With the trade deadline a few days behind us, it’s a good time to take stock of where things are in the playoff races. Let’s check in on the top 15 teams, based on the playoff odds at FanGraphs, and look at some key factors down the stretch.
Playoff odds: 100%
Win World Series: 28.2%
Key injury to watch: Ryan Pressly has been one of the best relievers in the majors since the Astros acquired him last season from the Twins, posting a 1.73 ERA but is currently on the injured list because of a sore knee, apparently suffered after a batted ball struck him. It’s not expected to be serious, and with Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer all in the lineup, the Astros are probably the healthiest they’ve been since early last season.
Player to watch: All eyes will be on Greinke as he combines with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole to give the Astros a tremendous 1-2-3 in the rotation, but Altuve is back swinging like Altuve. After hitting .248 in April and playing only 20 games in May and June, he has hit .374/.424/.661 since the beginning of July. Remember, he was banged up last October because of a knee issue.
Acquiring Greinke is a key not just for the postseason, but to help the Astros secure home-field advantage for the postseason. They’re neck-and-neck with the Yankees (and the Twins aren’t far behind) and recall that when Houston and New York met in the 2017 AL Championship Series, the home team won all seven games. Both the Astros and Yankees have sizable home/road splits this season, so this is something both teams will push for, at least a little harder than you might normally see:
Astros: 41-15 at home, 32-25 on the road
Yankees: 42-18 at home, 29-21 on the road
Los Angeles Dodgers
Playoff odds: 100%
Win World Series: 17.4%
Key injury to watch: Hyun-Jin Ryu was put on the IL a couple of days ago because of “neck soreness,” which sounds more like code for “we want to give him a little breather before the playoff push begins.” The most significant injury belongs to Chris Taylor, who is out because of a fractured left forearm.
Player to watch: I’m fascinated to see how Walker Buehler finishes the regular season, especially after he struck out 15 in a complete-game win over the Padres on Saturday. He has alternated dominant starts with bad ones since the end of June, with the three bad ones all coming on the road.
The Dodgers will win the NL West and have a comfortable lead over the Braves for best record in the NL. While it will be interesting to see how manager Dave Roberts sorts out the first base/second base adventure, especially once they get David Freese, Gyorko and Enrique Hernandez back, we all know that Dodgers fans were apocalyptic after the team added only Kolarek to the bullpen at the deadline. The Dodgers are eighth in the majors in bullpen ERA and fourth in lowest OPS allowed — lower than the Yankees’ vaunted pen — so there is talent down here. It just hasn’t been clutch, which is what it will take for the Dodgers to win the World Series.
New York Yankees
Playoff odds: 99.6%
Win World Series: 12.7%
Deadline additions: None
Key injury to watch: One? The Yankees’ injury woes continued over the weekend as Edwin Encarnacion fractured his wrist and Aaron Hicks landed on the IL because of a sore elbow after making a throw Saturday. Gary Sanchez is expected back soon, Dellin Betances might return in August and Giancarlo Stanton in September, but the key injury is Luis Severino. He’s supposed to throw off a mound this week and the Yankees are still hoping for a return in late August/early September, but we’ll see if that’s as a starter, an extended opener or a reliever.
Player to watch: Not acquiring a starter puts more pressure on James Paxton to step up. He has been alternatingly dominant (123 K’s in 95⅔ innings) and hittable (.272 average, 18 home runs allowed). He has pitched fewer than five innings more times (eight) than he has pitched six or more innings (seven). Of course, going deeper into games won’t be a big deal in October, but Aaron Boone would like to see some consistency down the stretch.
The Yankees have soared to a big lead thanks to a great bullpen and backups who have stepped up big time — Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman and Clint Frazier, for example, have all batted at least 175 times and are slugging over .500. Luke Voit and Aaron Judge aren’t even slugging .500 on the season. It will be nice to get everyone healthy and Stanton at-bats in September to see if he can contribute. Still, it feels as if the final weeks of the season will be mostly about getting the rotation figured out for October — while also trying to beat out the Astros for home-field advantage. Keep in mind the rotation ERA by month:
Playoff odds: 97.8%
Win World Series: 8.2%
Key injury to watch: Dyson pitched two games with the Twins, gave up six runs and landed on the IL because of biceps tendinitis. Byron Buxton is out for a couple of weeks after crashing into a wall Thursday.
