- CLUTCH Summary: The MLB Playoffs are looming and the stage was neatly set by the month of July.
- One of baseball’s biggest surprises in July were the New York Mets.
- Pete Alonso, on the other hand, is coming off his worst month in the Majors.
July not only signals the midway point of the season and the beginning of the second half, but also presents the last major opportunity for MLB teams to add to their roster.
However, the game goes on, and a number of teams continued to stampede throughout the league while others fell further behind in the playoff race.
It is still unknown which players that were moved prior to July 31 will have the greatest impact on their new club. For now, we can address the hottest and coldest teams and players last month. If you want to read about the winners and losers of the deadline, check out the piece I wrote last week.
Without further ado, here are the best and worst July performances around the MLB:
The Giants were the story of the month, going from certain sellers to potential buyers in the thick of the National League Wild Card race.
San Francisco went 19-6 in July, including a 15-3 stretch between July 1 and July 23. They also posted what is–by far–their best run differential of the season (+46) , and the team has found a host of young hitters to plug offensive holes in the lineup.
From Alex Dickerson and Mike Yastrzemski to Stephen Vogt and Austin Slater, San Francisco has had a number of players step up to provide some much-needed offensive production.
Meanwhile, Jeff Samardzija (4-1, 2.09 ERA in six starts) and Madison Bumgarner (1-0, 2.70 ERA in five starts) both had excellent months in the rotation, and Reyes Moronta, Trevor Gott and Tony Watson have all looked impressive out of the bullpen.
Another name to watch: Donovan Solano. The 31-year-old journeyman has been spectacular for the Giants thus far, slashing .338/.369/.489 with a 127 OPS+ in 51 games. Solano’s emergence–as well as the arrival of Scooter Gennett–allowed them to part ways with Joe Panik, who was a beloved Giants veteran but is on the decline.
San Francisco still dealt guys like Sam Dyson and Mark Melancon (a pretty good salary dump) at the deadline, but their scorching run in July gave Farhan Zaidi no choice but to retain the likes of Bumgarner and closer Will Smith in pursuit of a playoff spot.
Can the Giants get enough out of their starters and their lineup to push for a Wild Card spot? That question will be determined shortly. What is clear, however, is that nobody expected this kind of run from San Francisco.
Whereas the Giants seemingly rose from the ashes in July, the Indians continued to build on a strong month of June.
After going 17-9 in June, Cleveland rattled off an 18-6 record in July while posting a +67 run differential, the best of any team in the league. Most notably, the team is starting to get healthy.
Mike Clevinger struggled in return from the IL in late-June, but he regained his dominant form in July. Clevinger went 4-0 with a 1.74 ERA last month, posting an 11.9 K/9 and holding opposing hitters to an OPS of just .633. Shane Bieber posted a 3.00 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .549 OPS, throwing a one-hit, complete game shutout against the Blue Jays on July 24.
On the whole, Indians starters tossed the most innings (146.0) of any other team in the league in July while posting the fourth-best ERA of the month.
Aside from getting great performances from the top of their rotation, Cleveland’s bullpen was utterly dominant in July. The relief unit posted a league-best 1.81 ERA in July while leaving over 87 percent of base runners stranded.
Not to be outdone, the Indians lineup averaged close to six runs per game in July. Oscar Mercado and Jordan Luplow asserted themselves as outfield options, and Tyler Naquin proved that his third-place finish in the 2016 Rookie of the Year voting was not a fluke. Carlos Santana continues to have the best season of his career, and Francisco Lindor had a .938 OPS in July.
Most importantly, however, Jose Ramirez got back to being the kind of elite player that he had been for the last two seasons. Ramirez entered July with a .634 OPS and a pitiful wRC+ value of 65, hitting just five homers to that point.
With his team streaking, Ramirez busted loose. He slashed .320/.340/.680 with nine homers and a 1.020 OPS in July, swiping four bases as well.
The Indians have officially stormed back into the AL Central race. With the additions of Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes to the lineup and the return of Corey Kluber on the horizon, they are primed for the final two months of the season.
New York Mets
The Mets were not necessarily world-beaters in July, though they went 14-8 on the month. However, the trends and message sent by the club speak far louder than the record.
For starters–pun intended–the rotation was dominant in July. Jacob deGrom is quietly making a run for another NL Cy Young Award, going 2-0 with a 1.09 ERA and 12.5 K/9 in five July starts, holding opposing hitters to a demoralizing .493 in the process.
