As of Tuesday, there are about 15 MLB teams with a legitimate shot at the post-season.
In the National League, it’s a near dead certainty that the Washington Nationals (14.0 games ahead in NL East) and Los Angeles Dodgers (20 games clear) will be playing meaningful ball in October.
In the American League, only the Houston Astros appear to be in the driver’s seat, owning a 12.5 game cushion on second place Los Angeles.
Otherwise, the NL has five other teams we feel can weather the stretch drive, they being: Chicago Cubs (first in NL Central), Colorado (third best record in the NL), Arizona (fourth best record and easily in first wild card spot), Milwaukee (second in the Central, 2.5 games back of the Cubs) and St. Louis (three back of Chicago).
In the AL, the six other contenders are Cleveland (first in AL Central), Boston (first in AL East), New York, Minnesota, Kansas City, Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners.
On each of these contenders there is at least one starting player who is slumping and should be rested by planting their butt’s on the end of the bench (or right through the post-season).
Here 15 that are singled out for criticism.
15. Boston Red Sox – Hanley Ramirez
Ramirez is having an awful month of August, battling an oblique strain and having suddenly found a hole in his swing. And, with Dustin Pedroia due back soon, his DH job could be in jeopardy. Eduardo Nunez is hitting over .300 since being acquired, Mitch Moreland is having a great month (.989 OPS) and the team will need to find them at-bats if they don’t draw into a position. Ditto part-time guys like Chris Young. Ramirez hasn’t helped his cause with a season low .236 batting average and .780 OPS this month. Boston will need him and his decent post-season bat (.333 in 16 total games, 11 RBI), but with that nagging injury and his relatively advanced age (33) he should be shut down for a while.
14. New York Yankees – Aroldis Chapman
Aaron Judge would have been a good candidate here, but we believe his second half doldrums can be worked through and a benching my be counter-intuitive to his development and psyche heading to the post-season. We think Chapman, who has already lost the closer’s role as of Sunday, should spend extra time working on his control away from games that count, for the time being. The 29-year-old lefty bullpen workhorse is having his worst month since May, owning a 9.45 ERA in six appearances. A guy who had 12 total walks in 33 other games this season already has six bases on balls in just 6.2 innings pitched in August. Control issues, then, might be just part of the problem. In a key game against a potential post-season opponent — Boston — on Aug. 13, he was tagged for a blown save and a loss as the Red Sox stormed back against him in a 3-2 loss. It started with a Rafael Devers homer to tie the game and got worse from there.
13. Cleveland Indians – Jason Kipnis
Kipnis was key to the Tribe’s fortunes in the playoffs last year, and with a little added rest, he should come around to hit and field well again. However, after sitting 22 games between July 9 and August 5, his transition back into the line-up as the everyday second sacker has not been smooth. He has suffered a power drop this season and is hitting just .228 with 11 homers and 30 RBI in 78 games. His OPS is down over .100 this year too, from .811 in 2016 to .695 so far this year. Since Aug. 6 when he drew back in, Kipnis is batting just .204, with three homers and four RBI in 49 at bats. He has also struck out 15 times, which is bad when considering he whiffed just 14 times in 90 at bats in June. They could give Jose Ramirez a few more starts at second to spell Kipnis as he works out the bugs in his swing and gets back to full health.
12. Minnesota Twins – Jason Castro
A look up and down the Twins line-up doesn’t reveal too many players suffering from a late season slump. Yet, catcher Jason Castro, who has played in 90 games this season, is showing a few cracks, at least at the plate. Never to be confused with a power hitter or even a great contact hitter, it would behoove the Twins to sit him down a little more in favor of Chris Gimenez or slugging rookie Mitch Garver during the stretch drive. Castro had a better than average July, hitting .270 with nine doubles and six RBI. In August, though, the needle has moved south, with a .233 average, two extra base hits and four RBI. The Twins will need him refreshed in October, as they currently hold the second wild card and will need to hold off at least four teams within three games of them.
