The non-waiver trading deadline is approaching and while some have fairly solid pitching staffs most, at least the teams still in the hunt, are beating the bushes looking for more. I thought it might be fun to take a really quick look at some key pitching rosters, seeing who has what, and maybe make some bold predictions on what you might expect to see from these teams the rest of the way. Let's take a look.
National League East
The Nationals have solidified their position atop the division and their rotation has been a huge part of that. Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann have been dominating, but the arm with the most ceiling, Stephen Strasburg, has been a bit erratic. I still look for the cream to float to the top and Strasburg could be looking at a big month. The Braves just don't have the bullets the Nationals have but are in a spot to sneak into the playoffs. I hope Julio Teheran isn't wearing down, and surely the Aaron Harang smoke and mirrors show will fade, but the pitcher I think might give them a boost is Alex Wood. The Marlins are still a longshot this year, but where would they be if Jose Fernandez had been healthy all season? They can say "wait until next year" with conviction. The Nats have the horses with their everyday lineup and their mound corps to carry them deep into the playoffs.
National League Central
The Brewers are hanging onto a slim lead in one of the most intriguing divisional races and they have the horses to stay there if everyone pitches to their potential. I'm skeptical, though, because I don't see two of their key components - Wily Peralta and Mike Fiers - maintaining their pace. The two who could make the difference would be a consistent Yovani Gallardo (will that ever happen) and a healthy Matt Garza. If Garza can get back in the saddle soon, he is the key. So if the Brewers fade at all, who steps into the void? I think the Cardinals put on a big stretch run and the lead horse will be the true ace of the division, Adam Wainwright. He has struggled a little the last few weeks, but I see resurgence on the way. John Lackey has been a big boost, but Justin Masterson brought his vulnerabilities to the National League and I can't get the images of a very hittable late-season Lance Lynn out of my head so it won't be a walk in the park. I don't think the Pirates will slip into the divisional title, but they could be a wild-card winner as Gerritt Cole just keeps getting better.
National League West
Moving out west, you have to focus on the Dodgers who lead the division. They have Clayton Kershaw, who alone might be enough to make them the favorites, but I also like Hyun-Jin Ryu a lot down the stretch, and Zack Greinke may be able to hold things together for the last month and into the playoffs. The rest of the Dodgers rotation is pretty piece-meal, but their main threat, the Giants, have suffered losses to their staff that are even more problematic. Madison Bumgarner will be their leader in September, but with Matt Cain hurt and Tim Lincecum struggling with his delivery, they have to rely on Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong to pick up the pieces, and I don't think that will be enough to get them to the top of the standings. The Giants' potential wildcard could be Jake Peavy, who isn't the pitcher he once was, but I think he might just step it up a notch down the stretch and perhaps surprise some people.
American League East
The Orioles have built a nice lead, but they may need it. They simply don't have the depth of the Yankees on the mound with leaders Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen and young Kevin Gausman (who I still love but could have a struggle as we near the end of a long season) all having some vulnerability. They have the big offense and that will probably determine how far they go. Those Yankees could be winding up for a huge push. If Michael Pineda can take a regular turn, and Brandon McCarthy can stay on point, they are a serious threat, and if they can get Masahiro Tanaka back, I would make them the favorites to win the East. All three have the chance to be major contributors in September. I really thought I would be talking about Toronto here, but the wheels have come off in August. R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle offer real a veteran presence, and J.A. Happ has the tools to contribute, but Marcus Stroman has looked a bit tired, and Drew Hutchison may be past his best of this season. Add a surprisingly sputtering offense and the Jays are not looking like a factor at this point.
American League Central
This is a really interesting race. I do think Kansas City can continue to play well - James Shields is a gamer, and Jason Vargas is a competent hurler. The Royals do need their kids Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura to hold up, but their ace in the hole is their lock down bullpen that protects those starters game after game. The flip side of this division is perennial powerhouse Detroit. They have the better sticks, and they have the still improving Rick Porcello, and a true ace in recently acquired David Price, but they also have a lot of question marks. Max Scherzer can be very dominant, but he can also go through prolonged stretches of inconsistency, Justin Verlander is still fighting demons and Anibal Sanchez might be done for the regular season. And, unlike the Royals, their bullpen is a disaster. They can hope Joakim Soria comes back strong because they are sorely lacking at the end of the bullpen. Or, maybe, just maybe, they would consider using Verlander to close? It would potentially cure a lot of problems, and realistically it is unlikely, but think about his stuff coming in short bursts.
