The Game Planner, August 15th-20th

A late start this week with no early games on Monday, but there’s at least one every day the rest of the week, so plenty to get stuck into. Most notable in terms of the playoff places are the Cardinals and Angels, who have both made surprising runs to insert themselves into the postseason mix despite rather disappointing seasons up to this point. Boston and Cleveland have started to assert themselves in their respective divisions, while the Dodgers are on the kind of pace that has the all-time MLB record of 116 wins under threat. The return of Europe’s top football leagues and, somewhat bizarrely, the Little League World Series leaves MLB somewhat marginalised on BT’s schedule, so this is definitely one of those weeks when MLB.tv is a must if you want some flexibility in your baseball viewing.

If you’re new to this feature, welcome, and please read the original post if you’re looking for a full explanation of what the planner aims to do. The quick notes for those wanting to get right to the games: every game that is likely to end before about midnight UK time is counted as a ‘Watchable Game’. 9:10 PM is usually the latest start time I will include, unless there is a slightly later game of particular note. Each day I will pick out at least one watchable game of interest (identified in bold) and note some reasons why you might want to tune in, such as a particularly exciting player, a key divisional matchup, or a team on a hot streak.

A disclaimer: the schedule, both in terms of game times and projected starters, is extremely subject to change as a result of weather conditions, injuries, and the simple fact that teams sometimes change their minds about how they want to line up their starters, so please be aware that the information below is not set in stone.

The colour coded aspects of the planner are as follows:

Top Pitching Matchup – this week’s most interesting pitching duel, featuring two pitchers of either high quality or of note in some other way, such as a recent run of good form or an unusual pitching motion.
Top Offensive Matchup – a game featuring two of the league’s most productive lineups in recent weeks.
Free Game – MLB.tv’s Free Game of the Day, accessible via the MLB.tv schedule.
BT – A game being shown live on BT Sport, as per the BT Sport TV Guide. Please be aware that BT’s schedule is also subject to change.

Watchable Games

Tuesday, August 15th
8:40 PM – Astros @ Diamondbacks – It finally happened: the Astros have hit a cold streak! That basically means their lineup has been just sort of average recently, while their pitching staff has been poor. That doesn’t really apply to starter Brad Peacock, who – aside from getting crushed by the Blue Jays a couple of weeks ago – has actually performed very well in a swingman-type role. His strikeout rate and swinging strike rate are comfortably career-highs, as a new arm slot has enabled his slider to take a massive step forwards, outlined here by the ever-excellent Jeff Sullivan. Diamondbacks rookie Anthony Banda has struck out 16 batters in 15 2/3 MLB innings, albeit with 14 hits and 8 runs allowed, and made it onto the back end of a couple of top-100 prospect lists in the preseason. Watch out for his 96mph heat from the left side, and his developing changeup, which has had more whiffs against it than contact thus far, and will be crucial in determining his ultimate ceiling.

Wednesday, August 16th
6:05 PM – Angels @ Nationals
6:10 PM – Giants @ Marlins
7:10 PM – Pirates @ Brewers (Top Pitching Matchup) – I may as well start calling this the Jimmy Nelson Top Pitching Matchup, as the Brewers righty gets the nod again for this particular category, this time against Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole, with none of the very top tier of starters available for viewing this week. While Nelson did have a nine earned run disaster against the Reds last week, he still has a 3.72 ERA despite that outing, and his previous start was excellent. His K/9 is in the double-digits, at 10.03, and his ground ball rate remains north of 50%, both great signs for future success. Cole is yet to reach the ace level that many projected when he was a pitching prospect, but he’s also still just 26, and has gone at least six innings with no more than three runs given up in each of his last seven starts, with a 2.70 ERA and 38/9 K/BB since the All-Star Break. He has the rare distinction of throwing five different pitches at least 10% of the time, which makes his starts remarkably varied, if nothing else.
8:35 PM – Royals @ Athletics (Free Game)
8:40 PM – Orioles @ Mariners
8:40 PM – Phillies @ Padres

