Friday, September 1, 2023

August 2023 in Review [ft. D.J. Stewart]


Quite clearly a lot happened this August. The picture changed multiple times, new heroes emerged, some titans fell hard, and the overall scope of the league looks vastly different as we head into the final month of the season. Plus, the one awards race everybody called in May now has a potential new frontrunner. This month was WILD. 

So first of all, let's go over the 5 predictions I made last month and see how well I did:

1. You will be able to count at least one AL East team out of the playoff race. And while it will probably be the Yankees, I'm hoping it will be the other guys. Nope, it's the Yanks.

2. Almost immediately, a trade acquisition is going to make their team even more of a contender than they previously were. Think Yoenis Cespedes in 2015. All I'm saying is the Dodgers haven't lost near as many games since they got Lance Lynn. Anybody else notice that?

3. Alternatively, you will see the beginnings of the next regime of a seller begin to take the reins of the team.  That is essentially happening in Detroit right now, and it's beginning to happen in Pittsburgh, so yes, this one came true.

4. There's gonna be an unlikely but insanely fun Wild Card case that I'm gonna fall for. No real long-shots per se, but the Reds, Cubs, Marlins and Giants are all still in the race, and they're all pretty fun.

5. The first fired manager of the season will be Pedro Grifol, narrowly beating Oli Marmol. Nope, neither of them got fired. At least not yet. Somehow Grifol was the one guy in Chicago who KEPT his job.

So, honestly, not too bad. But with all that being said, here are 5 Things from August 2023 that no one could have predicted:

1. Down go the Yankees. They were already headed for a downturn in July but I don't think anybody could have predicted that they'd fall out of competition. The bats froze, all the starters but Cole short-circuited, Cortes and Rodon sputtered, not even Everson Pereira could help, and by the end we'd wound up with the worst-looking team since before the 90s dynasty. Aside from Judge, Volpe and Cole, this team has nothing, and it's struggled to hold onto anyone without letting them down. Anthony Rizzo had an incredible start then concussed and failed to strike gold again. Harrison Bader was hot in June then fell apart and now he's on the Reds. German and Severino let the team down in different, festive ways. And now we're looking at a sub-500 year and Jasson Dominguez is up. 

2. Down go the Angels. Last month it was a bombshell that the Angels were competitive. Now it's a bombshell that they're not. The Angels based their entire outlook on the last couple weeks of July, a lucky stretch for them, and didn't look back...that is, til the end of August, where they proceeded to undo everything because it didn't work. First of all, getting Giolito wasn't a great idea because he's been streaky as hell since giving up tack. Boosting the lineup was a good idea but Grichuk and Cron couldn't conserve earlier momentum. Trout got hurt, Ohtani needs surgery, several others got injured, the #1 draft pick from this year was needed at 2nd, and now they waived half the guys they got at the deadline. I've never seen a team go all-out and then immediately go 'never mind' like the Angels did, and it's genuinely awful to see.

3. The rise of the Seattle Mariners. While the Astros and Rangers continued at their normal, human paces, the Mariners went 21-6 in August. Somebody pointed out that what the Mariners have done since the ASG break is even deadlier than what the Rays did to begin the season. The difference is, the Rays are in second right now, and the Mariners have taken the lead in the AL West. All it took was the rotation to click into place with Bryan Woo and Bryce Miller coming back, Hernandez and Suarez getting hot, and Julio going back into god-mode and hitting up a storm. Julio is one of many great pieces of this team, but when he gets hot he's a force of nature, and he is one of the main reasons for the Mariners' August success. I hope they keep this going, it's more exciting when they're good.

4. Mookie Betts is gonna chase Acuna for that MVP. We all kinda thought Acuna had this in the bag, then all of the sudden Betts is having his best season yet, with 94 RBIs, a .316 average, and a career-high 36 home runs. Yes, Betts might have a 40+ homer year for the first time in his career, while still being an above-average outfielder, not striking out much and leading the league in OPS. Acuna's 30-60 thing may still give him the edge, but having Betts be a worthy competitor to Acuna as we head into the final lap is the exact kind of excitement we needed.

5. The Guardians would get by with a rotation consisting of four rookies and a guy that was gonna get DFA'd anyway. I've talked about the amusing gambit of having Gavin Williams, Xzavion Curry, Tanner Bibee and Logan Allen all start games while the other guys are hurt, and how it's paid off. The only thing different now is that Lucas Giolito now gets to be the fifth guy and be the veteran presence, as well as potentially helping the Guardians get back into the wild card race. The wild part is that I don't know if a lot of these guys need the help, they've already got low ERAs and consistent records. And it's wild that it's just a bunch of rookies. Like they should need a Shane Bieber to help them, and they really don't.

And as the alternative to this, 5 Things from August 2023 that pretty much anybody could have predicted:

1. All Scherzer and Verlander needed to do was get out of Queens. Since leaving the Mets, Scherzer is 3-1 with a 2.65 ERA and 40 Ks, while Verlander is 4-1 with a 2.75 ERA and 29 Ks. The problem was never them, the problem was the Mets. So now that they're back in places where they can thrive, they still feel like they're both in their prime. Which is insane.

2. Hi Mike Trout....Bye Mike Trout.

3. The Blue Jays really didn't need Paul deJong. I knew this when they traded for him, they could have easily had Santiago Espinal cover short for a month, and deJong's Jays numbers proved that. He seems to be doing better in San Francisco covering for Brandon Crawford though.

4. Once you give the Dodgers exactly what they need, there really isn't a chance for anyone else in that division. They needed utility infield help, an extra starter, and bullpen help. So they got Lance Lynn, Amed Rosario, Joe Kelly, Enrique Hernandez and Ryan Yarbrough. They've been 24-4 ever since. I guess that worked, then. And now they have Kolten Wong on hand, and I bet they've fixed him as well.

5. All Bryce Harper and Trea Turner needed was time. Trea just needed some support and now he's got 19 homers and 60 RBIs. Bryce needed a little more time to rehab and now he's on fire, hitting 308 with 15 homers and 45 RBIs. Philly is tough, and impatient, but when you're good for us you're amazing, and these two are finally performing to expectations this year. And just in time for a hell of a finish.

Now, for my money, here are the 5 Most Important Players of August 2023:

1. Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
3. Julio Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners
4. Blake Snell, San Diego Padres
5. Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

And finally, here are 5 Bold Predictions for September 2023:

1. One of the players netted in the waver deals of the last 48 hours will be a crucial figure in the race to the playoffs.

2. Someone who has been hot for a while picks the exact wrong month to completely run out of steam.

3. Jasson Dominguez is going to do something amazing, but it'll be too little, too late for the Yankees.

4. The battle for the top spot of the AL West is going to come down to the wire, and it will have a final outcome that nobody will expect.

5. I'll say this, as tough as Blake Snell has been, the NL Cy Young race will be decided this month. One of the other guys is gonna jump out in front. It could be Spencer Strider. And I'll have to come back to this in November. 

That was a tumultuous and wild August, let's see how September finishes us off. 

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