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Report Cards for Each MLB Contender for September's 1st Half

Ely SussmanCorrespondent ISeptember 15, 2013

Report Cards for Each MLB Contender for September's 1st Half

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    Every day of the MLB season is interconnected, so developments from the first half of September give us terrific insight into how contending teams will fare during the rest of this month.

    Each of the clubs who still have a pulse in the playoff races received report cards evaluating their performances from Sept. 1-14.

    Elevated run scoring and dominant pitching resulted in higher grades. Getting healthier at this pivotal stage of the summer also serves as a tremendous advantage, particularly when impact players rejoin the fray.

    These report cards will reveal contenders' strengths while exposing soft spots where they'll need to make immediate adjustments.

     

    *Stats provided by FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. Updated through the games of Sept. 14, 2013.

Explaining Grading Categories

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    Offense

    This is based on runs scored during the first half of September.

    While it's nice to slug your way to lopsided victories, teams that have produced most consistently fared better here. There's also a preference for deep lineups over others that rely on a strong middle.

     

    Pitching Staff

    Here, we evaluate teams according to how well their pitchers minimize run scoring.

    Bonus points went to staffs with the most trustworthy arms in their starting rotations and bullpens. Experience and swing-and-miss ability also influenced the grades.

     

    Healthiness

    All contenders have lost impact players due to injuries this season, but they'll be graded here based on the impact of recent updates.

    Teams were marked down if they've learned that a player is physically limited or unable to return in any capacity. Meanwhile, encouraging news about rehabbing veterans boosted scores in this category.

     

    Overall Grade

    The overall grade isn't necessarily an "average" of the others mentioned above. It reflects the team's win-loss record and level of competition it faced during the past two weeks.

Atlanta Braves

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    Offense: B-

    It's difficult to evaluate the Atlanta Braves' bats because they haven't been playing with any urgency. Manager Fredi Gonzalez has the luxury of resting his regulars with the NL East race already decided.

    Shortstop Andrelton Simmons leads the club with eight extra-base hits this month, while All-Star Freddie Freeman owns a 1.086 OPS. On the flip side, Brian McCann (.129/.270/.258) and B.J. Upton (.156/.282/.219) have fallen into major slumps.

    Atlanta ripped apart Daisuke Matsuzaka and the New York Mets for 13 runs on Sept. 2. Besides that, though, the single-game high this September is six runs.

     

    Pitching Staff: B

    The Braves only dreamed that Kris Medlen would replicate his 2012 campaign, when transitioning to starting duty made him unbeatable. As expected, the league adjusted to the changeup specialist.

    Well, he's finally adjusting back. The 27-year-old has a 1.31 earned run average in three September starts.

    The rest of the rotation isn't nearly as sharp at the moment, although journeyman Freddy Garcia contributed six innings of one-run ball on Thursday. Craig Kimbrel served up a home run on Saturday, which ended a four-month streak of suppressing round-trippers. Still, there's no reason to doubt that he'll be anything less than automatic going forward.

    So far in September, Atlanta's pitching staff has the fifth-highest BABIP against in the National League, which is surprising considering the defensive talent on the roster. Expect better fortune on balls in play later this month.

     

    Healthiness: B+

    David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution details Jason Heyward's progress:

    Wearing a modified batting helmet with a guard attachment to protect the right side of his face, Heyward took batting practice before Friday’s series opener against the San Diego Padres at Turner Field. He had previously been restricted to hitting balls off a tee or tossed from someone beside the batter’s box.

    While there is not specific timetable for his return, the Braves and Heyward hope their right fielder will be able to play in some games before the regular season ends Sept. 29 and be ready for the postseason. He’s expected to face live pitching in instructional league games at the team’s spring-training site in Florida before he rejoins the Braves.

    Heyward has an ordinary .771 OPS this season, but he was locked in for the month of August prior to fracturing his jaw (1.040 OPS). The 24-year-old makes an enormous impact defensively too.

    Atlanta could soon gain extra rotation depth. Right-hander Brandon Beachy was briefly shut down with discomfort in his surgically repaired elbow, but MLB.com's Eric Single reports that he's about to resume his throwing program.

     

    Overall: C+

    We know the skipper doesn't have his foot on the accelerator, but a 6-7 record during this stretch is nonetheless disappointing. The Braves only faced sub-.500 teams, including the Miami Marlins five times.

