Slumping MLB Stars Who Need to Be Benched in 2017 Pennant Races
The MLB season is long enough to let players work through slumps. Peaks and valleys, highs and lows—they're all inevitable.
We're entering the stretch run, however, when every at-bat and miscue is magnified. Not even stars are immune to benchings when needed.
With that in mind, let's look at five players with impressive recent stats and/or track records whose playing time should be diminished as the calendar barrels toward September.
We're not suggesting these guys have no role to play as the postseason races heat up. In some cases, a few days off may be sufficient.
They're all slumping, though, and the time to work through it is running out.
INF/OF Ben Zobrist, Chicago Cubs
With his combination of veteran leadership and versatility, Ben Zobrist is a key piece of the Chicago Cubs' title defense.
He's also 36 years old and hitting a scant .226.
Granted, Zobrist has hit safely in five of his last six games, but he has just two extra-base hits in August.
His ability to play the outfield and second base serves manager Joe Maddon's mix-and-match machinations, but at this point, Zobrist doesn't top the depth chart anywhere.
The three-time All-Star has two years remaining on his deal yet appears destined for an ancillary role with Chicago—especially if and when shortstop Addison Russell returns from injury and pushes Javier Baez back to second.
1B/DH Hanley Ramirez, Boston Red Sox
With second baseman Dustin Pedroia getting closer to a return from the disabled list, the Boston Red Sox lineup is about to get tighter.
Rookie Rafael Devers has taken over at third, while speedy trade-deadline pickup Eduardo Nunez is hitting .326 in a Red Sox uniform. First baseman Mitch Moreland owns a .989 OPS in August, and Xander Bogaerts is ensconced at shortstop.
That relegates Hanley Ramirez to designated hitter duties, but he could be squeezed there once Pedroia resumes action and Boston needs to find at-bats for Nunez as well as Chris Young.
It doesn't help that Ramirez is hitting .216 with a .753 OPS in August while battling oblique issues.
Boston will need the 33-year-old three-time All-Star at some point, but diminished playing time now could help him get healthy and dialed in for a postseason run.
LF Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
"He's scuffling; I'm going to give him more than a day," skipper Ned Yost said, per Judge.
As it turns out, Gordon was back in the starting lineup August 10 and has played consistently since then. He's also hitting .170 in August with a .214 on-base percentage and nary an extra-base hit to his name.
Maybe an extended benching was in order after all.
The Royals are hanging around in the American League wild-card chase, trying to make one more run with their largely homegrown core. Gordon, who is signed through 2019 with a club option for 2020, is a significant part of that core, though he hasn't delivered—especially of late.
Melky Cabrera, acquired from the Chicago White Sox at the trade deadline, can play left field, with rookie Jorge Bonifacio manning right.
"It's just been a struggle for him," Yost said of Gordon, a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner, per the Associated Press (h/t USA Today). "We need Gordy being productive."
1B/DH Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
On August 18, Albert Pujols smacked his 609th home run, moving him into a tie with Sammy Sosa for the most homers by a foreign-born MLB player.
Kudos to Pujols, who has put together an airtight Hall of Fame resume. At the same time, though, it's worth asking if the 37-year-old belongs in the Los Angeles Angels' everyday lineup.
On the season, Pujols is hitting .230 with a .651 OPS. In August, those figures sit at .211 and .577.
The Halos are paying Pujols $26 million in 2017, meaning they want to stick with him. At a certain point, however, other options such as C.J. Cron and his .939 August OPS will become unavoidably preferable.
The Angels are scrambling to get AL MVP Mike Trout back to the postseason. Right now, paycheck aside, Pujols is a fringe part of that pursuit.
RF Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
Aaron Judge has been one of the best stories in baseball this season and is a near lock to win AL Rookie of the Year honors.
He's also mired in an epic slump in which he's hit seven home runs after the All-Star break after belting 30 in the first half and owns a .169 batting average and .684 OPS in the second half. He has set the record for most consecutive games with a strikeout (currently 37 games), but there's no way New York is giving up on its burgeoning franchise slugger.
They could move him out of the No. 3 spot, as John Harper of the New York Daily News suggested, or they could sit him out and try to get his head straight. These struggles happen to all rookies, but they can have lasting impacts.
As Harper noted, "For the first time during Judge's fall from Superman status, I get the feeling it's affecting him in a significant way."
Judge is a huge part of the Yankees' present and future. A little time on the pine to sort through his issues might be what the hit doctor ordered.