Last week saw the trading deadline come and go with more of a whimper than a flourish. Supposed top seller, the San Diego Padres, didn’t make a significant move, and there were only a few blockbusters acquisitions (Troy Tulowitzki and David Price to the Blue Jays, Carlos Gomez to the Houston Astros, Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers and Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets stand out). Despite less marquee appeal than expected, teams were still busy. According to MLB, there were 43 trades between June 1 and July 31. That’s the most in that period since 1997. Keeping in mind that often it isn’t the big names who shift clubs that are difference makers, keep an eye on some of the lesser lights (perhaps, pitchers Alex Wood or Mat Latos with the Los Angeles Dodgers?) who play the most pivotal roles during the stretch run. Now, let’s take a gander at Week 18:
Toronto’s lineup: The aforementioned Troy Tulowitzki (along with the addition of speedster Ben Revere), turns what was already a potent Blue Jays line up into an even more formidable group. (Consider the team was already the league’s highest scoring unit in the American League before those upgrades.) Look for them on Thursday to unleash their offensive skills and lead Toronto to victory against the Minnesota Twins at home that day. While it’s a four-game series, I’m choosing this contest because I’m not convinced Twins’ starter Kyle Gibson will handle the Blue Jays’ hitters. Gibson has been very wobbly in two of his last three outings, posting a 6.75 ERA in that stretch. While he threw pretty well against Toronto back on May 30 (5 2/3 innings, eight hits, two runs, four walks and three strikeouts), there are caveats to that performance. First, it was at home where Gibson throws better. Second, Gibson was generally performing better back in May (he had a 2.61 ERA after that contest; now his ERA is 3.37). Finally, he’s facing a better Blue Jays club.
A’s upset: Oakland is in reboot mode, having dished off one of its top starters (Scott Kazmir), its closer (Tyler Clippard) and its most versatile player (Ben Zobrist) in the past few weeks. Nevertheless, they are the team to beat on Friday when they host the high-flying Houston Astros. This has truly been a Cinderella year for the Astros, who are unexpectedly right in the playoff hunt. Still, the club struggles on the road as evidenced by their 22-28 record in away games coming into this week. This particular contest that we’re looking at sits right in the middle of nine-game road swing that starts in the sweltering heat of Texas against the Rangers before heading out on a long flight to Oakland. Then there is the pitcher they have to face – Sonny Gray. The right-hander has been one of the American League’s best in 2015, sporting an 11-4 record and a 2.16 ERA. Plus, he’s coming off a two-game stretch in which he allowed just two runs and 12 hits in 16 innings pitched. In other words, he has momentum.
Rocky Mountain High: Our weekly Bill James Game Score check-in takes us to Denver, Colorado. On Tuesday, when the Seattle Mariners visit the Rockies, it’ll be a hitter’s paradise. A reminder on Game Score: This is a statistic created by stats guru Bill James that distills the expectations of a pitcher’s performance down to a single number. A number over 70 indicates a dominant performance is likely; a number below 50 means watch out for a less-than-quality start. This game has two pitchers who score poorly on this scale. Colorado left-hander Chris Rusin clocks in with a 45 (this isn’t surprising as he’s allowed 10 runs in his past 10 innings pitched). That said, the Mariners’ starter Vidal Nuno is expected to perform even worse. His score: 42. Nuno has been a reliever for Seattle this year, but is getting a spot start here. Don’t expect him to go too long, which is further bad news for Seattle, which has given up a runs-per-game total above the league average. As a result, look for the batters to have the upper-hand and runs to be lighting up the scoreboard a plenty.