Player to watch: Holy cow, Nelson Cruz is some kind of hot right now. He homered three times Saturday after homering three times on July 25. Since June 5, he is hitting .315/.413/.758.
The Indians clawed to within one game of the AL Central lead last weekend and the Twins have responded with six wins in seven games. They continue to mash home runs at an historic pace — they could break the Yankees’ record (set last year) by the end of August. Dyson and Romo were added to help a bullpen that is more “meh” than playoff worthy (aside from Taylor Rogers, who has been excellent, and Ryne Harper). But Dyson immediately landed on the injured list. The Twins have an easier schedule than the Indians down the stretch, but 10 head-to-head games could decide the division.
Playoff odds: 86.9%
Win World Series: 7.5%
Key injury to watch: Willson Contreras came up lame Saturday because of a hamstring injury. He missed two months because of a similar injury in 2017, so this could be a huge blow — especially since the Cubs just traded Martin Maldonado for Kemp.
Player to watch: Castellanos started his first four games with the Cubs, so it looks as if Joe Maddon is going to give him every opportunity to play full time, even though he’s a subpar defender.
You know the story of the 2019 Cubs: They’ve been healthy, but just haven’t equaled the sum of their parts. Everyone talks about the bullpen and, yes, the bullpen hasn’t been great, ranking 10th in the majors in ERA, 20th in win probability added and next-to-last in walk rate, a problem with Cubs relievers for a couple of years now. But the offense has been more good than great — sixth in the NL in runs per game. That’s why Castellanos will get a chance to play. The Contreras injury hurts as well, so the pressure ramps up on the meat of the order to be even more productive.
Playoff odds: 98.8%
Win World Series: 7.4%
Key injury to watch: Nick Markakis is out until mid-to-late September because of a fractured left wrist. (Note: a lot of fractured wrists this year. Hit by pitches per game are once again at an all-time high, matching last year’s 0.40 per team per game. That’s double the rate of 1989.)
Player to watch: Mike Soroka continues to get ground balls and keep runs off the scoreboard. He’s at 123⅓ innings including his two Triple-A starts, after throwing 56⅓ last season, when he missed time. He did throw 153⅔ in the minors in 2017 and his efficiency makes his 123⅓ innings less taxing than for a typical starter. The Braves have said there’s no limit on his innings.
The Braves added the three good bullpen arms for the stretch run, and Greene promptly blew a save on Saturday (on a couple of soft hits) and got the loss Sunday when he gave up a three-run homer in the 10th. Pitching on a bad team in Detroit might not be quite the same thing as pitching on a first-place team in a pennant race. Note that FanGraphs gives the Braves a higher chance of making the playoffs than the Cubs — since they have a big lead in the division — but the Cubs better odds of winning the World Series, probably due to the Cubs’ projected edge in starting pitching.
Playoff odds: 82%
Win World Series: 5%
Key injury to watch: Corey Kluber will make his first rehab start on Thursday in Triple-A as he comes back from a fractured forearm.
Player to watch: What will Puig give the Indians? He has been all over the place this season, hitting .192 in April, slugging .609 in June and hitting a solid .292/.340/.528 in July. Maybe Cleveland better hope for a warm September (and October, if the Indians make the postseason).
The Indians are certainly banking on Kluber filling the place of exiled Trevor Bauer in the rotation, and hoping Puig and Reyes provide some pop in the outfield. Keep in mind that early in the season there were concerns Kluber had lost some stuff (he had a 5.80 ERA in seven starts). Maybe the layoff will help a fresher Kluber finish strong. There’s also the matter of the schedule: There are those 10 games against the Twins, but while the Twins have 26 games remaining against the White Sox, Royals and Tigers, the Indians have only 16.
Playoff odds: 72.7%
Win World Series: 3.8%
Key injury to watch: Max Scherzer is out because of shoulder/neck inflammation, a rare injury for a pitcher who has made 30-plus starts all 10 seasons of his career. Needless to say …
Player to watch: I guess Stephen Strasburg was due for a stinker after winning seven starts in a row and not giving up a home run in July. The Diamondbacks pounded him for nine runs and three home runs over the weekend, and if Scherzer is going to miss a few starts, the Nats will need an ace-level Strasburg.
