With the trade deadline wrapped up as teams progress in their playoff push, we’ll take a look at two AL teams destined to make deep playoff runs come October.
Houston Astros (69-40, 1st Place AL West, 8 Game Lead)
The Houston Astros year after year prove that they are a team they can win the World Series. At the trade deadline they acquired both Zack Greinke and Aaron Sanchez. With how strong their team already is, they somehow managed to make it even stronger without giving up any big pieces.
Zack Greinke has been dominant this season with the D-Backs. With an ERA of 2.90 and a WHIP of 0.95, he is a legit contender for the Cy Young. With the fantastic season he is having, it’s safe to assume this Astros lineup will give him plenty of run support.
Astros pitching coach Brent Strom is the best of the best. He finds ways to revive many pitchers’ careers. Two great examples of this are Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Verlander’s career was taking a big hit in his final seasons in Detroit and it didn’t look like he would ever become the pitcher he once was. However, the Astros traded for him and made him perhaps even more dominant than he ever was at 36-years-old. Gerrit Cole, still just 28-years-old, never really lost his dominance. He was electric in his time in Pittsburgh, but towards the end of his time in the Steel City he started to lose his strength. Naturally, the ‘Stros traded for the former 1st overall pick and turned him into a strikeout machine.
Brent Strom deserves much of the credit for the Astros’ pitching success as he focuses on the analytics of his pitchers even at 70-years-old. He’s taught his pitchers new mechanics that enforce spin rate, which were introduced as a form of analytics in 2015. He has turned guys like Verlander and Cole as well as Charlie Morton into some of the league’s most dominant pitchers. Strom has received endless praise around baseball as he is one of the pioneers in this new era of analytics.
The Astros are 7-3 in their last ten outings and have made the divisional race out of reach for the other teams. On Tuesday the Astros started a three-game series against the red-hot Cleveland Indians. Two All-Stars faced each other in Justin Verlander and Shane Bieber. Verlander was outstanding on Tuesday night, striking out 13 over seven frames while giving up just two hits. His counterpart, Shane Bieber, also pitched well, striking out eight over seven innings while giving up two runs. Jose Altuve continued his ridiculous month of July, going 3-4 with a double and a run scored. Robinson Chirinos was responsible for one of the ‘Stros two runs as he hit a solo homer in 5th off of Bieber. The Indians were completely shut down as Houston took game one, 2-0.
Game two did not go in favor of the Astros as Jose Urquidy gave up six runs in four innings for Houston. Roberto Perez and Carlos Santana both hit three runs off of Urquidy, knocking him out of the game after just four innings. Roberto Perez would go deep yet again in the 6th inning for his second homer of the game. Jason Kipnis also hit a three-run round-tripper in the 6th to make it 10-6. The score would remain until game’s end as the Tribe took game two.
Game three will feature yet another great pitching duel tonight as Gerrit Cole will face Danny Salazar. Salazar is making his first start since 2017 after recovering from a shoulder injury. With Carlos Carrasco sidelined as he recovers from Leukemia, Salazar can have a big impact in this Indians rotation.
Minnesota Twins (66-41, 1st Place AL Central, 3 Game Lead)
The Minnesota Twins have emerged as one of the best teams in the AL, if not all of baseball, the last two seasons. Loaded with young stars, they have a strong lineup top to bottom.
They have already broken the single-season record for most homers in a season and they are on pace to shatter the record with four players already surpassing 20 homers. Max Kepler leads the team with 29 on the season and Nelson Cruz is not far behind him with 26 of his own. Cruz has turned into the game’s most consistent journeyman. With a .286 average and .977 OPS, the 39-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down.
The Twins pitching is one of the better staffs as well. Jose Berrios, one of the league’s young stars, leads the staff with a 2.80 ERA that includes a WHIP of 1.10. His 133 K’s over 141.2 innings show that he attacks the batter in the zone as well. Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda and Martin Perez round out the rotation. All with an ERA under 4.40, this team is destined to be a threat in the postseason.
On Tuesday, the Twins traveled to Miami to face the last-place Marlins in an interleague matchup. Jake Odorizzi took the bump for the Twins. Minnesota kicked off the scoring in the 3rd frame with a solo homer off the bat of Byron Buxton. In the next inning Miguel Sano drove in Eddie Rosario with an RBI double. After Curtis Granderson’s RBI double in the bottom of the 4th, the game’s score would remain the same and the Twins took game one 2-1.
Odorizzi went 5.2 innings punching out five while giving up a run. Zac Gallen continued his impressive season pitching seven innings striking out seven while allowing just two runs. Gallen would be traded the very next day to the Arizona Diamondbacks. It’s a simple system for the Marlins. If any player has talent, the Marlins are guaranteed to trade him.
Game two provided fireworks via the Twins. Jose Berrios pitched for Minnesota and was phenomenal. He went the distance, pitching seven innings and striking out eleven while giving up just two hits. The fireworks started in the 3rd inning as Mitch Garver continued his breakout season, launching a three-run homer for his 20th long ball of the season. Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario continued the show in the 5th inning launching their 29th and 23rd homers respectively. With Minnesota leading 7-0 in the bottom of the 9th, Brian Anderson mashed a grand slam to make it a 7-4 game. The Twins would then bring in closer Taylor Rodgers to seal the game, and he did just that striking out two consecutive batters in 0.2 innings to give Minnesota the 7-4 victory.
The Twins will wrap up their three-game series on Thursday at noon. Michael Pineda will face Jordan Yamamoto in the series finale as the Twins look for the sweep.
Waiver Wire Targets
Bo Bichette, Toronto Blue Jays (24.1% owned/ESPN)
The Jays are continuing their trend of calling up their young studs. Bo is the son of MLB great Dante Bichette. So far, Bichette has six hits through his first 13 AB’s and has also launched a homer. With the Jays entirely out of the playoff picture, Bichette should be seeing a great deal of playing time ranking as the 8th best prospect in baseball. With all of the buzz around Bichette, make sure you snag him quickly in hopes of him living up to his expectations.
Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamondbacks (18% owned/ESPN)
As I mentioned before, Gallen was traded to the D-Backs at Wednesday’s trade deadline. It makes no sense to me. He is a young pitcher who is showing great signs of becoming a top-of-the-rotation type of pitcher. The Marlins continue to confuse everyone as they trade yet another young player whose ceiling is massive. On the season, Gallen has a 2.72 ERA with a WHIP of 1.18. He also has 43 punchouts over 36.1 innings. As the Diamondbacks look for a replacement for Greinke since they dealt him to the Astros, Gallen has potential to be the #1 starter in Arizona.
Retired Little League baseball utility player.