After last week’s power rankings marked the beginning of a singular focus on the playoffs—and with it the elimination from this space of teams no longer realistically in the playoff hunt—it was only a matter of time before we added another team to the graveyard.
The Twins needed to, at minimum, win three of a critical five-game series to give themselves a fighting chance at a playoff berth. Instead, they lost the first three contests before salvaging the fourth game Sunday. As a result, the team that led the AL Central from April 24 to Aug. 9 (and was tied atop the division as recently as Sept. 4) now has just a 1.3% chance of making the playoffs, per FanGraphs. Rocco Baldelli’s squad is six games out in the divisional race, with two teams ahead of them and 16 to play—plus 7.5 games out of the wild-card race. That’s enough to give Minnesota the boot, and leaves us with just 15 teams fighting for 12 playoff spots.
Despite falling a spot in this week’s rankings (you’ll see why in the next blurb), the Brewers gained some valuable ground in the wild-card race over the weekend in taking two of three from the Yankees, while the Phillies were swept by Atlanta. They’re now just two games behind both Philadelphia and San Diego.
Brewers fans were voicing support for Keston Hiura to become an everyday player this summer, but manager Craig Counsell has started him only once in the last 10 days amid an untimely swoon. The former first-round pick hasn’t homered since Aug. 29 and has struck out 16 times in 36 plate appearances this month with just three singles and one walk, one double and a triple (.147/.167/.235 slash line). Still, his 123 OPS+ is tied with Hunter Renfroe for the best mark on the team, and the Crew could use him (if he’s at his best) down the stretch. Willy Adams has done a good job of leading the offense in the meantime: He has an MLB-best 25 RBIs and a .966 OPS over the last 30 days (sixth in NL).
The bigger issue, though, has been Milwaukee’s usually stellar pitching. Since Aug. 6, when the Brewers fell out of first place in the NL Central, they’ve allowed more home runs than any other team and have ranked as a bottom-five unit by pitching fWAR. Starters Eric Lauer, Adrian Houser and Jason Alexander all have ERAs above 5.00 over that span, and reigning NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burns hasn’t been a whole lot better (aside from a 14-strikeout gem against the scuffling Giants two starts ago).
Milwaukee will have the home crowd on its side for 12 of their final 16 games, including a three-game series against the Mets this week that has far-reaching implications as both teams jockey for playoff position. The series starts off Monday with a starting pitcher showdown between Burnes and Max Scherzer, a three-time Cy winner who finished third in that award race last year. It’d be a heck of a time for Burnes to get back on track.
VERDUCCI: Don’t Count Out the Brewers Just Yet
Cleveland had a six-game winning streak snapped by the White Sox on Thursday, but Terry Francona’s crew has still reeled off an MLB-best 11–3 record over the past two weeks to establish themselves as firm favorites (85.6%, per FanGraphs). to emerge from the AL Central. That includes going 6-1 against Minnesota to deliver what appears to be the fatal blow to its division rival’s postseason hopes.
Shane Bieber has recently resembled the same workhorse who mowed down anyone who crossed his path during the shortened 2020 season. While Houston’s Framber Valdez has deservedly drawn praise for his record-breaking quality start streak, which was extended Sunday, Bieber has been on a nice run of his own, with 10 quality starts in a row. During that time, he’s recorded a 1.68 ERA while averaging just a hair under seven innings per start with a ridiculous 8.2 K/BB ratio. He’s also helped knock out the Twins in his last two outings by holding them to two runs over 14⅓ innings with one walk and 13 strikeouts. (He leads MLB with 42⅔ innings over the last 30 days). Bieber’s only previous postseason start, which came after his AL Cy Young campaign in ’20, went about as poorly as it could (4⅔ IP, 7 ER against the Yankees), but as of late he’s looked like a man on a mission for a shot. at redemption on the game’s biggest stage.
But first the Guardians have to get in the playoffs. And right after they finish up their five-game set against Minnesota on Monday, they travel to play the White Sox for a three-game set that could end up as another decisive series in the AL Central.
Toronto has won its last seven series dating back to August—including taking three of five from the Rays last week—to take over the top AL wild-card spot for the moment. There’s still important work to be done, especially with the team set to play three consecutive series against teams in playoff position (Phillies, Rays, Yankees). But the Blue Jays have been playing like a lot of people thought they would all season as the preseason odds-on favorites to win the AL East. While the divisional crown is likely out of reach, they’ve done a heck of a job to even get within 5.5 games of New York.
Toronto has been one of the league’s best-hitting teams in September, and it’s been largely thanks to one player. And that player is not Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or George Springerbut rather, Bo Bichettewho’s been nothing short of the league’s most valuable player this side of Aaron Judge. Bichette’s September slash line of .440/.481/.867 has helped him rack up the league’s second-most fWAR (2.1) this month, behind only Judge. That’s a respectable total for an entire season, let alone a few weeks—and it’s also more than half of his team’s September total of 4.1 fWAR. Among the 12 Blue Jays with the most at bats this month, only Bichette and backup catcher Danny Jansen have an OPS above .750.
The pitcher’s equivalent of Bichette for Toronto has been Alek Manoah. His 1.32 ERA and 41 innings pitched over the last 30 days both rank as the second-best marks in the majors. With 183⅔ innings pitched on the season (the sixth-most in MLB), the 24-year-old has already blown past his previous career high. However, team executives have said they have no plans to shut him down. At this point, it looks like only some sort of brawl with Judge, like they almost had last month, seems like the only thing that could slow down Manoah. And I’m not even sure that would affect the 6’6″, 285-pound fireballer.
The Braves and Mets were virtually in lockstep last week, with both enduring frustrating series defeats to losing teams—Atlanta losing two of three to the Giants, and New York being swept at home by the Cubs—before rebounding with sweeps of the Phillies and Pirates. , respectively. Each passing day makes it seem more likely that the NL East race will be decided when these two teams play each other in the second-to-last series of the regular season.
Braves fans eager to see Ozzie Albies Return to the lineup after a three-month layoff caused by a broken foot didn’t get much to write home about. In his second game back in the lineup Saturday, he fractured his ring finger on a headfirst slide, sending him right back to the injured list. There’s some optimism he can return at some point this season, but it’s unclear how well they’ll handle his absence in the meantime; rookie Vaughn Grissom had started to significantly cool off over the last week or so after his record-setting start.
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Even though Grissom has acquitted himself very well during his first stint in the majors, he’s not even close to holding the title of Atlanta’s most impactful rookie of the year. That’s because the Braves boast the two top candidates to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award, and neither has shown any sign of slowing down.
Spencer Strider has accumulated the most strikeouts (42) and pitching fWAR (1.4) in the majors this month by a wide margin; no other pitcher has more than 32 strikeouts or 1.0 fWAR. The mustachioed Clemson product regularly touches triple digits deep into games with his fastball, which FanGraphs ranks as the fourth-most valuable heater in the game this season.
Strider may have a leg up in the ROY race because he’s been on Atlanta’s roster all season, but it’s hard to argue against the per-game impact of Michael Harris. Since the outfielder was called up May 28 as the youngest player in the majors, the 21-year-old has been the NL’s fifth-most valuable position player by fWAR (4.4). He’s dazzled with his glovework as Atlanta’s most athletically pleasing (pun intended) center fielder since Andrew Jones. You’ll probably hear both guys say they care more about the team hardware, but this is turning out to be one of the most interesting ROY debates in recent memory.