The Braves, who meet the Mets this weekend (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN), are threatening to run away with the National League East. Is Atlanta's long-term future as bright as any team's in baseball?
Eddie Matz: Well, if you include their young studs who have unexpectedly cracked the bigs already (guys such as Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Austin Riley), then the Braves have 107 of the top 100 prospects in baseball. But the Padres have a loaded farm system too. Ditto for the Rays and Astros. But the Astros are already really good and, with A-listers such as Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman locked up for a long time (not to mention general manager Jeff Luhnow), they should stay that way. All things being equal, when it comes to forecasting long-term success among several well-stocked franchises, I'll take the one with the head start. That'd be Houston.
Sam Miller: I think we tend to overthink this a little. The Braves are a good team, a very young team, a team with some contracts that are so team-friendly they'll make you shake your head, and they have a very good outlook. The Dodgers, meanwhile, are probably going to win 15 more games than they do this year, and for the next decade they're probably going to outspend the Braves by $50 million to $100 million per year. L.A. has won six consecutive division titles, and if anything, the trend line has been going up. So what do we mean by long term? If you had to predict which team will win more games this year, next year, over the next five years, it'd have to be the Dodgers. And beyond that, the Dodgers' financial edge is probably the most important thing we know. The Braves should feel pretty good, too.
David Schoenfield: It's possible the Braves will have the best record in baseball over the next five seasons, but they wouldn't be my first choice. Consider things we know: (1) They don't really have a proven No. 1 or even No. 2 starter yet. Maybe Soroka will be that guy, but a lot can go wrong over five years (just ask Mike Foltynewicz); (2) I have no doubt that Ronald Acuna Jr. will be an annual MVP candidate, but let's wait before we anoint these other young guys big stars (Ozzie Albies has a 105 OPS+ this season, Riley has 55 strikeouts and eight walks and Fried has leveled off after his hot start); (3) They are unlikely to ever spend in the same ballpark as the Dodgers or Yankees. The future is obviously bright, but I'd still bank on the Dodgers.
The Red Sox enter a two-game series against the first-place Yankees having lost four games in which they've led in the eighth inning or later. If they don't acquire a legit high-leverage reliever in the next couple of weeks, will they miss the playoffs?
Matz: The Yankees and Rays aren't going away anytime soon, and the Indians are starting to do their usual "Oh, it's past Memorial Day, guess it's time start for us to start, ya know, winning" thing. All of which is to say, regardless of what the Red Sox do with the back end of their bullpen, there's a good chance they miss the playoffs. Of course, if Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez decide to give their team an extended shoulder ride, like they did pretty much all of last season, then all bets (except for Mookie Betts) are off.
Miller: Maybe, and so they should probably go get that guy, but ... last year's Red Sox had the eighth-best bullpen ERA in baseball; this year they have the seventh-best. Craig Kimbrel is very famous, and might make the Hall of Fame, but let's not convince ourselves that "future Hall of Fame closer" was the reason the Red Sox won 108 games and the World Series last year. He had a lesser Kimbrel season, and a super shaky postseason, and the Red Sox overcame all of that easily because they were incredible up and down the roster. Most of that roster is still here. More crucial than replacing Kimbrel in the Famous Closer role -- which, hey, every team would benefit from adding a great high-leverage reliever, no doubt about it -- is getting the rest of that roster back to incredible.
Schoenfield: The Red Sox were 97-1 when leading after eight innings last season and 90-4 when leading after seven. This year, they're 33-4 and 35-7, respectively, in those situations, so while the overall ERA looks solid, they haven't been as clutch. They've also received tremendous work this year from Marcus Walden and Brandon Workman (combined 13-1), and that's not guaranteed to continue. So the late-inning guys could be more reliable, but the middle guys might regress. I think they need a closer, although he doesn't have to be a Famous Closer (and don't forget to include the Rangers in that playoff picture!).
