With around 40 games left on the docket for each team, the best of the best are trying to solidify their playoff positioning. The Houston Astros and New York Yankees have a healthy cushion on the top two seeds in the American League, but the New York Mets are only four games up on the Atlanta Braves for the second seed in the National League. Every game for the rest of the season matters.
Let’s take a look at three roasting hot teams who are making a push-up the playoff standings.
In a seven-game slate against the Mets (four) and Astros (three), the Braves took five of seven to reduce the gap in the NL East by 1.5 games. They jumped on the Mets for 18 runs in two games before splitting the final two games of the series. However, perhaps the most important part of the stretch was tagging Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom for seven total earned runs.
Welcoming Houston to town, the Braves once again took the first two games of the series. A dramatic 11th-inning walk-off sent the Braves to their best mark of the series – 28 games over .500. Even in the final game, they scratched two runs across Ryan Pressly, the first time he had allowed a run since July 30.
In the last spurt, rookie Vaughn Grissom has been the straw that stirs the drink. He has 10 hits in 25 at-bats for a boiling hot .400 batting average. He has added a pair of doubles and a game-tying home run. The catcher position has also been critical. Their All-Stars Travis d’Arnaud and William Contreras posted 11 hits, four extra-base hits, and four walks in the 5-2 stretch.
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St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals rattled off a perfect week, going 6-0. They have four three-game sweeps already in August, rocketing up seven games in the NL Central. While the Milwaukee Brewers cannot string together wins, the Cardinals have opened up a five-game lead after steamrolling the NL West.
The Cardinals enter play on August 22 with a seven-game win streak. Only one of the seven wins has been decided by one run, and the Cardinals put up at least 13 runs twice. On the other hand, they have allowed more than four runs in a game just once in their last nine games. They are up to 18 games above .500, and they are firmly entrenched with the fourth-best record in the NL and sixth-best in the Majors.
In the ultimate throwback, Albert Pujols has been the team’s best hitter in the last week. The future Hall of Famer is slashing .615/.667/1.308, and he has launched home runs Nos. 690, 691, and 692. With 42 games left on the Cardinals’ schedule, Pujols should have a real shot at 700.
Beyond Pujols, Paul Goldschmidt had a monster week with 13 hits, three doubles, and three home runs. His OPS+ is back over 200, and he has been unfathomably good. Even Lars Nootbaar got in on the destruction with a pair of home runs and 10 walks, good for a .607 on-base percentage and .824 slugging percentage.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays entered the week of August 15 trailing in the AL East by 11 games. After a 5-2 week, they have trimmed the deficit to eight games, and they have six more games against a sputtering Yankees team. The Rays opened the week by taking two from the Yankees before Josh Donaldson launched a walk-off grand slam in extra innings. After the shock, the Rays replied by taking three of four against the Kansas City Royals.
The Rays are in a three-way tie for the first AL Wild Card slot with the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners. They each have a 2.5-game cushion over the nearest competitors (Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles), but 5-2 weeks will help the cause greatly. Baseball-Reference gives the Rays a 60% shot at making the playoffs, a 12.9% increase from seven days ago. Only the Cardinals also increased 10%.
The Rays have gotten strong contributions from their pitching staff in the last week. Shane McClanahan and Corey Kluber twirled quality starts while Luis Patino, Drew Rasmussen, and Jeffrey Springs had at least five-inning starts without allowing more than two runs. Ryan Yarbrough pitched 8.1 innings without allowing an earned run while Jason Adam and Pete Fairbanks slammed the door with a combined 8.0 innings of scoreless relief.
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