It’s been an eventful couple of weeks in the MLB. A couple of teams have kicked their run into high gear, some are stuck in neutral, and others are hustling backwards. Let’s start with one of the more memorable moments of the MLB season which took place on the North Side of Chicago.
Cubs leading a strong NL Central race
(CHC lead by four games)
The “David Bote Game” may be one that we look back on as a defining moment for the Cubs as well as a deathblow for the Nationals. Bote’s game-winning grand slam a few weeks ago was a good feeling, but the Cubs still have some work to do as the Cardinals (2.5 games back) have gone from .500 and selling off assets to a statement sweep of the Dodgers in a month, and the Brewers (three games back) hang around in the division as well.
The Cubs officially shut Yu Darvish down for the remainder of the season, but they added playoff nemesis Daniel Murphy for the stretch run. The Cardinals also added firepower to their lineup by way of first baseman Matt Adams.
Code Red in DC as the Braves separate themselves from the Phillies
(ATL leads NL East by 3 games)
The good news for the Nationals is they've won the first two games in their series with the Phillies, and they'll see Philadelphia and Atlanta for the final time in two weeks. The bad news is that they've already started their fire sale, sending both Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams to contenders, and pulling Bryce Harper back off waivers once the Dodgers claimed him. "Harper Watch" is officially underway.
Speaking of the Phillies, the question of their legitimacy away from Philly remains as they went 2-4 in Arizona and San Diego, and dropped their first two games in Washington. Philadelphia has to consistently beat the teams they’re supposed to beat as well as find success on the road.
The Braves had their own share of drama as young star Ronald Acuna Jr. was plunked by a Jose Urena fastball last week. Acuna was RED HOT at the plate, homering eight times in eight games leading up to the incident. Fortunately, Acuna did not suffer a significant injury. It will be interesting to see how things go this weekend when the Braves travel to play Urena’s Marlins.
Anyone’s Game in the NL West (ARI leads by 1.5 games)
While Arizona has been near the top of the division standings all season, the Rockies are the division’s hottest team. Colorado has won nine of its last eleven games, and welcome Matt Holliday into the lineup for the stretch run. The second half of their six-game homestand will be important as the Cardinals are playing great baseball as well.
Meanwhile, things haven’t gone as planned in Los Angeles. The Dodgers' slide continues as they were swept by St. Louis at home this week. Kenley Jansen's second appearance since coming off the disabled list was brutal as he surrendered the two-run homer that ended the game. LA is 4.5 games out of first, 3.5. games back of the second wild card.
RK-Oakland: A’s are AL West Contenders Out of Nowhere (HOU leads by 1 game)
In a way that would make WWE Superstar Randy Orton proud, the Oakland A’s have surprisingly found their way into the AL West race. Oakland’s success has been puzzling to just about everyone outside of the Bay Area being that they’ve entered the season in the bottom three of team payroll. Lately they’ve won their share of close games with the help of their retooled bullpen. If they can keep this up, we might see the Oakland Coliseum being used for baseball past September.
Houston is trying to find their stride after a rough stretch which they lost three of their last ten. They took two of three in Seattle to push the Mariners down and stay atop the AL West. They'll host the A's in their final series of the regular season next week in Houston; one of the most crucial series left this year.
Seattle isn’t necessarily fading in the AL West; their play has been overshadowed by the two teams above them. So far, every time it looks like that playoff drought might live to see another year, the Mariners show that they still have life. Robinson Cano’s return to the team has been a plus in a variety of ways, although he’s ineligible for postseason play. However, uncertainty surrounding Felix Hernández’s role on the pitching staff raises eyebrows. “Will he go to bullpen?”, “Will he ever return to the starting rotation”, “Does he even have anything left in the tank?” are all questions the Mariners need to solve as soon as possible.
Elsewhere, the Boston Red Sox continue to play great baseball. Since sweeping the Yankees they've gone 9-4, boosting them to a league-best 88 wins. They seem poised for a deep postseason run. Oh, and that JD Martinez guy? He’s having an MVP-worthy season and very well could make the 50-home run mark this season.
Not to be outdone by Boston, the Indians have quietly put together a solid run of their own winning eight of their last ten. The Indians are the only division leader with a double-digit lead as they’re up twelve and a half games over second place Minnesota. Looking at the state of the other four teams in the division, Cleveland very well could have the AL Central locked up by the third week of September.