Baltimore Orioles

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    Offense: B-

    Where would the Baltimore Orioles be right now without J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones and Danny Valencia? They essentially carried the entire lineup through the first half of September.

    Chris Davis has abandoned the selective approach that contributed to his early season dominance, while we continue to wait on Matt Wieters to heat up at the plate (.696 OPS this season, .725 OPS this month).

    Lately, only a handful of MLB teams have been drawing fewer walks than the O's.

     

    Pitching Staff: B+

    Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris are primarily responsible for Baltimore's AL-best 9.22 K/9 this month. Ironically, neither of them have enjoyed much success in terms of run allowance, while Scott Feldman flaunts a 1.62 earned run average with his pitch-to-contact game plan.

    Rookie reliever Kevin Gausman is also generating plenty of whiffs. Too bad his opponents have a .375 BABIP in the past four appearances.

    It's been a messy year for Jim Johnson, who leads the league in blown saves, but he seems to be settling down during the pennant race.

     

    Healthiness: B+

    One of Baltimore's most important relievers eyes a return for the upcoming Tampa Bay Rays series (Sept. 20-23).

    Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun reports that a pair of injections may resolve the numbness that has sidelined Darren O'Day. He last appeared out of the bullpen on Sept. 7.

    There are no other major injury concerns to speak of.

     

    Overall: B

    The Orioles played daily from Sept. 1 to 14 and finished 7-7. A team that prides itself on outslugging its opposition probably expected to have more success at Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium and the Rogers Centre.

Boston Red Sox

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    Offense: A

    Mike Napoli is emerging as the front-runner for American League Player of the Month honors with his .424 batting average and otherworldly 1.467 OPS.

    Of course, it's not as if he's carrying the Boston Red Sox. Their lineup has been clicking on all cylinders, averaging seven runs per game in September.

    This is the only AL team with a perfect stolen-base percentage this month. Boston also ranks second in the majors with 57 extra-base hits during that span.

    A Doug Fister-led shutout against Detroit on Sept. 2 denies the Red Sox an A+.

     

    Pitching Staff: A-

    Jon Lester looks like the guy who once finished fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting. Providing top-of-the-rotation quality and length, he has allowed only five runs in his past 23 innings pitched (1.96 ERA).

    In a season that ranks among the best we've even seen from a reliever, Boston closer Koji Uehara is showing no signs of fatigue. He's been completely perfect through seven September appearances (12 K in 7.1 IP).

    This team's 3.11 FIP is the fourth-best in baseball so far this month.

     

    Healthiness: B+

    Right-hander Clay Buchholz made his long-awaited return from the disabled list on Sept. 10, and his performance was encouraging.

    The All-Star surrendered only three singles over five scoreless innings and worked efficiently (74 pitches). Brooks Baseball shows us that Buchholz's velocity was similar to what he showed during his first outing of the season, so perhaps it will rise down the stretch.

    However, leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury hasn't played since Sept. 5 due to a compression fracture in his right foot. There's no specific timetable for his return to the lineup.

    Thankfully for the Red Sox, his rehab is progressing. Manager John Farrell says he's been cleared for physical activity, according to Alex Speier of WEEI.com.

    It's hard to imagine Ellsbury being the same unstoppable base stealer coming off this sort of injury. The center fielder still leads the majors with 52 thefts.

     

    Overall: A

    A 10-3 record and plus-36 run differential over any 13-game stretch should be applauded. The Red Sox achieved that despite matchups with contenders like the Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays.

Cincinnati Reds

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    Offense: C+

    The Cincinnati Reds called up top prospect Billy Hamilton for one reason—to steal bases. The Mississippi native has responded with five thefts in as many chances, including a few in high-leverage situations.

    Unfortunately, the Reds roster is otherwise devoid of strong baserunners. Cincinnati has only 47 runs scored this month despite 15 home runs, which is the lowest HR/RS ratio in the National League.

    Brandon Phillips' magic with runners in scoring position has worn off. He has only two runs batted in for the entire month after driving in 99 from April to August.

    If not for Shin-Soo Choo's excellence (4 HR, 1.245 OPS), the Reds wouldn't have such a cozy cushion in the race for the second NL Wild Card.