American League West
A couple of weeks ago I might have given a slight edge to the Angels over the A's in baseball's most hotly contested race. That was before Garrett Richards blew his knee out. On paper the Angels have the better everyday lineup, but the A's are frustratingly patient and that can be a nightmare for opposing pitchers who may be tiring at this point in the season. I'm going to turn to Oakland, with the arm of Jeff Samardzija being the catalyst. And, that doesn't give Sonny Gray, Jon Lester and Scott Kazmir their due - they'll likely be a handful too. That is a loaded rotation. They need Sean Doolittle to come back at full strength, but they look awfully tough to beat. The Angels still have Jered Weaver and a reasonably competent C.J. Wilson, but I am not sure the arms behind them (and I do like Hector Santiago a bit) including Matt Shoemaker are enough to keep the A's away from a pennant. Seattle can hang close with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, and James Paxton has the tools to be a nice boost down the stretch, but they are a couple of pieces away from threatening the top two. In a weaker division I might be more excited about a Mariners run, but this is a tough spot.
Some Notable Rotation Ramblings
• How the mighty have fallen. Tim Lincecum has been removed from the Giants' rotation after a string of disastrous starts. Yusmeiro Petit will take his spot but offers marginal value at best. With the playoff run looming they just couldn't wait for Lincecum to turn things around. I still believe it will work out.
• Felix Hernandez defines "workhorse," and the Mariners like him to toe the rubber as often as possible. That said, he has been a little off his game the last couple of starts, and he is one of those arms his team might hope to give a breather now and then. They have moved his start this week back to Friday.
• I've always been just a bit skeptical when it comes to Johnny Cueto of the Reds, but he is winning me over (and over and over). He always had the good stuff, but he is maturing becoming much more consistent with his release point. It's been a good year, but I think next year could see him take another step.
• The Rangers are going through a truly injury-plagued regular season (25 players on the DL), and Yu Darvish has been experiencing elbow soreness. There is supposedly no structural damage and it would be nice to see him pitch again as a measure for next year, but the team has no motivation to do that.
• Andrew Cashner returned from the disabled list last weekend, and while he looked reasonably good, his stuff wasn't as crisp as I would like. Out since mid-June some rust was to be expected, but he only logged one strikeout, and he may need the rest of the season to get fully back to form.
• I made a point of watching Drew Smyly's start this week, and I was more than impressed. He has changed his pitch selection and mix. He is using his over the top delivery and those breaking pitches to huge advantage, and if he keeps spotting his fastball (that he cuts) he moves up a couple of big notches.
The A's are in a heated playoff race, but they have lost closer Sean Doolittle to an intercostals strain. They hope to have him back shortly, but while there was some talk of Luke Gregerson filling in, they say Eric O'Flaherty could receive the bulk of the save chances. ... Casey Janssen has been shaky with his command lately and without the overpowering stuff of a typical closer he can get into trouble if he misses his spots. If he needs some time along the way, the Jays have a smorgasbord of options with lefty Aaron Loup probably the frontrunner, but one curious possibility could be the eternally injured Brandon Morrow who should be back in September. ... Joaquin Benoit has been dealing with a sore shoulder but picked up a couple of saves earlier this week suggesting it's not a problem - at least not right now. ... Koji Uehara has not been himself on the mound lately, but the Red Sox say he is healthy. With nothing to play for this season, they would likely shut him down if there were any concerns and that would mean opportunities for Edward Mujica, but for now, that's not in the plans. ... The Tigers tried to plug a hole in the leaky dam by claiming Chad Qualls off waivers from the Astros but they pulled him back. He should close the season as the closer in Houston.