Thursday, August 17th
6:10 PM – Indians @ Twins – Cleveland has their clearest opportunity yet to really distance themselves from their divisional competition in this series, as they come into today five games clear of second-place Minnesota, who have caught back up with Kansas City by going 8-2 in their last ten. A couple of months ago, this start against Jose Berrios would have looked much more tricky for the Cleveland lineup, but Berrios and his tremendous curveball have run into trouble of late, with only one good start in the past four, and a particularly ugly outing against the Tigers on Saturday in which he failed to strike out any of the 19 batters he faced, giving up six runs in 3 1/3 innings. Mike Clevinger was on a similarly poor run until he faced the slumping Rays over the weekend and fired seven scoreless with nine strikeouts. His secondary stuff is excellent, so watch his fastball command – if it’s good, Minnesota may be in trouble, but it often isn’t and he can walk far too many.
7:10 PM – Diamondbacks @ Astros (BT)
7:20 PM – Reds @ Cubs
8:10 PM – Braves @ Rockies
9:07 PM – Rays @ Blue Jays

Friday, August 18th
7:20 PM – Blue Jays @ Cubs – With the Cubs at home, Friday night baseball returns in interleague form. Ordinarily, being in last place at this stage would mean a team is definitely out of it, but the AL East routinely bucks that trend, and 2017 is no exception. Toronto has been a pretty mediocre team this year, and yet they are still just 3 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race despite being last in the AL East. With Justin Smoak still on fire, blasting nine homers in the last month, and Josh Donaldson back to his MVP level (.263/.393/.566 in the same span), the lineup is threatening in at least two spots, and the loss of Troy Tulowitzki for the season may sadly not be much of a loss at all, even with the weak bat of Ryan Goins replacing him. Both J.A. Happ and Jake Arrieta have battled to decent results despite not having the same form as previous seasons, so this one may come down to who can keep their walks under control, with both lineups very capable of being more patient than the average team at the plate.

Saturday, August 19th
7:20 PM – Blue Jays @ Cubs
9:05 PM – Dodgers @ Tigers
9:05 PM – Cardinals @ Pirates – Are the Cardinals ever really out of the race? Once the Cubs finally made it past the Brewers, it seemed as though the NL Central would be theirs as expected, only for St. Louis to win eight in a row to move right back into contention. As usual, a bunch of players who weren’t even in the Cardinals’ lineup to start the year have been playing a huge role, most notably Tommy Pham, who has 14 homers, 16 steals, and is batting .309 over 89 games, and Paul DeJong, slashing .297/.326/.578 over the first 261 PA of his MLB career. Recently Jose Martinez, a 29-year-old who has spent time in the minor league system of four different MLB organisations as well as the independent leagues and was acquired by the Cardinals for cash last year, has hit so well that the team demoted Stephen Piscotty instead of him when Dexter Fowler came off the DL. The Pirates are still in touch at 4 1/2 games behind the Cubs, but with Colorado and Arizona so far ahead in the Wild Card spots, they need a similar run to the Cardinals to challenge for the division, and although Andrew McCutchen has kept up his outstanding performance, only Josh Bell and Josh Harrison have provided even an above-average presence in the lineup around him.

Sunday, August 20th
6:10 PM – Dodgers @ Tigers
6:10 PM – Marlins @ Mets
6:10 PM – Mariners @ Rays
6:30 PM – Yankees @ Red Sox
6:35 PM – Angels @ Orioles (Top Offensive Matchup) – For the first time in what feels like (and might actually be) months, a team other than Houston is top of the recent offensive leaderboards, and it’s the free-swinging, homer-happy Orioles. Baltimore has hit a league-leading 47 dingers over the last 30 days, 25 of them coming in the past two weeks. Chiefly responsible for this explosion are the rejuvenated Manny Machado, who has five of those homers and is hitting .339 in the second half, and Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, and Trey Mancini, who all have seven bombs in the past 30 days. New acquisition Tim Beckham might have outstripped them all, however: he is hitting .500 with seven doubles, two triples, and four homers since he arrived in Baltimore a fortnight ago. The surging Angels have been the 10th-best lineup in the past two weeks, so not quite so exciting, but they do have the game’s best player in Mike Trout, on the way to his finest season with the bat, a breakout offensive performance from the game’s best defensive shortstop, Andrelton Simmons, and a sudden injection of speed from Simmons, Ben Revere, and Kaleb Cowart, who have helped Los Angeles to a league-leading 16 stolen bases in August.
6:35 PM – Reds @ Braves
7:10 PM – Diamondbacks @ Twins
7:10 PM – Athletics @ Astros
7:15 PM – Indians @ Royals (Free Game)
7:20 PM – Blue Jays @ Cubs
8:05 PM – White Sox @ Rangers
8:10 PM – Brewers @ Rockies
9:05 PM – Phillies @ Giants

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