Burning questions for remainder of 2018 MLB season

With less than two months to go in the MLB regular season, much remains unsettled. Many questions need to be answered. So, what are those questions?

The Boston Red Sox have all but locked up MLB’s best record. But, with a strong finish, Boston could end up being a historically great team. The New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs are both in good playoff position. But each has an important question about a top player than needs to be answered. The Houston Astros, meanwhile, have a similar question about several key players.

Other teams like the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels, and Toronto Blue Jays are well out of any playoff race. But each has a key question that could be relevant for fans of the game going forward.

As we look towards the home stretch of the 2018 MLB season, these are the most burning questions that need to be answered.

Can the Red Sox break the wins record?

The single-season wins record is 116, jointly held by the 1906 Cubs and 2001 Seattle Mariners. Boston is 80-34, which works out to a 114-48 pace. The Red Sox have games against contenders like the Yankees, Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, and Cleveland Indians. But they also have games against teams like the White Sox, Miami Marlins, New York Mets, and Baltimore Orioles. Even a mini-losing streak would likely keep Boston from really pursuing 116. But at the rate the Sox are going, reaching and then eclipsing that record is a realistic possibility.

Can the great version of Kris Bryant return for the Cubs?

Kris Bryant

As important as a healthy Yu Darvish would be, he only plays every five games. Bryant is not only an everyday player, but one of the best players in the game. This is a guy who hit .288/.388/.527 while averaging 31 home runs a year from 2015-2017. Heck, even in an injury-riddled 2018, he’s hit .276/.380/.474 with 11 home runs in only 76 games. If we put that guy in the lineup, Chicago’s already potent offense gets a boost. If we put the 2015-2017 version of Bryant in there, the lineup becomes a pitcher’s worst nightmare.

Is Bryce Harper’s hot streak in Washington sustainable?

The Washington Nationals are still in the playoff race, but even a minor hiccup would be a potentially massive blow to the team’s chances. With all due respect to super rookie Juan Soto, Harper is still this team’s catalyst. He’s hitting .345/.451/.655 with four home runs since the break. If Harper can stay at that clip, Washington has a chance. If he cools down, especially to the level that we saw in the first half of the season, then reaching October will be a near impossibility for the Nats.

Can we trust the pitching in Los Angeles?

Compared to 2017’s National League champs, neither the starting rotation nor the bullpen is as deep for this year’s version of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw is really the only starter who can be depended upon to go deep into games. And he’s had his own postseason issues. Ross Stripling has been fantastic, but the bridge to Kenley Jansen is rocky. The Dodgers are in the mix to win a sixth-straight NL West title. The previous five postseason trips ended in disappointment, with the pitching generally being the culprit. We don’t know what 2018 will bring. But the pitching is definitely a spotty part of this team.

What will Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez bring to Chicago?

Eloy Jimenez

The White Sox have one of baseball’s worst records and won’t be at all relevant in the postseason race. But two prospects, Michael Kopech and especially Eloy Jimenez, will be worth watching. A few bad starts in inflated Kopech’s numbers (4.05 ERA, 1.31 WHIP), but his 152 strikeouts in only 113.1 innings are phenomenal. Jimenez, meanwhile, has raked all year, hitting .338/.388/.599 with 18 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A. If nothing else, a good MLB run in 2018 could clue us on in on how quickly the White Sox can pull out of what’s been a promising, but lengthy rebuild.

How much will the Mariners use Robinson Cano?

Back when Seattle was solidly in playoff position, it seemed that Cano would have a limited role upon his return. Now, it’s a much tougher issue to figure out. The Mariners are actually trailing in the race for the second wild card spot and, realistically, they need Cano’s bat. On the other hand, he’s ineligible for the postseason. With Cano set to return shortly, this question will likely get answered soon. But with a 17-year postseason drought, there’s an unquestioned level of desperation that most other teams really don’t have.

Can the Philadelphia offense hold up its end of the bargain?

This isn’t a question we thought we’d ask to ask of the normally potent Philadelphia Phillies. But the offense has consistently ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly all major offensive categories all year. Now we’re into the dog days. The quality of pitching usually takes a massive dip at this time of the year. We need to know if the offense in Philadelphia can pull its weight. Even if the Nats remain stagnant, the NL East ace with the Braves figures to go down to the wire. And in a crowded National League, relying on a wild card spot is risky.

What hope will Chris Archer bring to Pittsburgh?

The Pittsburgh Pirates are on the fringes of playoff contention in the National League. But regardless of how that pans out, the success of Archer is very important for this franchise going forward. Two starts in, the results have been somewhat mixed. Obviously, we need a little bit more than that to make an adequate judgement, though. How well Archer pitches for the balance of the season will tell us a lot about whether Pittsburgh can expect to compete in the playoffs in 2018, and beyond.

Will we see Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in Toronto?

