We’ve somehow already reached the statistical midpoint of the 2019 season, and I, for one, am freaking out about the relentless passage of time and its seemingly intensifying speed.
But I know some of you are freaking out about baseball stuff. And that’s why we have the latest edition of the Freak-Out Factor -- a scale from 1 (stay calm) to 10 (time to panic!) -- to help put things in proper perspective.
The Reds are wasting one of the league’s best pitching staffs!
If the Reds had even league-average offense (something they had in 2017 and ’18), we’d be heaping praise on the Reds’ front office for repairing the starting staff with Tanner Roark and Sonny Gray. Pair those additions with Luis Castillo making good on his projected breakout, and you have the bones of a 3.66 staff ERA -- the third-best in baseball.
But the offense has, surprisingly, been a drag this season, which is why the Reds sit sub-.500 despite a positive run differential. With Joey Votto and Yasiel Puig finally showing some signs of power in recent weeks, Scooter Gennett back from an awful groin injury and Nick Senzel beginning to live up to his prospect pedigree, the Reds can still make something of this ’19 season, especially given the concentrated nature of the National League Central (the division-leading Cubs and Brewers are a combined 15-23 over the last three weeks) and the wide-open NL playoff picture. The Reds are currently talking about adding to, not subtracting from, this roster, and, if this pitching holds up, it won’t take much at the plate for the Reds to rise.
Freak-Out Factor: 5 1/2, which is the Reds’ surmountable division deficit despite their fifth-place standing
The Rays have moved … south in the standings!
The talk of a new summer home in Montreal dominated the national discussion about the Rays last month.
But much more pertinent was what was going on with the team on the field, where the Rays lost a ton of ground (5 1/2 games to be exact) in the American League East in a June swoon. Austin Meadows, who helped the offense surge in the season’s first couple of months, experienced a league adjustment, and the lineup as a whole sagged. Blake Snell’s regression from his Cy Young season of 2018 has made the absence of breakout pitcher Tyler Glasnow -- who has been out since May 11 with a forearm strain, and remains shut down from throwing -- all the more jarring. But Brendan McKay’s arrival over the weekend was a big pick-me-up, and Snell looked better Sunday.
If I’m a Tampa Bay fan, I’m still confident in the front office’s ability to impact the margins of the roster at the Trade Deadline and fortify this club for the stretch run. Because even if the Rays are a Wild Card entrant, they figure to be a feisty one.
FOF: 7, for the Rays’ division deficit entering July
The Mets have more controversies created than leads held!
Last week’s Mickey Callaway-Jason Vargas-Tim Healey mess stayed in the news cycle a few days longer than it otherwise would have because Callaway and Vargas both botched their initial opportunity to simply publicly apologize and move on. But maybe it’s the kind of thing that should actually (oddly) be welcomed by the Mets’ front office, because anything that distracts from how poorly the ballclub itself was built is helpful.
Brodie Van Wagenen’s moves to add age -- or, excuse me, experience -- to the lineup at a time when the game, at large, is trending younger, were suspect. And a bullpen where Edwin Díaz (4.78 ERA) and Jeurys Familia (7.81) were the frontline acquisitions has been a total disaster (the cause of last week’s controversy was itself ridiculous, because the premise was that Diaz could have been trusted for a five-out save).
So, if I’m a Mets fan, I’m freaking out less about the blown leads themselves than I am about the methodology that will guide this club at the Trade Deadline, and in a winter that’s going to require a lot of creativity to turn this team into a legit contender.
FOF: 9, for the number of blown saves by Mets relievers just in the month of June (honestly, the FOF should probably be 10, but 9 blown saves in a month is a pretty wild stat that had to be used)
The Phillies have phaded!
An 11-16 record in June turned a three-game edge in the NL East into a six-game deficit. Bryce Harper’s odd career has taken another odd turn in Philadelphia, where neither he nor J.T. Realmuto have produced the power expected of them. And ho-hum results from Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta only make the lack of depth in that group more pronounced. Really, it’s hard to pinpoint an area where the Phillies are flat-out better than the Braves, and it’s going to be challenging for the Phils (who, to their credit, have already been proactive on the trade front) to address all that’s ailing them before the Trade Deadline.
The good news is that this is an organization that can and likely will swallow some salary to get more deals done. They’ll run Nola out against the Braves this week at a time when he’s in the midst of a bounceback (just one earned run allowed in his last 15 innings). And the offense has erupted with 30 extra-base hits in the last seven games.
POF (Phreak-Out Factor): 8, for where the Phillies surprisingly ranked among NL clubs in runs per game, entering this week
The Orioles might be even worse than last year!
You know you’re having a rough season when you become the first team in history to outscore your opponent 13-0 on consecutive days and still have a season run differential of minus-167. Such was life for the Orioles after Saturday.
The Orioles could become the first team ever to lose 115 games one year and even more the next. Historically speaking, that’s dubious.
But practically speaking, that’s propitious. In a sport with no Draft lottery system, there is obvious benefit to being as bad as these Birds, and we’ll see it next summer if the O’s can pair their pickup of Adley Rutschman with, perhaps, an Emerson Hancock or Spencer Torkelson (yes, the names currently atop Draft wish lists are wonderful). Mathematically, not all of the ongoing rebuild projects in baseball can pan out as planned, but, if you are going to go all-in on an overhaul, as the O’s did last summer, you want to be No. 30 so that you can be No. 1.
FOF: 1, because that pick is what these O’s were angling for all along
The Indians just can’t gain any ground on the Twins!
At 17-9, the Indians tied the Yankees for best record in the AL in June. But while the Yankees saw their AL East lead grow from 1 1/2 games to seven games in that span (and even got to take a fancy trip to London), the Indians went from 10 1/2 back to … 8 back. Not exactly a monumental shift in the AL Central. In the AL Wild Card race, they’ve only seen a half-game gain.
So the Tribe’s probably going to need July to go at least as well as June to stay afloat and have any shot of catching a Minnesota team that, in addition to playing so well, has superior financial flexibility to apply at the Trade Deadline.
The good news here is that the soft schedule that the Indians used to mount a June surge continues for much of July. Between now and July 30, when the Astros come to Cleveland, the only team currently above .500 that the Indians play is, yes, the Twins, right after the All-Star break. That series will bring three head-on opportunities for the Indians to convince the front office that they’re still in it.
FOF: 8, for the daunting division deficit facing the Tribe