Lock It In: Did Cubs, Four Others Secure Playoff Bids at Deadline?
We’ll call it a borderline bold statement.
Following Monday’s trade deadline, the National League had five teams clinch their spot in the postseason.
Who? The Cubs, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Nationals, and Rockies will be playing in October while the others head for vacation.
Okay, the Cubs may be the only ones not feeling comfortable among those five in terms of division or wild card leads, but judging what Chicago’s competition did at the deadline, can you expect the NL Central race to turn out differently than watching another division title head to Wrigley?
While Joe Maddon and Co. have plenty of work to do to secure that playoff bid, it’s hard to imagine they aren’t keeping an eye on their other NL counterparts.
Let’s take a look at the wheeling and dealing these postseason-bound teams did in July as they head down the stretch:
Acquired: LHP Jose Quintana (via White Sox), LHP Justin Wilson and C Alex Avila (via Tigers)
In a matter of two and a half weeks, the Cubs decimated their farm system dealing promising prospects Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease and Jeimer Candelario in separate deals with AL Central teams.
Despite the nearly dried up pool of minor league talent, Epstein and Hoyer plugged the holes they set out to cover collecting controllable starting and relief pitching to go along with a veteran backup catcher (who has a good bat and is a very solid defensive player behind the plate) to give Willson Contreras a breather.
A 13-3 start to the second half has the Cubs heating up at the right time, going from a 5.5-game deficit in the division to a 2.5-game lead.
While Quintana’s addition was a huge shot in the arm with three fantastic starts to begin his Cubs’ career, adding Wilson to the pen gives the defending champs an arm that has succeeded against both left and right handed hitters – a must-have piece with Chicago’s relievers quickly eating up innings as the season continues.
Acquired: OF J.D. Martinez (via Tigers), SS Adam Rosales (via Athletics), RHP David Hernandez (via Angels)
Adding a lefty-killer in Martinez was a huge addition to this team considering Arizona’s recent struggles with southpaws.
His bat is going to pay huge dividends for this team down the stretch. Rosales meanwhile plugs a recent hole after sending Chris Owings to the 60-day DL with a fractured finger. The former Oakland infielder is going to step into an immediate role with the team and fans alike hoping he can build off his .234 average on the west coast. Hernandez meanwhile is a familiar name to the DBacks, having pitched for the team from 2011-15.
Aside from these acquisitions, there is a lingering concern for this team that seems destined for one of the two NL Wild Card spots: starting pitcher Robbie Ray. The strikeout artist was drilled in the head by a line drive during Friday night’s game versus St. Louis and hit the 7-Day DL with a concussion. Getting him back to form for the stretch will be vital for the team.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Acquired: RHP Yu Darvish (via Rangers), LHP Tony Watson (via Pirates), LHP Tony Cingrani (via Reds)
Do the Dodgers plan on coming back to Earth anytime soon? Doesn’t seem like it.
Despite losing their best player, the train has continued to roll to the tune of a 41-10 record since June 1.
With Clayton Kershaw out another 3-4 weeks, GM Farhan Zaidi pulled the trigger on one of the most coveted arms on the market in Darvish, while rounding out their bullpen with two lefty relievers.
The most amazing part of these deals is they were able to get away with prospect hugging, avoiding having to put Walker Buehler, Alex Verdugo or Yadier Alvarez into the deal with the Rangers.
Had Darvish not run into a horrific stretch and sending his ERA over 5.50 in his last eight starts, it’s possible Los Angeles would not have been able to grab him for the haul they ultimately dealt to Texas.
Acquired: LHP Sean Doolittle and RHP Ryan Madson (via Athletics), RHP Brandon Kintzler (via Twins), 2B/OF Howie Kendrick (via Phillies)
The worst kept secret in baseball is how awful the Nationals’ bullpen has been this year. It’s a fair assessment to say they have left at least eight games on the table due to the inept play from their relievers.
So how do you fix that? Literally, rebuild the entire back end of the pen with two closers and a setup man.
This is more than they did a year ago when they traded for Mark Melancon and it should benefit them.
As for Kendrick, adding a veteran off the bench who can fill in at multiple positions, specifically in the outfield. With Trea Turner and Jayson Werth nursing injuries, it was a solid fit for a team running away with the NL East.
Acquired: RHP Pat Neshek (via Phillies), C Jonathan Lucroy (via Rangers)
It’s not hard to imagine Rockies fans are drooling over the thought of placing Lucroy in Coors Field with his offensive history, and rightfully so. He is an upgrade over Tony Wolters and Ryan Hanigan when it comes to the offense but his defense is another story.
When it comes to framing pitches, Lucroy is the worst statistically rated catcher in the league. Solid pitching and Denver, Colorado are two things that do not mix very well, add in a catcher that struggles getting strike calls and it could spell disaster.
As for Neshek, he has been lights out this year with a 1.29 ERA and .81 WHIP. Those stats are obviously due for regression with the move to Coors, but adding him as the setup man to Greg Holland provides a big 1-2 punch to close out games.
So who won the trade deadline among the NL leaders?
Unlike the certainty of these teams making the playoffs, it’s anyone’s guess. Every single team filled the weaknesses that plagued them to this point in the season. With the Cubs filling out their rotation and setting up for a postseason run of Lester, Quintana, Arietta, and Hendricks, they will not go down easily in their quest to be the first team since the 1999-2000 New York Yankees to repeat as World Series champions.
However, if Darvish rounds back into form, the Dodgers will probably continue to steamroll the competition and potentially challenge the 2001 Seattle Mariners for the best 162-game record in league history — making them the team to beat.
These final two months may feel like it’s just going through the motions of finishing out the schedule, but October in the NL is shaping up to be one of the best battles we have seen in ages.