We’re heading into the home stretch. The pennant races have taken shape, but things are far from being said and done.
When August began the Toronto Blue Jays were tied for second in the AL East with the Baltimore Orioles, six games back of the New York Yankees. With the additions of Troy Tulowitzki and David Price as well as Ben Revere, Mark Lowe, and LaTroy Hawkins, the Blue Jays went 21-6 in August including their second 11-game winning streak of the season. The Jays now enter September leading the AL East by 1½ games over the Yankees.
As for the Bronx Bombers, they lost significant ground playing .500 ball in August. However, they do have one of the two AL Wild Card spots at the moment. But the team is aging, whether it is the season-ending knee injury to C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira’s back trouble, or Alex Rodriguez’s prolonged slump. The bullpen is also overworked, as evidenced by the efforts to reacquire former closer David Robertson from the White Sox. Youngsters Greg Bird and Luis Severino are making a good effort. Whether it will be enough to regain top in the AL East much less retain a Wild Card spot remains to be seen.
August appeared to be a promising month for the Baltimore Orioles as they ascended their way to the second AL Wild Card spot by mid-month. But since August 19th, the O’s are 1-11 and ended the month with a five-game losing streak. The O’s flight to the post-season appears to have been grounded to a halt. After struggling in July, the Tampa Bays treaded water in August going 14-13. Although the Rays are just under the .500 mark at 65-66, they are only 3½ games out of the second Wild Card spot. They cannot be counted out entirely.
The month of August was one of turmoil for the Boston Red Sox with manager John Farrell’s lymphoma diagnosis, the hiring of Dave Dombrowski, and the impending departures of Larry Lucchino, Ben Cherington, and even TV play by play man Don Orsillo. Despite the chaos, the Red Sox had their best month of the season, going 15-12 led by young players such as Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Rusney Castillo, and Travis Shaw. Could this be the nucleus of the Red Sox for years to come or will Dombrowski trade them for star players?
Barring a collapse of epic proportions, the Kansas City Royals will win their first AL Central title (they reached the post-season last year by way of the AL Wild Card). They began August leading the division by 8 games over the Minnesota Twins. Their lead is now 13 games.
The Twins got off to an awful start in August, losing 9 of their 12 games. It was enough to be bumped out of the second AL Wild Card spot. But the Twins have managed to turn it around. Since August 15th, the Twins are 11-5 and have won 8 of their last 10 games. They are currently only a game behind the Texas Rangers for the second AL Wild Card spot.
But the Twins had better watch out for the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe began August in the cellar of the AL Central. However, they went 16-12 in August and finished the month with a six-game winning streak. Although their overall record is 64-66, they are only four games back of the Rangers for the second AL Wild Card spot. The Indians face the Twins six times in September. While the Rays and Los Angeles Angels are still ahead of the Indians in the AL Wild Card standings, the Tribe has momentum. I am particularly interested in how the Indians do because I picked them to win the World Series at the start of the season.
After a 16-10 July, the Chicago White Sox regressed in August with a 12-16 mark. Now 18½ games back of the Royals, one wonders if Robin Ventura will be back in the dugout next year. But the White Sox are not as big a disappointment as the Detroit Tigers. They were picked by many to win their fifth consecutive AL Central title. Who would have thought that on September 1st, the Detroit Tigers would be 20 games out and in last place?
There is a real battle of Texas going on in the AL West. Although the Houston Astros didn’t set the world on fire in August with a 15-13 mark, they did end the month with more wins than they had in all of 2014 (they are currently 73-59; they won 70 games last year). They have a four-game lead over the Texas Rangers who currently occupy the second AL Wild Card spot. When August began the Rangers were just under .500 at 50-52. The acquisition of Cole Hamels lit a fire under the Rangers, who went 18-10 in August. This surprised me because the Rangers had struggled at home all season and I was skeptical that they could climb back into the race.
As good as the Rangers have been, the Los Angeles Angels have been bad with a 10-19 mark in August and now have a sub .500 record of 65-66. Remember that the Angels led the AL West at the All-Star Break and as recently as August 9th were only a ½ game back of the Astros. They enter September 7½ games back of Houston. So what happened? The one two punch of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols has been compromised by injuries and the other Angels have been unable to pick up the slack. The Angels aren’t out of it, as they are only 3½ games back of the Rangers in the AL Wild Card. But unless Trout and Pujols can rebound, the Angels will not be a factor in September.
