MLB Teams Trending in the Right and Wrong Direction in Dog Days of August
The dog days of August have come to Major League Baseball, and there are a few teams throughout the league that are struggling accordingly.
Others, however, are doing just fine, thank you.
So, how about a closer look at teams that are and aren't trending well as the 2021 season gets closer and closer to the postseason? We have 13 in total to get to, though be warned that some are lumped together and that the split between the teams that are hot and the teams that are not isn't exactly even.
At any rate, we'll begin in the American League East and make our way to the National League West.
Right: Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays
In the final days leading up to the trade deadline, the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays each made noteworthy deals to bolster their standing within an unusually competitive AL East race.
Nearly two weeks later, all three ought to be glad they did.
The Rays were indeed going well even before they landed Nelson Cruz on July 22, but they surely needed his power, and it's lately been a factor as he's hit two home runs during the Rays' 9-2 stretch since July 29. That makes it 22 wins in their last 30 games overall.
For their part, the Yankees added two much-needed left-handed sluggers in Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, while the Blue Jays outfitted their pitching staff with ace Jose Berrios and relievers Brad Hand and Joakim Soria. Those deals have supercharged both clubs, who've gone 8-2 and 9-3, respectively, since the deadline.
The big picture in the AL East thus looks a lot different than it did before the deadline. The Rays' chances of winning the division have basically doubled since July 29, according to FanGraphs, while the Yankees' and Blue Jays' chances have gone from nearly zero to into the double-digit range.
Wrong: Boston Red Sox
At this, there was a palpable sense of disappointment in the Boston air. Sure, the Red Sox needed another bat and additional depth for their heavily taxed bullpen. But the Red Sox more so needed starting pitching, and Schwarber isn't necessarily a fix for a first base spot that has produced an MLB-low minus-1.3 rWAR.
As if on cue, the Red Sox are now playing like a team without any wind in its sails.
They've lost 11 out of 14 since July 28, a skid further compounded by a 2-10 performance against AL East foes and an ugly minus-40 run differential. As a result, Boston has gone from having a 2.5-game advantage in first place to a five-game deficit in second place.
Right: Chicago White Sox
Even before the trade deadline, the Chicago White Sox were basically running unopposed in the AL Central. Their chances of winning the division eclipsed 90 percent on July 1, and then 99 percent on July 20.
Still, it's not for nothing that they're looking even better now than they did then.
After long absences with chest and hip injuries, respectively, the White Sox also have also welcomed slugger Eloy Jimenez and Gold Glove-winning center fielder Luis Robert back to their everyday lineup in recent days. The former has wasted no time picking up where he left off with five homers in 11 games.
Between these things and the recent surge of rookie Andrew Vaughn, there are good reasons that the White Sox have won six of nine in August. While their chances of winning the division couldn't have gotten any higher, FanGraphs now has them pegged as the team to beat for the American League pennant.
Right: Oakland Athletics
Things aren't all good for the Oakland Athletics these days. It sure hurt to lose dynamic center fielder Ramon Laureano, who got hit with an 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs on Friday.
And yet the A's have won nine of their last 11 games anyway, in no small part because they pre-emptively replaced Laureano with a similarly dynamic center fielder.
That's Starling Marte, who's 18-for-45 with two home runs in 10 games since arriving in Oakland via a trade with the Miami Marlins on July 28. Albeit in a lesser capacity, fellow new arrival Yan Gomes has also made an impact by going 5-for-17 with two long balls.
Oakland's pitching, meanwhile, is more than holding up its end of the bargain. Paced primarly by overlooked ace Chris Bassitt, A's pitchers boast an AL-best 2.87 ERA over 30 games dating back to July 2.
The A's haven't yet claimed first place in the AL West, but their deficit to the Houston Astros is down from a peak of six games on July 28 to just two games now. Their chances of winning the division are still low, but also triple what they were on that date.
Wrong: Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros
It wasn't long ago that the Seattle Mariners were on a 24-11 run that had catapulted them into the AL wild-card race.
But even then, it was easy to cast a skeptical eye in the Mariners' general direction. Though they were nine games over .500 on July 26, their run differential for the season was still lopsided in a bad way at minus-49.