     

    Pitching Staff: B+

    Aroldis Chapman has dominated lately after stretches of shakiness earlier this season. He leads all MLB relievers with 15 September strikeouts. Overall, the Reds bullpen has been practically mistake-free.

    Mat Latos negated his Sept. 3 complete game with a rough outing against the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday, while Homer Bailey—2.14 ERA in 21.0 IP—is genuinely thriving.

     

    Healthiness: A

    Welcome back, Johnny Cueto!

    The oft-injured ace of the Reds rotation is indeed returning to major league action on Monday against the Houston Astros. Although he'll initially deal with a limited pitch count, the schedule allows him two additional regular-season starts to get stretched out.

    Another veteran member of the pitching staff also seems confident about contributing following a lengthy DL stint.

    Sean Marshall believes he can "get guys out right now," according to MLB.com's Kevin Massoth, and he's hopeful that the club will utilize him down the stretch. In 84 appearances with the Reds over the past two seasons, Marshall has a 2.51 earned run average and 81 strikeouts in 68 innings pitched.

     

    Overall: B+

    Cincy went 8-5 during the first half of September and is close to getting some valuable reinforcements in the lineup. 

Cleveland Indians

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    Offense: B+

    The Cleveland Indians have recently won several games by comfortable margins, but that is to be expected when the New York Mets and Chicago White Sox appear on the schedule.

    Second-year catcher Yan Gomes continues to impress with his power (.645 slugging percentage in September). Although Asdrubal Cabrera is striking out pretty frequently, he also has a team-best four home runs this month.

     

    Pitching Staff: B+

    If anyone has a case for upsetting Mariano Rivera for American League Comeback Player of the Year, it's Ubaldo Jimenez. The right-hander has been at his best this September, allowing only one earned run in three starts (all Indians wins).

    On the other hand, Cleveland's bullpen is in mild disarray.

    Chris Perez makes every ninth inning unnecessarily dramatic. He has put on 14 baserunners in the past six appearances. Moreover, Cody Allen is regressing after five outstanding months, while Vinnie Pestano continues to search for his former self.

    Thankfully, Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith have been solid in September (0.00 ERA, 11 K in 13.0 IP).

     

    Healthiness: B+

    Manager Terry Francona tells MLB.com's Manny Randhawa that Justin Masterson is gradually getting his arm stretched out after straining his oblique on Sept. 2. The right-hander eyes a return before the end of the regular season, but for the time being, Cleveland is without a trustworthy rotation leader.

    Ryan Raburn (strained Achilles) spent early September on the disabled list but has since resumed a shockingly productive campaign.

     

    Overall: B+

    The Tribe didn't separate themselves from the Kansas City Royals, but a 9-4 record drew them closer to the AL wild-card leaders.

Detroit Tigers

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    Offense: C

    There's no way to sugarcoat it. Miguel Cabrera, the best hitter on the planet, is slumping.

    The reigning American League MVP is slashing just .179/.343/.214 this month with zero home runs. That essentially eliminates any possibility of him repeating as the AL's Triple Crown winner.

    The Detroit Tigers have been shut out twice in September and finished eight of their 12 games with fewer than 10 hits.

     

    Pitching Staff: B-

    We've been waiting for Justin Verlander to revert back to his untouchable 2011-2012 form, but time is running out. Following a scoreless performance on Sept. 1, the Kansas City Royals totaled 17 hits against the right-hander during his next two starts.

    On Sept. 4, the Tigers coughed up 20 runs and let the Boston Red Sox tie a franchise record with eight long balls.

    Anibal Sanchez continues to thrive in the first year of his $80 million contract, while Max Scherzer has suddenly lost "the will to win." Four bad innings against the Chicago White Sox elevated his season earned run average above 3.00.

     

    Healthiness: B+

    As Jon Morosi of Fox Sports explains, Miggy continues to play through injury. That seems to be suppressing his power and limiting his already-limited range at third base.

     

    Overall: C+

    While 5-7 is nothing to celebrate, keep in mind that Detroit spent nine of those 12 games on the road, and three against the Red Sox.

    Aside from the one time they were blown out, the Tigers actually pitched quite well.

Kansas City Royals

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    Offense: C+

    Eric Hosmer (.388/.464/.551) and Salvador Perez (.375/.409/.600) deserve much of the credit for catching fire in September to ensure that the Kansas City Royals still have hope.

