We’re into the home stretch of baseball season, and the month of September will settle the playoff races. There are plenty of teams still in it, even if the American League picture looks mostly settled, but the races promise to be exciting.
There are, however, no flawless teams. Every contender has a weakness that can be exploited, albeit some more obvious than others. Looking at teams who are presently within three games of a playoff spot — sorry, Philadelphia — here’s the Achilles’ heel that could trip up each team down the stretch or in the postseason.
Arizona Diamondbacks — Run-scoring
In a pivotal weekend series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Diamondbacks scored just nine runs across four games, three of which they lost by one run. That sums up where Arizona’s challenge lies. Only six National League teams have scored fewer runs than Arizona has this season. It’s odd to see a lineup with Paul Goldschmidt in it struggling this much, but he, David Peralta, and A.J. Pollock are the only three Diamondbacks hitting above .250.
The Milwaukee Brewers have finally acquired the starting pitcher they sought.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Brewers will acquire left-hander Gio Gonzalez from the Washington Nationals.
#Brewers get Gio Gonzalez, sources tell The Athletic.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) August 31, 2018
Gonzalez has a 4.57 ERA this season, but he’s a year removed from a sub-3 ERA and a sixth-place finish in NL Cy Young voting. He’ll still boost the Milwaukee rotation, which has one pitcher — Jhoulys Chacin — with more than 20 starts and a sub-4 ERA.
Milwaukee has been looking for upgrades all season long. It likely ensured that they were aggressive in their pursuit of Gonzalez, as they weren’t going to get another chance to upgrade their rotation for a potential playoff run.
In the sixth inning of an 8-4 Milwaukee Brewers victory over the San Diego Padres on Wednesday night, relief pitcher Phil Hughes served up a monster home run to left fielder Christian Yelich.
The Yelich blast was gone the second the ball connected with the bat. Hughes didn’t bother turning around to see where it landed, which happened to be the scoreboard in center field.
The home run traveled an estimated 432 feet, which seems relatively conservative all things considered.
After the game, the always joyful and jovial Hughes hit Twitter to poke a little fun at himself and Yelich in the process.
I’m obviously joking. He hit the ball to Mars
— Phil Hughes (@PJHughes45) August 9, 2018
Naturally, Twitter users could not detect Hughes’ sarcasm which prompted him to clarify the joke. But those who got it found immediate amusement in it.
Although the Padres are well below .500, it’s nice to see some players still out there having fun and enjoying themselves even during down times. Hughes would obviously want that pitch back, but he served it up and later owned it. You’ve got to respect that.
Though waiver trades can still be made until the end of August, the July 31 trade deadline is generally seen as MLB teams’ last, best shot to improve for a playoff run. Subsequently, the moves made Tuesday and in the leadup to the date are going to be heavily dissected to see how it sets up teams going forward. Who got better? Who got worse? Who didn’t do enough?
Here are eight teams who made the moves to get much better ahead of the stretch run.
8) Atlanta Braves
Acquiring reliever Brad Brach was a nice low-risk move for the Braves, and the same goes for the addition of power-hitting outfielder Adam Duvall to boost an offense that hasn’t quite been running on all cylinders recently. Their decision on Tuesday to trade for Baltimore Orioles starter Kevin Gausman is an intriguing one. A former top prospect who has never quite lived up to the billing, Gausman still has a good arm. A change of scenery might be just what he needs, as well as the entry into a pennant race.
The Milwaukee Brewers have had one of the best pitching staffs in baseball this season, but many people think it’s only a matter of time before they implode. Lorenzo Cain doesn’t know what those people are talking about.
The Brewers pursued starting pitchers at the trade deadline on Tuesday but ultimately came up short. They reportedly inquired about top-line starters like Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. After the way Wide Miley pitched in a 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cain feels Milwaukee doesn’t need any additional help.
“For me, the pitching has been carrying our team all year long,” the veteran outfielder said, via Adam McCalvy of MLB.com. “For me, that speaks for itself.”
Miley, a 31-year-old with a career 4.31 ERA who posted a 5.61 ERA in 32 starts with the Baltimore Orioles last season, lowered his ERA to 1.53 in six starts with the win over the Dodgers. He threw seven innings of two-hit ball against one of the better teams in the National League.
Critics will say Miley can’t keep that up, and they’re probably right. But the same has been said about Chase Anderson, Jhoulys Chacin, Junior Guerra, and Freddy Peralta, all of whom have ERAs in the threes. As a team, the Brewers rank seventh in the MLB in starting pitching with a 3.80 ERA. They’re fifth among teams in overall pitching with a 3.60 ERA.
The season is well beyond the halfway point, and the Brewers have been very good. There will certainly be questions about the sustainability of their rotation’s success heading into the postseason, but they made a nice addition to their bullpen and continue to get the job done. Unless something changes, Cain’s assessment is spot-on.
The Milwaukee Brewers already have one of the strongest bullpens in the National League, but they are not standing pat at the trade deadline as they hope to gear up for a deep postseason run.
On Thursday, the Brewers acquired veteran relief pitcher Joakim Soria in a trade with the Chicago White Sox.
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) July 26, 2018
Soria has 16 saves for the 36-win White Sox this year, and he has been one of the most dependable bullpen arms in baseball for several years. His ERA was up a bit with the Kansas City Royals the past two seasons, but he has it back down to 2.56 this season on a Chicago team that has not been anywhere near contention.
The Brewers currently rank fifth in the majors with a bullpen ERA of 3.31, but you can never have enough relievers late in the season and into October. Milwaukee is currently 2.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs and battling for the NL Central crown, and Soria should give them a nice back-end piece to help finish off games.
Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Josh Hader saw his reputation take a massive hit during the MLB All-Star Game Tuesday night when some of his offensive tweets from years ago began surfacing, but he will not face disciplinary action from the league.
Major League Baseball released a statement on Wednesday addressing Hader’s tweets, and commissioner Rob Manfred said the left-hander took the “necessary step of expressing remorse” but that he will be required to attend sensitivity training.
Josh Hader update from the commissioner’s office. pic.twitter.com/gGB66SInll
— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) July 18, 2018
The Brewers also weighed in, condemning Hader’s tweets while saying they do not believe they are representative of the 24-year-old’s personal beliefs.
— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) July 18, 2018
The tweets from Hader mostly came from 2011-12 and included him quoting offensive rap lyrics in addition to making some homophobic remarks. Hader later apologized for the tweets and said they were the result of him being “immature and stupid” when he was 17.