The 9th Inning Column: Thor’s future in Queens, Bronx pitching struggles, and the dramatic NL Central

Six editions into the 9th Inning Column, we are making a switch to an entirely new brand. Formerly a piece featured on Pro Sports Fandom, it now calls Diamond Digest home, and it couldn’t be happier to do so. Nonetheless, welcome back to the 9th Inning. This is the fourth edition of this column in the 2019 MLB season. This is a monthly column in which I roundup the month’s biggest happenings in the baseball realm. I’ll discuss what teams are hot, and what teams are not. I will also give my personal thoughts on a few notable baseball-related events, as well as giving out monthly awards for team of the month, players of the month, and rookies of the month. It’s basically a baseball podcast squeezed into an article that happens near the end of every month. This is the fourth article of this season and I continue to push for immense success with this column. If you’d like, be sure to share with your friends, social media, and family! I’d love my column to reach as big a global outreach as possible.

I’m going to start the 9th Inning Column for July with a few rounded-up thoughts in recap of the biggest stories recently, both on the field and off.

Noah Syndergaard’s future in Queens

Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos
Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Speculation on the future of New York Mets star pitcher Noah Syndergaard has ramped up in the past few days, as many believe the Mets are serious about trading Thor before the July 31st trade deadline. He would be coveted by many MLB clubs including the Padres, Yankees, Astros, and Braves. The 26 year-old pitcher has team control through 2022, and he’s having his worst season as a pro yet, making it hard to believe to some as to why New York would trade him. Syndergaard has made 20 starts in 2019 and has a 4.33 ERA in 126.2 innings of work while maintaining a 94 ERA+ and 3.64 FIP. His strikeouts per nine continue to sit around 9.0, a bit down from his first three seasons as a pro. His walks per nine rate has gone up a little bit to 2.6 and he’s giving up 1.0 home runs per nine innings, which is definitely unlike his previous numbers in that department. The Mets also just acquired another middle-of-the-rotation starter in Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman, so with deadline approaching this afternoon, it remains to be seen whether the Mets really are going to trade Syndergaard.

The starting pitching woes in the Bronx


Everyone expected the Yankees to acquire starting pitching before the trade deadline, but after a week in which they’ve given up seven runs in seven straight games, there’s certainly a heightened sense of urgency for Brian Cashman to make a splash before there’s no time left. They were simply dominated by the Red Sox this weekend, as Masahiro Tanaka gave up 12 runs in 3.1 innings on Thursday, James Paxton surrendered seven runs in four innings on Friday, and C.C. Sabathia surrendered five runs in 4.1 innings on Saturday. The Yankees have one of the best offenses in the league, but you can’t expect them to score ten or more every night out. None of their starters have an ERA under 4.00, and that continues to highlight the on-going problem of this team. The good news is that you can expect Cashman to make a move or two, and Luis Severino should be back to help in the post-season push. But for now, there’s a lot of worrying going on in the Bronx.

The dramatic race in the NL Central

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Before the season started, baseball experts predicted the NL Central to be the most-competitive division in baseball, but I don’t believe any of them expected it to be this competitive by late-July. The Cardinals, Brewers, and Cubs are all battling for the division crown and an NL Wild Card spot — oh, and they’re all within a game of each other in the standings. The Reds are the best fourth-place team in Major League Baseball, and they may challenge for a .500 record if their positive run differential has anything to say about it. It’ll be extremely fun to see how the NL Central teams attack today’s Trade Deadline because all three of the top-teams are playoff contenders. But which one will make the move to put them over the top? That remains to be seen.

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not?

AP Photos

Since losing two of three games against the Dodgers a few weeks ago, the Boston Red Sox have looked as close to last year’s World Series Championship team as they have all season. They’ve gone 9-5, including series wins over the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees while closing the deficit in the division to only 8.5 games. Let’s also not forget the fact that they absolutely steam-rolled the Yankees by taking three of four games over the weekend at Fenway. Xander Bogaerts has been one of the most under-rated hitters in baseball in 2019 and Mookie Betts is starting to really catch fire as we near August.

The Cleveland Indians rode a six game winning streak into the All-Star break, and had trimmed the Minnesota Twins lead to 5.5 games in the AL Central. Since returning from the break, nothing has changed for the Tribe. They’ve gone 12-5 and taken advantage of a relatively-easy schedule to start their second-half push off right. With such, they’ve now come within two games of the Twins in the division standings. The best news for the Indians is the fact that 2018 MVP candidate José Ramírez looks like himself again, as he’s batting .344 with nine homers and a 174 wRC+ in July. With him getting back into his best form, the Indians look like they’ll have a good enough offense to compete in the postseason.

Not much has gone right for the Baltimore Orioles in 2019, as they are the owners of the second worst record in Major League Baseball. But they’re hot right now, and that earns them a rare appearance on the bright side of this list. Since the All-Star break, they have split a two game series with the Washington Nationals and notched series wins over the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels. They’re 6-4 in their last-ten games as well.

The St. Louis Cardinals have jumped out to the top of the drama-filled NL Central as they are tied with the Chicago Cubs and have a one-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers. They’ve done so with an incredible start to their second half, as they are 7-3 in their last ten games and have won four of their five series’ since the All-Star break. The better news for the Cards is the fact that it seems as if superstar first-baseman Paul Goldschmidt is getting hot at the right time, as he has hit home runs in seven of his last eight games.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the midst of an eight game losing streak where nothing seems to go right for them. They’ve fallen to last-place in the tough NL Central division and it is now probably time to sell stock in this club. They will possibly be able to sell off a few pieces at the trade deadline, but it’s ultimately been a rough year for this injury-prone club. Going 1-9 in their last ten games could not have happened at a worse time for this team. Star first-baseman Josh Bell has cooled off recently as well, hitting .219 with seven homers in his last 30 games. Also, Chris Archer has been really bad, and that trade with the Rays looks to be one of the worst trades in recent MLB history.