Max Scherzer is closing out what has been an amazing June this weekend against the Tigers. How awesome is this guy?
Matz: To paraphrase the cheerleaders from my high school basketball team, "A-W-E ... S-O-M-E ... awe-some, awe-some, awe-some are, um, Max Scherzer." My favorite Mad Max anecdote -- and this is really all you need to know about him -- is this: When David Price got traded to the Tigers in 2014, he met the team at Yankee Stadium. His old pal Scherzer, whom he knew from their time playing together as amateurs on Team USA, was throwing a bullpen session, so Price decided to pay a visit. But in order to gain access to the bullpen and watch Scherzer throw, Price first had to sign a waiver. And it wasn't a joke. If you want to watch Mad Max during one of his famously intense bullpen sessions, you must first sign a waiver. No matter who you are. Scherzer's orders.
Miller: From ages 30 to 34 -- Scherzer signed with the Nationals just before his age-30 season -- only nine pitchers in history have ever produced more WAR than he has. But, of course, it's only June 28 in his age-34 season; Scherzer has a whole half-season to keep climbing. Sometime in the next couple of weeks, he'll pass Roy Halladay and Kevin Brown on that list; by the end of July, he should pass Bill Hutchinson (a 19th-century guy) and Carl Hubbell. If his second half is typical Scherzer, he'll pass Gaylord Perry and Lefty Grove and finish the season fourth all time, behind Bob Gibson, Joe McGinnity -- who played in an era when starting pitchers threw 400 innings a year -- and Cy Young. Cy Young! We had to go back to before the first World Series to find more than one pitcher who was as good, from 30 to 34, as Max Scherzer. That's how awesome.
Schoenfield: What they said. I'll throw this out as well: He's headed for his 11th straight season with 30-plus starts (every full season of his career), seventh straight with 200 innings and fifth straight with a sub-3.00 ERA. He's dominant and reliable in a time when few pitchers go 200 innings in a season, let alone season after season after season. Forget Nic Cage, this guy is the true National treasure.
Speaking of awesome, what are you gents most looking forward to seeing this weekend?
Matz: Watching Franmil Reyes do anything. I had the pleasure of seeing him up close (and chatting with him) this week at Camden Yards, and I'm convinced that he has the potential to be the next Big Papi. From his size (6-foot-5, 275) to his megawatt personality to his ability to pulverize baseballs, it's kind of impossible to take your eyes off him. I'm not the only one who's buying shares of Franmil Inc. -- according to reports, Scott Boras just became the big fella's agent.
Miller: All three American League divisions are led by at least 4 games. I really like great teams winning 104 games, but what I love is a nice, crazy pennant race, so my hopes and dreams right now rely on the Texas Rangers keeping the wild card juicy. They visit the wild-card-leading Rays this weekend. Joey Gallo's back healthy. Nomar Mazara's on a tear. Unlikely AL WAR leader Lance Lynn is on the bump. I do not actually believe in the Rangers, but I will not turn away from them.
Schoenfield: Not to pick on the Mets when things are going bad, but can this week's dumpster fire turn into a full-scale four-alarm blaze? After they blew five games in a row in which they led by at least two runs at some point -- including Thursday's Edwin Diaz implosion -- manager Mickey Callaway's job is clearly on the line. The Braves come to Citi Field, and you can imagine how vociferous the boos are going to be. Not to be overly dramatic here, but the Mets' season might be on the line. (OK, that's a little overly dramatic, but this is NYC, baby. Put this team on Broadway and it would be a tragedy.)
PICK 'EM TIME
Mariners hitters have struck out more than 800 times this season, and Astros pitchers have more than 800 K's. Strikeouts for Houston pitchers this weekend: Over or under 36?
Matz: In the seven games they've played against Houston this year, the Mariners are averaging 11.6 whiffs. That works out to 35 punchouts over a three-game series. Also, Seattle has been putting bat on ball more frequently of late: The team's 23.6% K rate in June is its lowest of any month this year, and ranked in the middle of the MLB pack. I'll take the under.
