Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel finally have jobs, and each also has a chance to affect the playoff race in the National League.
It was no surprise they both ended up with contenders. Kimbrel signed with the Chicago Cubs, Keuchel with the Atlanta Braves. If the season ended now, those teams would be in the postseason, and adding these pitchers could be the equivalent of making a major pickup at the trade deadline — only the Cubs and Braves did it sooner.
Kimbrel's role with Chicago isn't hard to predict. The 31-year-old closer has 333 saves in his career, including 42 last year with the champion Red Sox. The Cubs have been without closer Brandon Morrow, who is coming off elbow surgery. They have some other relievers with closing experience in Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler and Pedro Strop, and even without Kimbrel, they're atop the NL Central at the moment. But slotting Kimbrel in as the closer could create a domino effect that makes the whole bullpen more imposing.
Keuchel joins an Atlanta team that's a game out of first place in the NL East, and he clearly could help. The Braves' three best starters — Mike Soroka, Julio Teheran and Max Fried — have been strong, but there's been a big drop-off after that. Mike Foltynewicz is 1-5 with a 5.89 ERA, and Kevin Gausman is 2-5 with a 6.15 ERA. Foltynewicz was an All-Star last year and may have earned some patience, but Keuchel could be a substantial upgrade over Gausman.
In both these situations, the fit is clear. It's really just a question of how Kimbrel and Keuchel perform after missing over two months of the season. Kimbrel threw a bullpen session Saturday, but it's not clear when he'll be ready for major league action. Keuchel had a minor league start rained out Saturday.
Kimbrel allowed a career-high seven homers last year, and Keuchel has never put up overpowering strikeout numbers. So there's some uncertainty, but these are two pitchers with track records that certainly suggest they can help.
Philadelphia traded for outfielder Jay Bruce last weekend, and he certainly made his presence felt Tuesday night, hitting a grand slam and a two-run homer in a 9-6 win over San Diego. The Phillies lost Andrew McCutchen to a knee injury, so Bruce's contributions could be crucial. In six games with Philadelphia so far, he's 8 for 21 with four home runs, two doubles, 11 RBIs and six runs.
The Nationals dug themselves a significant hole in a tough division, but they've won 11 of 15 and are at least in the vicinity of .500 now. What they've largely done is take advantage of a favorable stretch in the schedule. Nine of those 11 wins were against the Marlins, Reds, White Sox and Padres, all of whom are at or below .500. Washington did beat Atlanta twice in that stretch, as well.
This was a bit of a risk with his Texas Rangers down by three and the tying run at the plate, but Rougned Odor pulled off a straight steal of home Sunday against Oakland. He actually took off so early that pitcher Ryan Buchter stepped off the rubber and threw home, but not in time.
The Athletics still won 9-8.
Bryce Harper tried something similar Sunday but was thrown out in Philadelphia's 4-3 loss to Cincinnati.
LINE OF THE WEEK
Pedro Severino of the Orioles hit three home runs in a 12-11 victory over the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night. He also made a key play behind the plate that helped Baltimore avoid a massive collapse. The Rangers scored six runs in the ninth, but with two outs, a third strike to Elvis Andrus went to the backstop. Severino came up with the ball and threw to first just in time for the final out.
Bonus college line of the week: Vanderbilt's Kumar Rocker pitched a no-hitter in an NCAA Tournament win over Duke on Saturday night, striking out 19.
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