With the deadline for changes of MLB From July 30 around the corner, most of the focus will be on the players acquired by the contending teams and the impact they can have in the final stretch of the season.
However, not all squads with aspirations to October will be able to meet their needs through an acquisition of weight via exchange or depend on the return of a key player of an injury that can make a difference. So how could these teams improve? Working with what they already have.
In fact, some ninth contenders have a big-name player who didn’t live up to expectations before the All-Star break and they’ve had a lousy season. If the following elite players can rebound in the second halfThey could become key pieces in taking their teams to the postseason – and even further.
1. Christian Yelich, OF, Brewers
Numbers in 1st half: .241 / .399 / .369, 5 HR, 24 IQ in 59 games
The Brewers have stayed in first place despite Yelich hitting just 13 extra-base hits and slugging .369 in the first half. There’s no question, Yelich’s back injury has limited both his performance and playing time, and at least his .399 on-base percentage wasn’t bad at all.
If the Brewers want to sweep the NL Central and become a fearful opponent in October, the offense will have to pick up – and that starts with Yelich, the only Milwaukee hitter who can be considered a superstar for his career. For that to happen, Yelich will have to sacrifice his trademark patience and become a more aggressive hitter at the plate, especially early in the count. We take this data into account: During his MVP-caliber campaigns, the left-handed slugger swung the first pitch almost 30% of the time, while that average dropped to 13.4% last year and is just 22.0% this time. season.
2. Cody Bellinger, OF, Dodgers
1st half numbers: .176 / .291 / .303, 4 HR, 17 IQ in 34 games
The National League MVP in 2019, Bellinger had a very difficult recovery from a fissure in the left fibula that kept him out of action for almost two months, so to some extent the poor performance of the 26-year-old gunner is justified. up to now. In some respects, your season is just a very small sample. However, what is concerning is that Bellinger has had a July to be forgotten with an OPS of .336 – albeit with a BABIP of .103 in just 63 plate appearances – after having seemed to regain his rhythm in June (OPS of .827 in 62 at-bats).
The Dodgers are locked in a three-team fight for the top of the NL West and, as stars like Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager and others in Los Angeles seek to rebound from their own injuries, the Blues’ eight-title streak Consecutive divisions – the longest currently in the sport – could be lengthened or cut depending on what Bellinger can do with the stick between now and the end of the season. Lowering his strikeout rate to 27.0% – the highest so far in his career – by improving his swing rate from 29.3% – the worst in his career – could help him regain his level.
3. Blake Snell, LZ, Parents
Numbers in 1st half: 4.99 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 10 HRs allowed in 70.1 EL
Now pitching in the NL West, Snell hasn’t been able to maintain that dominance that characterized him with the Rays consistently, as he managed to pitch six innings just twice in his first 17 starts — before his solid exit from the Rays. Thursday in Miami. We can consider that performance disappointing for a Padres team that had to pay a high price to enlist the services of the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner.
The biggest problem for Snell has been his command and control – or the lack of both. With Chris Paddack in a slump and Dinelson Lamet and Ryan Weathers out with injury, the Friars need Snell to get back on track, especially with his slow-speed pitches — his curve is .366 xwOBA and .388 change. – and form a powerful 1-2-3 with Japanese Yu Darvish and right-hander Joe Musgrove. The good news? Snell’s fastball still tops 95 mph and his strikeout rate is 28.2%, but a better command on his delivery would mean more consistency and more high-quality innings.
4. Gleyber Torres, SS, Yankees
Numbers in 1st half: .240 / .326 / .308, 3 HR, 29 IQ in 77 games
Collectively, the Yankees’ offensive numbers range from mediocre to poor, and so far their chances of advancing to October are uncertain. But Torres’ game loss may be considered the most disappointing for the Bronx Bombers. He is a 24-year-old former sought-after prospect who seemed poised to become a star after his breakout season in 2019, when he hit 38 home runs.
Torres’ lack of power since the start of 2020 has been puzzling. An explanation? His average exit speed of 86.6 mph this year is in the eighth percentile for the majors and his hard hitting rate (34.4%) is the lowest of his career.
5. Eugenio Suárez, INF, Reds
Numbers in 1st half: .175 / .256 / .372, 18 HR, 50 IQ in 86 games
The Reds started the second half as surprise contenders, despite key pitchers like Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray hitting potholes prior to the break. Add to that Suarez’s poor performance in the batter’s box and the fact that Cincinnati is second in the NL Central is a huge surprise.
The experiment of putting Suárez back at shortstop – a position in which he made his major league debut – resulted in failure, as the Venezuelan battled on defense and with the baton. The thing is, since returning to the hot corner in late May, the 30-year veteran hasn’t improved his numbers on offense (.628 vs. .616 OPS through May).
Since hitting 49 home runs in 2019, Suarez got off to a poor start last year, in part due to offseason shoulder surgery, but eventually got back on track.
6. Aaron Nola, RHP, Phillies
1st half numbers: 4.53 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 15 HRs allowed at 101.1
At 44-44 in the first half, the Phillies qualify as contenders primarily because of their division. The NL East is there for anyone, setting the table for Philadelphia to get on the hook and lift their game in the second half. For that to happen, Nola will need to regain her level down the stretch alongside Zack Wheeler at the top of the rotation, particularly with Zach Eflin out of action.
After emerging as the top of the rotation in 2018, Nola continued with consistent production over the next two years, but has had an unfortunate 2021. His strikeout rate of 29.0% is the second-best of his career behind the 33.2% he posted last year, while his 5.3% walk rate is the best of his career so far. Despite that, Nola’s 4.64 ERA is his worst since 2016, when he suffered a season-ending injury to his pitching elbow.
7. Michael Conforto, OF, Mets
Numbers in 1st half: .202 / .345 / .301, 3 HR, 19 IQ in 52 games
After an impressive 2020 in which he had numbers of .322 / .412 / .515 and OPS + of 154 – the best of his career – this is not the Conforto we expected to see in his final year before becoming a free agent. The outfielder started this season with .230 / .356 / .336 and just two home runs in 33 games before suffering a strained right hamstring on May 16 that ended up costing him 34 games. However, since returning on June 23, the 28-year-old gunner has posted a mediocre OPS of .724.
If Conforto is going to help the Mets hold on to the top of the NL East – and in the process restore some of its market value heading into the winter – the left-handed slugger will need to show he can raise his slugging a bit more during the final stretch. His three home runs in a recent two-game stretch leading the second half could be a good sign.
Jason Catania / MLB.com