The end of the regular season is always difficult to use to analyze teams and players. Some teams are simply trying to stay in rhythm for the playoffs, while others are fighting for a chance to even make it to October. Some teams are already calling prospects to see what they have for next season.
Here are three big concerns for the final run of the season as these teams compete for the playoffs. This is not to ignore all the games the teams have played leading up until this point, but there are worrying signs worthy of note.
Three Big Concerns for These Playoff Contenders
Seattle Mariners‘ Pitching Blowups
George Kirby has been one of the best pitchers in the American League this season. On August 12, Kirby had posted a 3.11 ERA while walking 0.89 (!) batters per nine innings. In his most recent six starts, he has a 5.56 ERA while giving up more home runs and fewer ground balls as his season ERA has jumped to 3.58.
Kirby is at a career-high 178 2/3 innings after reaching 156 2/3 across all levels last year. Fatigue doesn’t seem to be an issue as his velocity has maintained his season-long levels, but over the course of the postseason, that number will start to push close to 200 innings if the Mariners make a deep run. The problem seems to be more on the opponents’ approach than Kirby’s inning count by being more aggressive.
Gilbert has had a rough month, as well. Since August 14, Gilbert has a 4.14 ERA over seven starts. He has given up two home runs in four of those games. Outside of these home runs, Gilbert is still striking out over nine batters per nine innings and his walk rate has not been too worrisome. Similar to Kirby, he has been giving up more fly balls and harder contact.
Luis Castillo has still been his dominant self and Bryan Woo has shut out opponents in three of his four most recent starts. The rotation was the keystone for setting up the Mariners’ recent surge. The starting pitching needs to be a consistent force for Seattle to make a deep playoff run. The offense is too streaky to rely on against the best pitching in the game. The overall worry level? Kirby and Gilbert should be fine. They are talented pitchers who love to attack the zone. As it turns out, the best hitters are also good at hitting pitches in the zone, so it will take some adjustment.
Toronto Blue Jays‘ Offense
The Blue Jays have a top-10 offense on the season with a 106 wRC+, but their season has not always felt dominant. They have a .721 team OPS with runners in scoring position and a .701 OPS in “late and close” games, per Baseball Reference. They have a 38-43 record against teams with a winning record.
The Blue Jays started September with as easy of a schedule a Wild Card team could ask for. They went 7-2 against the Colorado Rockies, Oakland Athletics, and Kansas City Royals. They proceeded to get swept in a four-game set against the Texas Rangers. Even in their own three-game sweep over the Boston Red Sox, the Blue Jays’ offense was less than inspiring. Across the Rangers and Red Sox series, Toronto averaged about 2.7 runs per game.
There are plenty of players who could step up in the playoffs for a Toronto team with so much untapped potential this year. But their primary stars have struggled. Bo Bichette has been one of the league’s best hitters this season, but he has slumped since some injury troubles in early August and September. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been walking more than striking out this month, but his hard-hit numbers have dropped drastically.
There are several players surging that could bide just a little more time for Bichette to return to form and Guerrero find his power stroke. George Springer was about an average hitter through the end of July, but has a 125 wRC+ since August 1. He still has a good plate approach to contribute to valuable offense despite a lack of top-tier power. Santiago Espinal has started to look more like the All-Star he was last season than the .228 hitter he was through most of the year. Cavan Biggio has turned himself into an important role player, even if he isn’t a star.
The Blue Jays’ lineup would look truly threatening if the stars return to form and the surrounding players, such as Biggio, Espinal, Ernie Clement, and Kevin Kiermaier, continue their September form. But after a season of inconsistency and falling short in big moments, it is hard to know if this team will come alive when it matters most.
Cincinnati Reds‘ Pitching Down the Stretch
Hunter Greene missed two months due to injury, but has looked absolutely dominant in recent weeks. He has a 1.50 ERA over his last four starts, including a seven-inning, one-run, fourteen-strikeout gem against the Minnesota Twins. Yet, the Reds lost the game as Alexis Díaz blew just his third save of the season. It was a brutal loss for a team that, outside of Greene, has some serious starting pitching problems.
Andrew Abbott provides the Reds with a standout lefty as they take a look at next years’ rotation. But after his early season breakout, Abbott has faded hard. In his most recent nine starts entering play on Friday, he has a 6.37 ERA as his walk rate has soared. He has allowed slightly more hard contact, but that feels exacerbated by the free passes he is allowing. He has given up a high BABIP in this time while forcing a lot of groundballs, so there might be some regression in that area to help Abbott’s numbers return to normal.
The Reds have struggled to get much length from their starters, leaning heavily on their bullpen to keep them in games. Graham Ashcraft was excellent for several months, but will miss the rest of the season for surgery. Brandon Williamson is another promising young pitcher, but has had too many ups and downs to expect him to carry the team in a postseason game. Connor Phillips put together a much-needed seven-inning performance in only his third career start, but is still unproven with a 5.74 ERA over 15 2/3 innings.
After putting together a heroic effort earlier in the month, the Reds’ bullpen has a 4.31 ERA in September. The bullpen hasn’t been striking out many batters while allowing four walks per nine innings this month. The Reds desperately need their pitching, both their starters and bullpen, to back up an inconsistent offense.
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