For the entire first half, we waited for the Cleveland Indians to hit their stride and get on a roll. This immensely talented team hovered perpetually around .500, and spent most of the first three months outside of first place.
As the trade deadline came and went, the Indians finally clicked, and started pulling away in the AL Central. But now as we head into the end of August, Cleveland is being hit with a wave of injuries. They're maintaining a fairly comfortable division lead (5.5 games), but as key players continue to drop it's looking slightly less safe.
Andrew Miller, freshly activated from the disabled list, exited Monday's appearance after seven pitches. His knee tendinitis issue flared up, and the Indians placed him right back on the DL. The bullpen ace is looking at an uncertain timeline, but could be out until late September or beyond. They need him right for the playoffs.
The next day, Danny Salazar followed Miller onto the shelf. Salazar's sporadically problematic elbow is barking again, though an MRI showed no structural damage. He could return in mid-September, which is also a reasonable target for Jason Kipnis (hamstring strain suffered Tuesday night). On top of all that, Carlos Santana has been dealing with a back injury that kept him out of the lineup for most the week, though he returned on Friday night.
Meanwhile, the second-place Twins have kept the pressure up by going 14-6 in their past 20 games, driven by Byron Buxton's breakout, Brian Dozier's customary second-half eruption, Jorge Polanco's scorching August, and Eddie Rosario's ongoing tear.
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* While they have plenty of hot hitters, the Twins will have to make do without Miguel Sano for a bit. The big slugger went on the DL due to a stress reaction in his shin, and is expected to miss more than the minimum. The injury comes just after he broke out of a slump by smacking two home runs last Friday. With Joey Gallo also down for the moment (7-day concussion DL), the American League is without two of its loudest power bats.
* From history to heartbreak: Rich Hill had a letdown for the ages on Wednesday. He took a perfect game into the ninth before losing it on Logan Forsythe's fielding error. With the game still scoreless after regulation, Hill carried his no-hitter into the 10th only to watch Josh Harrison take it away – along with a victory – on a leadoff homer.
It was an unfortunate outcome for the veteran lefty, but still another encouraging sign that he's locked in and ready to dominate down the stretch. Hill has notched 72 strikeouts in 56 innings since the start of July.
* It appears Hill will soon by joined in the rotation by Clayton Kershaw, who's been missing from the Dodgers rotation for the past month due to a back strain. He's scheduled to make a minor-league rehab start on Saturday night, and if all goes well he could return to the mound for Los Angeles next weekend.
* At long last, David Wright is on the path back to New York. The third baseman played only 75 games over the last two years combined, and hasn't been able to take the field for the Mets in 2017, but on Tuesday he embarked on a rehab assignment at High-A St. Lucie. Chronic back and shoulder issues have sabotaged most of his career after turning 30, but it looks like Wright will make it back in September.
His teammate Steven Matz, however, will not. The lefty underwent season-ending surgery on Wednesday to reposition a compressed nerve in his elbow. It's not as serious as some other elbow procedures, so Matz should theoretically be good to go for the start of next year, but he'll be hard to trust given the litany of health issues he has faced since arriving in the majors.
* The Mets could really use Wright's right-handed bat in the lineup right now with both Michael Conforto (shoulder) and Yoenis Cespedes (hamstring) going on the disabled list this week. With Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson already out of the picture, Brandon Nimmo and Matt Reynolds could both see considerable time in the outfield corners.
* Last week we examined the numerous fluid ninth-inning situations around the league. Now, Colorado might be looking at its own closer crisis. Greg Holland, who'd been ultra-reliable over the first four months, has hit a major slump here in August, and on Wednesday he coughed up three runs for a second straight outing while blowing a save against Kansas City. Holland has been tagged with four losses in his past six appearances, and has a 21.60 ERA during that span.
For now, manager Bud Black is insisting he'll stick with the All-Star closer, and Holland converted a save on Friday night with no issue, but the ice is getting thin. Pat Neshek and Jake McGee are the top candidates to step in for saves if it breaks.
* As we feared, Trevor Rosenthal will indeed require Tommy John surgery, which means he's gone for the rest of this year and most of next. It's a shame to see one of the game's best strikeout relievers facing an extended absence, though the Cardinals do have another experienced closer in tow.
* One big-name closer is gone, but another appears to have dodged a bullet. Zach Britton went for an MRI after blowing his first save in 61 chances on Wednesday, with word coming down that the righty's been dealing with knee discomfort for some time. But the scan came back negative, and Britton was available to pitch Friday night.
* Here in the second half, the rebuilding White Sox are taking a look at their new toys. Yoan Moncada has been up for about a month and has shown some positive signs (though he left Thursday's game with shin splints landed on the DL). Reynaldo Lopez recently made his South Side debut two weeks ago, and on Tuesday it was Lucas Giolito's turn. The highly touted prospect looked solid enough against the Twins, striking out four over six innings of four-run ball while (most importantly) walking none. Lopez is expected back soon and both could offer moderate value down the stretch if they stick.
* It was a weird and wild one in Detroit on Thursday, marked by multiple moments of tension that led to cleared benches and on-field scraps. Hostilities were kicked off by a fight between Miguel Cabrera and Austin Romine at home plate that led to suspensions for both (7 for Cabrera, 2 for Romine) as well as Alex Wilson (4) and Gary Sanchez (4). All penalized participants can keep playing while they appeal.
* After a disappointing rookie campaign in Arizona, Yasmany Tomas turned it around in 2016 with 31 homers and an .820 OPS. The hope was that he'd take another step forward at age 26 but instead, 2017 will essentially go down as a lost season for the Cuban outfielder.
Tomas has been out since early June with a groin injury, and after a lengthy rehab fraught with setbacks, the D-backs announced this week he'd be undergoing season-ending surgery. The good news is that he'll have plenty of time to recover and prepare for 2018, and we like his chances for a bounceback, though it might not be in Arizona.
* The Red Sox placed Jackie Bradley Jr. on the disabled list with a sprained thumb. An MRI showed no structural damage, but he'll miss the rest of August and likely a good chunk of September. Chris Young and Brock Holt will share time in left for Boston while Andrew Benintendi slides to center.
* Vince Velasquez is out for the season as a result of surgery required to correct a vascular issue in his middle finger. The promising yet perplexing hurler had a very disappointing season, and now looks ahead to an offseason of uncertainty.