Kudos to the many Baseball Operations Presidents, GMs, Assistant GMs, GM Special Assistants, Analysts, Quants and Support Staff who orchestrated an active and generally entertaining business deadline. Your efforts are appreciated.
Yet despite all the operations done and heavy lifting, there are some factors that cannot be reversed by a few big deals during Major League Baseball’s annual trading bazaar. Like real estate, the fight for a World Series can have as much to do with location and luck as it does with the effort.
So after the franchise icons were uprooted, money laundered and hugs given out, which clubs have emerged with the straightest line to the World Series? Let’s break down the eight clubs best positioned to reach the Fall Classic:
A team that once led the majors in points scored and finished third in the AL in MPM knew exactly who they were and what they wanted to do: fortify the bullpen.
Enter Kendall Graveman and Yimi Garcia, giving Houston three closers with starter Ryan Pressly, with reliable Phil Maton imported from Cleveland for good measure. It’s hard for opponents to shorten the game when they already try to suppress an attack that reaches seven depths once Alex Bregman comes back from injury.
More importantly, the Astros already have a 5½-game lead in AL West and a favorable schedule. The path to AL’s best record is clear.
Oh, did you think one of those sexy, transaction-crazy, star-studded NL teams in the west would take that spot? Better to lay low at Dairyland, keep a seven-game lead and count on a dominant punch from starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta backed by the deepest box in the NL.
The Brewers will be even better off if they don’t catch San Francisco for the league’s best record. Better to let the Western Champion fight a wild card-laden survivor while the Brewers welcome an imperfect NL East champion.
Yes, it might not sound like it, but the road to the World Series is through Milwaukee.
Even before adding Kris Bryant, it’s impossible to ignore how well-built this team is. They fought off the advances of the most famous Dodgers and Padres and played with numbing consistency.
Notice how the Giants were one of the few contenders not to add a big backup arm at the deadline? That’s because their reliever box tops the WHIP majors (1.11) and ranks second in allowed batting average (0.217). They catch the ball. They control the strike zone on both sides of the equation.
And they have 19 games left with the Diamondbacks and Rockies, more than any other contender. Oh, and now they’ll take Bryant wherever he needs it – truly a dream for club president Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler.
4. White Sox
Large movements of enclosures. Bad sharing. Rivals throwing in the towel. Pencil the White Sox in the playoffs now.
They will probably be able to ride in September more than any other club in the AL, but what will happen in October? Center teams from both leagues were crudely sidelined in the 2020 playoffs, so it’s fair to wonder if the Sox are in part a product of closeness. They are 28-8 against the Twins, Tigers and Orioles this year, and 32-38 against everyone.
Still, there’s stoppage potential with starters Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito and Carlos Rodon, then there’s this revamped reliever pen, with Liam Hendriks and Craig Kimbrel waiting for the stint from Michael Kopech, Ryan Tepera and Garrett Hook. .
Scary, on paper.
5. The dodges
So you thought it would be a World Series waltz for the defending World Series champions, the last two offseason and that trade deadline?
Not so fast. Of course, the Dodgers are 10-position All-Stars, with the best right-handed and left-handed pitchers of their generation in Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw and four MVPs litter the roster.
Still, there is only one bullet, right? It will be fascinating to watch these Dodgers try to develop a rhythm while integrating Max Scherzer and Trea Turner into their plug-and-play philosophy. In the meantime, will Cody Bellinger find himself? Has Mookie Betts recovered from a hip injury and a lackluster first half?
Will the scarcity of at-bats due to the addition of Turner settle into the whole list?
Hey, these are “problems” any club would love to have. Still, already facing a three-game division deficit and with nine more death games against the Padres, it might not be easy for the Dodgers.
6. Red Sox
We still don’t know why they didn’t have another starting pitcher – maybe an abundance of confidence that Chris Sale will come back heavily? – but like the Giants, they put enough hay in the barn we believe. Can Kyle Schwarber get healthy and learn to play on first base? If so, programming will be even more problematic.
In playoff time, Nathan Eovaldi is a good starter for Game 1, but there’s a bit too much pitch-to-contact after that. Will Tanner Houck be able to lie down and continue his start of the race on fire? Can Sale go back and land meaningful innings?
If both of those answers are “yes,” the Sox will be a threat far beyond their suffocating offense.
They’re back at their Rays business, removing Diego Castillo from the reliever pen on deadline day and whistling in August. You’re just assuming they know something we don’t know.
For the purposes of this drill, the Rays will be having a tough October if rookie pitchers Luis Patiño and Shane McClanahan don’t hit the rookies wall but rather walk through it; they’re averaging 10.2 and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings, respectively, and would be formidable in whatever multi-inn gust the Rays think they can handle then.
As it stands, Tampa Bay should have the field advantage in the wild card game – and hide just half a game behind the Red Sox.
Trouble in paradise? Everyone’s second-favorite has a big second-half order, currently listed for a wild card date against the Dodgers, the improved Reds quickly closing on their playoff positioning and a myriad of questions surrounding a rotation reinforced by a trio of winter exchanges.
For a few scintillating hours on Thursday, it looked like GM AJ Preller had done it again, posting the main offer in the clubhouse at the Nationals for Scherzer before the Dodgers upped the stake and upgraded it to the status of blockbuster. Minus Scherzer, the Padres will have to make their way to the playoffs, as long as Blake Snell (5.44 ERA) and Chris Paddack (5.13) continue to struggle.
Serious question: who starts the joker game? Right now it looks like it was Joe Musgrove, the least advertised of their winter race, but a guy who struck out 10.4 for nine innings, slightly outperforming Yu Darvish. Beyond that there are far too many questions, although the power of the Padres means they cannot be dismissed.