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The Trailing Runner: July 3 -July 9

Breaking 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.

Game 81 came and went for teams this week as the season reached its halfway point. In the American League, the Astros are running away with the West while the Yankees continue to vie for the single-season win record – they’re currently on pace for 116. The Wild Card race is shaping up to be exciting, with eight teams within four games of the three spots. While the AL East was projected to be far more competitive than the Yankees have ultimately allowed it to be, the division continues to dominate the league; if the season ended today, the three Wild Card spots would go to the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Rays.

In the National League, every division is tight(ish). The Dodgers’ stranglehold on the West is alive and well, although the Tatis-less Padres have kept it close. The Braves’ impressive mid-season turnaround has cut the Mets’ lead in the East to just 2.5 games, while the Cardinals and Brewers continue to trade off the top spot in the Central.

This week, two teams have gotten hot just in time to add a bit more intrigue to the AL Wild Card race. We also saw a ridiculous amount of late-inning drama across the league and the announcement of the All-Star Game starters.

 

M’s-N-O’s Won’t Lose

 

Both the Mariners and Orioles are in the midst of seven-game winning streaks that have propelled them into the playoff conversation. The Mariners, who have now won 10 of their last 11 games, find themselves just a game behind the Blue Jays for the third Wild Card spot. Meanwhile, the Orioles are now three games behind Toronto and just two games under .500.

The two clubs took very different routes to this point. Stuck playing 19 games against each of the AL East juggernauts, preseason expectations of the Orioles were low. After all, the team lost 110 games last year and didn’t make any dramatic offseason moves.

In contrast, the Mariners were widely expected to make the playoffs coming off of an exciting season in 2021 in which they fell just short. To bridge the gap, they added Robbie Ray, Jesse Winker, and others in free agency and expected to get Mitch Haniger back from injury and to call up wunderkind Julio Rodríguez.

While the Mariners started the season strong, they quickly fell off  – on May 26th, they were last in the AL West. Over on the East Coast, the Orioles have been at the bottom of the division the whole season.

The O’s are still last, but that is more reflective of their division rivals than of their own play. A huge part of the team’s success has been their underrated bullpen, which has quietly been the third-best across the entire season. The group’s 4.3 fWAR trails only the Yankees and Atlanta. Closer Jorge López has been fantastic with a 1.74 ERA and 16 saves. Setup man Félix Bautista has a 1.82 ERA, while high-leverage arm Cionel Pérez sits at 0.96. Dillon Tate and Joey Krehbiel have been excellent as well. Dean Kremer deserves a shoutout as well after pitching to a 2.15 ERA over seven starts.

The O’s will push for their 8th straight win today vs. the Angels and then will look to continue it with a series against the Cubs. Things get trickier after that. From July 15th to 28th, Baltimore plays 10 straight games against the Yankees and the Rays – that stretch will be the real test to see if this group can make a surprise push in the second half of the season.

Over in Seattle, the Mariners have pulled themselves back into the playoff conversation by taking three straight games from the Blue Jays, who sit just above them in the Wild Card standings. They’ll look to make it four in the series finale this afternoon.

Seattle’s pitching has been excellent recently. Since the start of July, their starters rank fifth in fWAR while their bullpen is second. Robbie Ray has returned to ace form – employing a new approach that centers his sinker, over his last three starts he’s thrown 19+ innings while striking out 26 and allowing only two runs. The bullpen has undergone perhaps an even greater turnaround. The group that was among the worst in the MLB in May has been almost unhittable recently. In the past 15 days, Paul Sewald, Diego Castillo, Ryan Borucki, Ken Giles, Andrés Muñoz, Erik Swanson, and Matt Brash (making his return to the big leagues) have combined for 30+ innings and allowed only 2 ER, good for a 0.59 ERA.

Seattle has actually had a relatively tough schedule recently with series against Toronto and San Diego. The M’s have a real chance to keep their streak going as they play the Nationals next followed by the Rangers, but the Astros wait for them after that.

 

Walk-Off Galore

 

As part of their seven-game win streak, the Orioles have shown an impressive penchant for late-inning heroics. They’ve walked-off three games this week alone, including this clutch hit from Trey Mancini on Friday to complete the unlikely comeback against Angels’ closer Raisel Iglesias.

Maybe the Fourth of July got teams in the mood because the fireworks have not at all been reserved for the Orioles alone. There must be something in the air, as there have been an incredible 18 walk-off wins this week. For context, there were 10 the week before and 11 the week before that.

In honor of the Week of the Walk-Off, let’s recap some of the best:

  • With the game tied at 2 in the bottom of the 11th, Seattle’s Eugenio Suárez ends it with a majestic blast, bringing the Mariners back above .500 in the process:

  • MVP candidate Yordan Alvarez wasn’t fooled by this backdoor slider, giving the Astros the win on July 4th:

There’s also been a bizarre number of unusual walk-offs, including:

  • A brutal walk-off error:

  • A painful walk-off hit-by-pitch:

  • And even, somehow, a walk-off balk:

Finally, to complete the week, the Red Sox walked off the Yankees in an early contender for game of the year. Adding a little magic/nostalgia to the moment was the fact that the winning run was scored by Jeter…Downs – Boston’s rookie infielder.

 

All-Stars Announced

MLB released this year’s All-Star starters after the final round of fan voting concluded this week. Mookie Betts and Trea Turner will play in front of their home fans on the NL side, while the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Angels will each have two representatives in the AL lineup.

The full list of starters is below – the remainder of the rosters is expected to be announced today.

The league also announced this week that Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera will be invited to the All-Star game as “legacy selections,” a feature agreed to in the new CBA.

 

Players of the Week

 

Some top offensive performances of the week:

And their counterparts on the mound:

 

Around the League

 

  • The Yankees sit atop the AL East and pace the American League at 61-24. The Twins are the best team in the Central at 47-40. The Astros lead the West at 55-29.
  • The Mets pace the NL East at 53-32. The Brewers are atop the Central at 48-38. In the West, the Dodgers lead at 55-29, the best record in the NL.
  • Manny Machado, third baseman for the Padres, leads hitters with 4.5 fWAR.
  • Carlos Rodón of the Giants ties Toronto’s Kevin Gausman (who’s missed a start with injury) with 3.7 fWAR.

 

Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Ethan McCollister

Diehard Red Sox fan. Vermonter in Philly. Harvard alum. Cat dad. In Chaim we trust...but I miss Mookie.

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