The Nationals got their deficit in the NL East down to four games after that doubleheader sweep of the Rockies on July 24, but now it’s back up to seven games as they’ve gone 3-7 over their past 10 games. They traded for some much-needed relief help, but their three additions aren’t as good as the three relievers the Braves acquired — and then Elias pulled a hamstring while batting (he was told not to swing, but did and got hurt running to first). He’s expected to just miss the 10 days and it’s not as if he’s a big difference-maker anyway. Washington still has seven games against the Braves, but rallying from seven down at this point will be difficult. FanGraphs gives the Nats just 11.5% odds of winning the division.
Tampa Bay Rays
Playoff odds: 69.5%
Win World Series: 3.3%
Key injury to watch: Cy Young winner Blake Snell had surgery in late July to remove “loose bodies” from his elbow. The hope is he’s back in mid-September. The more immediate help will come from All-Star second baseman Brandon Lowe, who has been slow to return from a right shin bruise suffered in early June.
Player to watch: Aguilar homered Sunday and maybe he can find the power stroke that made him a 2018 All-Star with the Brewers. He hit well in a part-time role with the Brewers in July (.921 OPS).
The Rays are a little beat up right now, thus some of the tinkering around the edges at the trade deadline, giving up prospect Jesus Sanchez and valuable opener/reliever Ryne Stanek in the process. They need to take advantage of their next 19 games to build some cushion in the wild-card race as they face the Blue Jays, Mariners, Padres, Tigers, Mariners and Orioles. They’ve won six in a row — including a sweep over the Red Sox — so they enter this stretch in a good frame of mind. Their organizational depth has been key to overcoming the injuries, and bodes well to keeping them close down the stretch — although they have to play the Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees in three of their final four series (before closing with Toronto).
Boston Red Sox
Playoff odds: 19.1%
Win World Series: 1.6%
Deadline additions: None (acquired Andrew Cashner earlier)
Player to watch: Chris Sale is averaging 13.1 strikeout per nine innings — that would be the third-highest rate ever for a starter — but he’s also 5-11 with a 4.68 ERA. Batters are hitting .211 off him with the bases empty, but .260 with a .500 slugging percentage with runners on. The strikeout rate is nice, but the runs allowed rate is what matters most. He needs to have a dominant stretch run.
The Red Sox were suddenly looking reborn after taking three of four from the Yankees last weekend — only to get swept at home by the Rays and by the Yankees in New York. Sale was blasted for eight runs in his game against the Yankees (after losing the series finale to the Yankees last weekend), but it’s not all his fault. Rick Porcello has been terrible (5.74 ERA) and Cashner hasn’t been good in his four starts. The bullpen has understandably received a lot of the blame, but look at the fall of the rotation:
2018: 10th in WAR, third in win probability added
2019: 14th in WAR, 20th in win probability added
There’s still time for the Red Sox to make a run, but as those playoff odds suggest, it’s starting to look as if it won’t happen.
St. Louis Cardinals
Playoff odds: 48.4%
Win World Series: 1.4%
Deadline additions: None
Key injury to watch: Matt Carpenter returned Sunday from his right foot injury and Yadier Molina could return next week from a thumb injury. Neither have had good seasons (Carpenter .688 OPS, Molina .654).
Player to watch: Carpenter. The Cardinals rank 26th in the majors in wOBA from their third basemen — after ranking seventh last season. If Carpenter can get it going from the leadoff spot, that will help the rest of the lineup.
But is the lineup good enough? Everyone keeps talking about the pitching, but St. Louis is just 11th in the NL in runs per game. The Pirates score more runs than the Cardinals. Eighty-two players with at least 200 plate appearances are slugging .500, but the Cardinals have only one in this year of the slug: Marcell Ozuna. They have played well since the All-Star break (14-8), in part because Paul Goldschmidt has heated up. They have seven games against the Cubs and nine against the Brewers, so there’s plenty of heated head-to-head action to come in the NL Central.
