The hot stove is still cooling down from the wildest trade deadline in recent memory, but we’re already starting to see some of the players who swapped jerseys just over a week ago impact their new teams. As the dog days of summer fully set in, who will emerge as the most valuable midseason additions? There’s still plenty of time to settle that score, but some players have already gotten off to a fast start in their new digs to endear themselves to a new fan base.
30. Arizona Diamondbacks (Last Week: 30)
29. Texas Rangers (LW: 29)
28. Baltimore Orioles (LW: 28)
27. Pittsburgh Pirates (LW: 27)
Ke’Bryan Hayes ended a personal power shortage Sunday by hitting his first home run in over a month. He’s had a tougher rookie campaign than many anticipated, as he’s had to battle back from a wrist injury sustained in the second game of the season to produce a .252/.324/.394 slash line with five homers in 236 plate appearances. But the 24-year-old has been stellar from the start in the field and should hold down the hot corner in PNC Park for years to come.
The Pirates have seen some promising early returns from the prospects they acquired before the trade deadline who could join Hayes on their next contending team. I think they did very well to snag young starter Bryse Wilson from the Braves in the Richard Rodriguez deal. He was the youngest player in the majors when he debuted in 2018 at age 20 (against Pittsburgh, coincidentally), then started and won Game 4 of the NLCS against the Dodgers last year at age 22, holding the eventual World Series champs to just one run on one hit over six innings. That made him just the second player in baseball history to one-hit a team over at least six innings in his postseason debut.
Wilson couldn’t hold down a spot in Atlanta’s rotation due to some inconsistency and the organization’s pitching depth, but he’ll be given all the time he needs to grow in Pittsburgh. The righthander probably holds the most promise of any Pirates starter, and he acted like it in his first two starts as a Bucco. In his debut, he held Milwaukee’s offense (which came into the game with the league’s highest-scoring offense since the All-Star break) to two hits and one run over five innings, albeit with no strikeouts—signaling his biggest obstacle to success as someone who doesn’t miss a ton of bats. He then notched a quality start Sunday against Cincinnati’s high-octane lineup, striking out seven over six innings of three-run ball. Getting a core starter in return for Rodriguez, a closer whose spin rates and results have drastically declined since MLB’s sticky stuff crackdown, would be a big win for GM Ben Cherington.
Hoy Park, acquired from the Yankees for reliever Clay Holmes, is 8-for-25 (.320) in August after leading all of Triple A with a 1.042 OPS prior to landing in Pittsburgh. The 25-year-old Korean has looked comfortable in the leadoff spot while earning time at shortstop over the struggling Kevin Newman and all three outfield positions. The utilityman could turn out to be quite the steal, and it only cost the Pirates a reliever who’d posted a 5.31 ERA over parts of four seasons with the club.
26. Minnesota Twins (LW: 26)
25. Kansas City Royals (LW: 25)
24. Miami Marlins (LW: 23)
23. Chicago Cubs (LW: 22)
22. Colorado Rockies (LW: 24)
21. Washington Nationals (LW: 21)
20. Detroit Tigers (LW: 20)
19. Cleveland (LW: 18)
18. St. Louis Cardinals (LW: 17)
The NL Central preseason favorites are just about dead in the water after becoming the victims of Atlanta’s first series sweep since early April last week. The Cardinals are 10.5 games behind Milwaukee, with both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference giving them less than a 2% chance of qualifying for the playoffs.
The story of their season revolves around a pitching staff that couldn’t make up for the losses of Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas and Jordan Hicks to injuries. The rotation ranks ninth in the NL with a 4.23 ERA, which isn’t good enough for a team built around its arms and defense. Adam Wainwright and Kwang Hyun Kim have provided the sort of steady stewardship we’ve come to expect from Cardinals starters, but Carlos Martinez recorded a 6.23 ERA that ranks third-worst among pitchers with at least 80 innings before suffering an injury of his own that will likely spell the end of his time in St. Louis.
