Fantastic National League second half preview: 6 questions with NL’s battered writers

With roughly 10 weeks left in the 2022 baseball schedule, the only constant will be change. Teams sprinted out of the All-Star break last week like ants climbing over each other to reach dry ground. The October playoffs are waiting at the end. Many teams will be left behind. Even minor advantages and new additions could take a competitor from equally run to all-in.

So what changes could we see in the National League over the next two months? What convocations could suddenly appear to leave their mark on the divisional races? Which players are ready to step up? Are you ready to add or subtract, looking for a boost?

Here are six pressing questions from the margins that could influence the season with answers from our national panel of reporters.

Atlanta Braves

Do you think we’ll see Kyle Muller get the call for second-half impact? The Braves have the best pitching staff up and down in the majors, so it’s not like they’re needy. But is there any chance they’re putting Muller in the bullpen just to have him around and ready to contribute? They could find a mysterious illness for a starter and use Muller for a round or three in the meantime or let him be a long arm and keep him lying with bullpen sessions. Are we pushing this idea too hard?

It will be interesting to see how the second half plays out vis-à-vis Muller, whose strong performance at Triple A, and in particular his improved control and command of the pitch, has rejuvenated both his potential trade value and his value to the Braves if they decide to use him in the rotation or out of the bullpen at some point in the second half.

With a doubleheader against the Mets scheduled for Aug. 6 at Citi Field, Muller would be the most likely candidate to start one of those games as an authorized extra player for scheduled doubleheaders. That’s assuming the Braves aren’t using him as a key piece in a trade to acquire a right-handed arm for the bullpen or a proven starter. With Spencer Strider’s innings set to surpass his career high by the end of August, the Braves could also bring Muller into the rotation for a start or two if they decide to skip Strider’s round or simply change the rotation to give him and possibly Ian Anderson some extra rest. -David O’Brien

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New York food

If Francisco Álvarez continues to rake in Syracuse, is there a chance he will make his debut with this youngster, like Juan Soto did? It must be a tricky situation for Billy Eppler and Buck Showalter. The Mets are heading to the World Series. They don’t have the advantage of gagging until September handing out easy experience to young prospects like losing teams do. They must win, win now and win often. Can Álvarez cross the bar of being immediately useful in New York?

Iván Rodríguez, now 50, tells you that it’s been a while since the last receiver to have a significant time in the major league at the age of 20. But Álvarez does enough with the bat, especially during one of his sweltering hot streaks, that he can provide value in the majors even if it’s as a designated hitter. The Mets need help there, as even the addition of Daniel Vogelbach last week leaves room for a right-handed platoon partner. Later we go into the season, the less the Mets will be concerned about sacrificing Álvarez’s continued defensive development to Triple A, the more likely they are to see what he can do at the majors. He’s not in Plan A, but he’s not far down the alphabet. —Tim Britton

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San Francisco Giants

The Giants are in a bit of a bubble this season, rocking day-to-day in and out of playoff relevance. Now is probably not the time to experiment. But can Yermín Mercedes carve out 20 at-bats a week going forward in this roster? He probably can’t solve all their ailments on his own, but his first cup of coffee was tasty.

It would be surprising to see Yermín become an integral member of the Giants’ right-handed hitting squad for the rest of the season, but hey, it’s surprising to see him play left field and hit in the middle. of the order, which he has already done several times. So maybe the Giants are more in love with him than we think. It’s on the list due to Heliot Ramos’ inability to produce in Sacramento, and you’d think it wouldn’t be hard to find a low-cost upgrade for Mercedes by Deadline. But if the Giants are optimistic about him and think he can play the role of underrated third receiver and utility knife, maybe he sticks?

So the answer to your question is a “difficult maybe”. It was that kind of knowledge and certainty that propelled me to a remarkable streak of fantastic fourth-place finishes. —Grant Brisbee

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Cincinnati Reds

Trent, hit us a double. When do you think Jose Barrero will become the team’s No. 1 shortstop? Is he a “catch now while you can” guy? Or is his path to first-in-command actually, oddly, blocked by the players behind him (Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain and Jose Torres)? And, if he arrives there soon, what will he do?

Before Barrero suffered a hook injury in the spring, the outlook was that it might be time to take over as the team’s opening day shortstop. Surgery delayed that and a lack of production in Triple A hampered that schedule. Barrero, who scored a year ago in the Futures Game, showed he could fill the big league spot, but he’s no longer the team’s bright new prospect. That coat belongs to De La Cruz, who played in the Futures Game this year and is now the team’s top prospect.

De La Cruz, 20, is tearing up High A and will likely get a call to Double A soon. The team, as you noted, also has last year’s first rounder Matt McLain (currently on IL in Double A) and Torres as a position as well. So when does he show up? Probably as soon as he starts knocking. Or if someone makes an offer for Kyle Farmer at the trade deadline that the Reds can’t refuse.

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Oh, and while we have you, will Hunter Greene hit a wall at some point? What signs should we watch out for?

The highlights for Greene were certainly high, but let’s not overlook the fact that he has a 5.70 ERA through 17 starts. We wonder how many rounds he has in him this year and he will probably start to rest. Through Friday, he has thrown 85 1/3 innings this year, more than the 72 2/3 innings he had pitched in two seasons in professional ball before last year, when he threw 106 1/ 3 innings in his first season coming out of Tommy John Surgery. Greene has an arm that doesn’t necessarily need cuddling, but it still needs adult supervision. — C. Trent Rosecrans

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Chicago Cubs

The Cubs will need a jolt during the scorching days of August. We have to live with the fact that Brennen Davis won’t show up this season as he recovers from back surgery. And most of the Cubs’ other top prospects are still in the bushes. So why not more Narciso Crook? He did nothing wrong! Why was he sent? Why not bring it back? What could he do with a greater chance? Everyone loves Crook.

Crook was called up after a series of injuries opened up a spot for him in the Cubs’ outfield. His revamped swing makes him a little more interesting as an older ‘prospect’ and he’s certainly earned a shot in the bigs. But the return of Seiya Suzuki from IL meant that Crook’s time was short lived. Crook’s next move should probably come no later than just after the trade deadline, but it really depends on the types of moves made. If one or both of Rafael Ortega and Ian Happ are swapped, it opens up various roles.

However, Crook isn’t the only one proving he might deserve some time in the outfield. There are big and young leaguers Nelson Velázquez and Christopher Morel currently vying for time in the outfield. Morel can play almost anywhere, so flexibility matters. But along with those two, there are other Triple A outfielders who might be worth a look, including Jackson (née Clint) Frazier and Darius Hill. —Sahadev Sharma

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(Photo by Hunter Greene: Joe Puetz/Getty Images)