As we hit the middle of August, we are officially in the dog days of the season. Every game brings increased importance for contenders, while pretenders are mostly just crossing days off the calendar. Each home run becomes bigger and each injury has the chance to strike a devastating blow.
Each series also means an opportunity to make a move and this week is no exception.
Mets Look To Stiff-Arm Braves
It is a big week in the National League East as the division-leading New York Mets take on the second-place and third-place teams this week. First up is a four-game road series against the Atlanta Braves (Monday-Thursday), then a four-gamer at the Philadelphia Phillies (Friday-Sunday), including a doubleheader Saturday. The Mets enter the week with a 5½-game lead over the Braves and 11½ over the Phillies. All three teams are currently in playoff position.
The pitching matchups for Mets-Braves are excellent. It will be Mets right-hander Carlos Carrasco vs. Braves rookie righty Spencer Strider on Monday, followed by right-handers Charlie Morton and Taijuan Walker on Tuesday, righties Jake Odorizzi against Max Scherzer on Wednesday, and TBA vs. righty Jacob deGrom on Thursday.
Entering June, the Braves were 10½ behind New York, but then rattled off a 21-6 June and 14-5 through July 23. During that stretch, Atlanta narrowed its deficit to just half a game, but that is when the Mets put together a seven-game winning streak and, a few games later, a six-gamer to re-establish control of the division. But in this dance, the Braves are currently the hotter team, riding a six-game victory streak, with the Mets having taken the last two games of a three-game set at home with Philadelphia.
In their last meeting, the Mets claimed four out of five games at Citi Field from Aug. 4-7, including a doubleheader sweep, and lead the season series 8-4.
The Mets didn’t make any splashy moves at the trade deadline, instead trying to gain marginal improvement, with first baseman-designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach making the biggest impact so far. Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates straight up for reliever Colin Holderman, Vogelbach is slashing .308/.429/.558 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 18 games. He has also drawn 10 walks with New York.
The Braves, meanwhile, have found a youthful injection from rookie center fielder Michael Harris II and, since last week, second baseman Vaughn Grissom. Harris is slashing .293/.331/.512 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs in 69 games, while Grissom is 7-for-18 with two homers and four RBIs, and six runs scored in his first five MLB games.
Philadelphia won eight of nine before dropping the last two to the Mets. While questions remain about their defense, the Phillies have been boosted by their pitching staff, including deadline pickups Noah Syndergaard and David Robertson.
Can Brewers Slow Down Dodgers?
The Los Angeles Dodgers generally don’t peak too early, but it is tough to say they can play much better than they did during their 12-game winning streak that ended Sunday. The Dodgers were the first team in exactly a century to win that many games in a row by multiple runs — yes, not a single one-run game during the run, which ended with a 4-0 loss to the Kansas City Royals.
L.A. will have a chance to start another streak beginning Monday when the Dodgers open a four-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field. While the Dodgers have a commanding 16-game lead in the National League West, the Brewers have been off their game since the trade deadline. That, of course, is when left-handed closer Josh Hader was shipped off to the San Diego Padres and seemed to unsettle the clubhouse.
Milwaukee has gone 4-7 since the deal went down, slipping from a three-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central to 1½ back after dropping two of three to their division rival over the weekend. Consistent offense remains an issue. Other than a recent surge by right fielder Hunter Renfroe, no one has stepped up at the plate.
That doesn’t figure to change against the Dodgers, who will send left-hander Julio Urías, right-hander Ryan Pepiot, righty Tony Gonsolin, and lefty Andrew Heaney against righty Freddy Peralta, righty Brandon Woodruff, lefty Eric Lauer and righty Corbin Burnes.
Orioles(!) Square Off With Jays
Wait, the Baltimore Orioles have a big series in mid-August? Yup. Give credit to manager Brandon Hyde’s bunch, which had been expected to battle for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, not the No. 3 wild-card berth in the American League.
But that is exactly where the Orioles are, sitting just 1½ games behind Tampa Bay for the third wild card in the expanded playoffs after dropping two of three to the Rays over the weekend, including almost being on the wrong end of a perfect game by Drew Rasmussen. The good news for the O’s is that they have a chance for an immediate rebound against the Toronto Blue Jays in a three-game road series that begins Monday at Rogers Centre. The two teams will see each other plenty the rest of the way, with this being the first of 13 games remaining between the AL East teams. The Jays lead the wild-card standings, just 2½ games ahead of the Orioles, who have won four of six vs. Toronto this season.
Even after trading fan favorite first baseman Trey Mancini and closer Javier Lopez at the deadline, the Orioles haven’t fallen apart, going 6-4. Baltimore will send right-handers Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer and Austin Voth to the mound against the Jays, who will counter with left-hander Yusei Kikuchi and righties Alek Manoah and Ross Stripling.
Toronto has been scuffling this month, going 4-7, including dropping six of its last eight. Pitching has been the main reason, with the Jays posting a team ERA of 4.69, 27th in MLB. The vaunted offense is 17th with a .244 average. It is a big week for Toronto, with a four-game set against the Yankees following the Orioles series.
Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)