Blue Jays prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Not unlike the White Sox, the Blue Jays aren’t at all relevant in any playoff race. But baseball fans everywhere are looking to Toronto, awaiting the MLB arrival of Guerrero. Guerrero is hitting .395/.454/.651 with 14 home runs in the minors this year. Quite frankly, he just doesn’t belong in the Minor Leagues anymore. Hopefully the Blue Jays will call him up early, giving fans an early glimpse of a man who promises to be one of the best in the game for a long time.

Will Travis Shaw’s defense be a liability in Milwaukee?

With 22 home runs, Shaw is a valuable part of the Milwaukee Brewers’ lineup. But playing second base, Shaw is quite exposed defensively. The acquisition of Mike Moustakas put Shaw at the keystone. That’s not a traditional place to hide a weak defender. The starting rotation would seem to be the bigger question for the Brewers. But while the lack of a traditional ace could be costly in the playoffs, a relatively deep rotation should be an advantage until that point. However, that deep rotation needs a good defense behind it. That only happens if Shaw plays a clean second base.

How will the A’s handle a slump?

The Oakland Athletics have gone 33-11 over the last 44 games. For reference, that pace over a full season would amount to a record of roughly 122-40. The bad news is that pace is not sustainable for such a long time. The good news it doesn’t need to be. But because Oakland has played so well for nearly two full months, we do have to wonder how the team will react when things don’t go well. Will the team bounce back okay if it loses a series to an inferior team? Will the A’s be okay if they drop a couple of close games that they should’ve won? These are important questions that need to be answered.

Can Jon Gray’s resurgence continue for the Rockies?

Gray struggled mightily in the first half of the year, even getting sent down. Since he’s been called back up, though, things have gone well. Gray has posted a 1.52 ERA and 0.71 WHIP since coming back. The questions with the Colorado Rockies always revolve around their pitching. This year is no different. But if Gray can continue to pitch like he has been of late, then he and the reliable Kyle Freeland would become a formidable 1-2 punch. That’s something that Colorado desperately needs if it’s going to surge in the playoff race.

Can Andrew Miller be an X-factor for Cleveland again?

Miller was a huge part of the success that the Cleveland Indians enjoyed in 2016 and 2017. He missed more than two months of the 2018 season. That goes a long way towards explaining that, while the Indians aren’t bad, something feels slightly off about them compared to the last two seasons. Miller is now back. His first three outings since returning have gone relatively well. Now, we need to see if he can maintain that. If so, it will bode quite well for Cleveland’s chances at pulling off what would be some pretty significant postseason upsets.

Will Shohei Ohtani pitch for the Halos?

While they could be a spoiler to opponents, the final stretch of 2018 won’t be terribly meaningful to the Angels. But as we look towards 2019, the health of Ohtani is very important. Ohtani’s had a good year at the plate. But his two-way game is what makes him such a unique weapon. Of course, injuries have kept Ohtani from pitching since early-June. If and when he does return to the bump, we of course will want to see how he handles things. Will he pitch well and, more importantly, will his injured elbow hold up? Given the alternative, we sure hope so.

When will Aaron Judge get back to New York’s lineup?

Fresh off of being on the wrong side of a four-game sweep at Fenway Park, this feels like a very relevant question. The New York offense, once the most feared in the game, loses a lot of its luster with Judge out. Now, it might seem like the Yankees are a lock for the playoffs, and realistically speaking, it looks good. But New York is now closer to being completely out of the playoffs than it is to the AL East lead. At the very least, the Yankees now have to hold off the hard-charging Oakland Athletics for the right to host the AL Wild Card Game. That’s might be hard to do without the injured Judge in the lineup everyday.

Is this the last run for this group of D-Backs?

Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock will both be free agents at the end of the season. Paul Goldschmidt is only signed through 2019. So, it’s at least possible that 2018 will be the last realistic chance for this group of Arizona Diamondbacks to win. So, how will they handle it? Will the starting rotation, which has thrown more innings than any National League team, cool off? Will Goldschmidt, who’s been on an otherworldly tear since struggling in the early season, cool off even slightly? Given the uncertainty going forward, these questions feel especially relevant.

Can Atlanta’s young pitching hold up?

As we move toward September and maybe even beyond, a good number of the Atlanta Braves’ pitchers are going to be pushed in a way that they’ve never really been pushed before. Young pitchers like Kolby Allard, Sean Newcomb, Mike Soroka (if he returns healthy), and maybe even Kyle Wright are all going to be asked to throw meaningful innings in September. That’s a tall task for pitchers who have barely thrown innings of any kind in the season’s final month. For the Braves to make that push into the playoffs, this question will have to be answered with a resounding “yes.”

Can the champ’s offense get healthy for October?

The Astros are defending their title quite well in 2018. But in recent weeks, the injury bug has hit Houston hard. In the short term, the Astros could have a problem holding off the A’s in the AL West. Fortunately for Houston, a cushion does exist. Long term, though, the bigger issue is getting healthy for October. In a year where most contenders struggle with their starting pitching, the Astros have a surplus. Even with that though, it’s hard to imagine a deep playoff run without guys like Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer being healthy.