Here's what we'll be watching this weekend:
The Red Sox and Yankees meet again on Sunday Night Baseball (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). Which team took a bigger hit by standing pat this week before the trade deadline?
Eddie Matz: My gut says it's Boston. But given how well the Indians and A's have been playing, and how aggressive the Rays were at the deadline, and how large of a sample size we have on the 2019 Red Sox, I can't say I blame Dave Dombrowski. Better to save the prospects, save the dough, and hope you can sneak into the postseason as is. Of course, the Red Sox could always add someone before the Aug. 31 deadli ... oh, wait. Scratch that.
Sam Miller: Without question, it's the team that might miss the playoffs entirely because of its inactivity. I once had a really good bottle of olive oil, and I could almost never bring myself to use it. I would interrogate every dish: Are you the dish that will most bring out the flavor, so that I truly notice and appreciate every note of olivey goodness? Eventually it went rancid. The Red Sox seem like they're overthinking their olive oil: "If we were closer to first place, I would have been more open-minded," Dombrowski said. But the Red Sox, more than maybe any other team in baseball, are teetering between making and missing the playoffs entirely -- they basically have 50% playoff odds at FanGraphs -- and that seems like a really important time to make a move. Trades aren't just about finishing touches on 108-win rosters.
David Schoenfield: According to the New York Post, it was definitely the Yankees, as the back cover of the paper featured Brian Cashman looking like a zombie with the headline, "The Walking Deadline." I mean, let's ignore that Zack Greinke had a no-trade clause to New York that he certainly would have deployed, so the Yankees weren't getting him anyway. Plus, they should get Luis Severino back, and maybe Dellin Betances, and prospect Deivi Garcia could potentially help in the bullpen down the stretch. So I'm with Sam: One win for the Red Sox could be the difference between getting into the playoffs or watching from a resort in the Caribbean. It's surprising Dombrowski didn't add at least one reliever to the bullpen.
There's another rivalry rematch from last weekend in Chicago, as the Brewers face the Cubs. With the deadline behind us, who makes the postseason: the Cubs, the Brewers, neither or both?
Matz: It's amazing how quickly things can change. Between a banged-up Max Scherzer and an uninspiring deadline haul, the Nationals are hurtin' for certain. The Cardinals have been rolling, but they rolled over at the deadline. The deGreinked Diamondbacks lost some major venom, and the Giants ... well, they can't possibly keep it up. (Or can they?) All that said, I still don't think the Brewers have anywhere near enough pitching -- in the rotation or the pen -- to get it done this year. Cubs take the Central, while Milwaukee takes the month of October off.
Miller: The trade deadline forces us all (and teams themselves) to declare, in a somewhat stark binary, who is "in it" and who is "out of it." But the truth is that there are two months left, and a lot of teams we're not thinking about at all are not that far out of it! The Padres, Rockies, Giants, Diamondbacks, Reds, Pirates and Mets have, combined, a little better than a one-in-three chance of claiming one of those two wild-card spots. Which is all to say that it's not just that the Brewers have to overtake at least one team; and it's not just that they have to hold back the Phillies, who are just one game behind them; but they have to dodge all the little unexpected land mines that the rest of the field can provide. So, they've got a good shot at making the playoffs, but a slightly better shot of missing them. (The Cubs should feel nervous because all of the above applies to them, too, but they're a better team, and they didn't just lose their best starting pitcher for six weeks.)
Schoenfield: I'll take the Cubs to win the division over Milwaukee for a clear and obvious reason: Their rotation has a 3.87 ERA and has been mostly healthy. The Brewers have a 4.78 ERA, and Brandon Woodruff and Jhoulys Chacin are on the injured list. The Cubs also made some minor additions that will help their depth -- Nicholas Castellanos, Tony Kemp, David Phelps. Another key is Yu Darvish, who has quietly pitched much better, with a 3.68 ERA over his past 11 starts, holding batters to a .192 average. He'll start Sunday. (And don't forget the Cardinals. FanGraphs gives them a 22.8% chance of winning the division, as compared to 17.5% for the Brewers, and also better odds of winning a wild card.) I'll pick the Braves or Nationals for one wild card and will stick with my hope for a five-way tie for the second one.
What else has your attention this weekend as we push toward the final third of the season?