In response to their arms shortage, president of baseball ops John Mozeliak curiously decided to corner the market on declining veteran southpaws at the trade deadline. Jon Lester, limping toward the end of his storied career, has been shelled by the Braves and Royals in his first two starts as a Cardinal, allowing 11 runs in 10 1/3 innings with six strikeouts and four walks. To acquire Lester, the Cardinals gave up Lane Thomas, who came into the season ranked as their No. 9 prospect by Baseball America, who labeled him the “fastest baserunner” and “best defensive outfielder” in the organization. But the real head-scratcher was bringing in J.A. Happ, who with a 6.77 ERA was one of just two starters in the league with a worse mark than Martinez. I understand wanting to add some veterans who can eat innings. But to get Happ, St. Louis traded away a starter in John Gant, who had performed far better than the 38-year-old this year, albeit with an alarming 1:1 walk-strikeout ratio.
Flaherty is set to return this week, and the Cardinals have a soft schedule this month. But in trying to patch up the rotation in their ace’s absence with a couple of so-called low-risk moves the final nails may have been hammered into their coffin. It would take some serious Cardinals Devil Magic to turn around the season now.
17. Los Angeles Angels (LW: 19)
16. New York Mets (LW: 12)
15. Seattle Mariners (LW: 14)
14. Atlanta Braves (LW: 15)
13. Philadelphia Phillies (LW: 16)
The Phillies’ eight-game winning streak has changed the complexion of the NL East. With sweeps over the Nationals and Mets, Philadelphia has ascended to first place in the division, knocked New York down to third and killed any hopes of a miraculous run by Washington. While the team’s offense as a whole deserves the lion’s share of the credit, the contributions of two individuals who could very well end up sweeping the NL’s major regular season awards deserve to be highlighted.
Bryce Harper has pushed himself to the forefront of the NL MVP conversation by leading the majors with a 1.256 OPS since the All-Star break, and trails just the two injured juniors (Ronald Acuña and Fernando Tatis) among NL players on the season with a .983 OPS. He’s also the NL’s only qualified hitter with a batting average above .300, on-base percentage above .400 and slugging percentage above .500. Philly’s $330 million man is living up to his contract, and might nab his second career MVP if he keeps it up.
Zack Wheeler has an even better shot at bringing home some individual hardware. With Jacob deGrom out until September, he’s probably the current frontrunner for the NL Cy Young. Sunday’s shutout over his former team on the day the Phillies retired Roy Hallday’s No. 34 jersey and completed the sweep that vaulted them to the top of the division could go down as his signature award-winning moment. The two-hit, 11-strikeout masterpiece—with both blemishes credited to Brandon Nimmo—put Wheeler in the major-league lead for strikeouts (181) and innings (156), reflecting his status as a workhouse. He has helped make up for Philadelphia’s shaky bullpen by completing at least seven innings in 15 of his 23 starts. The 31-year-old also leads all NL players—not just pitchers—with 6.0 bWAR and 5.6 fWAR. (Only Shohei Ohtani, whose 6.9 bWAR and 6.5 fWAR include his value for both hitting and pitching, ranks ahead of Wheeler in MLB.)
Wheeler’s shutout included some eerie statistical commonalities with Halladay on the day the late Hall of Famer's jersey was retired. Philadelphia’s eight-game winning streak is its longest since a nine-game run in 2011, during which Halladay earned two wins. At one point, Wheeler retired 22 Mets in a row—the most by any Phillies pitcher since Halladay set down all 27 opposing hitters during his 2010 perfect game. Halladay ended up winning the Cy Young that season. Could Wheeler do the same?
