MLB Roundtable: World Series contenders, bubble teams, trade deadline fallout

MLB Roundtable: World Series contenders, bubble teams, trade deadline fallout

Our MLB editors, Michael Bradburn, Josh Goldberg, Bryan Mcwilliam, Tom Ruminski, and Simon Sharkey-Gotlieb, answer some of the biggest questions with seven weeks to go in the regular season.

Which team – other than the Braves – has the best shot at winning the World Series?

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Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers’ lineup is as scary as ever, but the pitching staff’s sudden turnaround is more important for their World Series hopes. Deadline acquisition Lance Lynn looks much more like himself through two starts in L.A., Clayton Kershaw is back, and even the disappointing Julio Urias has pitched better in August. The Dodgers are on track to get the NL’s No. 2 seed, meaning they’ll have a favorable NLDS matchup with either the weakest division winner or the No. 6 seed while avoiding Atlanta until the NLCS. No, this isn’t the most talented L.A. squad in recent memory, but the Dodgers are also the only NL team that can go toe-to-toe with the Braves. They can easily win the World Series, and it’d be foolish to sleep on them. – Sharkey-Gotlieb

Houston Astros: Houston has made a staggering six straight ALCS appearances. The Astros have battled injuries throughout the season but appear to be rounding into form with the postseason on the horizon. Even with injuries to Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis Garcia, Houston’s rotation is still well-equipped with Framber Valdez, Justin Verlander, J.P. France, Hunter Brown, Jose Urquidy, and Cristian Javier. As Ric Flair once said, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.” Well, the Astros are the man in the American League, and someone will have to step up to knock them off that perch. – Goldberg

Minnesota Twins: This is more emblematic of how close the field truly is beyond the top-flight Braves. Truly any team can win, and there’s one particular reason the Twins might be well-positioned for the upset in October: pitching. No team in baseball has a better starting staff than Minnesota, according to FanGraphs WAR, and pitching reigns supreme in the postseason. Even though the Twins will likely have to play an additional round as the AL’s worst division winner, their first-round opponent will have to beat two of Sonny Gray, Pablo Lopez, and either the currently injured Joe Ryan or very stingy No. 4 Bailey Ober. Once you get past those starters, the bullpen isn’t really much easier, with Jhoan Duran, Griffin Jax, Brock Stewart, and Caleb Thielbar all able to frustrate hitters. They may not be household names, but that’ll quickly change if they propel the club to a Cinderella-like run. – Bradburn

Which playoff team should be most concerned by its current play?

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Miami Marlins: The Marlins are 10-18 since the All-Star break after a franchise-best 53 wins heading into the Midsummer Classic. The schedule also doesn’t get any easier with the Astros, Dodgers, and Padres coming up over the next week and a half. So, Miami’s slide could stretch into late August. The club’s offense is still way too inconsistent despite a renaissance by newcomer Josh Bell, who’s gone deep five times with a 1.099 OPS over 12 games with the Marlins. The team has averaged just over 3.6 runs per contest during this prolonged skid. – Ruminski

San Francisco Giants: The Giants started the second half on fire, winning their first five games. They’re 9-14 since, with five of those victories coming against the last-place Athletics and a declining Diamondbacks club. San Francisco has struggled to score recently, ranking 28th in runs in the second half while sitting 29th in homers and wRC+. The starting pitching has also scuffled, putting a lot of pressure on a fantastic bullpen that’s kept the team afloat. If this continues, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Giants passed over for a playoff spot. – Mcwilliam

Arizona Diamondbacks: They’re built for the long haul, but the Diamondbacks have let a wonderful chance to both make the postseason and win the division escape their grasp. At the end of August, Arizona possessed a 47.7% chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs. Now, in a matter of two weeks, it’s at 17%. Recent performances against the Padres have helped right the ship after a nine-game losing streak, but the damage might already be done in a crowded NL wild-card field. This isn’t a make-or-break season, but nothing is guaranteed for the future. Also, getting Corbin Carroll and a cast of young stars some early playoff experience could’ve been huge going forward. – Bradburn

Which deadline addition has made the biggest impact?

