The middle of August is upon us and that means the stretch drive of the 2023 season is upon us or soon to be, depending upon how you define such a thing. To state the obvious, each team – whether relevant in the standings or operating with an eye toward the future – has things they'd like to accomplish across the remainder of the regular season. Let's briefly examine those leading matters by posing the most pressing question for each of MLB's 30 teams. The most pressing question for contenders is of course "Will they win the World Series?" but we're going to avoid such obvious queries. Onward …
Arizona Diamondbacks: Will they reverse their skid?
At the outset of July, the D-Backs were a season-best 16 games over .500 and in first place in the pretty tough NL West. Since then, though, the wheels have come off, and they're just 8-25 since reaching the high-water mark. They're not buried yet – such is the NL wild-card chase in 2023 – but they badly need to end their current slide if they're going to reach the postseason.
Atlanta Braves: Will they finish with the best record in baseball?
The Braves are virtual locks to win the NL East and also secure a first-round bye in the playoffs. Next on the list would be securing the best overall record in MLB and thus ensuring the right to play any deciding game of a postseason series at home. That's on top of, you know, the immense bragging rights that should flow from winding up on top after a six-month regular season. Right now, they're on pace to do just that, but the Orioles, Rays, Dodgers, and Rangers are all within range.
Baltimore Orioles: Has Grayson Rodriguez leveled up?
The O's in part addressed their dubious rotation by acquiring Jack Flaherty from the Cardinals before the trade deadline passed. Another factor might be the possible emergence of Rodriguez, the club's top pitching prospect. Rodriguez struggled badly early in the season, and he was sent back to Triple-A as a consequence. Since his return to Baltimore, however, he's been much better. In his six starts since being recalled, he's yet to allow a home run and has put up an ERA of 3.45 and an FIP of 2.74. The O's could use much more of that from him down the stretch and into the postseason.
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Boston Red Sox: Will the healthier rotation deliver?
The Sox remain within shouting distance of the final AL wild-card spot and thus will play a relevant stretch drive. Nothing could help their cause quite like getting healthier in the rotation. They took a big step toward that goal on Friday when lefty ace Chris Sale made his first start since June for Boston and looked impressive. Garrett Whitlock returned Sunday from elbow inflammation, and Tanner Houck is on a minor-league rehab assignment after suffering facial fractures. This is a huge boost for Boston just in time for the stretch drive, and now those healed hurlers need to deliver.
Chicago Cubs: Will they take advantage of remaining schedule?
The Cubs don't lead the NL Central at the moment, but they have far and away the best run differential in the division. That bodes well for the remainder of the season. What also bodes well is that White Sox, Royals, Tigers, and Pirates., as measured by opponents' average winning percentage. That generally accommodating stretch begins with 12 straight games against the
Chicago White Sox: Will there be any further signs of dysfunction?
The White Sox have been a bad team this season, and they've arguably been worse when it comes to the news cycle. Whether it's allegations of a complete lack of discipline and accountability or a reported clubhouse dust-up between core veterans, it's been a long and roundly miserable season on the South Side. An overhaul – up to and including the front office – is needed, but it may take further discord to prompt thumb-twiddling owner Jerry Reinsdorf to do anything about it.
Cincinnati Reds: Will Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo get back in time?
The upstart Reds remain in contention in the NL Central, but they've been trending downward of late. Cincy did very little at the trade deadline in part because the Reds have been banking on the returns of two of their top starting pitchers, Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo. Greene has been out since the middle of June with a hip injury, and Lodolo has been laid up since early May with a stress reaction in his shin. The hope is that Greene and his ace upside will return to the rotation within the next week and that Lodolo will be back before the calendar flips to September. The Reds badly need those timelines to stick and for each arm to provide quality innings the rest of the way.
Cleveland Guardians: Will they put heat on the Twins?
The Guards remain relevant despite making themselves worse at the trade deadline only because Shane Bieber, who's out until at least Sept. 10 (the first day he's eligible to come off the 60-day IL) because of elbow inflammation. They have six head-to-head games against Minnesota the rest of the way, so they'll need to take full advantage of those.They remain within range of the first-place Twins, but they're tasked with making up ground without ace
Colorado Rockies: Why?
One surveys the Rockies, their manifestly uninteresting roster, their terminal lack of relevance in the standings, and their suite of baffling roster decisions and asks: Why? So that is the question for this, the weirdest of MLB teams. Why? Why have you done these things? Why are you these things? Why? Why. One supposes one could wonder about what kind of lottery odds this team could wind up with. If you don't like pondering the why of the Rockies, then go with that.
Detroit Tigers: Will Spencer Torkelson keep providing cause for hope?
