It’s that time of year once again. The Major League Baseball regular season is in its final push before the playoffs. It will all commence on Oct. 5 with the American League wild card game. Many teams are in a dogfight to make the playoffs, like the New York Mets and New York Yankees. Both are in competitive wild card and division races that will go down to the wire. A few others, such as the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, are in a more comfortable position when it comes to locking down a playoff spot. Both were able to achieve this fate in victories last week. There are also a few basement dwellers, such as the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs, who are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention due to their status as rebuilding teams.
The one big event of the baseball season that I believe shapes the state of who competes and who doesn’t in the postseason is the trade deadline. It usually takes place at the end of July, a couple of weeks past the all-star game, and acts as the unofficial midpoint of the baseball season. At this time, contenders and playoff hopefuls often make trades with rebuilders and other teams that are not in the best shape to make the postseason. There were many impactful deals made at the trade deadline this year, and there are a few that stand out as being extremely beneficial to how teams fare down the stretch.
One deal that has been very successful has been the Anthony Rizzo trade for the New York Yankees. Prior to the move, the Yankees were not a very balanced club when it came to their offense. They have a surplus of right-handed hitters, but their top left-handed hitters prior to the move had been Brett Gardner, Tyler Wade and Rougned Odor. All of these players are either showing signs of decline or are unproven. Here enters Rizzo, a player who had been well-respected around the league during his tenure with the Chicago Cubs not only for his hitting, but also for his elite defense and for his strong leadership qualities during the Cubs 2016 World Series team. When the Yankees acquired Rizzo on July 29, they had been struggling to a 53-48 record. Since then, they have gone 28-16, with Rizzo and fellow newcomer Joey Gallo being credited for solving the issues that have plagued the Yankees from achieving their full potential of being balanced on both sides of the plate.
Another trade that stands out is the Los Angeles Dodgers acquiring pitcher Max Scherzer and infielder Trea Turner from the Washington Nationals. This trade unceremoniously ended the Nationals’ window of championship contention, which included both players being a major part of the team’s 2019 World Series winning squad. The Nationals endured an up-and-down first half, and with Scherzer a pending free agent at the end of the season, it was time to start from scratch. They packaged him and fellow all-star Turner to Los Angeles as part of a major blockbuster trade, which featured two of the Dodgers top prospects headed the other way. Scherzer has done nothing but be dominant since arriving in Hollywood, with his ERA under one after eight starts.
Turner has also been outstanding since the move out west, with his batting average at .305 and his on-base-percentage at an even higher number. The move has also helped the Dodgers become an even bigger juggernaut than they had been before, which included winning the World Series in 2020 and making the National League Championship Series in every season since 2016 with the exception of 2019, when they were eliminated in the National League Division Series by Scherzer and Turner’s Nationals.
A transaction involving the Dodgers’ nemeses, the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs also abruptly ended the Cubs’ window of championship contention, with all-star and former NL MVP Kris Bryant heading out to the bay. The Giants have been one of the most surprising teams in baseball this season, with a 95-50 record, the best record in the game. They were expected to finish behind the Dodgers and the promising San Diego Padres, who have not met expectations this season. The Giants acquired Bryant primarily to help elevate the offense to the next level, which he has. Since coming from Chicago, Bryant has hit .273 with six home runs and fifteen runs batted in. He has made the Giants a more complete team as a result, creating a balance between the team’s contact hitters like Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey and the power hitters, like himself and Brandon Belt. The Giants have not stopped winning either, as they now have a higher winning percentage today (.655) than they did on July 30 (.621).
Finally, another stand-out move that has flown under the radar is the one involving the Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins. The Rays acquired established power phenomenon Nelson Cruz from Minnesota just before the deadline, and he has been one of the reasons why the Rays have distanced themselves from the pack when it comes to their standing in the AL East. Cruz is the perfect complement to young superstar Wander Franco, who is likely to be the face of the Rays for years to come. Franco is a more consistent, contact hitter, along with high upside in his defensive game. While Cruz, on the other hand, is in the twilight of his career, but still has plenty of pop left in him. Since coming to Tampa Bay, he has hit twelve home runs while bringing in thirty-three RBIs. The defending American League champions are well positioned to make another deep playoff run due to their strong pitching and balanced offensive core.