There’s no trade deadline at the end of August, but luckily for Major League Baseball’s playoff contenders, the beloved trope of yesteryear actually comes into play as teams head into home plate and the postseason.
Yes, a few players returning from injury will have more of an impact than a symbolic trade acquisition.
With division races intensifying and wild-card battles gaining meaning, a handful of stars are recovering from injuries, many of them months-long and impactful absences. Their return could be even more important — who will be in the playoffs and who will thrive in commissioner Rob Manfred’s wide bracket.
Here are seven players who could tip the balance of power, in order of potential impact:
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Bryce Harper, Phyllis
Since then: June 25, when he suffered a sprained left thumb that required surgery.
Next Step: Harper took 50-plus swings at Citizens Bank Park on Monday and could begin rehab next week.
Big picture: The reigning NL MVP had another trophy-worthy year (.318/.386/.599, 15 homers) when Blake Snell’s pick broke his thumb. Most significantly, the Phillies finally found their sea legs without him and moved into a wild card spot. Can they threaten Atlanta’s six-game home advantage? Maybe not, but in September and October, a red-hot Harper was giving Philly plenty to dream about.
Vander Franco, Reiss
Since July 9, when he broke the hamate bone in his right wrist and underwent surgery.
Next step: Franco began rehab on Tuesday and could be back active this weekend.
Big picture: The Rays are starved for offense, but especially at shortstop, Taylor Walls, who is hitting .176 with a .271 OBP and an adjusted OPS of 67. Franco, an MVP-caliber talent in his first full season, will provide a significant upgrade when he’s rolling, and combined with the returns of second baseman Brandon Lowe and outfielder Harold Ramirez will give them a more than serviceable offensive outlook. A productive Franco and a front-line rotation of Shane McClanahan and Drew Rasmussen will make the Rays difficult in the wild-card round — and possibly beyond.
Dustin May, Dodgers
Starting May 1, 2021, when he suffered an elbow injury that required reconstructive Tommy John surgery.
Next step: His first major league start since walking on the mound in Milwaukee 15 months ago is Saturday against the Marlins.
BIG PICTURE: May’s successful comeback has been somewhere between a luxury and a necessity for the Dodgers, a situation that became more urgent when the club announced that Walker Buehler would undergo season-ending elbow surgery. Now, Maye will almost certainly stand out among baseball’s best team come October, though how he presents himself remains an open question. beginner? Multi-inning relief? Maybe a deluxe “opener” who can pitch three or more innings before giving up to the bullpen? Regardless, May is ready to step it up — he had five RBIs in Class AAA, finishing with a 70-pitch outing that included 10 strikeouts and a clean inning.
Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees
Achilles tendinitis, which has been out since July 22, kept him out of the lineup.
Next step: Stanton continues to work out at Yankee Stadium and should be sent on a rehab assignment this weekend.
BIG PICTURE: The Yankees’ ugly August looks like a system-wide slump, but it’s worth noting that they’re 65-30 (.684) and 7-15 (.318) with three runs scored in 10 starts since Stanton was hurt. Last 12 games. His .498 slugging percentage is tops on the team, no easy feat when you consider Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo as a team. Perhaps Stanton’s incomparable power had a way of making up for Yankee flaws more than we realized.
Ozzie Albies, Braves
Since: June 13, when he broke his left leg.
Next step: Albies has rejoined the team and played with other light activities, although he is not expected to return until September.
BIG PICTURE: With Orlando Arcia out with a significant hamstring injury, the Braves’ recent depth in the secondary is even thinner. However, they are probably locked into the No. 1 wild card spot regardless. Albies’ return — and how quickly he can develop into a superstar production — will be an important storyline to follow as the Braves prepare to defend their World Series title.
Jack Flaherty, Cardinals
From: June 26, limited to just eight innings this season with a sprained right shoulder.
Next step: Flaherty made his second bounce-back start, this one for Class AA Springfield, throwing 54 pitches on Tuesday and recording four scoreless innings. The club placed him on the 60-day injured list in July, and while he’s eligible to return, he knows he needs a lot more rehab before he can even consider returning to the big club.
Big picture: The Cardinals hold the NL Central lead without him, thanks to stalwarts like Adam Wainwright and starters like Andre Palante. Now, the rotation has been bolstered by the trade of lefties Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery. But a healthy Flaherty gives St. Louis a more intriguing October outlook. Flaherty’s runway to regain that form is narrowing.
Mike Soroka, Braves
As of Aug. 3, 2020, an Achilles tendon tear began a two-year injury odyssey that included three Achilles surgeries, shoulder inflammation and, for good measure, a knee concussion session when hit by a returner during live batting practice.
Next step: Soroka made his first minor league start on Tuesday. The results were encouraging: eight hits, no walks and one hit in four scoreless innings for Class A Rome. Soroka’s extended absence means he may require the full 30 days allotted for minor league rehab periods.
Big picture: Soroka leaves the mound as the Braves ace and returns to a loaded rotation, Charlie Morton joins the organization, Spencer Strider emerges as Rookie of the Year and Kyle Wright reaches his long-discussed potential. World Series hero Ian Anderson aims for a comeback after recent struggles in the minor leagues. Can Soroka help this team? That’s like asking if the battery is a good place to live, work and play. His career 2.86 ERA and 1.16 WHIP will be a boon, especially given the depth needed to advance from the wild card round to the NLDS.