Tampa Bay Rays

MLB Trade Deadline: Tampa Bay Rays hoping Jesus Aguilar returns to form

First baseman Jesus Aguilar on his way to Tampa Bay after a disappointing season so far in 2019 for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Jesus Aguilar had a breakout season in 2018, establishing himself as one of the top power hitters in baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays hope that version of Aguilar comes back after making a deal for the Milwaukee Brewers slugger at Wednesday’s trade deadline.

The Rays are acquiring the 29-year-old first baseman from Milwaukee for relief pitcher Jake Faria, a deal first reported by ESPN‘s Jeff Passan. Aguilar has eight home runs in 94 games with the Brewers this season but has recently started losing playing time to Eric Thames.

Aguilar’s numbers this season are a far cry from where they were a year ago. In 2018, Aguilar ranked fifth in the National League with 35 home runs and fourth with 108 RBI. He made the All-Star team for the first time in his career while forming a key part of the Brewers lineup that came a game away from playing in the World Series.

But already in the second half last season there were signs of decline. He went from 24 home runs and batting nearly .300 before the All-Star break to hitting .245 with 11 home runs late in the season. Those struggles have continued into this year. Aguilar’s hard-hit percentage is down three percentage points compared to a year ago, while his percentage of fly balls that are home runs is down from 23.8 percent in 2018 to 12.5 percent this year. He’s started just 10 of the Brewers’ last 25 games and hasn’t hit a home run in his last 15 games.

If Aguilar can return to his 2018 form, though, he can bring some stability to the Rays lineup. The Rays have used five different players at first base this season. Travis d’Arnaud had never played first in his career prior to this season but has started there seven times in July. He’s responded with eight home runs this month, including his first career three-home run game on July 15 in Yankee Stadium. Rookie Nate Lowe has also started seven games at the position this month, hitting .333 with five home runs.

The Rays can use all the offensive help they can get from Aguilar to keep pace with the New York Yankees in the AL East. Leading the division as recently as June 14, the Rays are now 7.5 games back of the Yankees entering play on Wednesday. They’re just 19-21 in their last 40 games but are still just a half-game back of the Oakland Athletics for the second AL Wild Card spot.

Going to Milwaukee is right-handed reliever Faria. The 26-year-old has appeared in seven games for the Rays out of the bullpen this season, giving up three earned runs in 10 innings while striking out nearly 10 batters per-nine innings.

Next: Noah Syndergaard staying with the New York Mets

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