Every MLB Team's Most Intriguing Storyline Down the Stretch
With just under four weeks remaining in the 2014 MLB season, intriguing storylines are everywhere.
From playoff races and injuries to September call-ups and awards races, there is something to be taken away from each club.
What are the most intriguing storylines for each franchise, though? Well, let’s take a look around MLB and point to one thing on each club that is worth keeping an eye on for the rest of the season.
To be sure, some teams have multiple subplots. We will not be looking at all of them. What we will do here is identify what we consider to be the one that deserves the most time and expand on it.
Let's get into the most intriguing storylines around MLB.
Arizona Diamondbacks: The Return of Daniel Hudson
When Fox Sports Arizona's Jack Magruder tweeted last Saturday that Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Daniel Hudson would return to the active roster in a relief capacity, he injected some optimism into the fanbase.
There is no other way to describe what it means to have a guy who underwent two Tommy John surgeries return to the team, especially in what has been a disappointing season.
With 2015 as the focus, Hudson’s performance down the stretch will go a long way toward building confidence—not only his own, but the organization’s.
For his career, Hudson is 28-17 with a 3.68 ERA in 62 games (58 starts). He hasn't pitched since 2012 because of elbow problems.
Atlanta Braves: Can Justin Upton Carry the Team into October?
“While tearing through opposing pitchers in August,” MLB.com’s Mark Bowman recently wrote, “Justin Upton established himself as a player who could receive attention from a number of Most Valuable Player Award voters this year.”
And that’s the truth.
Simply put, Upton is a large part of the reason the Atlanta Braves were within one-and-a-half games of the Milwaukee Brewers for the second wild-card spot when play began Tuesday. True, they were seven games removed from the division lead in the NL East, but even with the injuries the team endured, they could still be poised to make an appearance in the postseason.
That is, of course, if Upton can continue to play the way he did in August, when he put up a .291/.383/.563 slash line with seven home runs, five doubles and 28 RBI, per splits from Baseball-Reference.
Other players, including Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons, will have to step up as well, but the onus is on Upton to lead the charge.
Hurting the Braves' chances, Upton left Tuesday night's contest vs. the Philadelphia Phillies "with a bruised left triceps muscle" and is listed as "day-to-day," per Bowman.
Baltimore Orioles: Will Chris Davis Contribute Down the Stretch?
As of game time Tuesday, Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis had a .193/.299/.402 slash line. Now, he has hit 24 home runs and driven in 68 runs, but those metrics aren’t enough to justify 159 strikeouts and only 15 doubles.
Flatly, he isn’t productive enough.
To be sure, no one thought he would replicate last season, when he had a .286/.370/.634 slash line and hit 53 home runs while knocking in 138. That said, his struggles this year are to such an extreme that they threaten to impact the club’s ability to make it to the World Series.
Seeing if Davis can find some sort of consistency this month will be very interesting to watch. If he doesn't, manager Buck Showalter may have to get creative with the postseason lineup.
Boston Red Sox: Will Rusney Castillo Be Everything the Fanbase Hopes?
There is little doubt that Rusney Castillo will make his debut for the Boston Red Sox at some point this September. He’s already on the 40-man roster, after all, and the club would be wise to get him acclimated as soon as possible since he is a big part of their plan moving forward.
And when Castillo does arrive, there is no telling how manager John Farrell will use him. He could play him at any one of the outfield spots or have him serve as the designated hitter. Regardless of where he plays, though, the fanbase is eagerly anticipating his arrival.
Castillo takes the next step on his path to the majors at Double-A Portland beginning Wednesday, when the Sea Dogs begin their postseason run, according to MLB.com’s Ian Browne.
Chicago Cubs: The Rookies Get a Full Month Together
Fans and analysts around the country are awash with optimism for what the future has in store for the Chicago Cubs.
CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman wrote that “it doesn’t take a genius to see positive things are ahead” for the franchise. September will give fans around the country the first chance to see what this group can do collectively.
