The Trailing Runner: July 10 – July 16

Evan Lobdell breaks down the biggest baseball stories of the past week

Every Sunday, The Trailing Runner recaps the past week’s biggest headlines and most exciting performances. On Mondays, keep an eye out for The Leadoff, which breaks down the week ahead.

As we approach the All-Star Break, a lot of great storylines are unfolding for what should be an exciting second half. The AL Central, NL Central, and NL East division titles are still up for grabs, and the wild card spots are up in the air. As we begin the last day before the break, let’s catch up on some of the most important stories from the past week.

 

The Soto Market is Officially Open

 

Juan Soto is one of the best hitters in the game, and he’s only 23. His prolific eye while in the batter’s box and ability to hit has already led to a career WAR of 21 through five seasons. The 2019 World Series champion is good, and it’s seemed like a no-brainer that the Washington Nationals would try to extend him since he first came up. Soto, however, seems to have different ideas.

Soto turned down a historical contract offer, betting on himself that he could earn more on the free agent market. The offer the Nationals presented would put him around $30 million AAV which is certainly great, but the 23-year-old stud on a potential Hall of Fame trajectory believes he could garner even more in a contract. As a result, the Nationals are taking calls on their young star.

As expected, this has the baseball world going wild, imagining trade packages and situations in which their team could get Soto. Many think the Yankees and Dodgers are the eventual landing places due to their payroll and talent, but some believe the Giants could be a dark horse as well. There are rumblings of the Cardinals having the capital to put together a strong package, but it seems to just be a rumor with no substance (as of now). Keep an eye out on this one; this could be a very interesting trade deadline.

 

Streaking in Seattle

 

In last week’s The Trailing Runner, Ethan McCollister covered the Mariners’ and Orioles’ recent success. This week, I’m here to report that the Mariners have gotten even better. The M’s have not lost a game in two weeks. Seriously. Through series against the Athletics, Padres, Blue Jays, Nationals, and Rangers, the Mariners continue to pull out wins and try to erase any harsh narratives written about them in the first half.

The streak has been supported by good pitching and timely hitting from some unexpected heroes. Adam Frazier has an OPS over 1.000 this past week, while Carlos Santana has turned back the clock with 3 HR and a 1.086 OPS over the last week. Jesse Winker looks to be steadily shaking off his first-half slump, while Julio Rodríguez is simply incredible. 

And let’s not forget that Seattle bullpen. Andrés Muñoz is blossoming. Diego Castillo and Tommy Milone have been looking solid. Erik Swanson and Paul Sewald have been excellent options. Pair that with a Robbie Ray resurgence, Logan Gilbert’s steady sophomore performance, and some dependable pitching from Chris Flexen and Marco Gonzales. Seattle is putting something together.

This streak’s timing is a bit of a double-edged sword. The Mariners have shot up the AL West standings and now sit 10 GB of the Astros for the division lead and hold a wild card spot, which is great for the Seattle faithful. Being this hot going into the All-Star break could be a potential drawback, as the team’s best baseball of the season is being forced to stop for a few days.

At the same time, this Seattle team has shown great fight and a lot of surprises in the last two seasons, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them keep it up. And when a team is having this much fun, it’s a good sign:

 

AL Beast

 

Everyone had a feeling the AL East would be a tough division this season. With the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, and Blue Jays all fighting for playoff spots with talented rosters, this division promised some electric storylines throughout the season. So far, they’ve delivered.

Every single team in the AL East has an over .500 record at this point in the season. Yes, even the Baltimore Orioles. They are the only division to do so in the league. A large part of this phenomenon has been the Orioles’ recent hot streak, as they were on a 10-game win streak before the Rays shut it down. Even so, the Orioles are only 2.5 games back of a wild card spot. Boston sits one back, while Tampa and Toronto hold two of them.

This division is no joke. Watch out for some potential trades and intense divisional matchups as the second half starts up again.

 

Toronto Parts with Montoyo

 

The Toronto Blue Jays came into the season with a lot of hype. Only missing the wildcard by 1 game last season, a retooled Blue Jays team that brought in Kevin Gausman, Matt Chapman, and extended Jose Berríos looked primed to be a top contender in the American League. And so far the results have been…okay.

Toronto still has a solid team. Gausman has been good but recently fought injuries. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is still a really good hitter, Bo Bichette can be absolutely electric, and Teoscar Hernández has been bouncing back. But the team has flashed a lot of inconsistency, too. Some cold streaks from batters and Berríos’ rollercoaster of a season has had them stalled. They’ve been cold, gone really hot, and then just been average at some points.

All of this to say, they sit at 3rd in the AL East with a 49-43 record and a hold of one of the AL wild card spots. Not bad at all; a lot of teams would like to be in that position. They sit 14.5 games back of the New York Yankees, which isn’t as ideal. Despite still competing, the Blue Jays took action on Wednesday.

Montoyo was in his fourth year as manager and had a perfectly even 236-236 record with the Blue Jays. Though he seemed to have a capable grasp on the roster, it seems that the front office felt a change was necessary to shake up the team and hopefully inspire a strong second half. John Schneider will serve as the interim manager.

 

Players of the Week

 

Some top offensive performances of the week:

  • Freddie Freeman: 7 R, 3 HR, 7 RBI, .667 AVG, 1.929 OPS
  • Matt Carpenter: 7 R, 4 HR, 11 RBI, .500 AVG, 2.061 OPS
  • Leody Tavares: 6 R, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 4 SB, .478 AVG, 1.370 OPS

And their counterparts on the mound:

 

Around the League

 

  • The Yankees sit atop the AL East and pace the American League at 63-28. The Twins are the best team in the Central at 50-43. The Astros lead the West at 59-31.
  • The Mets pace the NL East at 58-34. The Brewers are atop the Central at 50-42. In the West, the Dodgers lead at 60-30, the best record in the NL.
  • We have a new hitter fWAR leader! Rafael Devers of the Boston Red Sox has taken the lead with 4.7 fWar. Shohei Ohtani also has 4.7 total fWAR, but his pitching has played a role.
  • Sandy Alcantara of the Marlins has taken the lead in pitching fWAR with 4.0 fWar.

 

Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Evan Lobdell

Editor and occasional writer for PitcherList. Believed in Brent Honeywell Jr. for far too long and still holding out hope.

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