The Texas Rangers’ surge from last place to near the top of the American League West has inquiring minds wondering what they are going to do next month to bolster their playoff chances.
That question is also being widely asked around both leagues seven weeks away from the busiest in-season period of the year.
A look at the standings reveals that, for the most part, division leads aren’t safe and as many as 15 teams could decide that they are wild-card contenders.
That number will shrink as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline arrives. Teams will fall out or decide that they have too many teams to climb over and too many prospects they don’t want to chance trading.
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That’s where the Rangers could fall. That’s where the Houston Astros could fall. Same for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Atlanta Braves and the Baltimore Orioles.
Parity thus far — or maybe it’s mediocrity — and the second wild card have those who are close now at least are starting to look ahead in case they end up in trade mode.
With roughly 100 games to go, it’s too early for many teams to bow out or jump in, but here’s a look some of the contenders who should take a chance and who shouldn’t chance it.
Take a chance
Toronto Blue Jays: All that offense, including a good week from former Rangers deadline chip Justin Smoak, is wasting away behind a pitching staff that again is falling short. Sure, the Blue Jays own a 10-game winning streak, but their team ERA was next-to-last in the American League entering Saturday. Their rotation and bullpen have issues, so does on-the-hot-seat general manager Alex Anthopoulos. They will be players at the deadline.
Pittsburgh Pirates: The St. Louis Cardinals, as good as they have been, might have finally hit a roadblock with their third and fourth significant injuries of the season. Matt Holiday and Lance Lynn joined Adam Wainwright and Matt Adams on the disabled list, and the Cardinals could become vulnerable. The Pirates aren’t too far behind, and though they covet their minor leaguers and need to produce home-grown players, they also can’t pass up another chance at the postseason during their current window.
Detroit Tigers: The good news for Detroit is that Justin Verlander returned Saturday and Victor Martinez will be back soon. He has been missed more than Mr. Kate Upton. The Tigers continue to need starting pitching, with Shane Greene losing his early-season magic and Anibal Sanchez struggling, and Dave Dombrowski always seems to find someone to add to the bullpen, which was dealt an early blow with Joe Nathan’s injury.
San Diego Padres: The overhaul of all overhauls hasn’t worked out yet for GM A.J. Preller. Clearly, he isn’t afraid to make a trade, and the off-season decision to go for it dictates that he must keep pushing the gas before the deadline. The Padres are getting nothing offensively from their middle infielders, but they also have a weak link in the rotation with Ian Kennedy.
Don’t chance it
Minnesota Twins: They’re a nice story early in the season, with hero Paul Molitor as manager and Torii Hunter continuing to be a productive player and leader, but this club isn’t going to win over the long haul. Their sweep at home by Kansas City hints strongly at that. The Twins have minor league talent, and maybe that’s where they go to seek help for the big-league club. Dealing from their system, though, isn’t a good idea for this organization.
Texas Rangers: That bullpen, despite a three-week run of success, has issues, so maybe the Rangers can make a smaller deal for relief help. But their best bet is to look for improvements as players get healthy and from the minors. Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton can add to the offense, and Rougned Odor appears ready to be a productive hitter again. With Matt Harrison, Martin Perez and Derek Holland on the mend, the Rangers have a chance to get better without going wild at the deadline.
Chicago Cubs: The Cubs have so much young talent they could afford to part with some of it in a big deadline deal. But they shouldn’t. The plan over the past three seasons has been to build from within, and that should remain the plan. Let the young players make or break their playoff chances and learn from their experiences, good or bad, for the good of the franchise.
Tampa Bay Rays: Despite all the injuries they have dealt with so far, Tampa Bay continues to pitch well enough to have a winning record and be in the hunt in the AL East. But this franchise’s lot in life should prevent it from a wild July 31. The Rays have no money to add a key player, and their farm system isn’t the same as it was when they were terrible and constantly armed with high draft choices. They have to keep what prospects they have. Those injuries are bound to catch up with them.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760
1. Cardinals: They can’t keep overcoming all these injuries. Right?
2. Royals: Flexing muscles against after sweep at Minnesota.
3. Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw finding his top gear, which no one has.
4. Blue Jays: No team is hotter, but the pitching is a long-term concern.
5. Giants: Not their best week, but set up for big bout with Dodgers.
1. Phillies: Why do they have all these veterans who can help other clubs?
2. Brewers: Starting pitching finally showing something this month.
3. Marlins: Owner Loria seeing approval for tax hike to pay fired managers.
4. A’s: Even in taking 2 of 3 from Rangers, still not remotely good.
5. Red Sox: Friday’s meltdown a low point for woeful pitching staff.