5 feats to watch in NL East down the stretch

August 15th, 2019

Plenty can change in six weeks, as those around the game of baseball well know. In many ways, September can be the toughest month for players, as the grind of a long season catches up to them.

In the National League East, some have even more incentive to keep thriving into the season’s final month. In addition to postseason races that continue to take shape, these personal milestones are at stake:


Feat to watch: Can achieve a 40-40 season?

Only four players in Major League history -- Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano -- have accumulated at least 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases in a season. Soriano was the last to do so, 13 years ago.

For Acuna, home runs seem to be the easy part: he already has 34, and he should hit six more without issue. But his 28 steals leave him short of the pace required to achieve 40-40. If Acuna starts running more frequently, it could boost him in the NL MVP Award conversation, which Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger have dominated all summer.


Feat to watch: Will hit his 100th career homer?

Prado’s home run on April 24 was his first this season and the 99th of his MLB career. Four months later, the 35-year-old is still searching for No. 100. Prado, a contact-oriented hitter who broke in with the Braves last decade, has 21 homers since joining the Marlins in 2015. He’s also missed substantial time the past three seasons due to injury, and he is playing sparingly right now at first and third base against left-handed pitchers. Once November hits, he’ll become a free agent with nothing guaranteed.

Although time is running out on his season, Prado will have a prime chance to reach the century mark this weekend, when the Marlins face the Rockies at homer-happy Coors Field.


Feat to watch: Which home run records will set?

Alonso, who has already written his name all over the record books, doesn’t appear done. Next to topple will be Bellinger’s NL rookie record of 39 home runs; Alonso, with 38, is one off that mark. After that, Alonso can set his sights on the Mets’ franchise record, which Todd Hundley and Carlos Beltran share with 41 apiece. Barring injury, both of those seem like givens.

A loftier goal is the MLB rookie home run record, which Mark McGwire held for 30 years before Aaron Judge smashed it with 52 in 2017. If he maintains his current pace, Alonso will finish one home run shy of that mark. Still, a quick power binge is all it would take to change that.


Feat to watch: Can enter rarefied air?

Ten pitchers have won the Cy Young Award at least three times. Only four -- Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Steve Carlton -- have won four or more. With a strong finish, Scherzer could become the fifth, though he’ll need to topple Hyun-Jin Ryu while also holding off Jacob deGrom, Luis Castillo and other top NL contenders.

Scherzer’s first step is to return to the mound, which he’ll do as soon as this weekend if the Nationals allow it. Scherzer, for his part, says he’s ready, fully recovered from the upper back and shoulder issues that have lingered for more than a month.

Whenever he returns, Scherzer must bolster his statistics to make a run at the Cy. His best argument is the fact that, despite pitching fewer innings than Ryu, he has struck out 68 more batters. The ERA gap is even larger (1.45 for Ryu, 2.41 for Scherzer), but it’s not unreasonable to think Scherzer can close that over the next six weeks. If he does, he could become the first pitcher to enter the four-time Cy Young Award club since Johnson in 2002.


Feat to watch: How valuable will prove to be?

The Phillies’ stalwart catcher has swung a hot bat the past few weeks, with five home runs and 17 RBIs in 68 plate appearances since July 26. That helped him enter Wednesday’s play with 4.0 WAR on the season, according to FanGraphs, the highest mark among NL backstops and ninth-best among all NL position players.

The Phils have not had a hitter finish in the top 10 in NL WAR since Shane Victorino (5.6) in 2011, nor a catcher in the top 10 since Darren Daulton finished third with 7.2 WAR in 1992. Realmuto is on pace to accomplish both.