Let’s take a look around MLB at some of the teams that are climbing up the standings with their recent play.
Don’t look now, but the New York Yankees have won five games in a row, eight of their last ten, and have climbed out of the basement of the AL East and into third place.
New York is currently entrenched in one of the better series we’ll see in the early part of this week, winning game one of three against the visiting Baltimore Orioles in dramatic fashion Tuesday night. These are two of the best teams in baseball and, while trying to catch the Rays for first place may seem like a fool’s errand, there aren’t too many other teams that are as equipped to do so.
Aaron Judge’s game tying home run in the bottom of the ninth on Tuesday night gives him 38 homers against the Orioles since 2017. Per Michael Kay of the YES Network, that is the most by any player versus any one team in that time frame. Gerrit Cole also recorded his 2,000th career strikeout in that same game, so fun times for the Yanks all the way around.
The AL East is the most competitive division in MLB as all five teams currently sit over .500, and every team also sports a positive Run Differential. The Yankees are in a great spot to make up a couple games on Baltimore this week. New York has scored 75 runs over their last 13 games, and that’s good for the fourth-most in baseball in that span.
For the Yankees, the bullpen also hasn’t been an issue. A lot of folks, myself included, thought that the pitching injuries piling up would pose a bigger threat, but they have not. The bullpen has actually been pretty great. The lineup still has some holes, especially with Jake Bauers seemingly playing blindfolded every day, but Giancarlo Stanton should be back soon and the Yankees will continue to get better as they get healthier.
While New York certainly has been scoring at an impressive clip, there are a couple of other teams that have actually been better.
The St. Louis Cardinals are on a heck of a run right now, going 9-4 in their last 13 games and scoring 93 runs during that time. That they have only recently risen above last place in the NL Central speaks to the hole they dug for themselves early on. Fortunately they play in a division that, to all appearances, no one wants to win. Just six games separate first and last place, only two teams, and Milwaukee and Pittsburgh have winning records, with Pittsburgh holding onto that distinction by the tip of the skin of their teeth and Milwaukee somehow playing four games over .500 with a negative run differential.
What this all boils down to is that the division is very much up for grabs, and there is not a hotter lineup than the one in St. Louis right now. Paul DeJong is having a nice little May, with six homers and 14 RBI, Paul Goldschmidt has been solid, even Lars Nootbaar is hitting .307 since May 4. It’s tough to look at this team and find a batter who is not contributing, a merry-go-round on the base paths opportunity can present itself at almost anytime.
The Houston Astros are 28-20, and 8-2 in their last 10 games, but just cannot catch the Texas Rangers who have plated a league-best 307 runs, along with a league best +111 run differential. The Rangers scored 11 runs on Opening Day and haven’t looked back since. Going 7-3 in their last 10 games, the Rangers have recently welcomed Corey Seager back into the lineup and he has hit .348 with a pair of homers and six RBI in those six games. Josh Jung has three homers and eight RBI over his last seven games, and Adolis Garcia has started to heat up again, with five homers and 12 RBI over his last nine games.
The starting pitching hasn’t missed a beat either. Jon Gray and Andrew Heaney have thrown well, and Nate Eovaldi has been the ace this team needs with Jacob deGrom on the shelf. Since his April 29 shutout of the Yankees, Eovaldi has gone 4-0 in five starts, allowing just four earned runs in 41.2 innings pitched. Gray has won his last three starts, allowing just three earned runs across 20 frames and, while Heaney hasn’t been as great, he is pitching deep into games (and any time the Rangers can keep this bullpen off the mound, it’s probably a good thing). If anything is going to bite this club in the end this year, it’s the bullpen.
Mets first baseman Pete Alonso has been on a tear this past week, clobbering five homers and 12 RBI in his last seven games, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. of the Arizona Diamondbacks is riding a 16-game hitting streak, and Milwaukee’s Owen Miller has been great all month, hitting .404 throughout May, with three homers and seven RBI.
No one, however has been hotter than Christopher Morel of the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs have been bad (21-26 overall, 3-7 in their last 10), barely holding off a surging St. Louis team. Chicago’s pitchers have slowed down, the bats have cooled off, they have DFA’d Eric Hosmer, Hayden Wesneski and Keegan Thompson have been optioned to the minors, and we’re about to hit the dog days of summer.
I just talked about how this division was there for taking, anyone who wants it can win it, and Morel is making sure that the Cubs are at least a part of that conversation. Since being recalled from Triple-A and being inserted into the lineup on May 9, Morel has slashed .367/.404/.980. He has nine homers and 15 RBI in 12 games, has been on base 21 times and scored 17 runs. He is playing with scorched earth under his feet, and I firmly believe that baseball is better when the Cubs are good, so I can’t wait to see how this plays out.