Detroit took Torkelson, who soon turns 24, with the top overall pick of the abbreviated and complicated 2020 draft, but he's yet to thrive across parts of two seasons in the majors. Tork's 2023 campaign, however, has brought encouraging signs. He's improved his surface-level production quite a bit, and better still he's significantly improved his quality-of-contact metrics. It's the latter that raises hope for the future. If the Tigers' ongoing pivot/rebuild is going to be successful, then they'll need Tork to realize his potential. He's worth watching down the stretch.
Houston Astros: Can José Abreu get right?
Houston's biggest winter addition has flopped in a big way this season. Abreu showed signs of soft decline last year in the power department, and he's full-on cratered this year (.234/.291/.343 in 464 plate appearances). The 36-year-old Abreu is on the IL with back trouble, and it's possible that contributed to his lack of production. It's also possible that he's in his deep decline phase and isn't going to come out of it. It's also possible he loses playing time to Jonathan Singleton once he returns.
Kansas City Royals: Is this Salvador Perez's K.C. swan song?
Perez is a Royals lifer and a franchise legend, but the Royals entertained trade talks for him leading up to the deadline. Maybe those discussions get revived this winter and they make a full break from their championship teams of the mid-2010s. The priority should be building for the future around Bobby Witt Jr.
Los Angeles Angels: Will Shohei Ohtani make a run at 60 homers?
The Halos deserve praise for behaving like contenders at the deadline, but things haven't gone as hoped since then. Yes, they're still alive in the AL wild-card chase, but they're facing steep odds when it comes to making the playoffs for the first time since 2014. As such, we'll put our focus on Ohtani and his latest developing baseball miracle. The two-way superstar recently ceded his MLB home run lead to Matt Olson of the Braves, but he's still on pace for 56 homers this season. Even a slight uptick in that pace could put 60 and even Aaron Judge's AL record of 62 within range. That's definitely something to watch.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Will they get to 100 wins yet again?
Yes, they have "only" one title during their run, but the current Dodgers are absolutely a modern baseball dynasty. At the moment, the 2023 model is on pace for 98 wins, so they're just barely off the pace for 100 wins. If they're able to get there, then the Dodgers will enjoy their third straight 100-win campaign. The only thing interrupting that streak is the abbreviated, 60-game 2020 season, in which the Dodgers triumphed at a 116-win clip. Had that season been a normal one, then Dave Roberts' squad would almost certainly be aiming for its fifth straight 100-win season. That's a legendary run.
Miami Marlins: Will they keep winning one-run games?
The Fish have come back to earth a bit in recent days, but they remain very much in the thick of the NL wild-card fray. The single biggest thing that's allowed Miami to defy preseason expectations is its 27-10 mark in one-run games. The Marlins are solidly below .500 in all other contests. There's a lot of luck and noise built into a team's record in one-run affairs, and the Marlins will need said luck and noise to keep breaking in their direction if they're going to make it to the playoffs.
Milwaukee Brewers: Can Christian Yelich keep producing?
Yelich's renaissance at the plate this year has been vital to a Milwaukee offense that has otherwise been one of the worst in baseball. He's not back to peak, but Yelich is hitting the ball harder than he has in a few years, and that has led to a pronounced uptick in production. He has also reversed a recent trend of increasing strikeout percentages. The Brewers need more of the same from him if they're going to fend off the Cubs and Reds in the NL Central.
Minnesota Twins: Will Royce Lewis pick up where he left off?
Lewis, the No. 1 overall pick back in 2017, has done nothing but produce at the highest level when healthy. The problem, however, has been staying healthy. Right now, he's working his way back from an oblique strain that has had him on the shelf since early July. Barring setback, he'll return soon to the active roster, and he should give the Twins a sorely needed boost against left-handed pitching. That's been one of their most glaring weak spots this year.
New York Mets: Is this Pete Alonso's last season with the Mets?
Alonso has in many ways been the face of the franchise ever since he cracked 53 home runs as a rookie in 2019. He's remained productive, but the fact that he's unsigned as his 2024 walk year comes into view has raised the possibility that the Mets will look to move him. They reportedly had at least cursory trade discussions about Alonso leading up to the recent deadline, and there's a real chance they revisit those this coming winter. All of that raises the possibility that these will be Alonso's final weeks in a Mets uniform.
New York Yankees: Is the unthinkable now thinkable?
In this instance, the unthinkable would be the franchise's first losing season since way back yonder in 1992. And, yes, it's now thinkable given that the Yankees are presently barely above .500 and are being lifted up by a 19-10 mark in May (their only month with a winning record in 2023). As for what got the once-mighty Yankees to such depths, our Mike Axisa recently broke it down in detail.
Oakland Athletics: Will they avoid 120 losses?
Thanks to calculated neglect on the part of their witless and actively harmful owner John Fisher, the 2023 A's are working on one of the worst team seasons in MLB history. At this writing they're on pace for 117 losses, which puts them within range of the 1962 Mets' modern record of 120 losses. Photo finish incoming, possibly.
