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MLBs Biggest Winners and Losers 2 Weeks into 60-Game Sprint

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    Aaron Judge is suddenly playing like an MVP contender again.

    Aaron Judge is suddenly playing like an MVP contender again.Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Anyone who blinked might have missed the first two weeks of Major League Baseball’s unprecedented 60-game season.

    But don’t worry. Just as we did for the first week of the season, we’ve got you covered with the biggest winners and losers of the second week.

    Though everything that’s happened so far in 2020 matters, our focus is more so on events that transpired between August 1 and August 7. Which teams rose and fell? Which players shined or crumbled?

    Let’s take a look at 10 total, with five on either side of the winners/losers spectrum.

    Note: Stats and records are current through Friday, August 7.

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    On the heels of consecutive 97-win campaigns in 2018 and 2019, the Oakland Athletics were suddenly looking at a laundry list of concerns following a 3-4 start to this season.

    Then came a seven-game win streak that vaulted them into first place in the American League West.

    The first three wins came about via a showcase by Oakland hurlers in Seattle, where they permitted the Mariners only five runs in a series sweep. The last of those wins was also punctuated by an 11-run outburst, and A’s hitters kept it up with 17 runs in a sweep of the Texas Rangers.

    Stephen Piscotty and Marcus Semien have each provided a walk-off hit during the A’s win streak. But given how they had started the season, the A’s may be more thrilled with what they saw from Matt Olson (three home runs) and Khris Davis (back-to-back multi-hit games).

    At long last, the past week also brought top prospect Jesus Luzardo’s first major league start Wednesday. He didn’t disappoint, shutting down the Rangers with five strikeouts over five scoreless innings.

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Meanwhile in Houston, the Astros aren’t exactly keeping up with the A’s.

    They started out by taking three out of four from the Mariners, but they’ve dropped six of nine since then. If anything has become apparent during this stretch, it’s that Houston’s hurlers are going to have a hard time picking up the slack for Justin Verlander while he’s out with a forearm strain.

    They’re fresh off awakening the Arizona Diamondbacks offense from its slumber. Lance McCullers Jr. bombed in a 14-7 loss on Wednesday. On Thursday, Ryan Pressly failed to record an out before serving up a walk-off hit in a 5-4 loss.

    Because it followed the news that ace closer Roberto Osuna likely needs Tommy John surgery, Pressly’s flop was that much more demoralizing. Though he should be fine in the long run, the Astros got further bad news in the former of George Springer’s wrist strain.

    Altogether, the Astros don’t at all resemble the powerhouse that won 311 games between 2017 and 2019.

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Nobody would be holding anything against the Miami Marlins if they were off to a slow start.

    Given that they lost 105 games in 2019, it’s not as if anyone had high hopes for them in 2020. They then became the canary in MLB’s pandemic coal mine, as 13 of their players ended up on the injured list after testing positive for the coronavirus.

    Yet there they are atop the National League East with a 7-1 record.

    After spending more than a week in quarantine, the Marlins returned on Tuesday and promptly swept a four-game series in Baltimore against the Orioles. They allowed only eight runs in the series, and seven of those came in Miami’s 8-7 win in the finale. They topped the New York Mets on Friday to make it five in a row.

    Whether the Marlins can sustain their early success through the end of their 60-game slate is, well, debatable. But to this point, it’s surely been fun to watch them go out and play with an attitude that was summed up well by Jonathan Villar: “Don’t worry, play the game.”

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The San Diego Padres came out hot with a 6-2 record through their first eight games, and they seemed to make quite a few new fans along the way.

    Trouble is, most of those wins came against the dregs of the National League West. The Padres were subsequently tasked with picking on teams their own size, and those bouts didn’t go as well.

    After pulling off an 8-7 win over the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on July 31, the Padres lost the next two games of the series. It was the same story back home against the Los Angeles Dodgers, as a 5-4 win on Monday was followed by back-to-back defeats.

    San Diego’s assorted early selling points haven’t evaporated just yet. For instance, Fernando Tatis Jr. is still pacing a dangerous offense with an MVP-like performance. Chris Paddack, meanwhile, is mounting a charge at the NL Cy Young Award.

    Until further notice, however, the Padres as a whole are officially in “prove it” territory.

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Don’t look now, but Aaron Judge looks like Aaron Judge again.

    As in, the version of himself who’s capable of contending for MVP awards. It’s a side of the New York Yankees slugger that has come and gone over the last three years, as various injuries have either taken him off the field or limited his effectiveness while he’s been on it.

