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Gerrit Cole Gives the Astros a Scary-Good Look for October

This week's edition of 3 Up, 3 Down highlights a whiff parade in Houston, the stumbling Phillies and a run of bad luck in Anaheim.

Welcome to the latest installment of 3 Up, 3 Down, our weekly stock watch of who’s streaking and who’s slumping throughout Major League Baseball. Our latest edition includes notes on Gerrit Cole’s dominance, Khris Davis’s return to form and Philadelphia’s fade from the wild-card race.

↑ Gerrit Cole’s Whiff Parade ↑

What would you do at-bat against Gerrit Cole? Quiver in fear? Go full John Kruk and spin 360 degrees? The average soul would be lost against the Astros’ fireballer, but frankly, so is the rest of baseball in 2019. And Cole has dialed it up an extra notch in September.

Cole struck out 11 batters in eight innings against Kansas City on Sept. 13, marking his sixth straight start with double-digit punchouts. Cole has 109 strikeouts in his last ten starts; he’s allowed just 12 earned runs in that span. The dominant stretch is leading to one of the more impressive strikeout campaigns in recent memory. Cole is currently at 292 K’s in 2019, eight away from becoming the fifth AL pitcher since 1980 to strike out 300 batters in a season. Cole has the best strikeout percentage (39.4%) of any qualified starter since 2000, and his FIP (2.74) is the best in the American League in 2019. It’s bad enough standing 60 feet, six inches from Cole on a given night. Facing him one game after seeing Justin Verlander is just unfair. There isn’t a better 1-2 punch in baseball.

↑ Heyward’s Hot September ↑

Jason Heyward will never live up to his eight-year, $184 million contract in Chicago, an albatross on the North Side similar to Jacoby Ellsbury in New York. But perhaps the former phenom can revive some of the lost value on the back half of his deal. Heyward posted a paltry .631 OPS in his first year with the Cubs in 2016, and his offensive production in 2017 and 2018 rose merely above replacement level. This year has been a different story, and especially of late. Heyward is rounding into form as October approaches, helping fuel the streaking Cubs.

Heyward tore the cover off the ball in Chicago’s last two series, slashing .440/.533/.920 since Sept. 8. He's recorded hits in seven of his last eight games, and scored 11 runs in that span. To be clear, eight games is a small sample size. But Heyward has shown marked improvement across the board in 2019. His .791 OPS is his best mark since 2015 (Heyward’s last year in St. Louis) and his 21 homers are the most since 2012. Heyward appeared destined to platoon for the rest of his Cubs career and for much of 2018. This year has provided a much-needed bounce back.

↑ Welcome Back, Khrush Davis ↑

Speaking of hitters back on track, we’re finally seeing the Khris Davis of previous seasons as Oakland hunts for a wild-card spot. It’s been a tumultuous year for Davis, who is currently sporting career lows across all three slash lines. The OPS drop is the most precipitous, plunging from .874 last season to .683 in 2019. Even as Oakland held steady in the playoff race, Davis’s disappearing production provided serious cause for alarm.

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The past week should slow the concern. Davis pounded three homers in Oakland’s last six games, a 6–0 stretch for the A’s against Houston and Texas. The 31-year-old DH has just two multi-strikeout games since Aug. 15; he’s slugging .667 since Sept. 6. Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Mark Canha have largely taken over Davis’s cleanup spot, yet Oakland’s potent lineup allows for plenty of production even in the lower third. Davis remains a fearsome bat despite a rough season, one that could strike fear in the hearts of postseason pitchers.

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↓ Phillies’ Season Slipping Away ↓

The Phillies will have plenty of postseason opportunities through the length of Bryce Harper’s 13-year contract, but their chances of a playoff run in 2019 continue to slip entering the season’s final weeks. Philadelphia closed a weekend series with the Mets just two games back of the National League’s second wild-card on Sept. 8, eyeing a critical seven-game stretch with Atlanta and Boston. Harper and Co. failed to deliver.

The Phillies split in Atlanta, then lost both halves of a two-game set against the Red Sox to drop 4.5 games back entering Tuesday. The road doesn’t get easier moving forward. They travel to Atlanta for a three-game set beginning Thursday, then face the Indians in Cleveland beginning on Sept. 20. The next game at Citizens Bank Park will be on Sept. 27, and it seems unlikely Philadelphia will still be in the playoff race then. A rash of injuries has derailed the Phillies’ season; it doesn’t make the franchise’s eighth consecutive year out of the playoffs any less painful.

↓ DBacks Bats Silenced ↓

We spent a portion of last week’s column raving over Ketel Marte and the streaking Diamondbacks, who sprinted into the NL wild-card conversation after sitting under .500 through late August. That praise unfortunately may have been the kiss of death. Arizona’s bats have gone completely silent of late, averaging just 2.25 runs per game since Sept. 3. (For reference, the MLB-worst Marlins are averaging 3.7 runs per game in 2019.) The DBacks scored just four runs in four games at the Mets from Sept. 9-12, then scored just one run in each of their last two games against the Reds over the weekend. Marte’s production has dipped a bit in Arizona’s 1-7 stretch; Eduardo Escobar’s slide is even more severe. The Diamondbacks are now 5.5 games back of the wild-card with time running out. Their run was exciting while it lasted.

↓ Bad Luck Angels ↓

It’s easy to root for the Angels. They have baseball’s best player, a historic two-way force, and if you’re one for nostalgia, may I recommend some classic Rally Monkey videos? Still, Angels fans must be pretty sick of the team’s continued slide from relevance. The team enters Tuesday night fourth in the AL East at 68–82, on track for the franchise’s fourth straight losing season. And while the defeats may be bearable, the Angels’ news over the last week is disheartening. Shohei Ohtani underwent season-ending knee surgery on Friday. Mike Trout will have season-ending foot surgery this week. There isn’t much of a reason to watch the Angels unless you’re a big David Fletcher fan. (Honesty hour: I am.) Otherwise, you can ignore Los Angeles’s AL team until 2020.