11. Houston Astros – Jake Marisnick
Marisnick, who has seen extra time in centerfield in the absence of George Springer, finished a decent month of July with a fluorish. He had a career game on July 31 against Tampa Bay, going 3-for-4 with a double, two homers and five RBI in a 14-7 clobbering of the Rays. Since then, he’s been meek at the plate in August, hitting just .209 and barely matching that one-game output in extra base hits (3) and RBI (4) in 43 at-bats. The Astros don’t exactly need his production, as they sit comfortably in first in the AL West, 11.5 games ahead of the second place Los Angeles Angels. The outfield shuffle will likely continue and giving Marisnick a few more games off before a likely October push for a championship wouldn’t be a bad thing.
10. Los Angeles Angels – Albert Pujols
He’s still one of the most feared hitters in baseball, but by his own lofty standards, Albert Pujols is slumping rather badly. Yet, a recent great run by the Halos has seen them climb into the playoff picture, and at 65-61 they are just a half game back of the second wild card position in the AL. They won’t catch Houston for first in the AL West, but Minnesota and the Yankees aren’t running away with anything. Pujols has spent most of his 114 games this season as DH and without the added pressure and wear and tear of playing defence, he still isn’t hitting well. His season batting average is a career low .231 (.224 in August) and he has 32 extra base hits (19 homers) and 79 RBI. Those RBI might seem good to most, but consider that he drove in 119 last year and had better overall numbers. C.J. Cron, who is 10 years his junior, should get a few starts in Pujols place at DH.
9. Kansas City Royals – Alex Gordon
Just two seasons ago, Royals left fielder Alex Gordon was an all-star, for the third campaign in a row, no less. This year, at the plate at least, he has been near invisible. So much so that a .232 July batting average actually lifted his season mark above the Mendoza line to .203. Currently, the 11-year homegrown veteran is batting a paltry .199, accentuated by an August output that has seen him hit just .179 with no extra base hits and only three RBI. The Royals are still hanging around the fringes of the wild card chase, 1.5 games behind and 6.0 games back of AL Central leading Cleveland. If they are going to make a big push in September, manager Ned Yost may want to consider plugging in trade deadline acquisition Melky Cabrera in left a little more often.
8. Seattle Mariners – Mike Zunino
The Mariners are the team on this list we feel has the slimmest chance of sliding into a wild card spot. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have the horses to do it. This is a team loaded with power at the plate and decent enough pitching to mount an assault on the wild card, where the Ms are currently in a 3.0 game hole. One hole they do have in the line-up is at catcher, which is a dog’s breakfast offensively with Zunino and Carlos Ruiz. Now, incumbent Zunino, who is 12 years younger than Ruiz, does have 18 homers and 48 RBI, but he is hitting just .224 and has struck out 123 times in just 330 plate appearances. In August, Zunino has undergone a power downshift, with just two homers and five RBI, along with .216 batting average. As well, he has thrown out just 12 of 56 potential base stealers (21 percent), well down from a high of 34 percent in 2015.
7. Washington Nationals – Matt Wieters
It might seem like we’re being especially critical of catchers here, but it’s a hard position to play and wear and tear is a reality. Again, the NL East leading Nationals don’t have a proliferance of slumping players, given that they own a 13.5 game cushion on the Miami Marlins and barring a disastrous collapse will be playing meaningful ball in October. Four-time all-star Wieters was a prized pick-up in the off-season and he has been true to form behind the plate, defensively at least. The 31-year-old catcher has started 97 of the Nats 123 games and his numbers so far suggest slump, especially in August. His tired looking bat has logged an average of just .156 this month, with three extra base hits and nine RBI. Plugging in youngster Pedro Severino on a few occasions to spell Wieters would be a good idea.
6. Chicago Cubs – Jon Lester
August has not been kind to veteran starter Jon Lester, who was put on the 10-day DL with shoulder stiffness four days ago. For that reason, if Joe Maddon can find a way to sit him a little more in September, it wouldn’t hurt Lester, especially if spot starter and long reliever Mike Montgomery can give the team quality innings. Besides, if the Cubs are to make a serious run at defending their title, a rested Lester could still be a key piece. Lester got absolutely lit up by the Cincinnati Reds in his last start on Aug. 17, surrendering seven hits, seven earned runs in just 1.2 innings pitched on the way to a 13-10 loss. That start was preceded by three OK starts to begin the month, but overall his ERA was a lofty 7.85 (4.37 overall this year). He is still a strikeout machine with 155 Ks in 148.1 innings pitched so an extra day or three of rest down the stretch drive wouldn’t hurt him in the least.