    As Judge worked to overcome a stiff neck during summer camp in July, it seemed as if 2020 might bring more of the same. Instead, it’s thus far brought a 1.099 OPS and a whopping seven home runs.

    After a somewhat slow start, Judge went off for six homers in five games between July 29 and August 2. He then collected four hits in four games against the Philadelphia Phillies, including an absolute rope of a three-run homer on Wednesday.

    If Judge keeps this up, he might just win the AL MVP that he could have (and arguably should have) won back in 2017.

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    We didn’t plan to balance out the universal order by heaping praise on one Yankee and then turning around and scorning a different Yankee.

    It just worked out that way because Gleyber Torres is the only hitter who’s as cold as Judge is hot.

    The wunderkind shortstop came into 2020 off consecutive All-Star campaigns in which he launched 62 home runs. And to be fair, his 2020 season hasn’t been a total loss. He does have a pair of multi-hit games on his record, after all.

    However, those two games are also the only ones in which Torres has collected any hits, period. He’s 0-for-34 in the other nine games in which he’s played—and with only two walks, to boot.

    One can’t help but wonder if Torres is feeling lingering pain from the elbow contusion that he suffered on a hit-by-pitch on July 30. Alternatively, the 23-year-old might be going through some overdue growing pains.

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Elsewhere on the topic of wunderkinds, it seems that the Chicago White Sox had the right idea in preempting Luis Robert’s major league debut with a six-year, $50 million contract extension.

    At the time he signed his deal in January, he was fresh off a 2019 season that portended future superstardom. He put up a 1.001 OPS with 32 homers and 36 stolen bases in the minors, which made just about every scout drool over his many tools.

    That gave Robert a lot to live up to in 2020. But so far, he’s hit safely in 11 of 13 games and more or less kept up last year’s pace with a .327/.393/.491 slash line, two homers and four steals.

    What’s more, Robert’s underlying metrics are outstanding pretty much across the board. If he could only make more frequent contact, he’d be trafficking in Trout-ian levels of awesomeness.

    All of this makes Robert the front-runner for the AL Rookie of the Year and a legitimate challenger to Judge in the race for the AL MVP.

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Like Robert, Mariners rookie Evan White also signed a long-term contract before he even made his major league debut.

    Unlike Robert, however, White is thus far struggling to reward the Mariners’ faith in him.

    He’s played in 14 of Seattle’s 15 games, yet he’s collected only six hits in 51 at-bats. And only so much of his slow start can be blamed on bad luck, as he’s already struck out 24 times.

    In fairness to White, his bat was only half the reason why the Mariners were so eager to install him as their everyday first baseman. He got glowing reviews for his defense while he was in the minors, and he’s already shown off at the cold corner in the majors. If he sticks, he should be a Gold Glove winner.

    But in light of the position’s high offensive standards, White will have a hard time sticking if he doesn’t get going offensively. To this end, he needs to start by at least putting more balls in play.

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Everyone’s in love with Cleveland ace Shane Bieber right now, and rightfully so. His first three starts of 2020 have yielded only two runs and 35 strikeouts.

    Otherwise, there isn’t anything new to say about Bieber. And besides, Kyle Freeland had a better week.

    The Rockies left-hander was solid in his debut against the Rangers on July 26, and he kept it up against the Padres on August 1 and the Giants on August 6. All told, he’s gone at least six innings in all three of his starts and allowed only five runs on 14 hits and six walks.

    This harkens back to when Freeland was a sleeper Cy Young Award contender on the strength of a 2.85 ERA in 2018. But after crashing and burning in 2019, he set about completely reinventing both his delivery and his approach.

    It’s working. Freeland is throwing more strikes and—notably with the help of his oft-used changeup—enjoying the highest ground-ball rate of his career.

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Early in 2020, Craig Kimbrel doesn’t seem broken so much as lost.

    The veteran closer has allowed runs in all four of the games in which he’s appeared for the Chicago Cubs. Attaching the term “closer” to him is strictly ceremonial at this juncture.

    He doesn’t have any saves yet, and his last two outings have made it clear just how little Cubs manager David Ross trusts him. Ross pulled Kimbrel from the ninth inning of a narrow 5-4 win Tuesday and then used him in mop-up duty in a 13-2 blowout Thursday.

    On the plus side, Kimbrel and Ross have made it clear that they’re on the same page. And because Kimbrel is averaging an ample 96.3 mph on his fastball, there may be something to the notion that his sudden swing-and-miss issues (specifically on his curveball) are mechanical in nature.

    Whatever the case, the Cubs badly need to get Kimbrel working again. There aren’t any other readily available fixes for a bullpen that bears a 7.30 ERA.

                

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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