    The lineup isn't particularly deep due to the replacement-level production coming from the shortstop and center field positions.

    The Royals have scored multiple runs in 12 of 13 contests this month, although they've been consistently limited to seven or fewer.

     

    Pitching Staff: A-

    Kansas City's arms have posted the top strikeout-to-walk ratio in the sport down the stretch despite pitching more innings than most teams. 

    Luke Hochevar and Greg Holland seem to be getting better in September (if that's even possible), with one earned run between them in 15 appearances. 

    While the month-long numbers for Ervin Santana and James Shields aren't pretty, each has had one start in which they essentially carried the team to victory.

     

    Healthiness: A

    The Royals have had tremendous luck this season when it comes to avoiding the injury bug.

    Perez missed a week of August while dealing with a minor concussion, but as evidenced by his hot streak at the plate, he's no longer feeling any ill effects.

    K.C. activated Lorenzo Cain (strained oblique) from the disabled list on Sept. 4. He was eased back into action as a defensive replacement, and now the 27-year-old now has several starts under his belt.

     

    Overall: A-

    This much-needed 9-4 stretch has included series victories against the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Offense: B

    The stars of the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup, Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez, aren't wearing down at all in September. They have each already homered three times.

    So far this month, the NL West leaders rank near the middle of the pack in most offensive categories. That's somewhat excusable when you see that the opposing starting pitchers have included Madison Bumgarner, Patrick Corbin and Jorge De La Rosa.

     

    Pitching Staff: C

    Kenley Jansen has shown his mortality for the first time since ascending to the closer's role. After allowing only eight hits in July and August combined, he has surrendered six in as many appearances.

    Ricky Nolasco couldn't escape the second inning on Saturday, as he was charged with seven runs (five earned). Also, Edinson Volquez is a questionable choice for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation, although that won't matter much once the Dodgers officially secure their place in the playoff field.

    Zack Greinke continues to epitomize consistency, but two other elite pitchers, Clayton Kershaw and Paco Rodriguez, have not performed up to their own high standards.

     

    Healthiness: B-

    You can forget about seeing Ramirez for at least the next several days. Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times reports that the sensational shortstop is battling an irritated nerve in his back and receiving cortisone injections to mask the pain.

    Baxter also reports that Matt Kemp should rejoin the Dodgers on Monday to face the Arizona Diamondbacks.

     

    Overall: B-

    The San Francisco Giants routed L.A. 19-3 after chasing Nolasco to the showers. Otherwise, this team has been competitive in each of its September games, posting a 6-7 record overall.

New York Yankees

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    Offense: B

    Alex Rodriguez is undoubtedly a distraction for the New York Yankees, but he's still very productive. The polarizing slugger has batted .279/.426/.535 in September with more walks than strikeouts.

    A less surprising source of power, Robinson Cano has slugged .559 to drive home 14 runs in as many games.

    The biggest knock against the Yankees lineup is its collective impatience at the plate. According to FanGraphs, this team has swung at the sixth-highest percentage of pitches outside the strike zone in the past few weeks, thus allowing opponents to exert less energy. Chasing so often has helped Jon Lester and Chris Tillman (among others) to stay on the mound into the later innings.

     

    Pitching Staff: F

    Bill James' Game Score statistic shows how downright mediocre New York's rotation has been during this all-important month.

    A pitcher begins with 50 points and gets rewarded for surviving deep into his starts and amassing strikeouts. Allowing runs or baserunners results in the subtraction of points. With a few exceptions, scores vary from 0 to 100.

    That brings us to the Yankees, whose starters haven't posted a Game Score above 60 in 13 September attempts. To put that in perspective, Ubaldo Jimenez has single-handedly produced three 60-plus performances in the same span.

    The relief pitching is struggling to an even greater degree.

    Mariano Rivera has blown two saves and opponents boast a 1.184 OPS against setup man David Robertson in four appearances. Preston Claiborne has an astronomical 30.86 earned run average this month.

    Collectively, the bullpen is pitching below replacement level when it can least afford to.

     

    Healthiness: D

    The Yankees constructed their 2013 roster under the assumption that the real Derek Jeter would emerge at some point.