The excitement in the air is tangible. The rookies on the roster are quickly making Cubs games appointment television.
Chicago White Sox: How Will Andy Wilkins and Michael Taylor Fare?
Following the trades of Gordon Beckham, Adam Dunn and Alejandro De Aza, there is an opportunity for some minor leaguers to make their marks after the Chicago White Sox announced their September call-ups.
Two guys, in particular, stand to benefit from the aforementioned departures.
Andy Wilkins in one of them. After slashing out at .293/.338/.558 with 30 home runs and 85 RBI, the left-handed hitter will be given every chance to show what he can bring to the table in the role that Dunn once filled.
The other player who will get a long look is Michael Taylor, according to CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes. Taylor compiled a .306/.386/.489 slash line in 64 games at Triple-A Charlotte this season after being acquired from the Oakland A’s.
Surprisingly, first-round draft choice Carlos Rodon was not one of the call-ups. With all of the roster shuffling, some folks like ESPN Chicago’s Doug Padilla openly wondered if the team “created the room they need to get” the North Carolina State product “on the 40-man roster and into the big leagues this week.”
Alas, general manager Rick Hahn didn’t think it was “the right time in his development to bring him to the big leagues,” per a separate article from Hayes.
Either way, watching the rookies get extended looks is going to be interesting.
Cincinnati Reds: Will Billy Hamilton Run Away with the NL Rookie of the Year?
And for the rest of the season, the focus will be on his run (literally) to the National League Rookie of the Year. In 131 games, he has a .267/.302/.382 slash line with 25 doubles, seven triples and 70 runs scored. Of particular note, though, are the 54 stolen bases he has collected.
The magnitude of how critical his performance down the stretch is to his chances of taking home the hardware is not lost on Hamilton. "I'm going after everything,” he said, according to C. Trent Rosencrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
For the record, Scott Williamson was the last Rookie of the Year to wear a Reds uniform, and that was in 1999.
Cleveland Indians: Can Corey Kluber Close the Gap on Felix Hernandez?
To be sure, his start on Labor Day (2.2 IP, 5 ER) didn’t help matters, but he had been lights out in his previous eight starts. In that span, he put up a 1.48 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 61.0 innings, en route to five victories. He was exceptional.
Helping matters is the fact that Hernandez has given up 10 earned runs and was torched to the tune of a .306/.351/.597 slash line against over his last three starts, per splits from Baseball-Reference.
To be sure, the chance that Kluber can overtake Hernandez is remote, but it is certainly worth watching over the next four weeks.
Colorado Rockies: Can Nolan Arenado Win His Second Gold Glove?
It would be an accurate statement to say that there isn’t very much to be excited about if you are a fan of the Colorado Rockies.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, first baseman Michael Cuddyer and catcher Wilin Rosario are on the disabled list. There is discord in the front office. The record is terrible.
At least there is third baseman Nolan Arenado to hold everyone’s attention. As of Tuesday, he had a .294/.334/.492 slash line with 14 home runs, 53 RBI and 54 runs scored in 101 games. Not bad at all.
The real reason to watch him play, however, is to see whether he can secure his second Gold Glove.
As it stands, Arenado’s metrics are uneven. For example, his 1.8 DWAR (defensive wins above replacement) is tops in the NL and he is second in range factor (3.29) to Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirates, per stats from ESPN.com. He has committed 15 errors, however, in 110 games.
If he can turn in several exceptional plays over the final month, he may just sway the voters into giving him his second Gold Glove in a row.
Detroit Tigers: Will the Starting Rotation Rise to the Occasion?
While their fifth starter is certainly important to the club’s overall success, this concerns the top four arms in the Detroit Tigers rotation.
It would appear the chances are good.
After all, Price has been outstanding since his acquisition with the exception of his outing vs. the New York Yankees last week. Scherzer has also been on a roll as well, compiling a 7-2 record and a 2.62 ERA over his last 13 starts, per splits at Baseball-Reference.
