The trade deadline has come and gone. It wasn’t quite as explosive as we’d have liked, but the big blockbuster was superstar Juan Soto and Josh Bell being trades to the San Diego Padres for a massive prospect haul. There were a few other moves across the league that included players such as Frankie Montas, Noah Syndergaard, and Josh Hader, but for the most part this year’s deadline was underwhelming unless you were a Padres or Nats fan.
Now that the All Star Break and Trade Deadline are well and truly behind us, it’s time to focus on the playoff races. There is roughly a third of the season left and this is typically where the good teams really separate themselves from the bad. The Orioles made some interesting moves at the deadline and the Guardians didn’t make any moves at all. Will either one of them make a stretch run at the Wild Card? Will the White Sox overcome a disappointing first half to snatch the division away from the Twins? Can the Padres catch the Dodgers for the NL West, or are they focused on the Wild Card World Series run? There are myriad storylines to watch down the stretch and I am here to point them all out as we head into the dog days of August.
Current Playoff Picture
This year will be the first year with expanded playoffs as the field as gone from 10 teams to 12. Gone are the one game Wild Cards, replaced with a Wild Card Round that pits the #3-6 seeds in each league in a best of 3 series with the higher seed hosting all three games of the series. The top 2 teams in each league will get a bye into the Divisional Round.
1. New York Yankees 70-36 (AL East Leaders)
2. Houston Astros 69-38 (AL West Leaders)
3. Minnesota Twins 55-50 (AL Central Leaders)
4. Toronto Blue Jays 59-46 (Wildcard #1)
5. Seattle Mariners 57-49 (Wildcard #2)
6. Tampa Bay Rays 56-49 (Wildcard #3)
Cleveland Guardians 54-51 (1 GB in AL Central, 2 GB in Wild Card)
Baltimore Orioles 54-51 (2 GB in Wild Card)
Chicago White Sox 53-52 (2 GB in AL Central, 3 GB in Wild Card)
Boston Red Sox 53-54 (4 GB in Wild Card)
1. Los Angeles Dodgers 72-33 (NL West Leaders)
2. New York Mets 67-38 (NL East Leaders)
3. Milwaukee Brewers 57-48 (Tied-NL Central Leaders)
4. Atlanta Braves 63-43 (Wildcard #1)
5. San Diego Padres 61-47 (Wildcard #2)
6. Philadelphia Phillies 57-48 (Tied-Wildcard #3)
St. Louis Cardinals 57-48 (Tied-Wildcard #3, Tied-NL Central Leaders)
San Francisco Giants 51-55 (6.5 GB in Wildcard)
Three Series to Watch
1. Padres (61-47, 2nd NL West) at Dodgers (72-33, 1st NL West)
Friday, 10:10 (MLB Network): Sean Manaea (6-5, 4.25 ERA) vs Tony Gonsolin (12-1, 2.41 ERA)
Saturday, 9:10 (MLB Network): Mike Clevinger (3-3, 3.13 ERA) vs Andrew Heaney (1-0, 0.77 ERA)
Sunday, 7:08 (ESPN): Yu Darvish (10-4, 3.30 ERA) vs Tyler Anderson (12-1, 2.89 ERA)
No offense to the Mets and Braves, but this is the biggest series of the weekend, despite the Dodgers’ 12.5 game lead in the division. This is the first of 12 more meetings between these two teams and the rivalry just got bigger with the Padres’ acquisition of Juan Soto and Josh Bell hours before Tuesday’s trade deadline. The Dodgers only made one minor acquisition, rescuing the much maligned Joey Gallo from the Bronx. But they are hoping to get back a slew of players from injury over the month including Dustin May, Walker Buehler, Blake Treinen, Chris Taylor, and Justin Turner. The Padres are also hoping to get Fernando Tatis Jr. back from injury over the next few weeks, which will only bolster their now incredible lineup. Don’t forget they also acquired Brandon Drury from the Reds and Josh Hader from the Padres.
The Dodgers had a good week, sweeping their arch-rivals the San Francisco Giants in a four game series in San Fran, but ace and future hall of famer Clayton Kershaw did exit Thursday’s game with an apparent back injury. On the flip side, the Padres took 4 of 5 from the visiting Colorado Rockies during the week, but the division deficit is still going to be very difficult to overcome over the next two months.
These two teams are arguably the two best lineups in baseball, and certainly the best two lineups west of the Mississippi (sorry Astros). The Dodgers have Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Freddie Freeman, and Will Smith anchoring their lineup and Gavin Lux is having a breakout year. Max Muncy, Joey Gallo, and Cody Bellinger are all struggling but still dangerously capable of putting one in the seats. That lineup will be bolstered by the return of Chris Taylor and Justin Turner. For the Padres, the acquisitions of Juan Soto, Josh Bell, and Brandon Drury makes their lineup much more formidable, and takes the pressure off of Manny Machado and Jake Cronenworth, who have had to carry the bulk of the offense with Tatis sidelined.
