The baseball season is long, and it also goes by pretty fast. It's hard to believe, but it has been nearly seven months since pitchers and catchers reported back in February. Everything that has happened since has pointed us toward what is shaping up as a great final month of the regular season.
For today's Stock Watch, let's step back and make a holistic appraisal of what has transpired since those quiet Cactus and Grapefruit days. We've divided the teams into two groups: contenders and also-rans. We're calling any team that still has at least a 1 percent chance at the postseason in my latest run of simulations a contender, while acknowledging that for teams such as the Tampa Bay Rays and Washington Nationals, that might not be an apt description. That's 16 teams; the other 14 clubs comprise the also-ran class.
Alongside each team's current win forecast and percentage shot at the playoffs, we're listing how much those measurements have shifted since the last time we ran the simulations back in spring training. Within each class (contenders and also-rans), teams are ordered by their change in win forecast.
Along with the metrics, we're going to weigh in on just what each team has to play for during the last month of regular-season play in 2018.
Current win forecast: 96.4 (change from spring: +20.2)
Current playoff probability: 92.2 percent (up 75.2 percent from spring)
Current championship probability: 2.2 percent
The A's don't have the benefit of anymore head-to-head encounters with the first-place Astros, so Oakland's run at the AL West title will depend on them beating other teams and getting help elsewhere. It's a scenario any A's fan would have embraced back in spring training. While Bob Melvin is the likely favorite for AL Manager of the Year, you don't hear us talk much about Oakland players in the postseason conversation. I'm not quite ready to back Blake Treinen for the Cy Young, but it could happen. Matt Chapman isn't in the middle of the MVP conversation, but he's in the ring circling it. The top rookie has been Lou Trivino, and how many fans outside of the Bay Area know about him? Yet all of these people and more are worth watching on what is a very entertaining team. Chapman is a nightly thrill to watch play defense at the hot corner, and rookie center fielder Ramon Laureano puts on a show with his arm. The question isn't why you would watch the A's, but why wouldn't you?
Boston Red Sox
Current win forecast: 109.1 (change from spring: +17.0)
Current playoff probability: 100 percent (up 36 percent from spring)
Current championship probability: 19.0 percent
Boston has a 9.5-game edge over Houston in the race for the No. 1 AL playoff seed. Barring a collapse that would revisit 1978-style horrors, the Red Sox should cruise into the postseason with home-field advantage locked up for however long they last in October. This month is about setting up the pitching staff for October. That begins with getting Chris Sale and David Price healthy. Then, after that, we'll be watching to see if Nathan Eovaldi can overtake Eduardo Rodriguez in the battle for Boston's last playoff rotation spot.
Current win forecast: 89.3 (change from spring: +15.7)
Current playoff probability: 82.1 percent (up 67.1 percent from spring)
Current championship probability: 4.5 percent
The Braves are well positioned in the NL East race, though it's close enough that one week can flip everything upside down. Atlanta has not been playing particularly well over the past couple of weeks, relying on late-inning magic to maintain its edge over the Phillies. Even so, Atlanta has split its past 20 games. After finishing their current home series against the powerhouse Red Sox, the Braves head out for a seven-game trip out west. Even though Philadelphia has been sliding, don't forget that the Braves and Phillies still have seven games head-to-head remaining, including a three-game set at Citizens Bank Park to finish the regular season.
Current win forecast: 92.5 (change from spring: +12.1)
Current playoff probability: 94.1 percent (up 63.1 percent from spring)
Current championship probability: 2.9 percent
Remember 2017? It was last year, so if you don't, you should probably seek medical attention. The Brewers entered last season to low external expectations but got off to a .500-ish start, worked their way up to first place and remained there into the second half of the season, before hanging in the playoff race into late September. Here are the players on the opening day roster of that Brew Crew team who are still on Milwaukee's active roster: Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton, Hernan Perez, Travis Shaw, Manny Pina, Eric Thames, Jesus Aguilar, Orlando Arcia, Zach Davies, Chase Anderson, Corey Knebel and Jacob Barnes -- less than half the current squad. Brewers GM David Stearns has stayed aggressive throughout this two-year push into contention, remaking the club with one small upgrade after another (except for the big Christian Yelich/Lorenzo Cain-sized upgrades). This month is when we find out how it all works out. But the Brewers are a better team now than they were a month go, two months ago, and at any point last season. You can't say they haven't tried.
Current win forecast: 89.4 (change from spring: +8.9)
Current playoff probability: 5.8 percent (down 22.2 percent from spring)
Current championship probability: 0.0 percent
Either the Mariners are coming apart or they decided to stage a reenactment of the intramural brawl scene from "Major League." Alas, literal infighting is not a thing the fans can watch if it's happening behind closed clubhouse doors. Either the M's should install cameras in the clubhouse and beam those matches onto the video board, or they should just stage them out on the field during batting practice. They might win over a few Seahawks fans. As for actual baseball, the Mariners' playoff hopes are almost zilch, but closer Edwin Diaz still has a shot at setting a new saves record. Saves aren't something I get too excited over, but a record is a record. Diaz has saved 52 of Seattle's 77 wins, which even I have to admit is pretty remarkable.