Philadelphia Phillies: Will Trea Turner play like Trea Turner?
The reigning NL champs expected more from their star shortstop when they inked him to a $300 million free-agent contract this past offseason. At this writing, Turner is lugging around a slash line of .252/.303/.398, which is far shy of his pre-2023 career line of .302/.355/.487. Yes, Turner is adding value in the field and on the bases, but the Phils need more from his bat. On that front, Turner has been putting up big numbers in August, so perhaps he's finally finding his level.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Will Oneil Cruz make it back this season?
The 24-year-old shortstop has fallen off the radar a bit after suffering a broken ankle just nine games into his 2023 season. However, he remains a critical long-term contributor for the Pirates, and getting back to the majors before the season is up would be a positive table-setting step for 2024. Cruz recently began a running program, which should be the final step before a minor-league rehab assignment begins. Fingers crossed for no setbacks.
San Diego Padres: Will they finally play up to their potential?
Time is running out for the Padres. They're running the highest payroll of any non-New York team, but they're below .500. That qualifies them as one of the most disappointing teams of 2023. The thing is, the Padres have played at a much better level than their overall record would lead you to believe (peep their run differential and the more fundamental indicators that underpin run-scoring and run prevention). Their star-laden roster is a threat to find their true level at any moment and go on a run, but the calendar is a ruthless one right about now. They need to hurry up if they're going to change the arc of their season.
San Francisco Giants: Will their deadline inactivity exact a price?
The Giants are probably bound for the playoffs despite having a roster that's completely devoid of stars. Also of note is that team president of baseball ops Farhan Zaidi did nothing significant leading up to the deadline, as his lone additions were A.J. Pollock and Mark Mathias. Suffice it to say, that's not a very ambitious approach for a team badly in need of rotation upgrades and help in the lineup.
Seattle Mariners: Will they keep getting lightning in a bottle from Cade Marlowe?
During Jarred Kelenic's self-inflicted absence, 26-year-old Cade Marlowe has emerged as a welcome presence in the middling Seattle lineup. Through the first 18 games of his big-league career, he's put up an OPS of .921. He also put up solid numbers in the minors prior to his July call-up. Still, nothing in his record suggests he can thump like this moving forward. The M's, though, must hope he's able to continue playing above his presumed ceiling as they attempt to remain in the AL playoff chase.
St. Louis Cardinals: Will Matthew Liberatore assert himself as a rotation fixture?
The Cardinals have just two veteran starters coming back for 2024 – Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz. While it seems likely they'll add perhaps multiple starting pitchers via free agency or trade this coming offseason, the Cards will still need at least one internal candidate to assert himself. Liberatore, not so long ago a highly regarded pitching prospect, took a step toward that in authoring the most dominant start of his career against the Rays. Improved velocity and full command of his deep repertoire were essential to that effort, and now it's time to see if he can keep it going. A strong finish will place Liberatore very much in the Cardinals' 2024 rotation plans.
Tampa Bay Rays: Is the patchwork rotation good enough?
The shine has come off the Rays in a big way since their historic start to the 2023 season. That's been partly attributable to a brutal run of injuries in the rotation. Right now, they're without impact starting pitchers like Shane McClanahan, Shane Baz, Jeffrey Springs, and Drew Rasmussen. Yes, the deadline addition of Aaron Civale helps, but the Rays are still very thin in the rotation and will be for the rest of the season unless a surprise contributor emerges.
Texas Rangers: Can they hang on in AL West as injured All-Stars heal up?
The Rangers are in the discussion for best team in baseball, but the reigning champion Astros – buoyed by the deadline addition of Justin Verlander – are breathing down their necks in the AL West. The key to fending off Houston might be hanging on until two of their top contributors this season, All-Star catcher Jonah Heim and All-Star third baseman Josh Jung, return from injury. Heim was recently activated after recovering from a wrist injury, but Jung's broken thumb figures to keep him out until late in the regular season. How well Texas can paper over his absence may play a critical role in the race.
Toronto Blue Jays: Will the offense finally start producing in big spots?
Randomness is the driver when an offense's performance in clutch situations deviates from its overall performance, and the Jays need that randomness to start working in their favor. Thus far, Toronto's OPS has tumbled from its norms with runners in scoring position, late-and-close situations, and high-leverage spots. That's played a leading role in a somewhat disappointing season to date.
Washington Nationals: Will Keibert Ruiz show more offensive growth?
When the Nats acquired Ruiz in July 2021 from the Dodgers as part of the Max Scherzer-Trea Turner trade, they envisioned him as their catcher of the future and inked him to an eight-year extension. He's looking like that of late, especially at the plate. Ruiz in particular has been aflame in August (.349/.440/.605 in 12 games). In particular, the 25-year-old's elite contact skills could one day make him a strong producer by positional standards.