In golf, “moving day” is the term used to describe the penultimate day of a four-day tournament, when competitors try to set themselves up for the final push on the final day.
We can also apply this term to the baseball season, but, because the July 31 Trade Deadline has an outsized impact on team assessment -- especially this season, the first in which July 31 is the only deadline -- it can be applied earlier in the schedule. June is baseball’s “moving month,” because what happens as the season hits its midpoint greatly influences discussions on potential swaps just as they truly begin to pick up in earnest.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the teams we’ve seen make the biggest movement this month, heading into June’s final day. Because little has changed in the National League Central, where all five teams are still alive, and in the NL West, where the Dodgers still have a stranglehold, those races aren’t listed here. But elsewhere in MLB, some notable movement has taken place. Here’s how it might impact the Trade Deadline.
The Braves have taken over the NL East
Record entering first day of June: 30-27, 3 games back in NL East
Record entering last day of June: 50-34, 6 1/2 games up in NL East
The Braves’ deficit in the division race feels like it was so long ago, it might as well have been the Russ Nixon era.
Atlanta’s offense had already begun to reach its potential when Ronald Acuña Jr. returned to the leadoff spot in mid-May, and that upswing was amplified in June, especially with Freddie Freeman driving in more runs this month (31, as of this writing) than Joey Votto has driven in all year (21). The Braves also lengthened the rotation with the addition of Dallas Keuchel.
The bigger surprise has been the improvement of the bullpen, which has been buoyed by the low-key acquisition of Anthony Swarzak in late May. It would surprise no one if the Braves made another impact acquisition for the late innings. They tried to reel in Craig Kimbrel alongside Keuchel, which means there’s room in the budget. And they have plenty of pitching pieces in their deep farm system to build a bullpen setup they can feel good about come October.
The Yankees have taken over the AL East
Record entering first day of June: 37-19, 1 1/2 games up in AL East
Record entering last day of June: 53-28, 7 games up in AL East
These aren’t the Backup Bombers anymore.
The Yanks got significantly healthier in June, thanks to the return of Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius. Though Giancarlo Stanton’s return was short-lived, the pain of losing him again to a right knee injury that could keep him out until August was offset slightly by the proactive move to get Edwin Encarnacion well ahead of the Trade Deadline.
The pitching staff, which has posted an ERA around 5.00 in June, still has big questions, with Luis Severino and Domingo Germán on the mend and Dellin Betances still shut down. But the Yankees have prospect depth and, in all likelihood, the ability to take on salary, so they are widely expected to make an impact move to enhance that staff before the Deadline. And anyway, they have a lineup that hasn’t been shut out in a year.
The Indians and Nationals have resuscitated their seasons
Indians record entering first day of June: 28-29, 10 1/2 games back in AL Central
Indians record entering last day of June: 44-38, 9 games back in AL Central
Nationals record entering first day of June: 24-33, 6 games back in NL Wild Card
Nationals record entering last day of June: 41-41, 2 games back in NL Wild Card
Now? The Nats have sprung sufficiently to life that we can probably take the Rendon talks off the table for now. This is an organization still very much in win-now mode, and general manager Mike Rizzo will continue to construct a Frankenstein bullpen (which now features a 42-year-old Fernando Rodney and a three-time recipient of Tommy John surgery in Jonny Venters) to try to get Washington to the Wild Card round, at least.
The Indians’ situation is more nuanced. A strong month (well, June was a strong month before two blowouts in Baltimore this weekend) has barely budged their American League Central standing, and they’ve actually lost a little ground in the Wild Card chase. So while the June record is strong, there is still organizational incentive to shop Bauer, as his final arbitration price tag makes it unlikely he’ll be on the 2020 roster and his trade value is far greater if he can impact two playoff races for another club. Perhaps the Indians will find a Bauer deal that, like the Rays’ trade of Chris Archer a year ago, brings back a Major League-ready piece or pieces and doesn’t distract from the October effort. (Trading a bullpen anchor like Hand might have an even more pronounced impact on the Indians’ Wild Card chase, but his trade value is immense in a market full of clear contenders starved for relief help.)
The Rays, Phillies and Mets have all had a June swoon
Rays record entering first day of June: 35-20, 1 1/2 games back in AL East
Rays record entering last day of June: 47-36, 7 games back in AL East
Phillies record entering first day of June: 33-24, 3 games up in NL East
Phillies record entering last day of June: 43-40, 6 1/2 games back in NL East
Mets record entering first day of June: 28-29, 5 games back in NL East
Mets record entering last day of June: 37-47, 13 games back in NL East
Blake Snell’s six runs allowed in just one-third of an inning in a loss to the Yankees that completed a three-game sweep on June 19 summed up a messy month for the Rays, who have lost a lot of ground in the AL East. Their offensive pace has slowed (.690 team OPS in June), their bullpen has routinely coughed up runs in tight games, and Snell takes an 11.94 June ERA into his final start of the month, against Texas. If the bullpen wasn’t a clear area for potential upgrade going into June, it is now.
The Phillies have had their world rocked not just by the Braves’ surge but by Andrew McCutchen’s season-ending torn ACL in his left knee. An inconsistent offense likely needs another upgrade, as does a pitching staff lacking depth. The Phillies will be fascinating in that they, more than most clubs, have incentive to be aggressive even in pursuit of a Wild Card berth, after all the heavy lifting they did last winter.
Finally, not that things were rosy at Citi Field entering June, but the Mets have been, to paraphrase Jason Vargas, knocked the heck out of the playoff race this month, to the point where manager Mickey Callaway has openly espoused the need for “a miracle.” Now the questions become what can first-year GM Brodie Van Wagenen get for Zack Wheeler, and will the GM move more controllable pieces like Noah Syndergaard and Seth Lugo?
The Rangers are still hanging around
Record entering first day of June: 28-27, 8 1/2 games back in AL West
Record entering last day of June: 46-37, 5 games back in AL West
Texas looked like a clear candidate for regression at the start of the month, particularly when Joey Gallo strained his left oblique on June 1. Now, with Gallo back, the Rangers are not only a legitimate threat in the AL Wild Card race but actually mounting a challenge to the powerhouse Astros in the AL West.
All of this was highly unanticipated entering the year, and the Rangers were expected to market an asset like Mike Minor in the midseason trade market. But because rookie skipper Chris Woodward’s team keeps chugging along happily, the front office is entering July with a more open-minded approach, knowing that an October berth would only increase fan interest when the club opens its new ballpark in 2020. The Rangers still aren’t likely to set the world aflame at the Deadline, but they figure to be opportunistic buyers.