The Seattle Mariners played .500 ball in August, but they like the Oakland A’s will just simply play out the schedule. It is interesting to see that ex-Rangers manager Ron Washington is now the A’s new third base coach. Will he replace Bob Melvin as manager in 2016? If anything the A’s should dump Billy Beane, who has made two horrible trades. First, Beane dealt Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester at the trade deadline in 2014. The A’s lead in the AL West collapsed and they narrowly made the second AL Wild Card only to be dispensed by the Kansas City Royals. Then this past off-season he traded Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for Brett Lawrie. Donaldson is on his way to winning the AL MVP while Lawrie is hitting .269.
When August began, the New York Mets were two games back of the Washington Nationals. With the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes, along with acquiring Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, the pitching rich Mets began to hit and had their best month of the season going 20-8 in August. The Mets now have a 6½ game lead over the Nats, who were a mediocore 12-17.
Washington did not improve itself with the addition of Jonathan Papelbon when they had a perfectly good closer in Drew Storen. But I’m not counting the Nationals out by any means. Of their 28 games in September, 20 of them will be against the Atlanta Braves, the Miami Marlins, and the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Braves had the second worst record in MLB during the month of August, going 8-20. They have lost 9 of their last 10 games and ended the month with a six-game losing streak. I wonder if Braves GM John Hart regrets extending the contracts of manager Fredi Gonzalez and his coaching staff after the All-Star Break. The Braves are now only 1½ and 2½ games ahead of the Marlins and Phillies, respectively. With the way they are playing, they could end up at the bottom of the division.
Mind you, the Marlins didn’t play that much better in August than the Braves, finishing with an 11-18 mark. But the Marlins expect Giancarlo Stanton to return to the lineup by Labor Day weekend. Stanton broke the hamate bone in his right hand back in late June. It could help the Marlins play spoiler in September to either the Mets or the Nationals.
The Phillies could do the same. After having a winning month in July (13-12), the Phillies reverted to form going 12-16 in August. But Pete Mackanin has won as many games managing the Phillies as did Ryne Sandberg. Even if the Phillies finish in last they will probably manage not to lose 100 games. As I’ve argued before, that should warrant the Phillies to take the interim tag off Mackanin’s managerial status.
The St. Louis Cardinals are simply splendid. Despite the absence of Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, and Matt Adams, the Cardinals own the best record in MLB with an 85-46 mark. August has been their best month to date with a 19-9 mark.
But the Cardinals weren’t the only team to play well in August. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs both won 19 games in August. They would be division leaders in both the NL East and NL West. But they are in the Central and stand 5 and 10½ games back of the Cardinals respectively. Fortunately, both are ensconced in the two NL Wild Card spots with the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals 5½ and 8 games back of the Cubs. Simply put, if the Giants and Nats want in the post-season they are going to have to win their respective divisions.
Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds are days if not hours away from being mathematically eliminated from the pennant race, standing 29½ and 31 games back of the Cardinals. The Brewers can at least take pride that they are no longer in last place. The Reds 8-21 mark in August was the worst in MLB.
The Los Angeles Dodgers enter September 4½ games ahead of the San Francisco Giants. While the Dodgers have been steady all season, the Giants have been very inconsistent. San Francisco has had losing records in April, June, and August but had winning records in May and July. If this pattern holds, then expect the Giants to have a strong September. However, a lot of that could depend on the health of Hunter Pence. The Giants are much better when the thrice-disabled outfielder is in the lineup. It is interesting to see the Giants acquire Alejandro De Aza from the Red Sox at the waiver deadline. It could be a sign that the Giants don’t expect Pence back anytime soon.
The San Diego Padres played .500 ball in August as they did in July. While it’s good to see Matt Kemp return to productive form, the Friars must still be considered one of the bigger disappointments in MLB in 2015. Last month, the Arizona Diamondbacks were on the cusp of reaching the .500 mark. They took a step back in August, going 13-16. But this is a team I will be keeping my eye out for in 2016. As for the Colorado Rockies, they haven’t played good ball since the beginning of April and Walt Weiss’s days as manager could be numbered.
The regular season ends on October 4th.