Noah Syndergaard pitched through trade rumors to post his best month of the year, going 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA and 10.5 K/9 in five July starts. Steven Matz–who had been the weak link of the staff–posted a 1.80 ERA in three starts during the month.
Mets starters ranked second in fWAR and third in ERA in July, and seemed to give the team a fighting chance in 2019. The bullpen still remains a bit of a question mark, but Seth Lugo threw 12 2/3 scoreless innings on the month, and Justin Wilson posted a 0.96 ERA after missing all of June.
The lineup failed to score more than 100 runs, but there were still some encouraging signs. Amed Rosario had an excellent July, and Michael Conforto bounced back from a poor June. With guys like J.D. Davis also contributing and key cogs such as Pete Alonso and Wilson Ramos looking to get back on track, New York actually has some explosive offensive potential, something they have shown at the beginning of August.
However, the Mets are also winners in July because of their commitment to winning. General manager Brodie Van Wagenen dealt for Marcus Stroman and held onto Zack Wheeler in a message that suggested New York was intent on competing this year and in 2020.
Not only has that spurred the Mets to a blistering start in August, but it has also inspired the players and was a refreshing departure from the number of teams that were far more cautious or elected to sell despite being in a position to make a playoff run.
Houston’s Big Boppers
Speaking of teams that are finally healthy and dangerous… the Houston Astros, everybody!
Houston has no shortage of big names. Alex Bregman ranks in the top eight of the league in terms of fWAR, and George Springer may as well be the modern-day Rickey Henderson given how many leadoff home runs he continues to hit.
However, July was dominated by Yuli Gurriel, Yordan Alvarez and Jose Altuve. All three players posted an OPS over 1.000 in the month, and propelled the offense to their second-highest total of runs scored on the season.
Gurriel is suddenly having one of the most underrated seasons in all of baseball, thanks in part to an absolutely ridiculous July where he slashed .398/.427/.837 with 12 homers and 31 RBIs. Aside from the absurd power numbers (nearly half of Gurriel’s hits went for extra bases in July), Yuli has delivered in the clutch, slashing .329/.349/.621 when the game is deemed “Late & Close,” according to Baseball-Reference.
Altuve missed most of May and June, but he was fully healthy by July, and ready to return with a vengeance. Altuve slashed .388/.434/.653 for the month, clubbing six homers and scoring 18 runs.
Meanwhile, Alvarez has hardly cooled down since he burst onto the scene in June. After hitting seven bombs in June, the rookie from Cuba hit five more in July while slashing .333/.419/.627. As of Wednesday, he had already racked up five extra-base hits (two homers) in the first five games of August.
Correa has now rejoined the lineup, and these three might only grow more dangerous for a Houston team that looks like the World Series favorite heading into the final two months.
Remember when Travis D’Arnaud was merely considered a failed prospect with the New York Mets, who were suddenly desperate to find a way to move him? Well, the joke may be on them.
The Tampa Bay Rays acquired D’Arnaud in May, and while he struggled for the first couple months of the season, he had a tremendous July. D’Arnaud slashed .342/.425/.711, mashing eight homers and driving in 25 runs.
D’Arnaud almost single-handedly carried the Rays to their three wins over the Yankees in July, hitting four homers and driving in seven runs. This included a three-homer game on July 15, where D’Arnaud hit a go-ahead, three-run homer off of Aroldis Chapman with two outs in the ninth inning.
The Rays had hoped that Mike Zunino would be the backstop that provided some pop, but instead D’Arnaud has solidified his position of the everyday catcher while driving in runs and racking up clutch moments.
The Oakland Athletics have one of the best records in baseball since May (47-30), and they have found heroes up and down the lineup card.
Although he is more renowned for his arm strength and acrobatic catches, Laureano absolutely raked throughout all of July. He slashed .392/.443/.838 with eight homers despite starting in just 21 games.
Laureano’s huge month puts his season slash at .284/.334/.518, with 21 homers and 12 stolen bases. He has actually been far better with a bat in his hands than he has in centerfield, despite some of the highlight-reel plays.
Unfortunately for the Athletics, Laureano is expected to miss about a month due to injury. But Oakland will hope he can return to give them a boost in September.
Nationals aces… not named Scherzer
There were some superlative pitching performances this month, from deGrom and Clevinger to guys like Gerrit Cole and Hyun-Jin Ryu. But what Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg did for the Nationals last month is truly phenomenal.