    Now, we know that won't be the case. After only 17 games and a .190/.288/.254 batting line, the captain has been shut down for the season with persistent pain in his ankle.

    Leadoff hitter Brett Gardner played in 145 of the first 147 games this season, contributing as a great baserunner and outfielder. However, a mild oblique strain threatens to end his season prematurely.

    Due to a nagging hamstring problem, A-Rod might spend the rest of the regular season as a designated hitter, according to manager Joe Girardi (h/t Chad Jennings, LoHud.com). That will mean regularly using a lesser offensive player at third base.

    Backup catcher Austin Romine is steadily working his way back from a concussion, according to the YES Network's Meredith Marakovits, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that southpaw Boone Logan may have turned a corner. He's trying to recover from inflammation in his elbow and biceps.

     

    Overall: C+

    Every lost series is another nail in New York's coffin. Recent struggles against the Boston Red Sox have reduced the already-slim odds of a postseason berth.

    The Yankees are 7-7 in September, but it's a very unconvincing 7-7.

Oakland Athletics

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    Offense: A

    Yoenis Cespedes (1.035 OPS), Josh Donaldson (1.208 OPS) and Brandon Moss (1.118 OPS) have torn the cover off the ball this month. They've already contributed eight home runs and 32 runs batted in.

    This September, the Oakland Athletics rank second in the majors in batting average, slugging percentage and runs scored. Moreover, the team has done so while playing eight of 13 games at pitcher-friendly O.co Coliseum.

     

    Pitching Staff: B+

    Jarrod Parker is undefeated since Memorial Day, and the streak lives on thanks to a pair of quality starts on Sept. 4 and Sept. 10. The ageless Bartolo Colon has looked similarly steady since coming off the disabled list. Including Saturday's eight excellent innings, he has six scoreless starts this season.

    Whatever condition they have is contagious, as Sonny Gray (2.77 ERA in 13.0 IP) and A.J. Griffin (2.70 ERA in 20.0 IP) continue to excel for the A's.

    Bouncing back from one of the weakest months of his young major league career, Sean Doolittle flaunts a perfect earned run average in September with a 14.2 K/9.

     

    Healthiness: B-

    As if the A's lineup didn't already feature enough power, outfielder Josh Reddick has returned after his second wrist-related stint on the disabled list. He homered on Sept. 12 in his first start following the activation.

    Meanwhile, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reluctantly reports that John Jaso doesn't look like an option for the playoff push:

    Melvin doesn’t believe John Jaso, who has been out with a concussion for six weeks, will be back this year – certainly not as a catcher, but it sounds like long odds even as a DH or pinch hitter. He’s not close to game action yet and there is no minor-league affiliate to send him for an assignment if he were to suddenly improve in the next week or so.

    Thankfully, between Derek Norris and Kurt Suzuki, Oakland can fall back on its respectable catching depth.

    Brett Anderson, Oakland's highest-paid pitcher, isn't adjusting well to life as a reliever. As if the .296 batting average against him this month wasn't rough enough, the 25-year-old was removed mid-inning on Sept. 13 due to back spasms. MLB.com's Jane Lee reports that he'll rest for a few days before being re-evaluated.

     

    Overall: A-

    Sure, the club's September record improved from pounding on the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins, but the Athletics have also done an outstanding job taming the Texas Rangers.

    A 10-3 mark this month puts them on the verge of running away with the AL West (leading by 5.5 games).

Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Offense: C

    If Pedro Alvarez can make a habit out of legging out inside-the-park home runs (courtesy of MLB.com), then the Pittsburgh Pirates will be just fine.

    In reality, the offense has been sputtering in September with barely three-and-a-half runs per contest.

    The Bucs rank 19th in batting average and 18th in on-base percentage. Andrew McCutchen (.419/.510/.698) and Marlon Byrd (.326/.380/.500) have carried them to respectability in those categories.

     

    Pitching Staff: B

    Pittsburgh's starting rotation has been flipped upside-down. A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano are averaging fewer than five innings per outing with bloated earned run averages, while Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke have pitched beautifully when given the opportunity.

    Everybody was anxious for Jason Grilli to return from the disabled list and reclaim the closer's role. Unfortunately, he doesn't resemble an All-Star from any standpoint. Opponents have slugged .733 against the 36-year-old, culminating in a 12.00 earned run average.