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Max Scherzer: Like former Mets teammate Verlander, moving to the Lone Star State appears to have fixed Scherzer. The 39-year-old has looked much more like his old self in Texas, putting up a 1.80 ERA, 2.07 FIP, and 0.80 WHIP over his first three starts. The Rangers, who are trying to hold off the Astros, were desperate for an impact rotation arm to replace Jacob deGrom and take some of the load off Jon Gray, Dane Dunning, and the now-injured Nathan Eovaldi. Scherzer also lengthens Texas’ rotation and allows Martin Perez to pitch out of the bullpen, where he’s better suited these days. – Sharkey-Gotlieb

Justin Verlander: The Astros desperately needed an anchor in the rotation with injuries and inconsistency plaguing them throughout the season. Houston had to part with two high-end prospects to reacquire Verlander from the Mets, but it’s clear he never should’ve left in the first place. Verlander has picked up right where he left off with the Astros, logging a quality start in each of his first two outings since the trade. – Goldberg

Lance Lynn: The veteran right-hander is exactly what a banged-up Dodgers rotation needed. The two-time All-Star has recorded two quality starts over his first three appearances while allowing just four earned runs with four walks and 22 strikeouts over 18 innings. Lynn has looked revitalized after posting a 6.47 ERA and 1.46 WHIP on a disappointing White Sox club. – Ruminski

Which deadline acquisition has been most disappointing?

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Paul DeJong: He was a pretty low-leverage addition, but DeJong has been incredibly costly for the Blue Jays while filling in at short for the injured Bo Bichette. He’s 3-for-39 through 11 games, and even his defense is below replacement level, according to FanGraphs. The 30-year-old has been worth minus-0.7 WAR with Toronto. Again, he’s a bench piece. But in Bichette’s absence, the Jays were likely hoping he’d at least outperform incumbent Santiago Espinal. – Bradburn

Scott Barlow: The Padres threw caution to the wind and decided to be buyers at the deadline. The decision looks like a short-sighted one as San Diego’s playoff chances have declined with a sluggish 4-8 start in August. Barlow struggled with the Royals before the trade and hasn’t fared any better on the West Coast. The right-hander has an ERA over 11 and a WHIP of 1.94 through his first five appearances with the Padres. – Goldberg

Randal Grichuk: Grichuk wasn’t the Angels’ biggest trade acquisition at the deadline, but they reunited with their former first-round pick hoping he’d fortify left field for their playoff push. He’s been a bust, slashing .163/.196/.327 with minus-0.3 fWAR in an Angels uniform. Grichuk has been particularly bad over his last eight games, going 2-for-27 with one RBI. – Mcwilliam

Which series are you most looking forward to in the rest of August?

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Astros-Mariners (Aug. 18-20): This series between division rivals battling for one of the final AL wild-card spots will be fascinating. The Mariners have historically struggled against Houston, particularly at Minute Maid Park, but they’re 5-2 against the Astros this year. When they square off at the Juice Box on Friday, the surging Mariners could be within a game of the Astros in both the division and wild-card standings. Houston’s offense has been clicking in August, making for a fascinating matchup against Seattle’s stellar starting pitching. If the Mariners are going to ride this wave into the playoffs, they have to win this series. This promises to be an intense weekend of baseball. – Sharkey-Gotlieb

Braves-Dodgers (Aug. 31-Sept. 3): This should be a juicy NLCS preview as the two powerhouses meet for a four-game series. Atlanta, which is on pace to break the single-season MLB record for total homers, has been the talk of baseball. Meanwhile, Los Angeles is 12-1 in August, including a current eight-game winning streak. The matchup will feature four MVP candidates in Ronald Acuna Jr., Matt Olson, Freddie Freeman, and Mookie Betts. – Ruminski

Cubs-Brewers (Aug. 28-30): These division rivals have a long history of not enjoying each other’s company – see last season’s opening weekend of hit-by-pitches, accompanied by a brawl. They’re also immersed in a tight battle for the top spot in the NL Central. With the way things are lining up in the NL playoff picture, the team that winds up second in the division might not make the postseason. All of these factors could lead to a spicy three-game series at Wrigley Field. Where’s the popcorn? – Mcwilliam

Who will be the most important player for playoff bubble teams down the stretch?