Verlander rebounded nicely in his second start following an injury scare, tossing seven innings of one-run ball against the Chicago White Sox last Friday. Meanwhile, Porcello is having a fine season and doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
Frankly, without each of them performing up to expectations, the Tigers will have a hard time reaching the postseason, let alone winning the division.
Houston Astros: Can Jose Altuve Win the AL Batting Title?
When Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow terminated Bo Porter on Labor Day, the franchise’s biggest storyline was all but extinguished.
Thankfully, the Astros still have second baseman Jose Altuve to keep everyone’s attention squarely on the field.
See, he is in line to become the first player in franchise history to win a batting title. That’s right: Jeff Bagwell didn’t win the batting crown when he hit .368 in 1994, nor did Moises Alou when he finished with a .355 batting average in 2000.
Altuve can change it all. Going into action Tuesday, he led MLB with a .336 batting average and was ahead of Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez by seven percentage points in the American League.
Simply put, the Astros are a mess as an organization, but Altuve is worth watching each and every time he takes the field.
Kansas City Royals: Will They Make the Postseason for the First Time Since 1985?
When the games began on Tuesday, the Kansas City Royals' chances of reaching the postseason sat at a hearty 65 percent, according to Baseball Prospectus. Considering it has been 29 years since the last time the club was in the playoffs, that is all of the reason in the world to be excited.
There is a buzz around Kauffman Stadium that hasn’t been felt for years. Will it last, though? That is the question that must be answered.
As it stands, there is a fight for the top spot in the AL Central. It is a fight that will be decided in the six remaining games they have against the Detroit Tigers, beginning next Monday.
In other words, their postseason chances rest entirely on their shoulders. There is no backing into the postseason.
This is a title they must take. It is going to be an interesting four weeks.
Los Angeles Angels: Will Mike Trout and Co. Hold off the A's?
Entering the four-game set with the Oakland A’s that began last Thursday, the Los Angeles Angels were clinging to a precarious two-game lead in the AL West.
Well, Mike Trout and Co. took all four contests, increasing their lead to six games at the time. And looking ahead at the schedule, the final two weeks of the season will likely determine their postseason fate.
Starting on Sept. 15, they have seven games with the Seattle Mariners and a three-game series with the A’s. If they go .500 in those games, the AL West is likely theirs. If not, they could take one of the wild-card spots and have to play their way into the AL Division Series.
Needless to say, it will be an exciting finish to the regular season.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Joc Pederson's Arrival
That is an absolutely true statement regarding the Los Angeles Dodgers phenom.
In 121 games at Triple-A Albuquerque, Pederson slashed out at .303/.435/582, hitting 33 home runs and driving in 78 in the process. Oh, he also stole 30 bases and drew 100 walks.
Flat-out, the kid can play the game of baseball.
Unfortunately for MLB fans everywhere, the Dodgers have four highly priced veterans on the roster and his promotion was delayed.
Expect big things from Pederson. It will be up to general manager Ned Colletti to find a way to get him on the 25-man roster to start next season.
Miami Marlins: How Much More Damage Can Giancarlo Stanton Do?
Entering action on Tuesday, he led the National League in home runs (34), walks (90), slugging percentage (.554) and on-base plus slugging (.954). He also led MLB in RBI (99) and total bases (279).
The only question is, how much more damage can he do?
One has to assume based on history that 40 home runs and 120 RBI is not out of the question. If he can do that, an MVP award is likely in his future.
Yes, the Marlins aren’t going to make the postseason, but without Stanton performing to the level he has, this is arguably a club that challenges the Texas Rangers for the worst record in MLB.
Milwaukee Brewers: Can They Right the Ship in Time?
After finishing with a 13-14 record in August, the Milwaukee Brewers opened September with a two-run loss to the Chicago Cubs. That is not going to get the job done in the NL Central.