Current win forecast: 87.0 (change from spring: +8.8)
Current playoff probability: 38.7 percent (up 17.7 percent from spring)
Current championship probability: 0.9 percent
Whatever I might say about the Rockies' negative run differential, lack of roster depth, or their 29th-or-worse bWAR ranking at four different positions, none of it erases this factoid: As I type these words, the Rockies are in first place in the NL West. They have two position players who have been top-20 performers this season in Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado. They have a legit rotation paced by two guys -- German Marquez and Kyle Freeland -- who are rolling. And the Rockies' beleaguered bullpen has been a little better of late. The Rockies are at home until Sept. 13, playing division foes, taking on the Giants, Dodgers and Diamondbacks in order. They then hit the road to play those same three teams on the road. As good as Colorado's position is right now, it feels like if they don't make good on the current homestand, their season's story will be told more by those shaky underlying metrics than that lofty standing on Labor Day. Buckle up, Rockies fans.
Tampa Bay Rays
Current win forecast: 88.2 (change from spring: +8.3)
Current playoff probability: 3.8 percent (down 20.2 percent from spring)
Current championship probability: 0.1 percent
The thing is, I didn't think the Rays would be bad this season and certainly never thought they should have been lumped in with teams that some labeled as "tankers" -- a term I can't abide. I thought Tampa Bay would be perfectly mediocre. And they were, too, before the front office decided to jettison veterans Corey Dickerson, Steven Souza Jr., Chris Archer, Adeiny Hechavarria and Wilson Ramos. Then they got even better. Since July 31, the Rays have gone from 53-53 (mediocre!) to 74-63 (hey, that's pretty good). There are lots of reasons to watch this team play, even in a hellish venue like the Trop. Jake Bauers' emerging bat. The intensity of Tommy Pham. The outfield acrobatics of Kevin Kiermaier. The infield wizardry of Joey Wendle. But at the very least, tune in when Blake Snell takes the mound. No opener needed on his days. Snell has a good chance to win 20 games on a team trying to make starting pitchers as obsolete as my old portable CD player. Over his past 11 outings, Snell has been deGrom-like, only with winning decisions. He's 9-1 during that stretch, with a 1.26 ERA.
Current win forecast: 84.5 (change from spring: +3.9)
Current playoff probability: 18.3 percent (down 11.7 percent from spring)
Current championship probability: 0.1 percent
I've probably been a little hard on the Phillies lately because I haven't been a big fan of their approach to in-season upgrades. However, in my roster value ratings, only the Braves have increased theirs more since spring training than the Phillies have. Philadelphia ranked in the bottom five at catcher all season before acquiring Wilson Ramos; now they're ninth. The rotation has jumped from 16th to eighth, though the biggest leap in that area came during spring training, when Jake Arrieta signed on. The bullpen has jumped from 25th in my initial 2018 ratings to ninth. So this is clearly a deeper, more talented roster. The Phillies are intelligently run, in the front office and from the dugout. Nevertheless, I can't understand how when you have a weakness as glaring as the Phillies' MLB-worst defense that you can't shore up that aspect to some degree. It's there in the advanced metrics (minus-115 defensive runs saved, per Baseball Info Solutions, ranked 30th) and it's there in the old-school stats (tied for most errors, MLB-low fielding percentage and fourth-most unearned runs).
New York Yankees
Current win forecast: 99.1 (change from spring: +2.5)
Current playoff probability: 98.3 percent (up 22.3 percent from spring)
Current championship probability: 5.0 percent
The formula for this year's Yankees was supposed to be a powerhouse offense plus a fire-breathing bullpen plus a decent starting rotation. With J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn performing well, the rotation part of the formula now seems to be there. The bullpen has fallen a bit short of expectations and now may be without Aroldis Chapman for the rest of the season. But it's still a strong group and a strength heading into the postseason, even if Chapman can't go. The offense has also been mostly as advertised. The Yankees are on pace to hit 264 homers, which would match the 1997 Mariners as the most ever by a team. The Yankees are on pace to score 837 runs, second in baseball behind Boston. They've also been consistent offensively, even though they've been more dependent on the long ball for run scoring than any other team. Yet it just doesn't feel like it has all come together. New York has won five of 10 and 12 of 20 coming out of a soft spot on the schedule. Can the Yanks play up to their considerable potential by the time the playoffs come around?
Current win forecast: 101.8 (change from spring: +2.0)
Current playoff probability: 99.9 percent (up 18.9 percent from spring)
Current championship probability: 32.3 percent
With the Indians easing up and the Red Sox on cruise control, the Astros only have to concern themselves with the race they figured to have wrapped up before the season even began: the AL West title. Little by little, the Astros have gotten their key position players back, and during Houston's current 10-3 run, they've averaged 5.3 runs per game. Now the injury focus moves to the pitching staff, where Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. are on the shelf and Hector Rondon just took a line drive off his pitching hand. With a soft finishing schedule beyond this weekend's epic clash with Boston at Fenway Park, Houston should still land comfortably into the No. 2 slot in the AL bracket. Unfortunately for Oakland, the A's won't be able to make up ground head-to-head: Those division foes won't see each other again during the regular season.