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Julio Rodriguez: The 22-year-old hasn’t had a bad year by any means, but he also hasn’t taken a leap offensively after an impressive AL Rookie of the Year campaign. Rodriguez has lost nearly 30 points off his batting average and on-base percentage from last season. Although the Mariners have produced at the plate since the beginning of July after struggling as a team, they need Rodriguez to heat up if they want to make it two straight trips to the postseason. – Goldberg

The Marlins’ closer: It’s honestly unclear who it is, but whoever manager Skip Schumaker sends out to protect ninth-inning leads is the single most important person in the NL wild-card hunt. In all likelihood, it’s deadline acquisition David Robertson, who was sent out for the most recent save opportunity back on Aug. 9. However, he hasn’t looked especially sharp with his new team, allowing five runs (four earned) on four hits and two walks over six innings. Regardless of his struggles, Miami boasts an MLB-best 27-10 record in one-run games. Will the Marlins’ luck run out down the stretch? Or can they keep piling up victories in close games at an almost unprecedented rate with Robertson, A.J. Puk, Tanner Scott, and Andrew Nardi tip-toeing through flames? The NL wild-card race depends on it. – Bradburn

Corbin Carroll: Carroll appeared to suffer a serious shoulder injury July 6, but he’s been in the lineup every day afterward. However, he’s since hit just .214/.310/.375 with three homers and nine extra-base hits. It’s no coincidence that Arizona’s gone 9-22 over that same span, a slide that’s not only ended its hopes of a division title but dropped the team 3.5 games out of the playoffs. Carroll is the key to the D-Backs’ playoff hopes. They need him to either get healthy or gut through whatever might be bothering him and return to his MVP-caliber level. Otherwise, it may already be game over in the desert. – Sharkey-Gotlieb

Which injury will have the biggest impact on the rest of the season?

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Shane McClanahan: As if the Rays needed another injury to their rotation. Tampa Bay lost its ace for the remainder of the season because of an arm issue. McClanahan has been added to a growing list of hurt starters that also includes Drew Rasmussen, Jeffrey Springs, and Shane Baz. That’s awful news and timing for the Rays, who are three games back of the Orioles for the top spot in the AL East with 41 games to go. Tampa Bay must pray Zach Eflin and his troublesome knee, the oft-injured Tyler Glasnow, and reliever-turned-starter Zack Littell can eat up a lot of innings down the stretch. – Mcwilliam

Josh Jung: The AL Rookie of the Year front-runner was a major piece for the Rangers on both sides of the ball before suffering a fractured thumb. The 25-year-old will be out until at least late September after undergoing surgery. Jung went deep 22 times with 67 RBIs and a .813 OPS prior to the injury. His offensive production won’t be easy to replicate, especially in a heated race with the Astros for the AL West title. The third baseman also produced a solid 2.2 defensive rating at the hot corner, according to FanGraphs. – Ruminski

Walker Buehler: Maybe it’s subverting the question since Buehler’s healed injury is what’s going to make an impact. The right-hander seems very close to returning from Tommy John surgery, affording the Dodgers a rotation weapon that could quickly tip the scales in the National League in their favor. It seemed as though the two-time All-Star might only be able to return in a relief role this year, but manager Dave Roberts stated recently that Buehler would rejoin the team as a traditional starter. He’ll likely return with a strictly managed workload, but considering the Dodgers have dealt with injuries to Clayton Kershaw, an ineffective Julio Urias, and other obstacles all season, Buehler could quickly return them to juggernaut status. – Bradburn

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