Simply put, the St. Louis Cardinals aren’t going anywhere. Matt Holliday has a .667 slugging percentage over the past two weeks, per FanGraphs, their rotation is firing on all cylinders and the bullpen has pitched exceptionally over the past month. They are primed for an extended run.
Guys like Carlos Gomez, Scooter Gennett and Jonathan Lucroy are going to have to step up on offense for the Brewers, while the pitching staff has to find a way to get back into a rhythm if manager Ron Roenicke’s club is going to reach the postseason.
Minnesota Twins: Can Aaron Hicks Show the Front Office He Belongs in the Bigs?
Hicks just can’t hit, evidenced by his .194/.285/.314 slash line over the course of two seasons. Simply put, this time around may be the last shot he has of proving he can be the everyday center fielder.
It is something the club would love to have happen. As MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger noted, if Hicks can contribute, manager Ron Gardenhire would have “more opportunities for regular center fielder Danny Santana to play his natural position of shortstop.”
This final month is critical for Hicks and the Twins.
New York Mets: What Does Daniel Murphy's Future Hold?
“With second baseman Daniel Murphy on the disabled list,” writes Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal, “the [New York] Mets' decision to promote 20-year-old infield prospect Dilson Herrera straight from Double-A to the major leagues comes with obvious subtext.”
In other words, Herrera has the chance to force general manager Sandy Alderson to decide whether to lock up Murphy to a long-term extension or trade him this offseason, potentially as part of a larger package for an impact shortstop.
To be sure, Herrera isn’t going to win a job next season based on what he does in the time between now and when Murphy returns from the DL, but any sign of being ready will assuredly play into Alderson’s decision this winter.
So far, things are looking good for the 20-year-old. In 13 at-bats heading into play Tuesday, Herrera has a .308/.400/.692 slash line. True, it’s a small sample, but it sure beats hitting .167 with eight strikeouts.
All told, Murphy’s future with the Mets is entirely uncertain.
New York Yankees: Did General Manager Brian Cashman Do Enough to Save His Job?
New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman put his work in this season.
After losing three Opening Day starters to injury before the middle of July and enduring continued struggles at the plate, Cashman got creative and overhauled his roster midseason.
The question then becomes whether the acquisitions of Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, Martin Prado and Josh Outman, among others, will be enough to close what was a four-game deficit in the race for the second wild card prior to Tuesday’s action.
The uncertain status of Masahiro Tanaka is one of the keys to their success. He had been working his way back into the rotation after landing on the disabled list with a partially torn UCL, but suffered a setback when he reported soreness last Friday.
Either way, Cashman’s contract expires at the end of this season. If the Yankees don’t reach the postseason, there will be some questions as to his future with the franchise, although he did say that “it’s the process” and that he’s “used to it,” via Newsday’s Erik Boland.
Oakland A's: Will Billy Beane's Intense Maneuvering Lead to the World Series?
It is well known that Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane went to extraordinary lengths to put together a team he feels can make it to the World Series. Dating back to early July when he acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs, Beane has been on a mission.
Has he helped or hurt his club, though?
Many, including Eric Wilbur of Boston.com, point to the trading of Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester as the move that caused the offense to nosedive and the club’s chemistry to take a hit. The points Wilbur make are valid, too. After all, there is no arguing the results.
In response to the club's offensive struggles since Cespedes departed, Beane added Adam Dunn from the Chicago White Sox on Sunday in a last-minute attempt at fielding a balanced lineup. So far, the move is paying off, as Dunn homered in his first at-bat, but it is certainly too early to judge whether giving up Nolan Sanburn for an all-or-nothing slugger was a shrewd move.
Only September will answer the ultimate question: Did Beane do too much, or too little?
Philadelphia Philles: Maikel Franco's Time Is at Hand
In what has turned into a lost season for the Philadelphia Phillies, there isn’t very much to look forward to until the offseason. That is when general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. can begin the process of overhauling his roster.
