Hello again, baseball friends! Welcome back to another edition of The Ten. With the trade deadline behind us and playoffs looming, we are looking ahead to the final stretch of the season. We’ll go over how the top teams have (or have not) armed themselves for playoff baseball and what that will look like going forward. We also (as usual) have more injury woes across the league and some exciting new faces on the diamond. Let’s get into it.
1. Ke’Bryan Hayes has arrived
I unabashedly love Ke’Bryan Hayes. There, I said it and it’s out there. Following the trade deadline last week, the Pirates announced they’d be calling up one of their prized prospects in Hayes. Kindly repaying his team for the call up, Hayes ripped a home run in his third major league at-bat and threw in a double for good measure. While Hayes was moreso known for his defense in the minors, it’s clear he has some life in his bat as well, sporting a .357/.400/.786 batting line in the admittedly small four-game sample. I don’t even care, I’m allowing myself to be excited for him. Hayes is the future at third base for the Pirates, a team that is deep in the depths of a complete tear-down rebuild. For a fanbase that could use any positive in a dreary 2020 season, Hayes is the guy to tune in for.
2. AL East shake-up
The Tampa Bay Rays are running away with the American League East. As I type this, the Rays currently hold a 5.5 game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays and a 6.5 game lead over the New York Yankees. In a division that was predicted to be hotly contested between Tampa and New York, this is intriguing. Tampa has just shown categorically that they can outhit you, outpitch you, and outlast you at every turn. Did I mention they just got Charlie Morton back? While they won’t have the pleasure of dishing out L’s to the Yankees for the remainder of the regular season, they do have multiple series of winnable games coming up against Boston, Baltimore, and the Mets. Constantly undersold, the Rays are currently sporting the second-best winning % in the league at .683. They are going to be lethal in October. For me, every one of their games is must-watch baseball.
The Jays, on the other hand, zigged when we all thought they’d zag. Sensing a weakness in their rotation, Toronto went out and got three new pitchers in Robbie Ray, Ross Stripling, and Taijuan Walker while also helping to ease the blow of losing Bo Bichette by picking up Jonathan Villar. For a team that wasn’t really expected to compete, they are taking full advantage of a wacky shortened season. With 10 games against the sputtering Yankees over the next two weeks, Toronto could continue to solidify their playoff spot.
Speaking of the Yankees, they are in what I would describe as a tailspin. Their starting pitchers have been ineffective while their hitters (with a couple of exceptions) are either inconsistent, hurt, or both. For a team that was expected to contend for a World Series title, this is a red alert. Standing pat with their roster at the deadline is looking less defensible by the day, despite them having some legitimate reasons why. Their next few games are going to be crucial.
3. Oakland’s back in action
After a week-long COVID-related postponement, the Oakland Athletics have cleared protocol and resumed play. Good for baseball, good for everyone. And the A’s have a lot on the line here. They are currently leading the AL West but the Astros are hot on their tails. The very same Houston Astros who they are scheduled to play 5 games against over the next 4 days. Oakland also is fresh off dropping two of three to the Padres over the weekend. With recent trade deadline additions of Mike Minor and Tommy La Stella in tow, Oakland has a chance to take this jam-packed week and turn it into a wide margin of victory in the division race.
4. Twins full speed ahead
While Oakland and Tampa are trying to bolster their leads, the Twins are just trying to stay at the party. Despite a very solid 25-17 record, the Twins are still 1.5 games back of the AL Central lead, trailing both the White Sox and Cleveland. More on them in a bit.
The Twins weren’t very active on the trade market, but they are still seeing some new names pop up on the lineup card. Even if they had already been there once before. Outfielder Byron Buxton, catcher Mitch Garver, and third baseman Josh Donaldson are all close to returning or have returned already. Players of that caliber are going to be a sight for sore eyes for a team that has had middling play of late, going 5-5 in their last 10. Starting pitcher Michael Pineda is also returning from his suspension will also hopefully help lift some of the burden off of Kenta Maeda and Randy Dobnak. We’ll see this week if the Twins can start reviving their “bomba squad” moniker.
5. Cleveland is pivoting, again
The aforementioned Cleveland Baseball Team and star pitcher Mike Clevinger were back in the news this week, but not for doing something stupid this time. Well, the jury is still out on that.
Cleveland was rumored to have the desire to move Clevinger at the deadline and they made good on that, sending Clev to the San Diego Padres in exchange for a package of players headlined by Cal Quantrill and Josh Naylor. The package was criticized as being on the light side for a pitcher of Clevinger’s caliber, but trades can’t be judged after one week. Sometimes they can take years to analyze and even then it can be an exercise in futility. Cleveland is investing in their future and Clevinger won’t be a part of it.
But the team’s actions over the last few seasons have been a bit, well, inconsistent. While they are typically playoff contenders, they’ve also shipped out three quality arms in Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and now Clevinger. While the rotation is still very strongly anchored by Shane Bieber and Carlos Carrasco, it could have been so much more. This kind of move seems out of touch for a team that’s only half of a game out of a division lead. Maybe we’ll look back on this in a few seasons and laugh because Cleveland actually pulled it off. But that’s a big “maybe.”
