The National League Central division race is the only one in baseball with at least three teams within five games of first place. As we watch to see how things shake out down the stretch, here’s the latest:
- There are a few more details available on the strange circumstances that led to the Cardinals acquiring reliever Juan Nicasio from the Phillies earlier today– but without the ability to utilize him in the postseason. A team other than the Cards won the claim for Nicasio when the Pirates put him on trade waivers in August (only to pull him back when no deal was reached), per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). Rather, it may actually have been yet another NL Central rival — the Cubs — that had the highest-priority claim on Nicasio last month, per Elizabeth Bloom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — which would mean the Cards bypassed a shot at adding him at that time. In any event, St. Louis did place a successful claim this time around, when the Phillies ran him through trade waivers after acquiring him via outright waivers on the last day of August, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tweets.
- Javier Baez’s elevated play in the place of the injured Addison Russell has been a boon for the Cubs, writes ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers. Manager Joe Maddon feels that Baez’s status as a part-time player earlier in his career has been to his benefit. “If he had [played 30 games in a row] two years ago, he would have buried himself,” the skipper tells Rogers. “…I don’t think he would have made the same adjustments at the plate. You would have seen a lot more mistakes on defense. … You would not have seen the same baserunning.” Since taking over as the starting shortstop, Baez is hitting .292/.350/.522 with seven homers — albeit with a 28% strikeout rate (par for the course for the free-swinger) and a .366 BABIP (which isn’t entirely sustainable). Eventually, Chicago will have to sort out playing time for both Russell and Baez, though that likely falls into the “good problem to have” category for the Cubs.
- Looking further out into the future for the Cardinals, the team faces a potentially interesting slate of questions — and possibilities — involving its outfield in the coming offseason. As Jesus Ortiz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes, picking and choosing between the many existing options carries plenty of risk, but also perhaps could open some intriguing avenues to shoring up other needs. “The question is balancing future projection on performance relative to playing time,” says president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. “Clearly you’ve seen some exciting things from really everybody involved. But at some point we’re going to have to decide who we think our top three outfielders are.” While players such as Harrison Bader, Jose Martinez, and Magneuris Sierra don’t have much experience, all occupy 40-man spots and are arguably ready for a full shot at the majors. Tyler O’Neill is pushing for his own opportunity and will need to be added to the MLB roster. With high-priced free agent Dexter Fowler and breakout star Tommy Pham seemingly unlikely to go anywhere, that could leave the Cards considering deals involving still-youthful, former top prospects Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty.