MLB Contenders and Pretenders

August 16, 2018

As the second half rolls on, the postseason push of the Major League Baseball season begins to heat up. In the dog days of August, we start to see who will remain when fall comes around, and who will fade out of the playoff chase. In other words, it becomes more clear who are the teams with real shots at playoff runs.

Some of the teams have already solidified themselves as legitimate contenders. We already know that these teams will be around for October baseball, or will at least stick around in the race until the end of the regular season. These teams are:

  • Boston Red Sox
  • New York Yankees
  • Cleveland Indians
  • Houston Astros
  • Chicago Cubs
  • Arizona Diamondbacks

These teams are already out of the hunt. They sold at the deadline, or just don’t have real playoff prospects.

  • Baltimore Orioles
  • Toronto Blue Jays
  • Tampa Bay Rays
  • Detroit Tigers
  • Kansas City Royals
  • Chicago White Sox
  • Minnesota Twins
  • Texas Rangers
  • Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
  • New York Mets
  • Miami Marlins
  • Cincinnati Reds
  • San Diego Padres
  • San Francisco Giants

Finally, here are the teams currently in contention for playoff spots. However, they haven’t established themselves as locks for October, so the question is, are they contenders, or pretenders?

  • Seattle Mariners

It seems that in each of the last few years, the Mariners have been around the fringe of the playoff push, but always fizzle out in August and September. This year won’t be different. Robinson Cano just returned from his PED suspension, but it won’t be enough to save the offense as former all-stars Kyle Seager and Dee Gordon both have on-base percentages (OBP) of .300 or below. This year’s surprise stud starter Wade LeBlanc has a 5.74 earned run average (ERA) in August, as it seems the league has figured him out, and Seattle’s ace James Paxton just hit the DL with a forearm contusion. As scheduled, the M’s are fading when it really matters.

Verdict: Pretender

  • Oakland Athletics

The A’s currently have a 3.5 game lead on the Mariners for the second wild-card spot. Once again, they’ve put together a winning ball club with players that nobody else wanted. They don’t boast any bona fide stars, but the offense has a combined OPS (on-base percentage + slugging) of .754, good for sixth in the MLB. Also, the A’s have added starter Mike Fiers (2.10 second-half ERA) to their already deep rotation and both Shawn Kelley and Fernando Rodney to a bullpen that boasts closer Blake Treinen and his absurd 0.89 season ERA. Oakland has the depth to make it to October, and hey – maybe Moneyball will finally get its happy ending.

Verdict: Contender

  • Atlanta Braves

It looks like it will be Atlanta and Philly down the stretch for the NL East (is it 2010 again?). Right now, the Braves hold a two-game lead, but with over 40 games to go, that’s not saying much. Though the Braves are made up of young studs, they look poised to see this playoff run to the end. Certainly, MVP candidate Freddie Freeman and his .400 OBP will have a big part in taking the Braves there. Young starters Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz will anchor the rotation, and though former all-star Julio Teheran has a 4.33 ERA this season, he has a 3.09 ERA in August, which could mean a strong finish to 2018. Atlanta’s main weak spot is in its rotation, after the three mentioned starters. Though they have performed well so far in Atlanta, the Anibal Sanchez and Kevin Gausman cannot be counted on to give consistent outings all the way. The Phillies will give a good fight, but the Braves will take the division.

Verdict: Contender

  • Philadelphia Phillies

The Phils have a solid lineup with good power (five players with 15+ homers), but it’s nothing spectacular. Deadline acquisitions Justin Bour and Asdrubal Cabrera might propel them to the division crown, but it’s not 2014 anymore. Still, we could see Rhys Hoskins go on a late season tear like he did in 2018. As for the pitching, Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta have been spectacular so far, but the supporting cast of Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez may not be strong enough to win the division. Similarly, Seranthony Dominguez and Victor Arano have been lights-out in relief, but the other bullpen arms are lackluster. The Phillies will definitely take a wild card spot, but the division might fall just out of their reach. Still, seven of their final 10 games are against Atlanta, and it may very well come down to the wire.

Verdict: Contender

  • Washington Nationals

The Nats are on this list as a courtesy due to recent years more than anything else. The majority of the 2018 season has been a disappointment. Currently, they sit eight games out of the division and six out of a wild-card spot, but many of the remaining games will come against Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Chicago, posing a steep hill to climb. The offense has been much better of late, with Bryce Harper leading a second-half surge, but as always in baseball, it comes down to the pitching. Max Scherzer has turned in another Cy Young-caliber year, but Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez aren’t enough to overcome the Phillies and Braves with Stephen Strasburg on the shelf. And with their best reliever Sean Doolittle out with a foot issue, the Nationals won’t make the playoffs with uninspiring pitching. On the bright side, the Nationals will get another week or so of rest without their yearly NLDS collapse.

Verdict: Pretender

  • Milwaukee Brewers

Offseason pickups Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich have proven smart investments for the Brew Crew, as both have OPS over .800 and have played great defense in the outfield. With trade acquisitions Mike Moustakas and Jonathan Schoop, Milwaukee’s offense is as formidable as any around the league. The pitching, however, seems less reliable for the stretch run. Since he joined the Brewers, Wade Miley has established himself as the top starter over just eight starts. But, when Wade Miley is your rotation ace, that’s when you know you have a problem. Still, the Brewers have gotten it done this far, and with just six games remaining against a legitimate top team (the Cubs), Milwaukee should find itself in the Wild Card game come October.

Verdict: Contender

  • St. Louis Cardinals

Right now, the Cards are just one game behind the Phils for the second Wild Card spot, thanks largely to Matt Carpenter’s 14 bombs and 1.229 OPS since the All-Star Game. Carpenter, Yadier Molina, and surprise slugger José Martinez lead an offense that is pretty mediocre otherwise. The rotation, led by Miles Mikolas, has been consistently solid, but St. Louis has just one reliever with an ERA under 3. That will probably be what keeps them out of the postseason. Furthermore, they face a grueling late-season schedule, with six games against the Cubs and Brewers, seven against the Dodgers, and three against the Braves.

Verdict: Pretender

  • Colorado Rockies

As usual, Colorado has an explosive offense and a futile pitching staff. Trevor Story has regained his rookie form and Nolan Arenado is crushing the opposition as has become routine. But the pitching has just been awful besides starter Kyle Freeland and reliever Adam Ottavino. Three Colorado starts have ERAs over 4 (and Tyler Anderson has a 3.94 ERA), and FOUR of the relievers have ERAs over 5. It’s really amazing how the Rockies have made it this far and are still in the race. The offense won’t be able to bail them out until the end, and Colorado will most likely be out of the conversation by the end of it all.

Verdict: Pretender

  • Los Angeles Dodgers

The reigning NL champions find themselves in a concerning situation. They are currently two games behind the Diamondbacks in the division, and 1.5 behind for the second wild-card spot. Their best reliever, Kenley Jansen, is sidelined with an irregular heartbeat, and the bullpen has recently lost five games in the ninth inning. But, Jansen is on his way back, and Kenta Maeda and all-star Ross Stripling have been moved to the bullpen now that Alex Wood and Hyun-Jin Ryu are back from the DL. This week will be a wake-up call for the Dodgers, and they are simply too talented to miss out on the playoffs for the first time since 2012. They will make the wild card game at worst.

Verdict: Contender

Tristan Lee
Tristan is the Voice's sports executive and a senior in Georgetown College. He mostly covers Georgetown's football, basketball, and baseball teams.


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