5. Milwaukee Brewers – Eric Thames
The best chance the Brewers have of making the post-season would be in attempting to catch the Cubs for the NL Central crown. They are 2.5 games back of the division lead, but 3.0 games behind Colorado for the remaining wild card position. As they don’t play Colorado or Arizona again this year, they can control their destiny with seven games left against the Cubbies. One player we think is due to watch a few games from the bench is 1B Eric Thames. He was cause celebre in April when he clubbed 11 homers, but has done very little since. A reclamation project anyway, Thames does have 27 homers and 52 RBI this year. The pressure to produce, however, may be weighing on him. In 18 games this month he is hitting .203 with three homers and seven RBI. Jesus Aguilar, who has been platooning at first with Thames, ought to get a more starts in Thames’ place in September.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers – Logan Forsythe
Finding a flaw on a team that is 54 games above .500 is a monumental task. The Dodgers are firing on all cylinders, sporting a 89-35 record and holding a pretty much insurmountable 21-game lead on second place Arizona in the NL West. Suffice to say they will hold home field advantage for as long as they stay in the post-season. For that reason, then, one player who has kind of slumped is second baseman Logan Forsythe. And the Dodgers do have options to fill the void at second in Chase Utley. Forsythe, who is eight years younger, should be the starter come playoff time, but sitting him down a little more in September would be a wise move. The seven-year veteran has seen his numbers dip across the board since coming over from Tampa in the off-season. He has just 16 extra base hits and 27 RBI in 85 games, a year removed from 48 extra base hits and 52 RBI in 127 games with the Rays.
3. Colorado Rockies – Greg Holland
That the Rockies are still in a wild card spot today has been largely due to some superhuman efforts, closer Greg Holland included. Yet, lately, the Milwaukee Brewers are close to reeling them in as they have gone 3-7 while the Brew Crew have gone 7-3 to narrow the gap to just three games. Holland, lately, has looked tired and has blown two saves this month in just seven appearances after blowing just one in 40 other trips to the mound all year. He still leads the National League in saves with 35 and is second in the bigs, but he has had three rough outings this month (including being hung with a loss against Milwaukee on Aug. 19). So it may be time to allow relievers like Chris Rusin or Jake McGee to get the ball with the game on the line and save something in Holland’s arm for the post-season.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks – Jorge De La Rosa
Not that long ago, both the Rockies and Diamondbacks had superb records and seemed well-positioned to assume the wild card spots in the National League. Now, though, they find the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals all of a sudden within striking distance. Part of the D-Backs recent slide has seen some poor pitching out of the bullpen, and veteran long reliever De La Rosa has been spotty at best. He started the year out well and owned a respectable 3.82 ERA at the end of June. Since then, a 6.14 ERA in July and a 7.11 mark so far in August have ballooned it to 4.67. It’s not that he’s pitched all that bad, but neither has he been very good at all the last two months. Thus, handing the ball to him a little less in September couldn’t hurt the Snakes’ fortunes.
1. St. Louis Cardinals – Mike Leake
For years the Cards were top of the heap on the senior circuit, but after missing the playoffs in 2016 they find themselves on the fringe again this season, 5.0 games out of the wild card. If not for the foibles of Colorado and Arizona recently, they would be toast. But, they still have the slimmest of chances. Mike Leake has been true to his surname in August, spilling hits and runs out like they were going out of style. With his team fighting for its very playoff lives, Leake has lost four of his last five starts since July 29 and in no case did he position his team for a win. In the only game they did win in those five starts (he had a no-decision), Leake left after five innings against visiting Kansas City, having allowed 11 hits and five runs. The Cards had to come back to win 8-5. A 10.31 ERA in the month does not bode well and if the Cards can giveaway a few of his starts in September, it might actually help.