The Tampa Bay Rays surprising start to 2019 has started to end as they’ve become third-fiddle in the AL East to the Yankees and Red Sox. A lot of that has to be due to the fact that Tampa Bay is really struggling as of late, only having been victorious in one series since returning from the All-Star break. They are 4-6 in their last ten games and they had a bullpen implosion on Saturday against the Blue Jays, blowing a 9-1 lead in an eventual loss. They just acquired infielder Eric Sogard from Toronto, but if they are serious about making a post-season push, I think they’ll need to acquire more bullpen arms.

A popular pick to make another NL Wild Card Game, the Colorado Rockies are really close to falling out of contention as we near August. In July, the Rockies have gone 5-17 and fallen into last place in the NL West, a sizable 19.5 games behind the dominant LA Dodgers. They are also now seven games back of the second NL Wild Card spot, and they are in a tough position, with not much depth or pieces to work with at the trade deadline. Given their struggling pitching staff and a great offense, the Rockies are going to be stuck hoping that they can go on a late season tear.

The Monthly Awards:

Team of the Month is…

AP Photos

The San Francisco Giants (18-5)

Not enough can be said about the fantastic turnaround that the San Francisco Giants have put together since July began. After a June 29th loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Giants had fallen to a 35-47 record and were in last-place in the NL West while being sure sellers at the trade deadline. Since then, they’ve rattled off a stretch of 19 wins and only five losses, bringing their record to 54-52 and putting them square in the mix of the NL Wild Card race. Alex Dickerson (.400 AVG and four HRs) has been a huge part of the offense in the Bay Area in July while Evan Longoria was raking until he went down with a foot injury (.400 AVG and six HRs in nine games). It’ll be very interesting to see how these Giants attack the upcoming trade deadline as they’ve put themselves in a very intriguing position.

Hitter of the Month is…

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Houston Astros 1B Yuli Gurriel

At the end of April, many experts believed that the Astros had a problem on their hands in Yuli Gurriel, as the infielder was batting .240 with one home run, nine RBIs, and 79 wRC+ in the first 27 games of the 2019 campaign. Good thing the Astros didn’t give up on Gurriel, as the 35 year-old has been the hottest hitter in all of baseball since the start of July. He’s hitting .411 with 12 homers, 28 RBIs, and 246 wRC+. Impressively, Gurriel has only struck out nine times in the month, while only walking four times. He has an extremely-insane 1.320 OPS in July and figures to be the unanimous MLB Player of the Month for it.

Starter of the Month is…

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Washington Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg

The Washington Nationals have fought their way back into the NL East hunt, and a lot of that has to be credited to the phenomenal performance by their pitching staff, including none other than Stephen Strasburg. The recently turned 31 year-old former All-Star pitcher had a heck of a month in July, making five starts and pitching 31.2 innings on the bump to the tune of a 1.14 earned run average, a 0.91 WHIP, and a 5-0 record. He struck out about 12.7 batters per nine innings, had a 1.98 BB/9 rate, and impressively did not surrender a home run in the entire month. With all the talk about the MLB and juicing baseballs, Strasburg certainly deserves this award for his phenomenal month of July, and his ability to keep the ball in the yard.

Reliever of the Month is…

USA Today Sports

San Diego Padres RHP Kirby Yates

It’s hard to believe that not long ago Kirby Yates was considered one of the worst relief pitchers in all of Major League Baseball. The veteran right hander has reinvented himself and become an All-Star closer as a member of the San Diego Padres. In 8.2 innings on the bump in July, the 32 year-old has not surrendered an earned run, while only giving up one run in general. He’s given up six hits — only one has gone for extra bases — and opposing hitters have a .180 wOBA against him in the month. Wildly enough, Yates hasn’t walked a batter either, while striking out 16, pushing him to qualify for an insane -0.12 FIP. These numbers are unheard of, and Yates is well on his way to being the NL Reliever of the Year.

Rookie Hitter of the Month is…

USA Today Sports

Milwaukee Brewers 2B Keston Hiura

In the midst of an infield shuffle in early June, Hiura was sent down to Triple-A after playing well in his first stint in the big leagues. Since being recalled on June 28th, Keston has been one of the hottest hitters in all of Major League Baseball — not just amongst rookies. He’s hitting .351 with eight homers and 23 RBIs over the past 30 days and he has a .422 on-base percentage in that span. With a .476 wOBA and 197 wRC+ in July, Hiura has made his statement as the rising star infielder for the Brew Crew. He still needs to cut down on his strikeouts (29.9 K% in July), but he’s still working counts and walking at a slightly above average rate (10.3 BB% in July). All of these improvements will come with more time in the big leagues, and Hiura is already settled in.

Rookie Pitcher of the Month is…

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Miami Marlins RHP Zac Gallen

The 2019 season was always projected to be a rough one for the Miami Marlins, and they’re still in the beginnings of a deep franchise re-build, but they’ve found some gems in their pitching staff throughout the year and rookie right-hander Zac Gallen more than qualifies. In 19.1 innings on the bump in July, Gallen has a 2.33 earned run average and opposing hitters are batting just .174 against him. In the month, he averaged about 9.78 strikeouts and less than one home run per nine innings. He’ll have to work on lowering his walks per nine rate (5.12 BB/9 in the month) if he wants to continue this kind of success in the big leagues.

Featured Photo: Troy Babbitt – USA Today Sports

Thanks for reading the July edition of the 9th Inning column! I hope you enjoyed! Don’t forget to share with your friends, family, and on social media! Feel free to contact me on my Twitter @TBeckmann24 if you have any questions! I’ll be back next month! Peace!

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