We are sitting on the end of the 2018 MLB regular season. And 11 teams are still alive (maybe 10 assuming the Rockies and Dodgers win either today or tomorrow OR if St. Louis loses one of the next two days). So for argument’s sake, we will look at the teams that are in plus the Rockies and Dodgers. How did this come to be for the teams this year?
Of course we have a couple of new faces in postseason (Braves, Brewers, Athletics) that we haven’t seen before and we have teams who hope to get over the top while the defending champion Astros keep their title for one more season. So let’s look at how things changed for these teams and what moves they made to get them there.
ATLANTA BRAVES: Calling up Ronald Acuña and trading for Kevin Gausman. We know about the Braves rebuild and many believe the moves that were made were the ones that got them over the top. In reality, Acuña (and Ozzie Albies) were actually Frank Wren signings before Atlanta used him as the fall guy at the end of the 2014 season. And the major impact guy in all those fire sale trades this year was Mike Foltynewicz (part of the Evan Gattis deal). The two trades made with San Diego (Uptons, Kimbrel), nobody has made an impact (and most of them are gone), and the Simmons-Newcomb trade has been mixed at best for Atlanta. The Braves were on the up until they called up Acuña and he tore the cover off the ball. He got injured but when he came back he remained a monster for the Braves and many in the Atlanta area believe not only should he get Rookie of the Year but an MVP. The Braves all season up through July were either in the lead of the NL East or never more than 2.5 games back of Philadelphia in the division. With Newcomb struggling and unease with Teheran as well as questions if Anibal Sanchez (a great pickup too) reverting back to more of his last years with the Tigers instead of 2013 Sanchez pushed Atlanta to trade for Kevin Gausman. Gausman had been a flop for Baltimore (who isn’t right now?) and the Braves may have bought him low. But many felt Gausman would improve with a change of scenery out of the rough AL East. And he has. Since joining Atlanta Gausman has gone 5-2 with a 2.86 ERA and a WHIP of 1.09. Needless to say, all of that have been the best he’s pitched to this point. The K/9 rate is slightly concerning (only 6.3) but he’s been everything the Braves needed. And it also improved the rotation’s morale as Julio Teheran has been pitching far better since Gausman’s arrival. After the trade, the Braves have gone 33-23 and went up 9.5 games on the division that was originally close with them and the Phillies (also helped with Philadelphia collapsing down the stretch). But these two moves catapulted the Braves into October.
BOSTON RED SOX: Signing JD Martinez. Boston last year made the playoffs but the offense was stagnant and lacked any power ever since David Ortiz retired. Martinez came on a contract that would net him over $100 million (and some believed the Sox overpaid him because he was a liability in the outfield). But comparing Martinez to what Giancarlo Stanton that the Yankees did, the signing looks like a bargain compared to what the Yankees have to pay Stanton. Boston’s offense clicked and everybody started hitting in Beantown. Mookie Betts is also an MVP candidate and the likes of Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts stepped up in a big way. With the starting pitching capable of going against anybody (assuming if they are healthy), Boston is considered a favorite and are well north of 100 wins this year. Martinez was obviously the best free agent signing in the off-season. And it has paid dividends for Boston.
CHICAGO CUBS: Signing Steve Cishek and trading for Cole Hamels. Over the past year and a half, the Cubs moves were in question with the overpaying of prospects for Jose Quintana (who has not lived up to the expectations), the trade for Justin Wilson, and the Yu Darvish signing. However, the Cubs made an under the radar move of getting Steve Cishek and he has helped keep the bullpen pretty strong for them. And then the Cubs traded for Cole Hamels (as Chicago had been tapped out of prospects with the Quintana and Wilson trades) to take on his salary. He has pitched great, going 4-2 with a 2.47 ERA and a WHIP of 1.14. Hamels and Cishek are two major reasons why the Cubs are still slightly ahead of Milwaukee in the NL Central race.
