Every Thursday, Jordan Shusterman from each MLB division checks in on one thing we learned from the past week’s action.

AL East: A rookie offers the most leverage oriolescircle full of questions

is it finally happening grayson rodriguez, The 23-year-old right-hander debuted in April amid huge expectations as one of baseball’s top prospects, posting only a 7.35 ERA in his first 10 starts before being sent back to Triple-A. Since his return in July, Rodriguez has begun to look like the player considered the most important arm of the Baltimore rebuild, producing hitter after hitter. Rodriguez has recorded a 3.03 ERA in his last six starts, including Monday’s one-run, seven-inning gem against San Diego in which he some of the worst stuff of any starter throughout the season.

His four-seamer averaged a ridiculous 98.9 mph—it was around 95 mph during the first two months of the season—while his secondary stuff was surprisingly bad. The performance was a powerful reminder that the best version of Rodriguez could be the best option for the Orioles in Game 1 of a postseason series this October. kyle bradish It has been the undervalued all season and will be your safest bet for one of the first two games. Kyle Gibson And dean kramer Hits can be made, but those hits are hit harder than you’d expect in a high-stakes game. deadline acquisition Jack Flaherty Can deliver six strong innings on the right day, and three disaster frames on the wrong day.

G-Rod’s season ERA won’t be the prettiest until October comes, but the fact is that when things are clicking for him, none of his staff mates can dominate like he can. Regardless if we see it in a later episode of this year’s season, this guy will be good for a tall Time.

AL Central: Bobby Witt Jr., breaking even baseball

Coming off a rookie year in which he launched 20 homers and swiped 30 bags as a 22-year-old shortstop, Witt’s cathedral-esque offensive ceiling was still intact entering 2023. His lackluster .294 OBP was forgivable. More serious concern? Poor defensive metrics that rated Royal Family One of the most reckless infielders in the Dynamo game. Sure enough, Witt as a sophomore answered those questions in a surprisingly effusive, transformative way. From awesome to awesome with the gloves in year 2, But amid his defensive turnaround, Witt has also continued to step up to the plate. After four consecutive unsuccessful games in mid-July saw his season OPS drop to .729, Witt shot a ridiculous .409/.453/.739 over his next 21 games, good for a 225 WRC+ that was the best in baseball. Was in second place. jose altuve during that period.

it has added wit to it Top 10 in FWAR among all position players, Plus, he’s already passed the 20 HR/30 SB standard he achieved as a rookie and is now on pace for a sixth 30 HR/45 SB season. mlb History.

No one has ever doubted Witt’s raw physical ability to affect the game with his power and speed. But as one of the best high school prospects we’ve seen this century, the question was always about the degree to which his medium-hitting tool would enable the rest of his skills to come into play. His lack of walks and tendency to chase pitches may suggest some degree to his eventual OBP potential, but Witt is unquestionably already making far more contact than many evaluators consider realistic. And when you have the kind of excellent bat speed that he does, putting an average amount of balls in a game will certainly lead to star-level production – especially when you’re one of the fastest players in the league. That’s exactly what we’ve seen, and it’s been wonderful to see.

AL West: Astros cheater JP France demands your attention

Although Houston’s farm system has regularly been near the bottom of baseball during the big league club’s reign at the top of the American League, the Astros have continued to churn out productive players from unlikely places. hunter brown The year was much talked about and generally publicized with a glow of excellence. However, Brown has not been the Astros’ best rookie arm. That pride belongs to France. The 2018 14th-round pick debuted early this season at the age of 28 after systematically pitching quality innings at each level of the MILB ladder. Whereas christian xavier After impressive showings in the 2022 postseason have fallen short of what was expected to be a breakout campaign, it is France who has stepped up to keep this pitching staff in traditionally excellent condition.

France’s 2.74 ERA is not only the lowest among all qualified rookie starting pitchers, it is also the fourth lowest among all MLB pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched. This ranks 78th, or well below league average, despite a 17.4% strikeout rate. The low K rate isn’t particularly shocking considering France’s raw material in the middle, but it’s a stark contrast to the roughly 30% of batters he’s punching out while climbing the minor-league ladder. France’s five-pitch mix isn’t generating quite the same response as big-league hitters so far, but it’s clearly good enough to keep him offbalance and maintain the run prevention typical of one of baseball’s best teams. Is.

Where France Fits Into the Astros’ Rotation Will be interesting to watch as October draws closer. with the recent return of jose urquidi, Houston faces an interesting decision with six healthy starters. reacquisition of justin verlander makes the top of the rotation awfully familiar next framber valdez, How France, Xavier, Brown and Urquidi stack up after that remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: In a year full of unexpected storylines with this rotation, France’s success has been the biggest surprise.

