Now that the MLB All-Star break has come to an end, the MLB trade deadline fast approaches. A handful of teams find themselves on the edge of playoff contention, vying for the opportunity to play in October.
It's always interesting to see which teams rise to the occasion and which teams collapse as the summer months fade away.
Perhaps even more interesting is the battle among contenders to patch up their weak spots as the July 31 deadline grows nearer.
Here is a compilation of five teams who need to make a move before this year's trade deadline if they hope to still be relevant come October.
Matt Kemp is back in action for the Los Angeles Dodgers, hoping to be the spark that the team needs as they approach the 2012 postseason. Unfortunately for Kemp and company, they're still a pitcher away from being a really dominant threat in the National League.
Chad Billingsley was scratched from his scheduled start on Sunday and will undergo an MRI for pain in his elbow, a major blow to a rotation that was already lacking in depth. Now, the Dodgers will need to make a major move to help out Clayton Kershaw and Chris Capuano, who have both been absolutely stellar to this point in the season.
Expect them to take a look at Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke or Matt Garza to help fill the void in their rotation. If they can solidify their pitching staff with one of these stars, then the Dodgers will instantly become one of the favorites in the NL.
The Tampa Bay Rays always find themselves in contention come September, but they very rarely find themselves shopping for talent in July. This may be one of the years where the organization decides to make a move or two if they want to remain competitive in the AL wild-card race.
Evan Longoria's hamstring injury has set the team back a bit, and his return will weigh in heavily on whether or not the Rays look to clean house or acquire some help. They are in desperate need of some offensive support, especially at catcher and first base.
Jose Molina is hitting .194 on the year and has lost playing time to Jose Lobaton behind the plate as of late. Despite the additional playing time, Lobaton is only hitting .212 and has yet to establish himself as an adequate answer to their catching woes.
At first base, Carlos Pena leads the team with 13 home runs this season, although he's also hitting a pitiful .199 on the year. Pena will need to turn it around in the second half of the season, or else the Rays may bring in a replacement and send him packing prior to the trade deadline.
With the Rays pitching staff as good as any, the team needs to get Longoria back on the field and bring in some bats if they have any hope of making the postseason this year.
Despite Dickey's stellar performance, Johan Santana finding his old form, and Jonathon Niese providing quality outings, the rest of the Mets starting pitching is still a major question mark.
After Dillon Gee's recent injury, the New York Mets find themselves in need of another starting pitcher to help solidify a mediocre rotation. The options are out there with big-name players like Cole Hamels, Matt Garza, Wandy Rodriguez and Ryan Dempster all floating around the market. The Mets would be foolish not to make a move for an arm.
Offensively, David Wright has led the attack all season long hitting .345 with 59 RBI and a .438 on-base percentage. Infielders Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy have provided some support from the plate as well, but the Mets' outfield is severely lacking in depth and production.
Currently, the outfield consists of Scott Hairston in left (hitting .253), Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center (.263) and Lucas Duda in right (.246).
In a perfect world, the Mets would send some prospects to the Diamondbacks for slugger Justin Upton and make a run at the playoffs. With the inevitable return of Jason Bay, however, the team may be hesitant to make such a move.
Let's hope the management is wise enough to bring in some talent to keep the team in the hunt.
The Boston Red Sox have been a bit of a letdown so far in 2012, yet they're still only two-and-a-half games back in the AL wild-card race.
The pitching staff is led by Felix Doubront, the 24-year-old Venezuelan left-hander who is 9-4 with a 4.41 ERA on the year. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have not looked like the quality starters that we've seen in years past, and Daisuke Matsuzaka is back on the DL with a recurring neck injury.
The Red Sox are competitors, so expect them to join in the talks for the top-name pitchers on the market before July 31. Offensively, they've been very fortunate with the depth of their farm system.
Injuries to stars Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury could have easily crippled this team, but luckily their replacements were able to step up and keep the Red Sox in contention. With Ellsbury back and Crawford set to return any day now, the team looks primed to make another playoff run if they can simply stay healthy and bolster their rotation.
Manager Bobby Valentine will refuse to let this team just lay down and die.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are above the .500 mark and right in the heart of the battle for the NL Central.
That is not a typo. Despite the Pirates' stellar first-half performance, their offense is still lacking the run production it needs to be a real playoff threat moving forward.
Andrew McCutchen leads the team in just about every offensive category, hitting .371 with 21 home runs and 64 RBI on the season thus far. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez has also helped provide some power with 17 HR and 51 RBI, while second baseman Neil Walker has given the Pirates all they could ask for with a .293 batting average and a .359 OBP.
After those few players, however, the numbers fall off drastically.
Justin Upton would be the perfect acquisition, but according to sources, the Diamondbacks may be asking for more than the Pirates are willing to offer. If this is the case, then the Pirates would be wise to turn to hitters like Carlos Quentin of the San Diego Padres or Alfonso Soriano and Bryan LaHair of the Chicago Cubs to deliver some added power.
If Pittsburgh can acquire just one more big bat by July 31, then they should have a real shot at competing in October.