COLORADO ROCKIES: Signing Chris Iannetta. The Rockies made no massive moves outside of Iannetta. While his WAR according to Baseball Reference has him at a -0.6, I don’t think you can put a value to what he means to the Rockies starting rotation that is actually not bad. While he obviously won’t win the Cy Young, Kyle Freeland will get a couple of Cy Young votes with his record (17-7, 2.85 ERA and the ability to not give up home runs). Geman Marquez is a strikeout machine and has strong numbers across the board. And Jon Gray since his return from Albuquerque has been more like the Jon Gray Rockies fans and “live arm” fans have hoped he would be. And it was needed this year as save for Trevor Story’s MVP push and Nolan Arenado, Colorado’s offense is not a massive juggernaut like we have come to known.
CLEVELAND INDIANS: Trading for Brad Hand. Well, Cleveland pretty much sleepwalked to the AL Central title this year given the problems of the other four teams in that division. And they played like it at times. They lost a lot in the way of their bullpen from a year ago, which was so dominant and when you factor in Andrew Miller’s injury, the Indians weren’t the same squad at all. Getting Brad Hand at the price was a bit risky, but he’s been solid for them and has re-established Cleveland as a team to watch in October.
HOUSTON ASTROS: Trading for Gerrit Cole. Houston may have robbed the Yankees in getting this guy as before the Astros got him it looked all but finished that New York was going to get him and in that aspect, kept the Yankees from REALLY dominating. And at the same time it also kept the Astros afloat in picture. Houston’s pitching is very stout with Verlander, Keuchel, and Morton, but needed Cole especially as the offense is not the same strong offense like their championship run last year. Altuve is still Altuve but his numbers are well down. Even when he’s been on the field Carlos Correa has been WAY down. Adding on, the outfield hasn’t produced either. So the move for Cole was big for them this year especially with how the Athletics came on.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS: Calling up Walker Buehler & Max Muncy. Los Angeles was plagued by injuries early on in the season and widespread panic hit Dodgertown. However, things started to look up when the Dodgers called up Walker Buehler to start and he has been nothing short of stout. He has a 7-5 record with a 2.86 ERA and a WHIP of under 1 and has ace written all over him. He should garner some Rookie of the Year votes too. But Max Muncy came out of nowhere and was that guy that just could rocket bombs into the outfield seats for Los Angeles as the Dodgers offense needed when Seager, Turner, and Puig were on the DL. It is surprising that Manny Machado, who is a key add at the deadline obviously isn’t here, and he has been strong, but the average hasn’t been as high.
MILWAUKEE BREWERS: Trading for Christian Yelich. Yelich may have the inside track for MVP given how he has terrorized pitching in the past month. The move was pretty big at the time, but it is huge now given that Milwaukee is chasing down the hated Cubs for the division lead. The numbers speak volumes but what he’s done in the 2nd half alone reminds me of what Chipper Jones did down the stretch for the Braves in 1999, always stepping up in that key moment. In the second half, Yelich is hitting .363 with 22 HR and an OPS of an astounding 1.193. Wow.
NEW YORK YANKEES: Trading for Giancarlo Stanton and calling up Gleyber Torres & Miguel Andujar. While I think the Yankees are going to pay a steep price for Stanton in terms of money, Stanton stepped up when it mattered the most: when Aaron Judge was injured. Stanton’s numbers aren’t the MVP ones he had last year in Miami, but still has 37 HR to his credit. And for Torres/Andujar, 50 HR total from the rookies and the Yankees remained well ahead of the rest of the AL save Boston and Houston.
OAKLAND ATHLETICS: Trading for Stephen Piscotty. This move when it was made and you found out why the move was made seemed like it was a move that was more personal than a professional move. Piscotty wanted to remain close to home near his mother with ALS. Understandable as there are more things to life than sports. But Piscotty’s value to the team should not be overlooked as he was a great veteran presence and he had a career year with 26 HR. He alongside Jed Lowrie provided that winning veteran presence while keeping that Athletics brand of baseball going of just having fun and playing until the last out.
Later on I will put my playoff power rankings of the teams that are in, once I know which teams are in.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat