It’s time to find out about a few things.
If golf has its traditional “moving day” – Saturday, the third round of most tournaments – then consider this Moving Weekend in Major League Baseball. Oh, a three-, four- or five-game series alone won’t sufficiently dent a 162-game sample, especially in August, but a quintet of showdown series this weekend will sort a significant amount of emotional baggage for teams and observers alike.
Who you got – Steve Cohen’s cash or Atlanta’s indomitable spirit? Over five games at Citi Field, we may find out.
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What in the world were the Yankees thinking trading a mid-rotation starter before the stretch drive? The Cardinals – and Jordan Montgomery – get an immediate chance to show that was a foolhardy maneuver.
Are the AL Central pretenders worth our time? And will the Padres’ latest nuclear option – nuking their farm system – render them anything more than just the Dodgers’ hermanito to the south?
Braves-Mets: Don’t look back
This is going to be good.
The Mets have resided atop the NL East since April 12, and since they’re holding a 3 ½-game lead, only the unthinkable – a five-game Braves sweep – could change that come Sunday. But this is not so much about August jockeying as it is a staredown, an extended period in the ring for two sparring partners that have eyed each other largely from afar during a first half in which the Mets have been solid almost every week and the Braves unstoppable since a June rampage undid an early championship hangover.
Game to watch: Sunday. Nothing epitomizes what will get these teams to the World Series better than a matchup of dominant rookie Spencer Strider and recovering ace Jacob de Grom, who will make his second start of the season after missing the season’s first four months with a stress reaction in his shoulder.
Along with rookie center fielder Michael Harris, Strider reinvigorated a Braves team that was 23-27 on May 31 and 40-15 since. It’s clear Strider fears no one: Since June 26, he’s posted a 2.06 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 39 ⅓ innings. In that stretch, he’s tossed six shutout innings at both the Dodgers and Cardinals and twice held the Phillies to one run over six-plus innings.
De Grom looked largely dominant but made it just five innings in his season debut at Washington. Emerging healthy from back-to-back starts on regular rest would be a big enough victory for the Mets.
Aftermath: The teams meet four more times beginning Aug. 15 in Atlanta, and not again until the season’s penultimate series.
Padres-Dodgers: Emotional rescue
Seemed like these teams met every other week through the first half of 2021, each game an emotional rollercoaster but ultimately just an exercise in Dodger dominance: They went 12-7 against San Diego on their way to 106 wins, while the Padres stayed home in October.
This time, though, the Padres are bringing Soto to the party and are in firm grasp of a wild card spot, with eyes on moving up a slot and securing home-field advantage in that best-of-three round. The Dodgers? Nothing will dent their 11 ½-game division lead, though it might be nice to get back in the heads of their “rivals” ahead of a potential playoff matchup.
Game to watch: Sunday. It’s on national TV, Sunday Night Baseball the last little swath of real estate that might command the sporting nation’s attention, and a perfect time for Soto to show out on the field in which he won last month’s Home Run Derby. Any Padres playoff run will follow a path cleared by pitchers Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove, and the veteran Darvish will get the ball.
Aftermath: Six more meetings at Petco Park and one more three-game series in a month at Dodger Stadium. Keep an eye on Aug. 29-Sept. 14, when the Padres play 11 of 14 against the Dodgers, Giants and Mariners, an extended test for their revamped roster.
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Yankees-Cardinals: You again?
A pretty fun blue blood interleague showdown is spiced by the fact the Yankees’ No. 4 starter just three days ago will now try to beat them, wondering what he deserved to fall from a 70-36 playoff shoo-in to a 55-48 wild card position.
No, the Jordan Montgomery Revenge Game may not spawn a limited Netflix series, but a strong showing against the club that traded him despite gobbling up largely quality innings will certainly incite some blathering back in New York.
Game to watch: Saturday. Is Montgomery the guy who provided seven quality starts in his final 13 outings for New York, including a 6 ⅓-inning, two-run performance at the hated Astros on July 21? Or is he headed toward regression, was likely to be omitted from any playoff roster, and the Yankees better off without him? Montgomery, traded for injured Cardinals center fielder Harrison Bader, has an immediate chance to prove them wrong.
Aftermath: While the Cardinals will battle the game’s bully this weekend, their division and wild card fate will be determined by their ability to beat up on some tomato cans: Just seven games left with Milwaukee and 29 of their last 54 against the Reds, Pirates, Cubs and Nationals.
Blue Jays-Twins: Open the presents
Minnesota’s low-key but effective trade deadline – adding starter Tyler Mahle, All-Star closer Jorge Lopez and reliever Michael Fulmer – might be among the most impactful in the game. As is often the case, the AL Central resembles a pillow fight, but the 55-49 Twins are equipped to build upon one- and two-game leads over the Guardians and White Sox, who did zip, zero, almost nada at the deadline.
Game to watch: Friday. It will be former Twin Jose Berrios against Mahle and a prime chance for Minnesota to prove it “won” the past two trade deadlines. The Twins’ 2021 struggles prompted the trade of Berrios, who has dominated at times in Toronto but overall pitched to a 4.53 ERA in what now amounts to a full season – 33 starts – in Toronto. The Blue Jays signed him to a seven-year, $131 million extension after expending prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson to acquire him.
Mahle, the former Cincinnati Red, can be similarly inconsistent, but also has the kind of swing-and-miss stuff (114 strikeouts in 104 1/3 innings) the Twins have lacked in their two decades of playoff futility. Now he gets his “welcome to a pennant race” moment.
Aftermath: The Blue Jays are playing better than almost any wild card hopeful and aim to stave off Seattle for home-field advantage in the best-of-three round. A season-determining stretch for the Twins lurks – a 19-game gauntlet against the Astros, Giants, Red Sox, White Sox, Yankees and Guardians beginning Aug. 23.
Astros-Guardians: Football season?
Seems like many Cleveland sports fans are ready to embrace Deshaun Watson despite a mountainous pile of allegations against him. It’s quite possible that crowd won’t be distracted by a contending baseball team soon.
Are the Guardians a legitimate contender or just treading water at 54-50? A lack of movement from the front office might indicate they believe it’s the latter. Four games against the class of the AL may prove that.
Game to watch: Thursday. Justin Verlander vs. Zach Plesac is an overmatch in the truest sense of the word but will provide a barometer for the kinds of games Cleveland must win to stay in this thing – the odds tilted significantly against them.
Aftermath: While the Astros fine tune and ponder how to enjoy a first-round bye, Cleveland can’t directly chase down the Twins until seven games in September. The Guardians best not get buried this weekend to kick off a perilous final two months.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB standings could get Mets–Braves shakeup; Juan Soto vs. Dodgers