    At least Tony Watson and newly acquired Kyle Farnsworth have solidified the middle innings, while Mark Melancon continues to preserve slim leads.

     

    Healthiness: B-

    Manager Clint Hurdle was frank when discussing Starling Marte's hand with MLB.com's George Von Benko:

    I think what we are trying to get him to understand is that he's not going to be pain-free. There's not going to be a pain-free day from this point on when you go up there and you're going to try and hit. So, understanding the tolerance of the pain, it doesn't happen every swing and it doesn't happen more when it's a miss or a hit.

    It's been a breakout year for the left fielder, who was batting .282/.343/.443 as Pittsburgh's leadoff man prior to the injury. Since rejoining the roster on Sept. 9, he's seen action as a pinch runner and defensive replacement.

    The latest update on Wandy Rodriguez is more troubling—Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review tweets that he's been shut down for the rest of 2013.

     

    Overall: B

    It was a tale of two weeks for the Pirates. They looked sloppy against the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals, yet intimidating in series with the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs.

    Add it all up and their September record is 7-6.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Offense: C+

    Matt Carpenter continues to be an extraordinary fit atop the St. Louis Cardinals lineup. He has reached base multiple times in most of their September games and pulled even with Manny Machado for the major league lead in doubles.

    However, neither Pete Kozma nor Daniel Descalso have had comparable success as his double-play partners. They've combined for only two extra-base hits this month (both doubles).

    The St. Louis offense has actually enjoyed several productive games recently, but overall, its September slugging percentage is by far the lowest among contending teams.

     

    Pitching Staff: B-

    Former first-round draft pick Michael Wacha is capitalizing on his opportunity to stick in the starting rotation. Opponents are batting only .150 against him through three September starts and his earned run average is a tidy 1.00.

    Since being lit up by the Cincinnati Reds on Sept. 2, Adam Wainwright has redeemed himself with one run allowed in his past 15 innings.

    The bullpen's performance, on the other hand, has been very mixed. There ought to be some concern about closer Edward Mujica, who hasn't completed a smooth ninth inning since Aug. 26.

    Fortunately, Trevor Rosenthal continues to excel with 10 strikeouts during his six scoreless innings.

     

    Healthiness: A-

    The Cards lost ultra-clutch Allen Craig to a foot sprain during the first week of September. General manager John Mozeliak admitted that he's unsure about when exactly Craig will play again, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but at least the injury is improving.

     

    Overall: B+

    You cannot complain much about an 8-5 record, especially when three of those victories come against the Pittsburgh Pirates. As a result, St. Louis sits even with them atop the NL Central standings.

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Offense: D

    The Tampa Bay Rays haven't scored more than seven runs in any of their games this month. That's despite facing unheralded pitching staffs like those of the Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners.

    Rookie outfielder Wil Myers is one of the few bright spots. He finished August in a 1-for-23 slump, but the 22-year-old has a .313 batting average since the calendar turned with seven extra-base hits.

     

    Pitching Staff: C+

    We need to recognize the difference between good results and good performance.

    Lefty Matt Moore is certainly experiencing the former so far in September. In three starts, he has only surrendered one run on 10 hits (0.61 ERA).

    However, a pedestrian 4.07 FIP factors in his sky-high walk rate. Stranding 96.8 percent of baserunners tells us that he's been fortunate, not effective.

    For the first time all summer, Chris Archer had consecutive starts of four innings or fewer. Fatigue could be setting in considering that this is his heaviest single-season workload ever.

    The bullpen is looking a bit inconsistent. While Fernando Rodney and Wesley Wright haven't allowed any earned runs, Joel Peralta and Alex Torres have combined for three losses.

     

    Healthiness: A

    That trade deadline deal for right-hander Jesse Crain might actually help the Rays down the stretch after all.

    He hasn't appeared for his new team due to a shoulder strain, but according to Patrick Donnelly of MLB.com, a 50-pitch bullpen session represents a huge step in his rehab. Crain is targeting Sept. 18 as his return date.

     

    Overall: C

    Tampa Bay followed up an ugly final week of August with a 6-7 start to September. Rather than making a late push for the AL East title, the Rays will try to fend off a handful of wild-card wannabes.

    They have no off-days remaining.

