August 1 came and went, and in less than a week we are already witnessing a change in baseball’s landscape. While some big trades garnered most of the headlines, it may be the injury bug that is even more impactful for playoff hopefuls as the final third of the season begins. A look now at some of the biggest stories (and Story) as we hit the dog days of summer:
Shortstop thumb injuries looming large
Troy Tulowitzki might be able to play through his thumb ailment for the surging Blue Jays, but the Cardinals and Rockies are not so lucky. While Tulo’s fracture won’t force him to the DL (yet), Aledmys Diaz and Trevor Story saw their National League Rookie of the Year hopes take a major hit, not to mention their team’s playoff chances. Diaz fractured his thumb, and Story tore a ligament in his. While this may only be truly good news for Corey Seager in his quest for rookie hardware, it’s certainly bad news for the Cards and Rockies. Diaz’s tremendous season (.312, 14 HR, 57 RBI) and Story’s prodigious power (NL-leading 27 home runs) are now on hiatus. Don’t be surprised if Tulowitzki’s production sags, even as he tries to play through the pain.
Ichiro’s milestone is nice, but Marlins have bigger fish to fry
When Ichiro Suzuki reaches the 3,000-hit plateau, baseball will rejoice. But even as that could happen in the next few days, the Marlins can’t get too caught up in the glow. The bullpen has had several meltdowns of late, none worse than A.J. Ramos’ wildness at Wrigley Field on Wednesday as Miami blew a two-run lead in the 9th. Miami enters this weekend tied for the second wild card spot with St. Louis, but has a tough task on its hands as it travels to Denver to take on the red-hot Rockies. This team has very little margin for error in a crowded field that includes the wild-card leading Dodgers, Cardinals, Mets, Pirates, and Rockies.
Old closer faces, new closer places
The Indians now have themselves a bonafide closer in Andrew Miller (even though Cody Allen is pretty good) as they try to fend off the streaking Tigers in the AL Central. A similar move took place in Washington, where the Jonathan Papelbon Experience has been upgraded in favor of Mark Melancon. In both cases, the Indians and Nats had good-to-above-average closers but needed more in their bullpens. The Cubs got their man in Aroldis Chapman, and Boston got a very good insurance policy in Brad Ziegler. Texas will keep Sam Dyson pitching the ninth for the time being, but found themselves a pretty good late-inning arm in Jeremy Jeffress. While the Giants added lefty Will Smith to their late-inning mix, the Dodgers surprisingly stood pat in that department, as they will continue to lean on Adam Liberatore and Joe Blanton (seriously) to bridge the gap to Kenley Jansen.
Several divisions have become races again
It didn’t look as if there would be much divisional drama outside of the AL East just a few short weeks ago, but some of the races have suddenly tightened up. On June 26, the Giants led the NL West by eight games over the Dodgers. That lead is just two games entering play tonight. The Rangers led the AL West by 10 games, but the Astros closed to 6 1/2 and were even closer a week ago. And the Indians led the Royals by five games and Tigers by seven games in the AL Central, but even as the Royals have fallen out of it, the Tigers have closed to within three games.