5 Immediate Playoff Implications of Gonzalez, Crawford, Beckett Blockbuster
Waiver trades in late-August have been known to influence a division title or wild-card race in previous seasons. But baseball hasn't seen anything like the blockbuster that the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers are reportedly close to pulling off, according to ESPN.
The deal sending Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Dodgers in exchange for James Loney, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Ivan De Jesus and Jerry Sands will obviously affect the fortunes of the Red Sox and Dodgers for years to come.
But this trade also has immediate consequences on the current playoff races in the American League and National League, most especially in the NL West. Did the balance of power just tip between the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants? Are both teams now also favorites for one of the NL wild-card playoff bids?
The trade's effect on the AL East and wild-card races can't be overlooked, either. Have the Red Sox made themselves a punching bag for the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles through the rest of the season?
Even if the Rays and Orioles can't catch the Yankees in the AL East, how much could playing the Red Sox give them an edge over the Oakland Athletics, Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels in the AL Wild Card playoff race? Could this break up some ties or develop more of them?
As many as 11 teams could be affected by this trade and the ripples it's created throughout baseball. But these are five of the immediate implications we see for the AL and NL playoff races.
Who's the Favorite in the NL West?
Are the Dodgers now the favorite in the NL West? As exciting as this trade is, that might be an overreaction.
The Giants lead the Dodgers by three games in the division after a three-game sweep earlier this week (Aug. 20-22).
But a big reason the Dodgers were swept by their archrivals was their inability to score. Los Angeles scored only six runs in the three games versus the Giants.
Even though Gonzalez isn't putting up the numbers he did last season—nor did he provide the overall production the Red Sox were hoping for when he was acquired from the San Diego Padres—the Dodgers are still adding a player batting .300/.343/.469 with 15 home runs and 86 RBI to first base.
The Dodgers were getting terrible production from that position with a .646 OPS that ranked second to last in the National League. Only the Miami Marlins and Seattle Mariners were worse in the majors.
Gonzalez gives Dodgers manager Don Mattingly a variety of options to play with in his lineup now. Does Gonzalez bat cleanup behind Matt Kemp? Does he bat fifth behind Andre Ethier? Would Mattingly go with alternating left- and right-handed bats, perhaps lining up Kemp, Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Ethier?
Anyone can be shut down by the Giants' fantastic starting pitching, of course. But with Gonzalez bolstering the middle of the Dodgers lineup, it's unlikely they'll score six runs in three games again.
The Schedule Could Be a Factor
Despite two significant additions in Gonzalez and Beckett, the Dodgers already had a tougher schedule to play through the remainder of the regular season.
They have seven series against winning teams, including two against the Giants. The Dodgers will also have to play the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds, arguably the two best teams in the NL. The Cardinals, currently one of the NL's wild-card teams, are also on the schedule.
The combined winning percentage of the Dodgers' remaining opponents is .517 (521-486).
Meanwhile, the Giants have five series against winning teams, two of which are against the Dodgers. San Francisco gets to play the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, two of the worst teams in the NL. (That's in addition to playing the Padres and Colorado Rockies within their own division.)
The Giants' remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .453 (398-481).
Now What About the NL Wild Card?
Even if the Dodgers can't overtake the Giants in the NL West, this trade makes them a favorite for one of the NL wild-card playoff spots. As of Aug. 25, the Dodgers are 1.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals for one of those extra postseason bids.
The Dodgers can handle this directly with a four-game series against the Cards from Sept. 13-16. Those four games are at Dodger Stadium, where the Dodgers swept a three-game set from the Cards in mid-May.
The Giants have already been helpful toward the Dodgers' wild-card chase by winning the first two games of a four-game series with the Braves that began on Thursday (Aug. 23). San Francisco is scheduled to pitch Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
While Lincecum has struggled this season, he's been much better in the second half of the season, compiling a 3.10 ERA. In four August starts, Lincecum has a 3.57 ERA and is coming off a performance in which he held the Dodgers to one run over 5.2 innings.
Another wild-card contender that can't be thrilled with the Dodgers' new infusion of talent is the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Bucs are only a half-game behind the Dodgers in the NL wild-card standings, but that gap has to look more challenging now.
Pittsburgh has lost four in a row, seven of its last 10 and have an 8-17 record in August. (That includes losing three of four to the Dodgers at PNC Park last week.) That skid has cost them five games in both the NL Central and wild-card standings.
Who Benefits in the AL East Race?
With the Red Sox now in "reset" mode, they present less of a spoiler for the three contenders in the AL East.
The New York Yankees have a 3.5-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays and a five-game cushion over the Baltimore Orioles. Yet the Yankees have the second-best record in the AL as of Aug. 25. Even if they fall out of the AL East lead, chances are they'll get one of the wild-card spots. That's a rather strong position to be in as the season heads into September.
Will either of these three teams benefit from playing the Red Sox in September? Neither has an advantage in terms of scheduling. All three teams have six games remaining against Boston through September and October.
The Yankees end the regular season with a three-game series versus the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Will Boston be a punching bag for their archrivals to close out the season, or might they play spoilers if they're in a position to do so?
Depending on what kind of lead the Yankees have over the Orioles and Rays before the final three games on the schedule, playing the Red Sox could give them an edge. What if the Yankees get three wins to end the season while the O's and Rays have to play each other at Tropicana Field in what could be a showdown for a wild-card bid?
Now What About the AL Wild Card?
Both the Rays and Orioles are tied for an AL wild-card playoff spot as of Aug. 25.
Those two teams are also tied with the Oakland Athletics in the standings, which could create a stressful tiebreaker scenario if the three-team cluster holds through the end of the regular season.
The Detroit Tigers are one game back of the wild-card lead, ready to pounce on a spot if either of the three current leaders slip. The Los Angeles Angels are still in contention as well, 2.5 games out of a playoff spot.
Should the Angels, A's and Tigers each be concerned that the Red Sox have now voluntarily turned themselves into a division doormat, providing both the Rays and O's with six potential wins during the month of September?
That's certainly a possibility, but it should be pointed out that the Red Sox haven't turned themselves into the Miami Marlins with their sell-off. They still have excellent players in Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Andrew Bailey.
The Red Sox were already slogging through a disappointing season. But this roster shake-up could be liberating.
Two of the reported bad attitudes—and three of the notable underperformers—in the Boston clubhouse are now gone. Without the weight of heavy expectation and frustration, the Red Sox could take this opportunity to get a head start on next season. Which players want to stay? Who wants to be a part of the turnaround?
If that's the case, the Rays and Orioles might want to approach their combined 12 games versus the Red Sox with caution. In particular, costing the Orioles a postseason bid could be some sweet revenge for the Red Sox after Baltimore cost them the AL wild-card spot at the end of last season.
Knocking those teams out of the AL playoff race would show that they can still be a force within the division, even before the additional changes that are sure to come during the offseason.
That could make the Red Sox a very useful, unwitting ally for the non-AL East teams contending for the two wild-card spots. Perhaps Boston GM Ben Cherington can expect some thank-you cards after the season if his team ends up influencing the AL playoff race.
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