent bat in baseball’s deepest lineup if the Yankees can ever return to full strength.
↑ A Healthy Carlos Correa ↑
The 2017 champions have yet to get completely rolling offensively, with Houston entering Tuesday 16th in runs scored despite boasting the third-best OPS in baseball. Expect the Astros to zoom up the run-production leaderboard over the next month, partially due to a healthy Carlos Correa.
The Astros’ 24-year-old shortstop hit just 15 homers in 110 games last season, batting a nagging back injury for most of the year. Correa appears back on track in 2019, though, armed with a clean bill of health and a prime spot in the heart of Houston’s lineup. Correa is slashing a solid .278/.346/.546 with six homers and 15 RBI. He has seven RBIs in his last seven games, slugging .733 in the process. Correa is back to his 2017 self, and the Astros are very much in the hunt for their second title in three years.
↓ The Braves Bullpen ↓
Atlanta’s bats have lived up to expectations through the season’s first month. The Braves rank third in the MLB in batting average and second in OPS. Dansby Swanson has 22 RBI, Freddie Freeman is slashing .324/.448/.539 and Ronald Acuna Jr. boasts six homers and a .936 OPS. There have been no power outages at SunTrust Park. Yet following a series loss to Colorado over the weekend, Atlanta sits third in the NL East at 13–14.
Blame it on the bullpen.
The Braves ‘pen has been notably flammable thus far. Chad Sobotka has allowed 11 earned runs in 12 innings, while closer A.J. Minter sports a 9.35 ERA. Atlanta acquired Jerry Blevins over the weekend from Oakland, though nobody will confuse the 13-year veteran for Blake Treinen. The Braves bullpen is holding back one of baseball’s best lineups. Reinforcements need to be on the way.
I remain skeptical that Craig Kimbrel is the solution to Atlanta’s problems. Atlanta’s ownership is reluctant to shell out multiple years, and while Kimbrel could earn a prove-it deal similar to Josh Donaldson, an agreement likely won’t come to fruition until after the MLB draft in June. If they sign Kimbrel before then, they’ll have to forfeit a pick because Kimbrel rejected a qualifying offer from the Red Sox and lose some money from its international bonus pool. This especially would hinder the Braves. MLB has sanctioned how much they can spend on international players until 2021 after the team violated international signing rules.
In the meantime, the Braves may be better suited to bargain shop and hope something sticks.
↓ Milwaukee's NL Central Defense ↓
Christian Yelich has done his part in Milwaukee with 14 homers in his first 29 games, but after a month, the Brew Crew are on pace to win just 84 games this season. Their starting pitching has been a central culprit in the middling start. Brandon Woodruff and Jhoulys Chacin have allowed 38 earned runs in just under 60 innings, struggling alongside Freddie Peralta and Corbin Burns. Dallas Keuchel could be an option in free agency to, at the very least, take some of the burden off the dynamic bullpen by eating innings.
The Brewers could make a run at acquiring Madison Bumgarner before the trade deadline. Regardless of the remedy, manager Craig Counsell needs better production from his starters. The Cardinals won’t be easy to catch in the NL Central, even with Yelich and Josh Hader leading the way. A mediocre rotation won’t cut it this year.
↓ A Giant Offensive Outage ↓
As the Giants sink to the bottom of the NL West, their lack of offensive pop remains startling. No San Francisco player is slugging above .500, while leading power bats Brandon Belt and Kevin Pillar have never crossed the 20-homer mark in a single season. (Reminder that no Giant has had a 20-homer season since 2015. Really.) San Francisco struck out 14 times on Friday and 10 more times on Sunday. Pairing their power struggles with such a high whiff frequency is not a recipe for success.
The confines of Oracle Park aren’t exactly hitter friendly, but in 2019, San Francisco desperately needs to juice its offense to avoid ending in the division cellar for the third time in four years. It may be a long last summer for Bruce Bochy in the Bay Area.