The rumor mill is heating up and it should be a very interesting month and a week as 10 teams in the American League are within 3.5 games of a playoff spot and nine teams are within four games of a playoff spot in the National League. Unless some teams start to fall off the pace, there aren’t going to be many sellers and that will seriously drive up the prices to acquire upgrades near the July 31 trade deadline.
Teams are starting to get streaky at this point in the season. In the American League, five teams have won three or more in a row, while four teams have lost three or more in a row. In the National League, there are four three-game winning streaks and three losing streaks of three or more, with the Rockies leading the pack with seven straight defeats. This is something that you’ll see throughout the dog days of summer and banking on streaks to stop or continue can be a profitable situation. Oddsmakers start shading lines of streaky teams because there’s not a whole lot of action during this time of year and bettors are anxious to get their wagers down on somebody. Remember how inflated the lines were for the Toronto Blue Jays? Since they reached a high point of 38-24, they’re just 5-11. Only a small group of teams can sustain that kind of success and if it seems like a team is playing over their heads, it’s because they probably are.
As usual, injuries came up again this past week as they always do. The Braves lost yet another starting pitcher as Gavin Floyd fractured the olecranon in his pitching elbow and his 2014 season is over. Tigers southpaw Ian Krol nearly blew a 5-0 lead to the Indians on Saturday and he was placed on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. The Royals lost Nori Aoki to a groin injury that will shelve him until mid-July. Rafael Furcal’s 2014 season is in jeopardy as the Marlins placed him on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. Without much to play for, the Padres are being extremely careful with Andrew Cashner, as he has been shut down once again, this time with shoulder inflammation. A trio of disappointing injuries hit the Cardinals this week as pitchers Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia hit the disabled list and second baseman Kolten Wong will miss time with a shoulder injury. Jerry Sands, who had injected a little bit of life into the Rays, is down with a strained wrist, while platoon hitter extraordinaire David DeJesus had to see a hand specialist and may be out until August. For the Blue Jays, Jose Bautista has a hamstring situation worth monitoring and Brett Lawrie is out 3-6 weeks with an injured finger.
Not all injuries are created equal and most make a negligible difference in the line, but look for value on teams that have these injuries and have called up capable replacements. For example, 2013 first-round pick Marco Gonzales, who has been impressive at every level of the minors, will make his MLB debut on Wednesday when the Cardinals take on the Rockies. Coors Field is a rough place to make a debut, but the anticipation for his debut is high and he could fit in nicely for Wacha or Garcia for the foreseeable future.
Remember a couple weeks back when Gregory Polanco was mentioned in this weekly article? The Pirates are 13-8 in the month of June and 8-5 in Polanco’s 13 starts. This is happening while their best pitcher sits on the disabled list and their bullpen has blown 14 saves this month. Keep an eye out for those impact prospects because they mean more than an upgrade. It gets tough to go to the ballpark some days when it’s hot outside, the kids are out of school, and things aren’t going well on the field. These top young talents inject some energy and life into the ballclub that affects everybody. The competitive nature of professional athletes is programmed to want to win more than anything. The arrival of players like Polanco is a morale boost and brings a renewed desire to win. Watch for teams calling up top prospects to go on runs like the Pirates have.
Let’s look at a couple of teams up close and see if what they’ve been doing is sustainable.
1. Minnesota Twins
Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson have vaulted the Twins into respectability at this point in the season. The Twins are 7-5 over their last 12 and five of their last six losses have been one-run defeats that could have gone either way. Can it continue?
The short answer is probably not. The Twins are in the middle of the pack in wOBA because of the league’s second-best walk rate this season. For the year, over 30 percent of Twins plate appearances have ended in a strikeout or a walk. They rank 12th out of 15 in the American League in slugging percentage and Brian Dozier has 15 of Minnesota’s 57 home runs.
The pitching staff is the biggest concern. They have certainly improved in the strikeout department, mostly because of Hughes, but they still have the eighth-lowest strikeout rate for starting pitchers. It is interesting to note that four of the seven teams with lower strikeout rates than the Twins rotation are higher in the standings, however, those teams, the Royals, Orioles, Blue Jays, and Brewers, rank third, seventh, 21st, and 16th in defensive runs saved. The Twins rank 27th. Strikeouts are less impactful on teams that play good defense. The Blue Jays and Brewers outhit most of their fielding mistakes. The Twins don’t have that luxury.
If the Twins had a healthy Miguel Sano to call up for a spark or Byron Buxton was closer to the Major Leagues, they could be a real force in the final three months of the season. Without that impact everyday player, they may slowly drift away from the pack. Alex Meyer could be called up to replace one of their struggling starters, but this doesn’t appear to be a team talented enough to stay in it for the long haul.
Unfortunately, oddsmakers aren’t buying in either, so there hasn’t been a lot of value in going against the Twins, but that could change if they remain competitive.
2. Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds have won eight of their last 11 and it could become a four-team race in the NL Central if the Brewers slide back to the pack. The starting rotation injuries to the Cardinals are a concern and Adam Wainwright has had his scares this season. It’s hardly a coincidence that the Reds have gone on this run with Joey Votto back. Votto returned on July 10. The Reds lost that first game, but they’ve won eight of 11 since and Votto has posted a .300/.410/.400/.810 slash line in June.
The Reds are +21 in run differential this month. Alfredo Simon continues to be one of the most surprising stories of the summer. There’s clear regression in his statistical profile, but he’s 4-0 in five starts in June with a 2.94 ERA. Johnny Cueto has been the ace that everybody expected and Homer Bailey has put a bad start to the season behind him with a 2-0 record and a 3.81 ERA in June. His 3.22 FIP suggests that he’s still been a bit unfortunate.
The Reds are 19-15 in the NL Central and there are a lot of division games after this current road trip that includes a west coast swing. They could be sustainable with Votto back and a pretty strong starting rotation.
A couple of teams that have been discussed in recent weeks are going in the directions that they were expected to go in. The Seattle Mariners are steadily improving with one of the game’s most unique starting rotations. The Kansas City Royals fell off the pace after their streak and will likely trail the Detroit Tigers the rest of the season. The Baltimore Orioles are 12-8 this month and their current homestand looks extremely promising with the White Sox, Rays, and Rangers all at Camden Yards. The Cubs have leveled off after going on a run that brought them closer to their expected performance.
At this point in the season, it’s not a bad time to remind baseball bettors that it’s perfectly reasonable to take a few days off. The daily grind of baseball is exactly that. It’s a rough life, constantly having to overcome juice or bet on bad teams at plus money. Enjoy some time with the family. Rest and recharge. The All-Star Break is a great time of year, but that’s still three weeks away. There’s no shame in taking a couple of days away from the grind. It’s not a bad time to look at some college football or NFL stuff and shift gears just to take a break from the monotony of baseball season.