12. Cincinnati Reds (LW: 13)
11. Boston Red Sox (LW: 8)
Only the Mets have seen their playoff odds decrease more over the last 30 days than the Red Sox, according to Baseball Reference’s projections. Boston has lost 11 of its last 16 games, a stretch that includes three consecutive road series to the Rays, Tigers and Blue Jays. That isn’t necessarily something to be ashamed of with the way those three clubs have been playing, but it was more than enough to knock the Red Sox out of first place in the AL East and put them another bad series away from falling out of a playoff position.
At the moment, Boston is having trouble both scoring runs and preventing them at the moment. The Red Sox averaged just 3.1 runs per game on their ill-fated road trip, as Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez have yet to settle back in since returning from the All-Star Game. Kyle Schwarber also just suffered a setback in his rehab from a groin injury that’s prevented him from suiting up for his new team, meaning Bobby Dalbec will continue to work through his growing pains during a time that Boston can’t afford to let him do that at the major league level.
But it’s pitching that presents Boston's greatest cause for concern, even with Chris Sale set to make his long-awaited return from Tommy John surgery on Saturday. No Red Sox starter owns an ERA below 4.00. The rotation’s 5.43 ERA since the All-Star break ranks 26th in the majors, and the bullpen’s 4.55 ERA over that span ranks 22nd. Nathan Eovaldi, Martín Pérez and Garrett Richards have combined for a 6.64 ERA with 16 homers allowed in 61 innings since the break. Closer Matt Barnes took two losses in the weekend series against Toronto. Tanner Houck, their 2017 first-round pick, has been a bright spot, allowing just two earned runs over three second-half starts and a converted save opportunity. But he’s made it through five innings just once in five starts this season. When he’s been your club’s most consistent starter over the last month, something is wrong.
10. New York Yankees (LW: 11)
9. Toronto Blue Jays (LW: 10)
8. Oakland A’s (LW: 8)
7. San Diego Padres (LW: 7)
6. Milwaukee Brewers (LW: 6)
5. Chicago White Sox (LW: 4)
4. Houston Astros (LW: 3)
3. Tampa Bay Rays (LW: 5)
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (LW: 2)
With Trea Turner debuting for the Dodgers over the weekend following a stint on the COVID-19 reserve list, we finally got some insight as to what their lineup will look like as they try to sort out the league’s biggest first-world problem of having too many offensive stars to start every day.
Turner is set to be L.A.’s everyday leadoff man and second baseman, pushing Mookie Betts down from the leadoff spot to second or third, with Max Muncy taking the other top-three spot and sticking at first base, likely reducing Albert Pujols’s at bats. Corey Seager will stay at shortstop. Chris Taylor, who will spend a much greater share of his time in the outfield, started against both a lefty and righty pitcher over the weekend against the Angels, confirming previous indications from manager Dave Roberts that A.J. Pollock and Cody Bellinger would essentially be relegated to platoon roles.
Bellinger’s rapid fall from 2019 MVP and 2020 NLCS Game 7 hero has been disorienting, but he may have found an extra source of motivation with the increased competition for playing time. He homered on both Saturday and Sunday to extend his current hitting streak to six games. Or perhaps he’s finally just feeling healthy; Roberts has theorized that Bellinger is still feeling the effects of offseason shoulder surgery. The 26-year-old has also had to endure a fractured fibula and a balky hamstring this season.
The Dodgers could very well end up losing the NL West. The Giants have opened up a four-game lead and Los Angeles is going to have to rely on a few bullpen games over the next few weeks with Clayton Kershaw, Danny Duffy and Tony Gonsolin still sidelined (Cole Hamels is still just throwing one inning at a time as he gets stretched out). But the thought of peak Bellinger hitting at No. 8 in this lineup should be a scary thought for any opposing team.
1. San Francisco Giants (LW: 1)
More MLB Coverage:
• Mike Trout's Injuries Symbolize Baseball's Most Pressing Issue
• Breaking Down a Suddenly Depleted NL MVP Race
• How Baseball's Superteam Can Still Be Stopped
• Luck or Magic? Mariners Are Firmly in Postseason Race