With two-thirds of the Major League Baseball season behind us and the trade deadline looming, it's time to look at which teams are legitimate contenders and which are simply not as good as their records may suggest.
As the eternal pessimist, I shall start with the latter.
Atlanta Braves - As a Braves fan myself, it pains me to say this, but I think Atlanta will come up short in this year's playoffs (yet again). With a 10-game lead in the NL East, barring another monumental collapse, the Braves should find themselves in the playoffs. Although they've been good this year, a lot of that is due to being in one of baseball's worst divisions. Atlanta is the only bright spot in an otherwise sub .500 division. The Braves have been fortunate enough to have great pitching this season, but they don't seem to win games unless they hit the long ball. Add that to the fact that they are abysmal when they have runners in scoring position and when they are batting with two outs, and you can see why this team is not one of the clubs to beat in this year's postseason. Right now, Atlanta would face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round, and I would expect LA to win the series.
|Photo by: Mark J. Terrill|
Oakland Athletics - Led by great pitching and solid defense, Oakland looks poised to enter the postseason for the second-consecutive year. While the Athletics hold a 6-game lead in the AL West, I just don't feel they are good enough to compete with the powerhouse teams in the American League. The A's have the AL's best ERA, but they are just 8th in that category since the All-Star break. Oakland pitching lives and dies by the fly ball, a very dangerous recipe for any team. If the big bats of the other American League playoff clubs are able to expose that weakness, they should cause the A's some problems. The other AL ballparks will not be as pitcher-friendly in the postseason as the O.co Coliseum has been. Oakland's offense has left a lot to be desired as well. They are 25th in all of baseball in batting average and sit in the middle of the pack in almost every offensive category. If the playoffs were to start today, the Athletics would play the Detroit Tigers. Unless the A's pitched like a team possessed, I would expect the Tigers to eliminate them.
Dishonorable mentions: Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks
Tampa Bay Rays - Tampa Bay has been great lately, and another win last night put them at 23-4 in their last 27 games. The Rays seemingly came out of nowhere and now sit atop the AL East with a 64-43 record. Since the All-Star break, Tampa Bay leads the American League in batting average and has the 5th-best ERA in Major League Baseball. They say that pitching wins championships, but I'm inclined to disagree (see Atlanta and Oakland above). I think it's all-around play that wins them, and in my opinion, that is exactly what Tampa Bay brings to the table. With the best record in the AL, the Rays could potentially meet the Red Sox after the lone wild card game. If this is the case, I expect the winner of that matchup to go to the World Series.
Boston Red Sox - Manager John Farrell has turned this squad completely around. It's hard to believe that last season's last place team in the AL East is now 20-games over .500 and sporting the American League's second-best record. With 54 games remaining, the Sox need only 6 wins to surpass last year's total of 69. The Red Sox have all the pieces needed to win the pennant, and playing in baseball's toughest division has only made them more ready and up to the challenge. Boston boasts the second-most strikeouts in baseball, and are in the top 3 in batting average as well. A team this well-rounded will be tough to beat come playoff time. If the postseason started tomorrow, the Red Sox would be required to play a wild card game against the Baltimore Orioles. That could prove difficult, but I believe they would advance.
Los Angeles Dodgers - Yes, the Dodgers are only 11-games over .500, but a month ago that didn't even seem possible. LA is finally living up to expectations, as they have won 4-straight games and 10 of their last 11. Since the All-Star break, the Dodgers lead the majors in batting average, runs and hits. Their pitching has been great since the break as well, holding down the 5th-best ERA in all of baseball, 2nd in the NL. This week's addition of closer Brian Wilson might just be the final piece to a championship puzzle for Los Angeles.
Honorable mentions: St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers
With more than 50 games remaining for each team, a lot can still change. But for now, these are the main clubs to keep a close eye on.