The Oakland Athletics are only 1.5 games back from a wild-card spot, but a few of their "superstars" are going to have to amp up their play if the A's are going to make playoffs.
To the diehard fans, this isn't a shock.
To the rest of the nation, the A's are a Cinderella story—a team no one expected to be within sniffing distance of a wild-card spot. Not this year, not with this team.
But the team has outproduced expectations.
Young talent such as Ryan Cook and Josh Reddick immediately blossomed into All-Star players. Castaways such as Brandon Inge and Bartolo Colon have added life to their careers. Role players like Johnny Gomes and A.J. Griffin are contributing effectively.
Many of Oakland's no-namers have seemingly come out of nowhere.
Now it's time for these five players to step it up.
Last year, Coco Crisp hit .264 with eight home runs, 54 RBI and stole a whopping 49 bases.
It was enough to re-sign the 32-year-old outfielder to a new two-year deal worth $14 million.
Making $6 million, Crisp is hitting just .232 with 18 RBI and 16 stolen bases.
He's already been moved around the outfield—a move he was not in favor of.
Crisp could have signed with someone else.
He chose the A's.
As a veteran who has played for the world champion Boston Red Sox, Crisp's knowledge and experience are invaluable.
It's time he stops worrying about where he's playing on the field before he loses his spot all together.
Crisp must lead with his veteran presence and consistent hitting.
Second baseman Jemile Weeks entered 2012 touted as the new "face of the franchise" and the only non-tradable player on the Oakland Athletics.
Half a season later, he's hitting just .222 with 13 RBI.
The speedster has also only stolen 12 bases and has been caught five times.
Weeks hits at the top of the order so the RBI production can be overlooked. But he has to get on base more often and swipe additional bags.
There's hope for Weeks.
In the last seven games, he's hit .308. To enter playoffs, Weeks must find any resemblance of his 2011 self—the kid who hit .303 in 97 games and was quietly considered for Rookie of the Year.
Five-year veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki has been with the A's organization longer than almost everyone else on the team.
While his handling of the young pitching staff—constantly in turnover—and defense behind the plate are nothing to sneeze at, his hitting is abysmal.
In 2012, his batting average is .216 with 16 RBI and zero home runs.
A's pitchers are comfortable with "Zuk" and his leadership is undeniable, but if the A's hope for a wild-card spot, there has to be more production from the catcher.
Worse for Suzuki, rookie Derek Norris is turning heads.
Should Norris continue to outperform Suzuki, a trade at the deadline would clear space for the youngster to play everyday.
There's no telling what the loss of Suzuki would do mentally to the pitching staff.
Assuming Brandon McCarthy isn't traded, the Oakland Athletics will rely on him to lead the way into playoffs.
Currently, he's 6-3 with a 2.54 ERA.
These are good numbers as it is already. But in order to capture a wild card spot, he'll have to do even better.
The ERA is great. The wins must continue rolling in. Batters are hitting .252 against him—that could go down.
McCarthy is Oakland's ace.
As such, he should pitch like one. Especially when the guys behind him are a veteran over 40 and a bunch of young kids under 25.
But the most important aspect of McCarthy's game that he must maintain if the A's hope to reach the postseason is health.
McCarthy has to remain on the field.
Fill ins such as Graham Godfrey and Tyson Ross have not gotten it done.
Yoenis Cespedes is hitting .283 with 11 home runs and 42 RBI.
He's finally coming around and starting to prove he was worth the $36 million contract the Oakland Athletics signed him to.
Now if only he can stay healthy.
A large part of how this offense will do down the stretch depends on how Cespedes performs.
Cespedes at this point is one of the biggest draws the A's have. When he's healthy and producing, it's exciting. If the A's are winning and their center field slugger is hitting the lights out of the ball, fans should be more inclined to go to games.
There's no telling what 5,000 more home town fans can do to a team's morale.
It all starts with Cespedes.
Besides, hitting at his spot in the order, playing a key position on the field, centered in the spotlight and making more money than anyone else, Cespedes is expected to produce and lead Oakland to playoffs.
Cliff Pennington isn't going to do it.
Cespedes' job is to stay healthy and consistent—keep his current home run and RBI pace. Though it wouldn't hurt to add to either.