New York Mets
Playoff odds: 29.9%
Win World Series: 1.3%
Deadline addition: RHP Marcus Stroman
Key injury to watch: Brandon Nimmo might be back in mid- to late August from his neck issues. Dominic Smith is out until mid-September because of a stress fracture in his foot. Jed Lowrie … is still on the 40-man roster.
Player to watch: The Mets did not trade Noah Syndergaard (or Zack Wheeler), instead electing to see where this current hot streak will take them. Syndergaard is 8-5 with a 3.96 ERA and has gone seven-plus innings five starts in a row.
On July 12, the Mets were 40-51 and seven games out of the second wild-card spot. They had the second-worst record in the NL, so they were not only seven games out, but had nine teams to jump over. Everyone expected them to trade Wheeler and maybe Syndergaard. Now they’re 55-56 and three games behind the Nationals and Phillies for the second wild card. Hey, maybe 50 years later we can have another Miracle Mets team.
Playoff odds: 31.4%
Win World Series: 0.9%
Key injury to watch: Defensive whiz Ramon Laureano is out for a month or so because of a stress reaction in his right shin.
Player to watch: Sean Manaea has made five rehab starts in his return from last season’s shoulder injury and could be back soon. He has a 7.71 ERA in those outings but has 25 strikeouts and six walks in 18⅔ innings. Remember, he was the staff ace last season until going down.
Have we learned yet? Never ignore — or give up on — the A’s. Like last season, they started slow and were still under .500 as late as June 10. They’ve gone 31-14 since then (second-best mark in the majors to Cleveland’s 33-13). They’ll miss Laureano in center field, but deadline pickup Roark had a good Oakland debut, beating the Cardinals on Sunday, giving up one run in five innings. One schedule note in their favor: They finish with 15 games against the Rangers, Royals, Angels and Mariners, all of whom probably will be playing out the string. The A’s could finish with a flourish and head back to another wild-card game.
Playoff odds: 21.3%
Win World Series: 0.7%
Key injury to watch: Brandon Woodruff is out until September because of an oblique strain. Jhoulys Chacin is out because of a lat strain. Jimmy Nelson just began a rehab assignment and could return at the end of August (although maybe as a reliever instead of a starter). Too many injuries for a pitching-starved staff.
Player to watch: You mean besides Christian Yelich? How about new call-up Trent Grisham, who went 3-for-4 with his first home run on Sunday, batting leadoff. The former first-round pick had a .407 OBP with 26 home runs in the minors.
Really, it’s a minor miracle the Brewers are still only four games back of the first-place Cubs. They’ve been outscored by 19 runs. Some key offensive performers from 2018 haven’t been as good (Lorenzo Cain, Travis Shaw, the now-departed Jesus Aguilar). Chacin, so valuable last year, was 3-10 with a 5.79 ERA. Even Josh Hader has been simultaneously scary unhittable (96 K’s in 52⅓ innings) and homer prone (11 allowed, leading to a 1-5 record). Obviously, the sweep to the Cubs this weekend was a big blow — their playoffs odds dropped from 34.1% to 21.3% and their division odds from 16.2% to 6.6%.
Playoff odds: 25.2%
Win World Series: 0.4%
Key injury to watch: Jake Arrieta is pitching through a bone spur in his elbow that has clearly left him at less than 100%, most notably that he has had to shelve his slider/cutter as part of his arsenal. He also has been held under 90 pitches for five starts in a row. Still, he has given up one earned run in three of his past four outings.
Player to watch: Bryce Harper. Is it weird how little we’ve talked about Harper this season, once we got past the start of the season? He has 19 home runs — but 55 players have at least 20. Maybe we’ll talk about him more the final two months.
The Phillies got criticized for not doing more at the break, but that seems unfair given this front office acquired Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson in the offseason. That was their winter and trade deadline all wrapped into a big flurry of activity. It just hasn’t worked as expected — and yet there they are, tied with the Nationals for the second wild card. FanGraphs obviously likes the Nationals better — heck, even the Mets are given better odds at making the playoffs than the Phillies. That’s due to a rotation that is suddenly relying on Vargas and Drew Smyly. I wouldn’t bet on those guys. Then again, in this crazy playoff race, I wouldn’t bet against them either.