Make no mistake: Amaro is going to have to be very active. Thankfully, he is aware of the need to make changes, saying the current roster “isn’t working,” via CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury.
For those fans looking for something to root for right now, however, we give you Maikel Franco.
On the season at Triple-A, he put up a .257/.299/.428 slash line with 16 home runs and 78 RBI, but as Todd Zolecki of MLB.com noted, "He entered Monday hitting .324 with 16 doubles, three triples, 11 home runs, 47 RBIs and a .922 OPS in 54 games since the end of June.”
Franco will likely see time at first and third until the end of the season.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Will the Club Be Able to Take Advantage of Their Schedule?
Two games out of the second wild-card spot on Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Pirates control their own destiny, and the road to get there isn’t all that formidable.
See, starting on Friday the club plays 13 straight against teams that are currently in last place in their respective divisions. All told, the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox are a combined 42 games below .500.
After that, however, the Pirates face off against the Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves in back-to-back series before ending the season against the Cincinnati Reds.
All told, 16 out of their last 23 games are against teams that are well below .500. If they can play to their capabilities in those contests, the playoffs are well within reach for the second year in a row.
The onus is squarely on the shoulders of Andrew McCutchen and Co. to deliver the results.
San Diego Padres: Can They Finish the Season with a Winning Record?
How cool would it be if the San Diego Padres finished the regular season with a winning record?
The fact of the matter is that after reaching the low-water mark of 14 games below .500 on July 18, the thought of breaking even seemed far-fetched.
Yet, the club is eight games over .500 since that date thanks to effective pitching and an offense that averaged almost 100 runs per month in July and August. And considering that Seth Smith and Rene Rivera are the only regulars with over 200 at-bats and an OPS over .750, that is saying something.
Heading into general manager A.J. Preller’s first offseason as the arbiter of roster decisions, the positive vibe that is being cultivated is certainly a good thing. Simply put, if they get above the .500 mark, this has to be considered a successful season.
It won’t be easy, however, as they face the San Francisco Giants seven times in the season’s final 10 days.
San Francisco Giants: Will They Be Able to Catch the Los Angeles Dodgers?
Make no mistake: Winning the NL West is a matter of pride for the San Francisco Giants.
See, after a victory over the New York Mets on June 8, the club had a commanding 10-game lead in the division and were destroying opposing pitching. They were the class of the National League.
Since then, however, things have taken a turn for the worse, and the club went into action on Tuesday trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers by two games. Another thing to consider is that avoiding the one-game playoff associated with earning a wild-card spot is in their best interest.
The good news is that they’d won six games in a row before a loss to the Colorado Rockies on Labor Day. They have also scored at least nine runs in three out of their last four prior to Tuesday.
If they can continue to play this way, the division could be theirs for the taking. It is going to be a fantastic finish to the regular season.
Seattle Mariners: Are the Playoffs in the Cards for Lloyd McClendon's Club?
In 2001, manager Lou Piniella led the Seattle Mariners to a 116-46 record during the regular season and a matchup with the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series. That was the last time the club reached the postseason.
This season, Lloyd McClendon has his team on the verge of returning thanks to dominant efforts from Hisashi Iwakuma, Felix Hernandez, the bullpen as a whole and second baseman Robinson Cano. Entering play Tuesday, the Mariners sit four-and-a-half games behind the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West and trail the Detroit Tigers by one-and-a-half games for the second wild-card spot.
One thing to keep an eye on is the arrival of Taijuan Walker, who was one of the team’s September call-ups.
“Right now,” McClendon said, “he’s probably going to be more of a long man,” via Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times. If he ends up throwing the ball as well as he did in relief of Chris Young on Monday (6.0 IP, R, 5 K), the club will be in good shape.
The final weeks of the season are going to be a blast for Mariners fans.
St. Louis Cardinals: Can Matt Holliday Continue His Torrid Pace?