6. MadBum’s return
Long time San Francisco Giant and playoff folk hero Madison Bumgarner was activated from the IL this past week after a back strain kept him on the shelf for most of August. Bumgarner signed a lucrative deal with the Diamondbacks this winter and had looked like a shell of his former self prior to the IL stint. The internet was flush with reports proclaiming the end for MadBum. All those innings on his arm finally caught up with him and now the Diamondbacks are stuck with an albatross.
And while his performance on Saturday (against his former team, of course) won’t quite do much to silence the critics, two earned runs over four innings actually lowered his ERA to 8.44. Progress! The last place Diamondbacks are currently 15-26 in a very competitive division and aren’t serious contenders for the playoffs. But they’ve got four more years of Bumgarner, and this iteration of him is certainly not what they signed up for. Keep an eye on his next start to see if taking some time off will help his results get back to what we’re used to from him.
7. J.D. Martinez’s future
2020 certainly wasn’t what slugger J.D. Martinez was picturing when he declined his opt-out with the Sox, but here we are. Chris Sale is banged up again and Mookie Betts is off on the West Coast with the first-place Dodgers. At 14-28 they are tied with Texas for the worst record in the AL. After a 2018 World Series victory that saw J.D. receiving a fourth-place finish for MVP and a 2019 of lesser, but still incredible production, this season is certainly an adjustment.
And now, J.D. has another opt-out looming this winter. And Martinez’s production has been way out of whack compared to what we’re accustomed to. At 33, it’s possible JDM is starting to naturally decline, but the steepness of the drop off speaks more to a sample size issue than something being physically wrong. The drops in exit velocity are still no doubt concerning, though. Couple that with Martinez’s reported wariness of free agency given the COVID-19 pandemic, and it looks like he’ll remain tied to Boston for the time being. Can’t blame him at all here—knowing you and your family are provided for in a time of such uncertainty would be reckless to decline. But what does it mean for the Red Sox? Given their recent propensity for not spending, and a lot of money tied up in Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, and Xander Bogaerts, the Sox may just be looking to flip J.D. before he is deemed too prohibitive to their wallet. A lot can change between now and the opt-out deadline, and J.D. has been showing some signs of life at the plate, and I’m interested to see if he can get going again.
8. Vogey back on the move, again
J.D. Martinez isn’t the only slugger struggling in 2020. An All-Star last year, Daniel Vogelbach enjoyed a 2019 that saw him hit 30 homers for the Mariners and it looked like he may have finally figured it out.
2020 had different plans, though, as Vogey struggled mightily in 18 games for Seattle, hitting a paltry .094 with just one homer before the M’s cut bait on their once breakout-candidate first baseman. Vogelbach ended up being absorbed into the Blue Jays roster as they hoarded pieces at the deadline, but was designated for assignment after just two games. The Jays move didn’t seem like it would last anyway, as the logjam at first base and DH for Toronto is currently filled with Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Rowdy Tellez, a hitter with a very similar skillset to Vogelbach. The Brewers were the next ones signing up for Vogelbach’s services, claiming him from the Jays while designating Justin Smoak.
In just two games so far in Milwaukee, Vogelbach has gone 3-6 with a home run. With first base a much, much less crowded situation for the Brew Crew, we’ll see if Vogelbach can ride a hot couple of games into a starting job for an NL team pushing for the playoffs.
9. Another Astro down
In a season that has seen injuries to Justin Verlander, Yordan Álvarez, Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley, and others, the Astros also will go without second baseman José Altuve for the time being as the speedy infielder suffered an injury to his right knee, the same knee he had surgery on back in 2018. While the injury isn’t considered overly serious, this is certainly concerning for a team that is very much in contention.
Now don’t get me wrong, the absence of Altuve’s bat isn’t going to sink the ship, as the usual elite production he enjoys has been sorely missed in 2020. A .224/.284/.322 batting line isn’t inspiring any confidence. However, Altuve is still an excellent glove at the keystone and is considered to be a leader in the Astros clubhouse. A 2020 that sees him struggling and injuring his surgically repaired knee is just an awful sight. We’ll see if more light is shed on the severity of Altuve’s injury this week.
10. Yankees young guns
Things as a whole aren’t looking too rosy for the Yankees of late, but they did receive an infusion of hope on the mound this past week. The Yankees called up both Deivi García, age 21, and Clarke Schmidt, 24, this past week and boy did the Yankees need some fresh faces out on the bump. Starting pitching has been the Yankees’ foil for years, and the admittedly appealing Cole/Tanaka/Paxton/Montgomery/Happ lineup was poised for some good production, the team is once again seeing inconsistency out of the rotation.
García looked to put a stop to that last week, as the young righty twirled a gem of a debut against the Mets, going six scoreless with six punchouts. The follow up against Baltimore wasn’t as pretty, as García ended up with four earned runs charged to him when Schmidt entered in relief and allowed his inherited runners to score. But the takeaway is still a net positive for a team that is oft-injured and dying for pitching help. With manager Aaron Boone all but confirming García will remain in the rotation, things might be turning in the right direction for the currently rudderless Yankees.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)