As the 2nd half of the season gets underway, let’s take a look at two teams who are potential playoff teams that have been proving themselves as of late.
Oakland Athletics (55-41, 2nd Place AL West, 4.5 GB)
The A’s continue to surprise the league with how well they have played over the past few seasons. After winning 97 games last season, the A’s had a bit of a back and forth over the first half of the season. However, now it would appear that they have found their groove.
With young talent scattered across the roster, they make a great case to be contenders for years to come. For starters, Matt Chapman is not just showcasing his defensive talent anymore. He has hit 22 home runs over the course of the season and leads the team in average as well at .279. The 26-year-old competed in both of last week’s All-Star festivities. Ramon Laureano has also shown his talent on the field and in the box. With what seems like a highlight play every single night, he is killing it in the batter’s box as well. With his average at .274 and an OPS north of .800, Laureano’s 19 bombs help prove his fantastic production at the plate.
These two bats have been huge with Khris Davis’ injuries being a problem this year. Still playing 79 games, Davis has not been as productive as he has been in years past. Still boasting 16 homers, Davis has his .237 on the season, short of his career average of .246. After hitting .247 in each of the previous four seasons, let’s hope he heats up to continue one of the most fascinating streaks in sports.
The A’s pitching has been one of the best in baseball ranking, 7th in ERA at 3.95. Frankie Montas has been the best starting pitcher on the roster. He ranks in the top 30 starting pitchers for WHIP at 1.12, and 7th in ERA at 2.70. Unfortunately, Montas was suspended 80 games for PED’s. If you ask me, taking PED’s is bad. But taking PED’s and getting caught is even worse. While he has been the best pitcher for the A’s this season, Mike Fiers, Brett Anderson and Chris Bassitt all have an ERA under four as well. They also have one of the best bullpens in the American League that includes All-Star Liam Hendricks. Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen have struggled this season, but we all know what they are capable of as well.
The A’s, winners of six in a row and 12 of their last 14, took on the Mariners at home for a quick two-game series Tuesday. Daniel Mengden took the mound for the A’s and pitched seven frames allowing one run. Oakland’s bats came to life collecting 12 hits on the night. Matt Chapman collected three hits of his own including a two-run homer in the 5th in route to a 5 RBI evening. Matt Olson secured his 20th home run of the season in the 5th inning as well. Josh Phegley went 2-4 in the nine-hole with two RBI’s as well. The A’s would go on to stomp over the Mariners 9-2.
Unfortunately for the Mariners it only got worse on Wednesday. Mark Cahna and Jurickson Profar both hit two homers in the matinee game. Ramon Laureano and Chad Pinder also went yard. The offense was plenty for newly-acquired Homer Bailey. He pitched six innings giving up two earned and striking out six. The A’s would go on to win 10-2.
The A’s will be tested in Minnesota this weekend where they will face the Twins in a potential playoff matchup preview. Mike Fiers is set to take the bump Thursday against Kyle Gibson. With the A’s performance as of late, they will most certainly be buyers at the deadline. Already having acquired Homer Bailey it appears the Athletics are ready to make their playoff push.
Chicago Cubs (52-44, 1st Place NL Central, 2.5 Game Lead)
The Chicago Cubs are a confusing team. They are loaded with offensive depth and talent. Their pitching is inconsistent, but they find ways to win games with their lineup being one of the best in baseball. As a team, five different players have 15+ home runs, and four have 19 or more. While there is not much doubt as to if they’ll make the postseason or not, it’s only a matter of if they will win the division or not. Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, and Anthony Rizzo have all had a spectacular season thus far. Jason Heyward, who has received loads of criticism over the years, is also putting together a very productive season with 15 homers and an OPS over .800.
On paper, this rotation looks fantastic. Yu Darvish, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels round out the rotation. Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana have struggled this year, but they remain crucial pieces of the Cubs pitching staff. Lester, Hendricks and Hamels have been the X-factor for the Cubs this year all with ERA’s under four. With Hamels on the IL, the Cubs look for him to return quickly to continue their push to win the NL Central.
After the Cubs swept the Pirates at home last weekend, they continued their homestand against the Reds. Monday’s game would feature a great pitching matchup: Luis Castillo vs. Kyle Hendricks. Castillo has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season. The Cubs were able to hang three runs on Castillo through four frames and were up 3-2 after six. Curt Casali went yard in the 7th to tie the game at three, and it wasn’t long after that Yasiel Puig smacked a go-ahead homer in the same inning. The Reds didn’t look back as they scored two more in the 8th to win 6-3. Castillo finished off with ten K’s and three earned through six innings pitched, good enough to earn the win.
Tuesday’s matchup was a thriller. The Reds piled on three quick runs in the first innings, one of them coming off of a Eugenio Suarez homer. Robel Garcia’s two-run homer in the 2nd inning made it a 3-2 game. The Reds were not able to score after the first inning as Alec Mills would find his groove pitching five scoreless innings after the first frame. Kris Bryant’s solo homer in the 6th would tie up the game, and after nine innings the game was still knotted up at three. Kyle Schwarber stepped up to the plate and wanted to go home. He blasted a walk-off home run to left field off Raisel Iglesias to give the Cubs the W.
The Reds offense on Wednesday was shut down. Yu Darvish pitched six scoreless innings striking out seven. Kris Bryant gave the Cubs an early lead in the first innings clubbing a solo homer in the first frame. Addison Russell did the same the very next inning. Sonny Gray was dominant there on out. He struck out eight batters and only allowed those two runs over six innings pitched. The Cubs put two more on the board in the 7th and one more in the 8th to get the 5-2 win.
The first-place Cubs will continue their homestand over the weekend against the Padres with Jon Lester slated to pitch in Friday’s series opener.
Waiver Wire Targets
Danny Santana (22.5% owned/ESPN)
Santana has been having an extremely productive year that is flying under the radar. His OPS is over .900 and his average is .316. He has also gone on to hit 13 homers with 35 RBI’s. He can play 1B, 2B, and OF. The fact he is a utility player makes him valuable as it is but add these fantastic numbers into the mix and he’s definitely worth a spot on your fantasy team. Expect him to be off waivers quickly as his recent numbers are getting people’s attention.
Daniel Ponce De Leon (14.3% owned/ESPN)
When Ponce De Leon starts he is unhittable. With a WHIP of 1.02 on the season he also has an ERA under 3. He rarely walks batters and attacks them in the zone with 41 K’s over 35.1 innings pitched. He’s a valuable player whose consistency is impressive. While he doesn’t pitch many innings, that is most likely going to change very soon. His numbers do not match many other pitchers so make sure to pick him up if you’re in need of pitching depth.
Retired Little League baseball utility player.