Texas Rangers

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    Offense: F

    Only the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, New York Mets and Seattle Mariners have scored fewer runs than the Texas Rangers so far in September.

    Adrian Beltre (.234/.308/.255) and Ian Kinsler (.231/.273/.288) are particularly disappointing.

    As a team, Texas has an uncharacteristically high 20.8 percent strikeout rate.

     

    Pitching Staff: C

    With such an anemic supporting cast, it's no surprise that Yu Darvish has lost three straight decisions despite relatively strong performances. He doesn't have any margin for error.

    On both Sept. 9 and Sept. 14, the American League Cy Young Award candidate pitched seven innings and surrendered only one run, combining for 16 strikeouts. His team was defeated 1-0 each time.

    Matt Garza, on the other hand, is legitimately hindering the Rangers from competing. He has coughed up eight earned runs through 11 September innings (6.55 ERA), showing little resemblance to the impact starter who was acquired midseason at such a steep price.

    Even worse, southpaw Derek Holland is imploding at the end of an otherwise excellent campaign. He's given up five home runs in his past three starts (8.78 ERA, 8.67 FIP in 13.1 IP).

    Although veteran closer Joe Nathan looks fine as the regular season winds down, he's not getting many opportunities with the Rangers mired in such a slump.

     

    Healthiness: B

    Hip and knee injuries have derailed Lance Berkman's season. Although already activated from the disabled list, Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News reports that the veteran switch-hitter has concerns about rust and facing left-handed pitching.

    Neftali Feliz returned from Tommy John surgery as a September call-up to reinforce the bullpen.

     

    Overall: C-

    Granted, Texas' September schedule started off brutally. Matchups with the division-leading Oakland Athletics and Pittsburgh Pirates partially explain their abysmal 2-10 record this month. Even the Los Angeles Angels were playing great baseball when the Rangers came to visit.

    With that said, eight of those 10 losses came in games that were decided by two runs or fewer. That failure to execute in close contests is a huge concern moving forward.

Washington Nationals

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    Offense: A-

    After months of being mocked for his ineffectiveness at the plate, Denard Span is riding baseball's longest active hitting streak. Seemingly every pitch he connects with turns into a single.

    Meanwhile, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is an extra-base machine. His nine home runs and two doubles so far this month easily compensate for the runs he costs the Washington Nationals defensively.

    Jayson Werth is essentially the love child of those two styles. He's batting comfortably above .300 in September with a few round-trippers and plenty of walks to stay within National League batting title contention.

    The Washington Nationals would already have a strong lineup thanks to this trio, but quiet hot streaks from Wilson Ramos and Bryce Harper put this team among the very best. The Nats have averaged 5.4 runs per game in September.

     

    Pitching Staff: B+

    Gio Gonzalez obliterated the New York Mets in a shutout earlier this month, and the rest of the rotation has been providing reasonable quality lately.

    Right-hander Tyler Clippard is back to his usual dominant self after a pair of early September slip-ups. Close Rafael Soriano is much more trustworthy than he has shown at times in 2013. The 33-year-old is efficiently saving games, regularly completing the process while facing four total batters or fewer.

     

    Healthiness: B+

    From a glass-half-empty perspective, Harper continues to experience inflammation in his hip, which explains why he hasn't been hitting for much power over the past several months. At least Washington's doctors confirmed that there isn't any structural damage, so he'll continue playing down the stretch.

    Seeing Stephen Strasburg scratched with forearm tightness on Sept. 13 certainly caused Nats fans to worry. However, manager Davey Johnson clarifies that the discomfort is not related to Strasburg's 2010 Tommy John surgery and that he's "pretty confident" about the right-hander taking the mound again on Sept. 19. Strasburg has a team-high 181 strikeouts this summer to go along with a 2.96 earned run average.

    It's been two-and-a-half months since Ross Detwiler last pitched out of the starting rotation, and Johnson has conceded that he won't do anymore of that this season. On the bright side, the skipper tells Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com that he's on track to come back from a herniated disk and bolster the relief corps.

     

    Overall: A-

    The Nats impressively went 8-2 on their most recent road trip to climb back into the NL wild-card conversation. On the other hand, all of that success came against sub-.500 opposition.

    They're still five-and-a-half games back of the Cincinnati Reds, so this seems to be too little too late. Don't expect an imitation of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.

     

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