We saw how difficult it can be for pitchers in the first inning on Wednesday night during Soto, Bell, and Drury’s debut. Chad Kuhl was able to get Jurickson Profar to pop up for the first out, but then couldn’t find the strike zone against Soto and walked him on 4 pitches. Machado doubled to put runners on second and third, then Josh Bell worked a fantastic at-bat into a walk to load the bases. At this point Kuhl was completely rattled and ended up hitting Cronenworth, making it 1-0 Padres. Then Kuhl immediately gave up a grand slam to Brandon Drury on the first pitch, making 5-0 Padres before some people even had a chance to turn the game on. Adding Tatis to this lineup when he returns from injury will only make this lineup that much more difficult.
All three games will be available on national TV with the Friday and Saturday games on MLB Network and Sunday’s game on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball at 7:07.
2. Braves (63-43, 2nd NL East) at Mets (67-38, 1st NL East)
Thursday, 7:10: Mets 6-4 over Braves
Friday, 7:10: Ian Anderson (9-6, 4.99 ERA) vs Taijuan Walker (9-2, 2.79 ERA)
Saturday, 1:10: TBD vs TBD
Saturday, 7:10: TBD vs TBD
Sunday, 4:10: Spencer Strider (6-3, 2.79 ERA) vs Jacob deGrom (0-0, 1.80 ERA)
This is a massive series in terms of playoff aspirations as the Braves hope to chase down the Mets for their 5th straight NL East title. Because of the Dodgers/Padres series, this matchup is going a bit under the radar on the national stage. The Mets took game one on Thursday night 6-4 behind 3 home runs combined by new acquisitions Tyler Naquin and Daniel Vogelbach. Pete Alonso also hit his 29th bomb and drove in 3, bringing his season total to 91 RBIs already.
Following Thursday’s loss, the defending World Champions now trail the Mets by 4.5 games for the NL East division lead. They are comfortably in a playoff spot, sitting 5.5 games ahead of the Phillies/Cardinals/Brewers. But you know how Braves fans love their division titles so there’s no doubt they’ll make a push and this 5-game series will go a long way towards that.
We’ll likely see Max Scherzer and Max Fried in one of the Saturday games, but it’s unknown whether they’ll be facing each other a spot starter on the other side. Sunday’s pitching matchup has me salivating, as Spencer Strider faced off against Jacob deGrom. deGrom made his season debut against the Nationals on Tuesday, going 5 innings and giving up just a single run on three hits. He struck out six and walked none but was pulled after only 60 pitches as the Mets are trying to bring him back slowly. Don’t be surprised if he only throws 75-80 pitches against the Braves on Sunday. On the other side Spencer Strider is coming off a 13-strikeout games versus the Phillies his last time out and looks to currently be the Braves best pitcher at the moment.
None of the games will be on national broadcasts for some reason, but are available to stream through MLBtv.
3. Yankees (70-36, 1st AL East) at Cardinals (57-48, 2nd NL Central)
Friday, 8:15: Nestor Cortes (9-3, 2.53 ERA) vs Dakota Hudson (6-6, 4.10 ERA)
Saturday 7:15 (FOX): Domingo German (1-1, 6.39 ERA) vs Jordan Montgomery (3-3, 3.69 ERA)
Sunday, 2:15: Frankie Montas (4-9, 3.18) vs Adam Wainwright (8-8, 3.11 ERA)
There were quite a few options for this third selection as the Twins/Blue Jays and Astros/Guardians both have compelling cases to be highlighted this weekend but ultimately I chose the Yankees heading to St. Louis. The Yankees just dropped two of three in the Bronx to the Mariners while the Cardinals have won 4 in a row after sweeping the Cubs and are currently tied for both the NL Central division lead and the third NL Wild Card spot. The Yankees meanwhile are trying to stay ahead of the Astros for the AL’s top seed.
The Yankees finally got Joey Gallo, who hit .159 in 500+ AB’s for them, off the roster. He is replaced by new acquisition Andrew Benintendi. The former Royal and Red Sox left fielder hasn’t gotten off to the best start, going 1 for 20 in his first 29 plate appearances. He does have 8 walks versus just 6 K’s, however, so he’s still a big upgrade over Gallo. Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo continue to carry the lineup, with Judge hitting his 43rd home run and Rizzo hitting his 26th and 27th home runs of the season.
The Cardinals missed out on Juan Soto, but they’ve got a legitimate MVP candidate in Paul Goldschmidt, who is hitting .332 with 26 homers and 82 RBIs on the year. If they can get Edman and O’Neill to heat up and stabilize their starting pitching, they’ll play in October. Speaking of stabilizing their starting pitching, they acquired Jordan Montgomery from Yankees on Tuesday and he will make his Cardinals debut on Saturday against his former team. New Yankee Frankie Montas, acquired on Tuesday from the Oakland A’s, will make his Yankee debut on Sunday in the series finale against veteran Adam Wainwright.
Saturday’s game will be a national broadcast and available to watch on FOX.