In spite of a bullpen that still struggled to provide quality innings as well as a setback to ace Max Scherzer, Corbin dominated in July. The marquee free agent posted a 1.95 ERA and 11.7 K/9 in six starts, overpowering hitters while conceding just one homer. He also topped all pitchers in fWAR for the month. The guy right behind him? Strasburg.
The former No.1 overall pick ranked third in monthly ERA behind Hyun-Jin Ryu and deGrom, and led all starters in FIP. Strasburg also posted a 12.51 K/9 against a 1.99 BB/9 while also accruing a ground ball rate close to fifty percent.
Even though Scherzer made just two starts in July and the bullpen posted a 5.08 ERA, the Nationals allowed 96 runs—their lowest monthly total–due in part to the utter dominance of Corbin and Strasburg.
Washington is six games back of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East and cling to a slim lead in the Wild Card race. But if their No. 2 and No. 3 guys continue to pitch at a high level, they are going to be awfully tough to beat down the stretch.
Blue Jays fans
Vladdy Jr. has been raking since the All-Star break, and the team called up Bo Bichette prior to the trade deadline. Oh, and he has also been raking.
It might take a few years, but the future is bright in Toronto.
The Twins still managed to go 13-11–with a positive run differential–in July, but they are losers because the Indians made up four games on them in the division. While Cleveland had the best run differential and looked like the most well-balanced team in the division, Minnesota’s bullpen struggled to get outs.
Although they were among the best units in the league in July in terms of fWAR, Minnesota’s bullpen posted a 4.78 ERA. Meanwhile, Jake Odorizzi imploded in July, posting a 7.43 ERA and 1.609 WHIP in five July starts, and Martin Perez was equally ineffective.
The Twins may have been slightly unlucky in July. They lost a number of games due to a blowup start, while going 3-3 in one-run games for the month. Minnesota chose to fortify the bullpen at the trade deadline, though Sam Dyson is already on the IL after getting his tenure off to a rough start.
Still, the Indians have closed the gap, and now the race for the AL Central feels extremely tight.
The Diamondbacks could have otherwise been buyers at the trade deadline, but they stumbled through an 11-12 month and went 0-3 in one-run games.
Arizona actually began the month with a 7-5 record before they faltered, including a series where they lost three out of four to the Miami Marlins.
They were hardly the worst team in July, but they just shipped off their ace (Zack Greinke) and elected to “reposition” rather than buy.
Who knows, guys like Zac Gallen and Mike Leake could actually make up for Greinke’s absence, and the bullpen could pull it together down the stretch. Still, it feels like the Diamondbacks gave up on 2019 right at the end of the month.
The Rangers were never likely to make the playoffs this season. That said, going 8-16 with a -38 run differential while also eventually losing star Joey Gallo to injury makes them massive losers in the last month.
In a matter of years, Texas has watched as Rougned Odor went from a potential cornerstone to and underperforming middle infielder.
Meanwhile, Mike Minor failed to help his trade value by posting a 6.59 ERA in five July starts, and the Rangers decided to retain him at the deadline rather than sell low.
Texas won their first four games in August, but they dug themselves too deep a hole in July.
Paxton was supposed to be the final piece of the puzzle for the Yankees, that one starter that had the potential to put them over the top. Instead, he has flopped in the last two months.
The most surprising element of Paxton’s struggles is that he has actually been better pitching at Yankee Stadium (3.67 ERA in 11 starts) than on the road (5.83 ERA in eight starts).
In July, Paxton posted a 5.68 ERA and 1.697 WHIP, which–believe it or not–was actually a drastic improvement from his numbers in June. All the same, the Yankees desperately need Paxton to get it together down the stretch, especially with the latest injury to C.C. Sabathia and the continued struggles of Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ.
We have already discussed how the Mets still managed to pose as winners in July. However, they could have made up far more ground in the NL Wild Card race had Alonso not suffered his worst month as a professional.
Of course, this seemed bound to happen after Alonso’s incredible start to the year, where he was steadily in the top 10 for fWAR during the first half. Still, he was hardly the same kind of run-producer that he had been up until July.
Alonso slashed .177/.333/.430, and his strikeout rate reverted back towards his percentages in April and May. Simultaneously, Alonso only drove in 13 runs and posted the lowest monthly OPS of his young career.
It does not seem very coincidental that the Mets scored their least amount of runs for a single month in July, given Alonso’s numbers. Sure, there is a lot of pressure on Alonso as the potential new face of the Mets, but New York needs him to bounce back quickly as they chase a playoff spot.
Luckily, Alonso already looks to have gotten himself together, clubbing three homers through his first eight games in August.