Consider: In his last 13 games heading into action Tuesday, he’d hit four home runs, scored seven times and drove in 21 runs, per splits at FanGraphs. He also had a .333 ISO, .667 slugging percentage and 204 wRC+. Pure dominance at the plate.
And make no mistake: He is arguably the most important cog in the offense. If he can maintain anything close to this level of production, the Cardinals will be in better shape as they look to take the division from the Milwaukee Brewers.
Tampa Bay Rays: Will the Rotation Continue Its Dominance?
Over the last month, the Tampa Bay Rays rotation has been firing on all cylinders.
Case in point: Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly and Chris Archer all have FIP numbers below 3.00 and have been worth a combined 3.0 WAR, per splits at FanGraphs. And let’s not overlook Jeremy Hellickson, who has a 3.09 FIP and a 0.5 WAR.
If they can finish the season strong in the AL East, the fanbase has to feel good about the club’s chances in 2015, especially when we consider that they should get Matt Moore back at some point next season.
True, general manager Andrew Friedman is going to have to address some of the issues on offense, specifically in the outfield and behind the plate, but the rotation looks as good as can be.
As a side note: There has to be some sense of vindication (to this point at least) for Friedman. After all, he was widely criticized for not getting more when he traded David Price to the Detroit Tigers. In retrospect, however, he seems to have done just fine for his franchise.
Texas Rangers: At Least There Are the Call-Ups
For fans of the Texas Rangers, September is going to be a long month.
True, the club does have a few players to watch that were called up at the beginning of the month, including Nick Tepesch, Ryan Rua, Michael Choice and Luis Sardinas, per MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan. Other than that, though, the cupboards are bare.
And for those of you who are hoping that Joey Gallo gets the call, you are going to have to wait until spring training. As ESPN’s Keith Law noted, he isn’t ready at the plate, and bringing him up now only accelerates “his free agency,” via The Dallas Morning News’ SportsDayDFW.
It must be noted that had the club stayed healthy, there would surely be a different vibe surrounding the Rangers. They had that much talent on the roster. Unfortunately, injuries decimated manager Ron Washington’s team, largely ending the season before it started.
Toronto Blue Jays: How Well Will Daniel Norris' Audition Go?
The Toronto Blue Jays were five-and-a-half games behind the Detroit Tigers for the second wild-card spot after Monday night's action. And while anything can happen, the team’s postseason chances are likely a thing of the past.
True, rookies Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez are still doing their things, and the offense is as potent as ever, but Norris’ showing this month will go a long way toward determining the direction general manager Alex Anthopoulos takes this offseason.
If Norris (12-2, 2.53 ERA, 163 K across three levels) is on point, for example, Anthopoulos will feel more comfortable addressing needs other than starting pitching heading into the 2015 season. If the left-hander falters, the GM may find himself looking to add a veteran arm to the rotation.
Washington Nationals: Will Ryan Zimmerman Be Back in Time for the Postseason?
There are quite a few storylines surrounding the Washington Nationals.
After all, the club is set to make the postseason, the pitching staff is the best in the National League and Bryce Harper is in the news thanks to monster home runs and uneven play.
The status of Ryan Zimmerman, however, is what is going to grab everyone’s attention. Out since late July with a Grade 3 hamstring tear, his return is of the utmost importance to the Nationals.
Simply put, he is a force in the middle of the lineup and provides the type of leadership that manager Matt Williams relies upon. And let’s not forget that he put up a .381/.364/.714 slash line with two home runs vs. the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2012 NL Division Series.
Thankfully, he had a MRI done last week that Williams said was “very positive,” per Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post.
More will be revealed in the coming weeks, but Zimmerman’s status is worth keeping an eye on. There is a lot of value in what he does.
Unless otherwise noted, all traditional, team and historical statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are accurate as of game time Tuesday, Sept. 2. Transaction, injury, prospect and game information are courtesy of MLB.com.