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Forget Harper and Machado. Yankees Scored With Free-Agent Bet on DJ LeMahieu

Forget Harper or Machado. The Yankees' biggest free-agent get was a second baseman leading the AL in hitting.

Welcome to the latest installment of 3 Up, 3 Down, our weekly gauge of who’s streaking and who’s slumping throughout Major League Baseball. Our latest edition includes notes on Brian Cashman’s best offseason addition, the Dodgers’ stream of impressive youngsters and Robinson Cano’s rapid decline.

↑ LeMahieu Shining in Pinstripes ↑

Yankees fans spent much of the winter fuming at general manager Brian Cashman, lamenting his failure to sign either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper in free agency. But the veteran GM landed a piece that's proven to be more valuable this season than either superstar. 

DJ LeMahieu has been a godsend for the Yankees in his first 72 games. The two-time All-Star is firmly on track for another Midsumer Classic nod in 2019, entering Wednesday night slashing .331/.380/.495. LeMahieu leads the American League in batting average and ranks third in hits. Gary Sanchez is the lone Yankee with more RBI and no Yankee has more doubles. LeMahieu finished 15th in the NL MVP voting in 2016. He’d finish well within the top 10 if the season ended on Wednesday. 

The 30-year-old has destroyed opposing pitching in his last ten games, a 9–1 streak for New York. He has four dingers and 11 RBI since June 15, slugging .811 with a .548 OBP. He’s tallied multiple hits in six of his last ten contests, setting the table ahead of the Yankees’ power bats. LeMahieu’s contract costs $276 million less than Machado and $304 million less than Harper. Point: Cashman. 

↑ Boston’s Bats Heat Up ↑

While the Yankees seized an advantage over the Rays in the AL East last week, the division’s third-pace team continues to lurk beneath the surface. The Red Sox rebounded from a 6–13 start and sit 44–37 entering Wednesday night, now eight back of New York. Boston’s early struggles created a sizable hole in its chase for the AL East crown. But we shouldn’t bury Alex Cora and Co. just yet. 

Boston’s potent lineup deserves a lion’s share of the credit for the club’s recent turnaround. The Red Sox are slashing .298/.368/.512 in their last 13 games, a 10–3 stretch since June 12. Seven Red Sox now have 10-plus homers and six have an OPS over .800. But the key figure in Boston’s hot streak falls below both statistical thresholds.

Andrew Benintendi enters Wednesday with a .798 OPS and seven home runs following a strong 2018. He's riding a 10-game hitting streak after Tuesday night, tallying 15 knocks and five doubles since June 14. His recent performance has kept Boston afloat as the Yankees attempt to reclaim the division crown. 

↑ Dodgers' Depth Never Ends ↑

Dave Roberts has one of the deepest lineups in baseball at his disposal, with just one NL team (Cincinnati) sporting more players with 100-plus plate appearances. Chavez Ravine has evolved into a platooner’s delight, with the likes of Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez, and Chris Taylor among the rotating cast members. Los Angeles’ flexibility is perhaps its best quality, and once again should prove valuable in October. 

A trio of newcomers stole the show at Dodger Stadium over the weekend as Los Angeles walked-off against the Rockies in three straight games. First baseman Matt Beaty kicked off the festivities Friday by mashing a two-run homer to seal a 4-2 victory. Alex Verdugo won the game with a solo shot Saturday, and catcher Will Smith capped the weekend with a game-winning three-run homer, the third dinger of his career.

Verdugo is likely to earn sizable playing time through the season while Smith and Beaty attempt to remain with the big-league club. Regardless, all three should be a member of Los Angeles’ bench mob in October, ready to strike if called upon in a key moment. 

↓ Cano Sinking Fast ↓

Plenty of inkhas been spilledabout New York’s most recent implosioninvolving Callaway and Jason Vargas, and the attention can only help Robinson Cano. The eight-time All-Star and 2009 champion is riding out one of the worst slumps of his career, threatening to burden the Mets’ with another disastrous contract. GM Brodie Van Wagenen’s big gamble this winter has yet to pay off. 

Cano wields career-worst marks in batting average, OBP and slugging in 2019. His .631 OPS is 202nd of the 220 players with at least 200 plate appearances, and his .270 slugging ranks 215th. Cano has just one homer since April 22 with six RBI. His power has been zapped and his on-base prowess dampened. The Mets won’t challenge the Braves for the NL East title in 2019 and even the wild-card feels out of reach. Callaway should be gone by season’s end, and the Mets may be forced to keep the declining Cano through 2023. It's already another sad summer at Citi Field. 

↓ Phillies Limp Without McCutchen ↓

A couple of wins over the Mets to kick off the week will partially heal Philadelphia’s wounds, but the Phillies’ previous seven games were as ugly as any team in baseball. Gabe Kapler’s crew went 0–7 from June 16-23, capping off a disastrous week with four straight losses to the Marlins. The NL East is slipping away faster than expected.

The Phillies’ bats cooled rapidly prior to their series with New York, continuing a trend since Andrew McCutchen’s devastating ACL injury. An answer at leadoff has yet to be found and Philadelphia’s depth is being seriously tested. The team slashed .203/.295/.315 in its winless stretch as Bryce Harper’s time at leadoff failed to yield positive results. Scott Kingery topped the order Monday, and he could ultimately be the answer through 2019. The Phillies aren’t completely bereft of options, though McCuthen’s injury adds a jolt of instability as the division race heats up.  

↓ Milwaukee’s Fading Arms ↓

Zach Davies’ four-inning, four-run effort in a loss to the Mariners on Tuesday helped confirm a suspicion surrounding Milwaukee since the end of 2018: to reach the World Series, the Brewers desperately need another starter. And there’s been plenty of evidence over the last week. 

Brewers starters have allowed four-plus runs in five of their last six games while just one starter pitched into the sixth inning. Milwaukee has a 7.47 team ERA since June 19, and the Brewers are 2–6 in their last eight. Davies is fading after a fast start. Brandon Woodruff appears to be the only reliable starter. Craig Counsel’s bullpen is electric and could very well propel Milwaukee to another NL Central title, but to dethrone the Dodgers, another strong starter remains a near-necessity. Don’t be surprised if Milwaukee is active in the trade market sooner than later.