Miller: Gerrit Cole has the second-highest K/9 rate in history right now. Justin Verlander has averaged just under 10 K's per start this month. Those two have the Saturday and Sunday games. The Astros could start a tee on Friday night and they might still reach 36.
Schoenfield: I love when I'm the tiebreaker. Remember the 1986 Mariners? Of course you don't. Why would you? That was the team against whom Roger Clemens struck out 20 batters to set the record (since matched, including by Clemens himself). Anyway, when Clemens faced the Mariners in late April, they were in a tremendous strikeout slump. They had fanned 18 times against the A's, 16 times against the A's again (both games, by the way, started by a young Jose Rijo), 11 times against the A's and 12 times against the A's in the game before facing Clemens. In the game after Clemens, they fanned 16 times and two games later fanned 13 times. The Mariners fanned 1,148 times that season -- 7.1 times per game. That's nothing in 2019 terms, but the AL average was 5.8 per game. I don't have a point here. I just wanted to write about the '86 Mariners. I'll take the over.
The Rangers and Rays, wild-card contenders in the AL, meet for three games in the Trop. Who's your pick to win the series?
Matz: Technically, the Rangers are the hotter team, as they're 7-3 over their past 10 games (Tampa Bay is 3-7). But the Rays' past 10 were all on the road, and included three in the Bronx (where they can't win) and three against the juggernaut that is the Twins. Back at home, they should do better, particularly against a Texas squad that struggles away from Arlington. Rays win! Rays win! Rays win!
Miller: Well, see, now, Joey Gallo's back healthy. Nomar Mazara's on a tear. Unlikely AL WAR leader Lance Lynn is on the bump. And my pick is definitely the Rays. They've had the best pitching staff in baseball this year, and (once you adjust for ballpark) a better offense than the Rangers. And they're at home.
Schoenfield: The Rays' pen is going to be on fumes after Thursday's 18-inning game. Plus, Joey Gallo's back healthy, Nomar Mazara is on a tear and unlikely AL WAR leader Lance Lynn is on the bump. Rangers take two of three.
With the Yankees and Red Sox playing two games in London (Sunday, 10 a.m. ET, ESPN), which English word or phrase -- as in England English, not American English -- will be most overused by the games' various announcers this weekend?
Matz: I'm pretty good at foreign languages, but I'm basically illiterate when it comes to England English, owing mostly to the fact that I've never been to England. Don't really have any interest in going, either. Not when there are so many fascinating places that (A) have better food, (B) have better weather and (C) speak languages that are actually different from English. Having said all that, I'll go with the one word I remember from when I was in college and worked as a summer camp counselor with a bunch of Brits: "knackered."
Miller: Totally in character for each franchise, the Yankees and the Red Sox have very good offenses this year. So put me down for "chockablock," as in, "the basebags are chockablock with runners." (They do call them "basebags" in England, right?)
Schoenfield: Oh, Eddie, trafficking in 1990s food stereotypes. The food over there is vastly improved from a generation ago. (Granted, most of it isn't English in nature.) Speaking of food and baseball, the clear answer to this question is: "bangers and mash."
TWO TRUE OUTCOMES
Each week, we ask our panelists to choose one hitter they think will hit the most home runs and one pitcher they think will record the most strikeouts in the coming weekend. Panelists can pick a player only once for the season. We'll keep a running tally -- and invite you to play along at home.
Home run hitters
Matz: Pete Alonso
Miller: Joc Pederson
Schoenfield: Luke Voit
Matz: Justin Verlander
Miller: Robbie Ray
Schoenfield: Max Scherzer
The Rivals - Long droughts & epic comebacks
Fueled by close geography, a cast of superstars and championship drama has fueled two of the biggest rivalries in all of sport: Man United vs. Liverpool and Red Sox vs. Yankees.