MLB, Toronto Blue Jays

Inside the Clubhouse: What’s fueling the surges for the Blue Jays and Cardinals?

This week, Inside the Clubhouse checks in on the Brewers’ rotation, the Blue Jays’ playoff push, the injury-decimated Padres and more.

The Milwaukee Brewers’ rotation, featuring Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta, is arguably the best and most talented in baseball.

Why, then, did the Brewers check in on Max Scherzer before the trade deadline, only to be informed that the right-hander preferred a trade to the west coast?

The answer starts with this: Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns checks in on every player. He made an offer for Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story. He asked the Chicago Cubs about reliever Craig Kimbrel, according to Adam McCalvy of He talked to the Minnesota Twins about third baseman Josh Donaldson.

To hear one Brewers official describe it, Scherzer was a unique opportunity at acquiring one of the best pitchers of this generation. There were few in the industry who expected Scherzer to become available, but when the Nationals waved the white flag and made every player not named Juan Soto available, contending teams shifted their focus to Scherzer.

That meant that the Brewers, even with Woodruff, Burnes and Peralta, tried to get involved. Other contending teams already view them as a postseason matchup nightmare considering their ability to start an ace caliber pitcher on any given night. Just imagine adding Scherzer to that group. One American League official referred to that possibility as “fucking nuts.”

Scherzer, of course, was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. But there are some inside the Brewers organization who feel they have a World Series caliber roster, with reliever Josh Hader calling it “best squad I’ve been on.” Their pursuits of Scherzer and Story would seem to indicate Stearns agrees.

The Blue Jays have the players to make a push

A rival American League executive recently argued that no team has had a better year in player acquisition than the Toronto Blue Jays.

He might not be wrong. They added Marcus Semien, George Springer and Robbie Ray in free agency while acquiring Jose BerriosAdam Cimber, Brad Hand and Corey Dickerson at the trade deadline. Yet the Blue Jays entered Sunday in fourth place and 8.5 games back in the AL East, with their +122 run differential ranking third in the AL.

Semien, 30, bet on himself this past winter by signing a one-year deal and by slashing .272/.339/.525 through 117 games, has positioned himself to receive a significant contract even in a historically deep free-agent infield class. Springer, 31, has been among the best players in baseball after missing the beginning of the season with oblique and quad strains. And Ray, who was the first major-league free agent to sign, has a 2.88 ERA through 23 starts and looks like one of the best bargains of the offseason.

The Blue Jays, who returned to the Rogers Centre on July 30, are in position to potentially gain ground quickly in the AL East. They are 9-2 since returning to Toronto, outscoring opponents 58-32, and have the second-most home games remaining on their schedule. It includes seven games against the Yankees, with four coming in New York, and 10 games against the Baltimore Orioles, who have the worst record in the AL (38-77).

The Blue Jays are 3.5 games back of the second AL wild-card position and, with two top-5 MVP candidates and improved starting pitching in the second half, have the ability to close that gap quickly. To do so, however, they need to be better in one-run games, going 8-13 in such games, and improve their late-inning offense.

Injuries are taking their toll on the Padres

The San Diego Padres’ starting rotation, once deemed the deepest and most talented in franchise history, has been decimated. They failed to address it before the trade deadline. Then Yu Darvish went on the IL and their most glaring hole turned into a dire situation.

The Padres have begun exploring outside options, with free-agent right-hander Jake Arrieta being in the mix, as first reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune. Another possibility is right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who was recently released by the San Francisco Giants.

At this point, the Padres almost have to bring in an outside option. Chris Paddack remains sidelined with an oblique strain. Ryan Weathers’ ERA has soared from 2.73 to 4.72 in his last three starts. Top pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore hasn’t pitched in a minor league game in weeks.

But really, how much would Arrieta help? He was released by the Chicago Cubs after posting a 6.88 ERA in 20 starts. In his last start against the Brewers, he faced 11 hitters and allowed eight hits in the first inning. He might be best served throwing batting practice at this stage of his career, let alone pitching in a pennant race for a contending team.

Sanchez, 29, provides more upside than Arrieta, posting a 3.06 ERA in 35.1 innings this season. But he landed on the IL with right biceps tendinitis and a blister issue that kept him out nearly three months. He made two appearances before being DFA’d by the Giants, so he is healthy, but his extensive injury history could scare off the Padres or any other team searching for dependable arms in the rotation.

The Padres’ decision not to acquire a starting pitcher looked questionable on July 30. Now, two weeks later, it somehow looks even worse and is threatening to derail a season that began with World Series aspirations.

The St. Louis Cardinals are coming on strong

Don’t look now, but here come the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals have won six straight games, featuring sweeps against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals, and now 4.5 games behind the slumping Padres for the second NL wild-card position. And both Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt are heating up, combining to hit 15 for 46 (.326) with three home runs and 15 RBI in the last week.

But it has been the Cardinals’ pitching, headlined by Adam Wainwright and J.A. Happ, that has fueled their recent surge. Cardinals pitchers have a 1.65 ERA in their last 31.2 innings (excluding Wade LeBlanc’s injury-shortened outing) and recently had Jack Flaherty return from a 73-day absence, picking up where he left off in a dominant six-inning appearance against the Royals.

Now, the Cardinals enter what is arguably their most important series of the season, a three-game matchup against the Brewers. At this point, with the Cardinals trailing these Brewers by 10 games in the NL Central, it’s doubtful they will catch them with 45 games left in the season. But now only one team, the Cincinnati Reds, sits between the Cardinals and the Padres for the second wild-card spot.

“This is why I’m here,” Arenado said. “We’re in it. We have a chance.”

FanGraphs listed those chances at just 1.3 percent on Aug. 10. Now, less than a week later, those odds have increased to 5.8 percent. Cardinals officials promised that they had a late-season surge in them. It appears that moment has finally arrived.

Around the Horn

  • The New York Mets are now 4-21 in their last 25 games against the Dodgers. To make matters even worse, they have 10 consecutive games coming up against these Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants, who have the best record (76-42) in baseball.
  • Travis Shaw is healthy after being claimed off waivers by the Boston Red Sox and could get immediate playing time against the Yankees. While he slashed .191/.279/.337, good for a 68 wRC+, he hit .273 with two homers and eight RBI during an 11-game rehab stint with Triple-A Nashville.

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