Late Season Spoilers
August 1, 2017
By Joe Nelson
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The trade deadline has made it clear which teams are going after a big postseason run in 2017, but there are a few under the radar teams that may still have some promise in the final two months of the season even if the 2017 season will go down as an insignificant one.
The trade deadline has passed and the market turned out few true ‘buyers’ that went all-in for a big push in the final two months. With a few divisions essentially wrapped up already, the top contenders mainly went after postseason pieces and the teams still muddled in tight races mostly focused on minor additions.
There are not likely to be major changes in the standings in the final two months, but there are a few teams that will likely end up out of the postseason picture that could put together strong finishes while possibly playing spoiler in the Wild Card or division races. Here are a few teams to keep an eye with some potential for late season success especially in upcoming underdog situations against contenders.
Philadelphia Phillies: Count me among those that were wrong on the Phillies as a potential deep sleeper in the National League. After a respectable April, Philadelphia posted miserable mid-season results to feature the worst record in baseball most of the season. With a 10-6 run since the All Star break, the Phillies have found some life offensively and with some high-end talent in the rotation, this is a team that some of the contenders might not want to see down the stretch if they are caught in a tight race.
Young talent in the rotation coupled with an above average defense made the Phillies an appealing threat to improve on a more respectable than most expected 71-91 campaign last season even if the offensive potential was limited.
Ultimately, injuries devastated the rotation and the roster currently has zero qualified starters with veteran Jeremy Hellickson recently traded. Vince Velasquez, Jared Eickhoff, and Aaron Nola have all missed time, but all three have shown some recent promise with Nola in particular on a dominant run with a 1.49 ERA in his last seven starts.
Late April call-up Nick Pivetta has shown some real promise as well with good strikeout potential. The Philadelphia lineup has also been hitting its best stretch of the season with an .819 team OPS in the past 21 games, scoring five runs per game on average.
The August schedule will provide a good opportunity for the Phillies to keep posting winning results with only two series vs. teams in contention, facing the Rockies and Cubs in three-game sets. They have 10 games with the Nationals and Dodgers in September which could provide potential value opportunities as the NL East and NL West divisions will likely be locked up by then. While the 2017 season can’t be saved, the Phillies could gather some momentum to possibly live up to NL sleeper status in 2018.
Miami Marlins: There were mixed opinions on the Marlins this spring and the more pessimistic predictions have come true as Miami is 14 games out of the NL East lead and six games below .500. Being the second best team in the division isn’t much consolation though Miami’s season scoring differential is only modestly negative. Miami would need a miraculous run to get back into the wild card race currently 10 games out but the Marlins could play some decent ball down the stretch and possibly get above the .500 mark by October.
The lineup has been fierce with Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna providing great production. J.T. Realmuto is one of the best offensive catchers in baseball and Christian Yelich has been heating up since the All-Star break after a lackluster first half.
Justin Bour should be back in the lineup by mid-August as this will be a team that can produce some crooked numbers even against quality pitching, currently sporting a .811 team OPS over the past 22 games with nearly 5.2 runs per game while posting equally solid results vs. lefties and righties.
There is also a bit more promise in the pitching staff right now with the return of Adam Conley who has looked much sharper since coming off the DL. Left-handed rookie Chris O’Grady has also turned in decent early returns while Dan Straily and Jose Urena are competent options on the mound.
Miami has games with both Colorado and Arizona in the final two months as they could impact the NL wild card race and they also have a mid-September home series with the Brewers that could be meaningful for the NL Central and Wild Card pictures. Down 14 games in the division, the Marlins do face Washington 12 more times as if they want to make a run at a miracle charge in the division the head-to-head opportunity is there.
Minnesota Twins: After adding Bartolo Colon and Jaime Garcia looking to improve their postseason chances, the Twins changed course and flipped Garcia as well as shipped off closer Brandon Kintzler at the trade deadline. A nightmare schedule out of the break that featured the Astros, Yankees, and Dodgers pushed the Twins downward in the division race while the Royals and Indians put together long winning streaks.
The Twins are still only 4.5 games out of the second AL Wild Card and they stopped short of selling off Brian Dozier or Ervin Santana as the team could still act like it is playing for something the rest of the way.
The lineup for the Twins is still fairly impressive, particularly against right-handed pitching. Dozier had a huge late season run last year and has shown recent signs of heating up. Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton will be back at full strength soon after July injuries and Eddie Rosario has quietly turned in a fine season for the Twins, going from a platoon role to being a clear every day starter in left field.
The pitching for the Twins has been a problem with only two firm spots in the rotation for Santana and Jose Berrios and the bullpen has blown several recent games. Ultimately, the Twins likely made the right call to sell in the crowded AL picture but this is a team that could play well down the stretch with a favorable schedule.
The Twins have eight games with the slumping White Sox in August and they have 10 remaining games with the Tigers before the season ends. Minnesota has gone 8-4 vs. the Royals this season and seven early September meetings with Kansas City could have a big impact on the AL Central picture. Milwaukee, Arizona, Tampa Bay, and New York will also draw the Twins in the final two months as Minnesota will play a meaningful role in the playoff race even if they won’t likely be the team benefitting.
Oakland Athletics: Oakland was considered the most obvious candidate to deal some key pieces at the deadline and the team finally shipped off Sonny Gray as well after sending off a pair of relievers. Yonder Alonso was kept and this is a lineup with a lot of power led by Khris Davis and Ryon Healy.
Marcus Semien also recently returned from injury and recent call-up Matt Chapman has displayed great power along with elite defensive capability. Oakland has a .780 team OPS over the past 12 games with some recent success in late July. Oakland can be a dangerous team down the stretch with a 31-24 home record that is one of the better marks in the AL.
Losing Gray isn’t a positive but the frequently injured right-hander hasn’t come close to his 2015 season results. The current rotation has some promise with lefty Sean Manaea delivering on his potential with a fine 2017 season going while Jharel Cotton has shown some upside despite being inconsistent.
The Athletics have had recent success behind Paul Blackburn while 36 year-old Chris Smith has proven to be a crafty option on the mound. Oakland has delivered a few recent wins in the bullpen and the team is still playing with good energy as the ‘seller’ status of the club was certainly not a surprise.
Oakland has upcoming home matchups with Kansas City and Houston, but most of the remaining schedule is against teams that are out of the running for the playoffs as the Athletics could have some favorable opportunities to put together winning results in the AL West basement.
The lack of high-end starters other than Manaea should keep Oakland in the underdog role most nights even at home despite their success at the Coliseum. Frequent matchups with teams out of the mix including Baltimore, Texas, and the Angels could provide some favorable opportunities for Oakland to keep adding on wins towards a respectable finish.
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