The Rest of the Games
Nationals (36-71) at Phillies (57-48)
Thu PHI 5-4, Fri 7:05 (AppleTV+), Sat 6:05, Sun 1:35
Noah Syndergaard didn’t look especially good in his Phillies debut on Thursday night, but did enough to a 5-4 rain-shortened win after a long delay following the Top of the 5th. The Phillies are currently tied with the Cardinals/Brewers (those two teams also tied for NL Central lead) for the third wild card spot, and are hoping for a big series against the lowly Nationals.
Marlins (48-57) at Cubs (41-63)
Fri 2:20 (MLB Network), Sat 2:20 (FS1), Sun 2:20
The Marlins were hoping to be better than 48-57 at this point given the starting rotation they have, but with Alcantara not starting in any of these three games, there’s not a whole lot of incentive to turn this one on other than the fact the Friday game is the only afternoon baseball available.
Pirates (43-62) at Orioles (54-51)
Fri 7:05, Sat 5:05, Sun 1:35
The Baltimore Orioles are just 2 games back of the Rays for the final AL Wild Card spot and they get the Pirates at home for three games. Seems like an easy series, right? Well the Pirates just swept the NL Central leading Milwaukee Brewers during the week, so this is a sneaky match-up to watch out for in the AL Wild Card race.
Astros (69-38) at Guardians (54-51)
Thu HOU 6-0, Fri 7:10, Sat 6:10, Sun 12:05 (Peacock)
The Guardians had a chance to tie the Twins for the division lead Thursday night after Minnesota lost to the Blue Jays, but unfortunately Justin Verlander was on the mound against them. While their Wild Card chasing cohorts get the Tigers, Pirates, and Rangers, the Guardians face the Astros 3 more times. A series split would be massive for them after dropping the first game.
Rays (56-49) at Tigers (42-65)
Thu TB 6-2, Fri 7:10, Sat 6:10, Sun 1:40 (MLB Network)
The Rays gained another half game in the Wild Card race Thursday night as they beat the offensively-challenged Tigers 6-2. The Rays currently hold the third and final AL Wild Card spot, but both the Orioles and Guardians are within 2 games of them. Brandon Lowe continues to be hot following his return from injury and the acquisitions of David Peralta and Jose Siri bolsters their lineup.
White Sox (53-52) at Rangers (47-58)
Thu TEX 3-2, Fri 8:05, Sat 7:05, Sun 2:35
Like the Guardians, the White Sox had a chance to gain ground in the division Thursday night thanks to a Twins loss, but were unsuccessful in a 3-2 loss to the Texas Rangers. They remain in third place in the AL Central and 1 game back of the Guardians, 2 games back of the division-leading Twins. They’ve been somewhat disappointing this season, but still very much in the playoff hunt as they are also just 3 games back in the AL Wild Card race.
Red Sox (53-54) at Royals (42-64)
Thu KC 7-3, Fri 8:10, Sat 7:10, Sun 2:10
The Red Sox are struggling at the moment and are 4-6 over their last 10 games, including a 7-3 loss to open the series versus the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night. They’re still only 4 games back in the AL Wild Card race but are falling fast. They’ll need to right the ship if they have any chance of playing in October.
Blue Jays (59-46) at Twins (55-50)
Thu TOR 9-3, Fri 8:10, Sat 7:10, Sun 2:10
The Blue Jays are 7-3 over their last 10 and feeling comfortable atop the AL Wild Card race. They are currently 5 games ahead of the Orioles and Guardians but just half a game ahead of the Mariners. A big 9-3 win to open the road series at Target Field has them feeling good, while on the opposite side the Twins should be a little worried. They only lead the Guardians by a single game for the division lead, and the White Sox are just 2 games back in the division. Both those teams have favorable matchups this weekend while the Twins have to face the powerful Blue Jays lineup.
Reds (42-62) at Brewers (57-48)
Fri 8:10 (AppleTV+), Sat 7:15, Sun 2:10
The Brewers were surprisingly swept by the Pirate during the week despite starting Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, and Brandon Woodruff in those games. Their division lead has now disappeared and are tied with the Cardinals for the NL Central lead at 57-48. The Reds meanwhile, haven’t lost a series post-All Star break, which could spell trouble for the struggling Brew Crew.
Rockies (47-61) at Diamondbacks (46-58)
Fri 9:40, Sat 8:10, Sun 4:10
This might be the dud matchup of the week. NL West basement dwellers duke it out to see who is the NL West’s worst team.
Angels (44-62) at Mariners (57-49)
Fri 10:10, Sat 4:10 (MLB Network), Sat 10:10, Sun 4:10 (MLB Network)
The Angels hit 7 home runs (Ohtani had 2 of them) on Thursday versus the Oakland A’s and still lost. They’ll travel to Seattle to take on the Mariners, who are coming off a massive series win in the Bronx against the AL best New York Yankees. The Mariners currently sit in the second AL Wild Card spot but just 2.5 games ahead of the Orioles and Guardians.
Giants (51-55) at Athletics (41-66)
Sat 7:07, Sun 4:07
The Giants have just about fallen out of the NL Wild Card race after being swept by their arch-rival Dodgers in 4 games during the week. They now sit 4 games under .500 and 6.5 games back in the Wild Card standings. A short two-game series against the woeful Athletics could turn things around if it sparks a winning streak.