Matz: The Franimal. I've said it before in this space, but I'll say it again: Franmil Reyes is the second coming of Big Papi. Between the huge power and the even huger personality, he has all the makings. Cleveland isn't the tailor-made market that Boston is, but the trade from the Padres to the Indians reminds me of when David Ortiz went from the Twins to the Red Sox early in his career, then proceeded to become a legend. Reyes is ready for launch.
Miller: I'm watching Dustin May's debut as the Dodgers' starter Friday. The Dodgers' postseason bullpen looks like a real weakness, but when they supplement it with their surplus starters in October, they might end up with a pretty strong group after all. May, a top pitching prospect, will not be in the postseason rotation, but he could end up being a difference-maker in relief.
Schoenfield: How can you not watch the debut of a top prospect with the nickname Gingergaard? May is built along the lines of Noah Syndergaard.He is 6-foot-6 with a long mane of red hair, thus the nickname. Beyond that, we get a Chris Sale-Domingo German matchup on Saturday. And speaking of Syndergaard, I'm curious to see whether the Mets can keep things rolling. They head into Pittsburgh riding a seven-game winning streak, and if they sweep the Pirates, the Mets will climb over .500.
PICK 'EM TIME
The Indians, who host the Angels this weekend, picked up a couple of power bats in Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes. Combined total bases for Puig and Reyes this weekend: over or under 9?
Matz: True story: Last time I saw Franmil Reyes, I asked him where his first name comes from. He laughed and told me that he never asked his parents that question and that he didn't know. One thing Reyes does know is how to mash. I expect him to bag nine bases this weekend all by himself (or close to it). Between him and Puig, I'm all aboard the over train.
Miller: When Puig was traded from Los Angeles to Cincinnati, there were many, "Oh yeah, let's see what Puig does in a bandbox!" takes. He didn't do much. But Progressive Field actually has been an even more hitter-friendly park than Great American (without getting quite so much recognition for it). So here it is, my scorching hot trade take: Puig and Reyes will combine for more than nine total bases in their first weekend series.
Schoenfield: Let's see, who is starting for the Angels? Not Nolan Ryan, Frank Tanana or Andy Messersmith. (Never heard of Messersmith? He is one of the most important players in MLB history. He played 1975 without a signed contract, and an arbitrator ruled him a free agent for 1976. Free agency was born because of his grievance. From 1969 to 1976 with the Angels, Dodgers and Braves, he went 119-86 with a 2.71 ERA and averaged 4.2 WAR per season. Very good pitcher.) But I digress. I'll take the over on the nine total bases.
Sunday night's scheduled starters -- Boston's David Price and New York's J.A. Happ --have struggled of late -- and both teams have potent offenses. Closest to the pin: total runs scored in Sunday's game.
Matz: In the nine previous games this season, the Yanks and Red Sox have averaged a combined 15.8 runs per contest. Balls are flying this time of year. This week alone, there were 619 grand slams hit across the majors (give or take). In other words, the scoreboard operator at Yankee Stadium is going to need an ice bath on Sunday night after posting all those crooked numbers. Seventeen total runs.
Miller: Sometimes what a struggling pitcher needs is for the whole sport to talk about how important it is for his club to upgrade at his exact position before the trade deadline. And then what that struggling pitcher really needs is for his team to stand pat -- and for all of that team's fans to panic because now they have to rely on ... you! Which is to say that Happ is throwing a four-hit shutout. Seven total runs in Sunday's game.
Schoenfield: Just noticed this. Price has pitched more than six innings just once all season (and that was against the Orioles). He has topped five innings just once in his past five outings. He has reached 100 pitches just three times in 20 starts and has made half of his starts on five or more days of rest (including four on six days and one on seven). Part of the problem with the Boston bullpen is that it has been tasked with throwing a lot of innings. Price was once one of the top workhorses in the league and pitched 230 innings as recently as 2016. He is no longer a workhorse. Eleven total runs.
TWO TRUE OUTCOMES
Each week, we ask our panelists to choose one hitter they think will hit the most home runs and one pitcher they think will record the most strikeouts in the coming weekend. Panelists can pick a player only once for the season. We'll keep a running tally -- and invite you to play along at home.
Home run hitters
Matz: Edwin Encarnacion
Miller: Franmil Reyes
Schoenfield: George Springer
Matz: Lance Lynn
Miller: Patrick Corbin
Schoenfield: Aaron Nola
Law explains why Dodgers didn't trade top prospects
Keith Law gives perspective on what Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman might have been thinking when he elected not to trade the team's top prospects for relief help.