NL East: Call it a Tree Turnaround

it was bound to happen eventually Phillies‘The $300 Million Man is finally starting to look like himself. move against homer Kansas City The curtain talks a few weeks ago definitely sparked some sparks. tree turner, the 30-year-old shortstop has batted over .400 in 11 games since that feel-good dinger. Manager Rob Thomson has moved Turner several different spots in the lineup since dropping him from second to seventh on July 29, and I look forward to seeing where Turner gets before he moves back to the 2-hole. How long will it take to perform at this level? , In theory, Turner’s game-changing pace is best deployed in an order where big boppers can drive him inside, but he would have to get on base enough for such a strategy to appear.

Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros and Trea Turner of the Phillies lead the Team of the Week

With so many players in Philadelphia’s lineup capable of going from icy cold to blazing hot (and back to freezing) in an instant, we have yet to see this club gel in full symphony. The Phillies are pretty good at putting themselves in a strong enough position to secure a wild-card spot, but we haven’t even come close to seeing the offense reach its peak. Turner’s continuing to rediscover the superstar version of himself could go a long way toward unlocking that potential.

NL Central: cub Get a New Closer and Better Bullpen

Part of what doomed the 2022 Cubs was a poorly equipped bullpen that was over-taxed. Chicago relievers pitched more innings last year than any team except Tampa Bay, yet collectively produced 0.9 FWAR, which was 28th in MLB. It was not a strong unit.

Enter 2023, where an improved rotation has reduced the workload on the rest of the staff. While some might object to calling Chicago’s bullpen a strength, remarkable progress has been made in ensuring that the end of games certainly doesn’t end in misery for this team. Its relievers threw a combined 426.1 innings (21st in MLB) and produced a 3.97 ERA (12th) with a 24.9% strikeout rate (7th). In short, the Cubs have strengthened the relief corps far more than they have probably been given credit for. They’ve gotten some of their best work from unlikely sources, including journeyman Julien Meriwether (71 K in 53.1 IP) and . Mark Leiter Jr., (2.81 ERA in 51.1 IP), young swingman Xavier Assad (3.12 ERA in 60.2 IP) and recent trade acquisitions jose cus (0.00 ERA in 5 appearances with CHC).

I have particularly enjoyed the emergence of the right-handed batsman edbert alzole as the primary closer, a role he seized in early July. Alzole bounced up and down the Cubs’ prospect lists for half a decade before making his MLB debut in 2019, and he seems to have finally found his role after stalling as an adequate big league starter. he throws hard but no He difficult. Yet he has also developed excellent command over an unusually deep four-pitch arsenal for close combat, which has helped him consistently inspire both shock and weak contact, He might not be as flashy as some of the league’s other great game-enders, but he’s not far behind them in terms of pure effectiveness. If the Cubs are going to have a real run at someplace after the season, Alzole will certainly play a big role.

NL West: bobby miller pumping gas for a needy dodgers pitching engine

with jacob degrom out for the year and Hunter green Not throwing as hard as last season, current title Hardest Throwing Starting Pitcher in Baseball Miller’s. The rookie righty averages 99.2 mph on his four-seamer and 98.8 mph on his sinker, trailing only the hardest-throwing relievers in the game (for example). john duran, eroldis chapmanAnd jordan hicks, Beyond pure Fuego, Miller’s ability to use two different types of fastballs adds to the complexity of his high-powered attack. On the season, his use of his two heaters has looked nearly identical—he has thrown 302 four-seamers compared to 295 sinkers—though he has gone four-seam heavy in recent weeks, while also using his slider and cleats to strike and chase. Are leaning more on curveballs in the field.

Miller’s fiery arsenal may not generate as many strikeouts as one might assume (8.4 K/9), but he has begun to play a key role within a Dodgers rotation that has been shaky for years. Six innings of one-hit, one-run ball on Tuesday Milwaukee Lowered his season ERA to 3.70 – and to 2.59 in his last six starts. Inclusion of experienced innings-eaters Lance Lynn And Ryan Yarbrough Concerns about the pitching staff being too depleted have waned, but Miller’s increased credibility in recent weeks has also been a great aid to those efforts.

Similar to Rodriguez in Baltimore and France in Houston, the way the 24-year-old Miller throws the ball could have a huge impact on how his team chooses to deploy him in October. Needed clayton kershaw stay healthy and Julio Urias And Tony Gonsolin Continue trending in the right direction, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which Miller transitions to the bullpen – can he hit even harder in relief?! – as a way to maximize the pitching staff and manage his innings as a young arm. But if Miller continues to hold his own as a starter, he could become one of Dave Roberts’ best options to start playoff games.

Jordan is one half of Shusterman @cespedesbbq and baseball writer for Fox Sports. He has covered baseball his entire adult life, most notably for mlb.com, DAZN and The Ringer. he is a mariners A fan living in the Eastern Time Zone, which means he likes a good first pitch at 10 p.m. you can follow him on x @j_shusterman_.

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