X-factors for 7 contenders in the stretch run

August 6th, 2023

The Astros traded for . The Rangers got and . The Angels acquired and (and kept ).

But not every postseason hopeful made meaningful upgrades like those at this year’s Trade Deadline. Instead, a number of teams will be relying more on internal improvements to get where they want to go.

With this in mind, here are the biggest X-factors down the stretch for seven quiet Trade Deadline clubs. (All stats are through Friday.)

Braves: SP
Deadline additions: acquired RP Brad Hand, RP Pierce Johnson and INF Nicky Lopez

To be clear, the Braves weren’t an aggressive Deadline buyer because they didn’t need to be one. They have a 12 1/2-game lead in the NL East. Still, it would have made sense if Atlanta picked up another starting pitcher. remains on the IL, and the Braves have gotten a combined 5.63 ERA over 26 starts out of , , , and .

That brings us to Fried, who has just returned from the injured list after missing nearly three months with a left forearm strain. Atlanta is cruising toward a sixth straight division title, but its World Series championship hopes may hinge on the lefty ace’s ability to stay healthy. He looked great in his return from the IL, tossing six scoreless innings with eight K’s and no walks against the red-hot Cubs on Friday.

Giants: OF
Deadline moves: acquired OF AJ Pollock and UTIL Mark Mathias

The Giants have taken control of the first NL Wild Card spot and moved to within three games of the Dodgers for first place in the NL West on the strength of their pitching staff, but they need more from an offense that has the eighth-lowest slugging percentage (.396) in baseball and ranks 17th in runs per game (4.44).

Now would be a great time for Conforto to rediscover his missing power stroke. Signed to a two-year, $36 million deal in the offseason after missing all of 2022 while recovering from shoulder surgery, Conforto had 12 homers and an .822 OPS over his first 53 games this season but has gone deep one time in 41 games since June 9.

Mariners: OF
Deadline moves: acquired RP Eduard Bazardo, 3B Josh Rojas and prospects; traded RP Paul Sewald and OF AJ Pollock

Although the Mariners traded away Sewald at the Deadline and have straddled the .500 mark for much of the season, they’ve gotten back in the postseason race on the heels of an 11-4 stretch since July 20. Seattle’s offense has been better lately, but the club is still tied for 19th on the season in OPS (.717), and not a single player on the team with at least 200 plate appearances has an OPS over .787. That includes Hernández, who posted an .852 OPS for the Blue Jays across 2020-22 but has put up a .701 OPS for the M’s in 2023.

The pending free agent was involved in some trade speculation prior to the Deadline, but the Mariners ended up holding onto him. He’s homered only once over his past 31 games, but if he can heat up down the stretch, it could provide a significant boost to Seattle’s playoff chances.

Reds: 1B
Deadline moves: acquired RP Sam Moll

With the third-highest rotation ERA (5.44) in the Majors, Cincinnati reportedly pursued starting pitching help at the Deadline, but its only addition was Moll, a 31-year-old southpaw reliever. The Reds expect to get reinforcements when and return from the injured list later this month, but their playoff hopes may largely hinge on the performance of their lineup, which ranks fourth in runs per game (5.27) since debuted on June 6.

While youngsters such as De La Cruz, , and have made a huge difference for the club this season, the Reds’ biggest X-factor down the stretch is their 39-year-old DH. Votto is only hitting .203, but he’s gone deep 11 times in 36 games since returning from shoulder surgery in late June.

Red Sox: SP
Deadline moves: acquired INF Luis Urías and RP Mauricio Llovera; traded UTIL Kiké Hernández

The -- trio has stabilized Boston’s rotation, but the Red Sox are still an arm or two short as they pursue a Wild Card spot. Sale could change that if he makes a successful return from the injured list in the next 7-10 days.

Before going on the IL with a stress reaction in his left shoulder blade, Sale was starting to look like his old self, posting a 2.25 ERA with a 41-to-5 K/BB ratio over 36 innings in the six starts leading up to his injury.

Twins: SS
Deadline moves: acquired RP Dylan Floro; traded RP Jorge López

The first season of Correa’s six-year, $200 million deal with the Twins hasn’t gone well, with the shortstop posting a .220/.295/.383 slash over 99 games -- including a .412 OPS during his active 14-game home run drought. His struggles are representative of Minnesota’s offense as a whole this season, as the Twins rank 20th in the Majors in runs per game.

The Twins are still in first place in the weak AL Central, but they just lost and to the injured list and haven’t been able to create much separation between themselves and the Guardians all year. A strong finish from Correa would be a big help.

Yankees: SP
Deadline moves: acquired RP Keynan Middleton and RP Spencer Howard

Given the Yankees’ myriad of offensive issues this season, it might make sense to pick one of their slumping hitters -- , and come to mind -- as the club’s biggest X-factor. But one bat is not going to cure all of New York’s woes. Instead, we’re going to focus on run prevention, and with continuing to struggle and out for the year after agreeing to submit to inpatient treatment for alcohol abuse, Rodón is more important than ever to the Yankees’ postseason chances.

The Yanks signed him to a six-year, $162 million deal in the offseason, envisioning having a dominant one-two punch of and Rodón atop their rotation. However, the All-Star lefty missed the first three-plus months of the season due to injuries and has pitched to a 6.29 ERA over five starts with the Bronx Bombers, one year after posting a 2.88 ERA with 237 K’s over 178 innings for the Giants. If the San Francisco version of Rodón can show up down the stretch, the Yanks might still have a chance to reach the playoffs, offensive problems or not.