MLB Sunday Spotlight: David Ross, the busy Cardinals and the state of the Indians

With the trade deadline behind us and the postseason just three weeks away, four teams with playoff aspirations take the field as part of a Sunday doubleheader on ESPN and ESPN2.

First, the Milwaukee Brewers face the Cleveland Indians (1 p.m. ET, ESPN2), who sit at the top of the AL Central and swung the biggest deadline day deal by trading right-hander Mike Clevinger to the Padres. Sunday Night Baseball features an NL Central rivalry matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

To get you ready for the action, we asked national baseball writers Bradford Doolittle and Jesse Rogers some key questions about the teams as they begin their push for the playoffs.

What’s your take on the Mike Clevinger trade from the Indians’ perspective?

Doolittle: The Indians landed some of the best prospects to move around the deadline, but didn’t come away with an everyday, impact outfielder to bolster a so-so attack. Losing Clevinger is not a big deal for the rotation and the Indians are perhaps the only team around that could absorb the loss of a pitcher of his caliber. But to make that deal without improving the near-term outlook is a lost opportunity.

The Indians are smart and well-run, but have a maddening tendency to punt the ball down the field toward some indefinite future window of opportunity.

Rogers: It would be less impactful to lose Clevinger if this was a normal year. An extra round of playoffs, potentially with fewer off days, puts a premium on starting pitching for October. There’s no analysis that can back up losing a pitcher like that without getting a difference-making bat for next month. If we look past this season, it’s a good deal for Cleveland. But 2021 doesn’t happen until after 2020. Did the Indians just give up their chances at a long postseason run? It’s reasonably possible.

Where does the Cubs’ David Ross fit in the pecking order of NL Manager of the Year candidates?

Doolittle: He’s in the running. While Jesse would have a much better sense of the clubhouse dynamic with the Cubs than I do, from an analytical standpoint, the Cubs have won at a rate much higher than their run differential would suggest. That’s not all because of the manager, of course, but often a positive disparity like that speaks to a strong bullpen. Ross has had to scramble in that regard and, still, the bottom line looks great. The Cubs have also won at a rate well above their preseason projection. Still, as things stand right now, Miami’s Don Mattingly would have to be considered the front-runner for the award. And if the Giants keep winning, Gabe Kapler might be second. However it shakes out, Ross has had an impressive debut.

Rogers: He’s at the top of the pack. First-year managers who have success automatically get extra points because they have no experience to draw from. He and Jayce Tingler of the San Diego Padres should be neck and neck. If you want to dig deeper and include Don Mattingly of the Marlins and Mike Shildt of the Cardinals simply because of what their teams have gone through, that’s OK too. But they should get votes, not win the award. Ross and Tingler have one thing going for them that other first-year NL managers didn’t: zero criticism for how they work pitching changes based on pinch hitting for the pitcher. Alleviating that headache has allowed them to concentrate on other things. Perhaps Ross gets the nod based on Tingler’s misstep after Fernando Tatis Jr. hit that grand slam on a 3-0 pitch.

How problematic will the Cardinals’ doubleheader-heavy schedule be the rest of the way?

Doolittle: It’s not ideal. It’s not ideal for the Cardinals and it’s not ideal for the game to have a contending team playing so many of its down-the-stretch games in a seven-inning format. St. Louis has had four starting pitchers throwing at a fairly high level recently. The Cardinals have had a harder time coming up with enough productive bullpen arms to cover games. Now, in those seven-inning affairs, they can lean on their starters a little more heavily and condense their leveraged bullpen options to the hurlers who are going well. The downside is that you also run short of starters when a lot of these miniature doubleheaders are clustered together. All in all, surviving well over a game per day over a full month is a daunting task. But it’s not all downside for the Redbirds, and that’s the way they should look at it.

Rogers: Hugely problematic. Despite the respite of playing only seven innings each time, these guys aren’t robots — it will catch up to them. That’s not to say they can’t have success down the stretch, but it’s likely to be without a long win streak. If the Cards finish 6 or 7 games over .500, it will be a great accomplishment. They’re likely to fluctuate back and forth like they have most of the season. They’re too good to go on a long losing skid, but that schedule will prevent them from overtaking the Cubs.

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