Then came what felt like self-sabotage on the part of general manager Jerry Dipoto. He not only traded away ace closer Kendall Graveman on July 27, but to the Astros, no less. Seattle's clubhouse was understandably miffed, with one player even accusing Dipoto of playing "fantasy baseball," per Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, an already fragile season is collapsing on the Mariners. They've lost nine of their last 13 games and are now just four games over .500. Their chances of making the playoffs are hanging by a thread at just 1 percent.
If there's any consolation for the Mariners, it's that the Astros have also hit a rough patch as they've scored only 38 runs amid a 3-6 stretch since July 31. They're still, however, in first place and the overwhelming favorite to win the AL West crown.
Right: Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta
Even as recently as July 31, the Philadelphia Phillies were in the same sort of purgatory that first ensnared them in 2018: somewhere around .500 and outside of first place in the National League East.
Now they can't lose.
This was literally true up until a 5-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday, as the Phillies had previously won all eight of their games in August while outscoring their opponents by 26 runs. What was a 4.5-game deficit is now a one-game lead for first place.
Nobody is hotter for the Phillies right now than Bryce Harper, who's put himself in line for his second NL MVP with nine extra-base hits (including four home runs) this month. The Phillies might also have the guy to beat for the NL Cy Young Award in Zack Wheeler, who lowered his ERA to 2.42 with a shutout on Sunday.
Though not quite as hot as the Phillies, Atlanta is also making a play in the NL East with seven wins in its last nine games. Both clubs have leapfrogged the New York Mets in the standings, as well as in FanGraphs' odds for the division race.
Wrong: New York Mets
At their peak on June 16, the Mets were 10 games over .500 and in possession of a five-game lead in the NL East.
But with notables like Carlos Carrasco, Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto already on the injured list, the Mets could ill afford further trouble with injuries. Especially not if it meant losing guys like Francisco Lindor and Jacob deGrom.
Sure enough, both of them are now among a list of injured players that seems to get longer by the day. Meanwhile on the field, the dam has broken as the Mets are just 1-7 in August and 21-30 since ascending to their peak in mid-June.
To be fair, it's not just injuries that are holding the Mets back. They're also in an offensive funk that's seen them score only 59 runs in their last 20 games. They could especially use a boost from Conforto and Pete Alonso. Though the latter has six home runs, the two of them are hitting a combined .180 since July 20.
The Mets still have time to right the ship, but there's no ignoring that they've become an underdog. Their chances of winning the NL East were over 80 percent as recently as June 26. Now they're under 20 percent.
Right: Cincinnati Reds
After merely hanging around in the NL Central race for the first four months of the season, the Cincinnati Reds are suddenly the hottest team in the division.
With wins in 10 of their last 14 games, the Reds have crept to within 4.5 games of the San Diego Padres for the National League's second wild-card spot.
As for what's led the way for the Reds of late, their offense has hit a sturdy .279 and scored 86 runs in the team's last 14 games. We might as well call it the "Joey Votto Effect," as the future Hall of Famer—yes, seriously—is as hot as he's ever been with 12 home runs since July 20.
Up until his rain-soaked dud on Monday, the Reds have also watched ace right-hander Luis Castillo rebound since his awful start. Aided by new additions Mychal Givens, Luis Cessa and Justin Wilson, Cincinnati's much-maligned bullpen has also come around with a 3.70 ERA since July 27.
Though the Reds still face long odds of actually playing in October, at least they're now about double what they were on July 26.
Right: San Francisco Giants
With a 3-1 loss to the San Diego Padres on April 6, the San Francisco Giants fell below .500 for what many might have assumed wouldn't be the last time in 2021.
Well, it's August now. And that fateful day might as well mark the last time that the Giants were anything other than a contender.
They not only boast the best record in the majors at 72-41, but are also seemingly impervious to getting cold. Maybe a little bit when they suffered a four-game losing streak between June 27 and July 1, but they're 22-11 since then and winners of 11 out of their last 15 games.
Not that they really needed another hitter, but newcomer Kris Bryant has fit right in as he's gone 11-for-35 in eight games as a Giant. The club's pitching also continues to be remarkable, as it hasn't had an ERA higher than the 3.00s since the third day of the season.
Though the Los Angeles Dodgers are still the favorite to win the NL West in FanGraphs' eyes, the Giants have significantly narrowed that gap in the last two weeks or so. And after starting out at zero percent, their likelihood of capturing the NL pennant is now over 11 percent.