The Biggest Roadblock Each MLB Contender Faces in Reaching the Postseason
There's nothing worse than trying to arrive at your destination only to discover that a roadblock stands in the way of you and your intended target.
Signs pointing to detours direct you to take an alternate route—you're late for an appointment and now wondering if you can show up on time.
In Major League Baseball, all kinds of roadblocks litter the road to success.
Barriers can be set up in the form of brutal scheduling, injuries, sudden and unexplainable poor performance, depth issues and other factors.
Here are the biggest roadblocks each MLB contending team must overcome in order to reach its end goal—a postseason berth.
Note: Qualification for a contending team is largely based on current record but other factors—preseason predictions and expert evaluations—are considered as well.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Nagging Injuries and Late-Season Schedule
The Arizona Diamondbacks have already dealt with their fair share of injuries.
Currently on the disabled list are second baseman Aaron Hill (broken hand), left fielder Jason Kubel (strained left quad), utility infielder Willie Bloomquist (strained right intercostal) and center fielder Adam Eaton (left elbow strain).
Daniel Hudson is also recovering from Tommy John surgery and not expected back until after the All-Star break at the earliest. They started the season with new acquisition Cody Ross on the DL, but he is back and hitting .293 through 11 games.
Despite their injuries, the Diamondbacks stand at 12-9 after defeating the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday. Didi Gregorius has stepped in to play shortstop with Cliff Pennington over to second in relief of Hill. Gregorius has hit .400 and has sparkled defensively.
A.J. Pollock and Gerardo Parra have filled in admirably in the outfield as well—Pollock is hitting .277 with two homers and seven RBI, Parra .299 with a homer and five RBI.
Thus far Arizona has responded to early injuries—that will need to continue as the D-backs navigate through a tough NL West Division.
Speaking of the NL West, the Diamondbacks have a brutal schedule to end the season. Starting on Sept. 5 is a stretch of 21 consecutive divisional matchups.
They get no break after that, finishing the season with a three-game set against the Washington Nationals.
Atlanta Braves: Prolonged Slumps from Middle of Batting Order
The Atlanta Braves lost a tough extra-inning affair to the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday, but they sit atop the NL East with a 15-6 record.
The Braves have done their damage thus far without production from key bats in the middle of the order. The trio of Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward are hitting a collective .153 with nine home runs and 16 RBI.
The Braves pitching staff has largely carried the team early, but continuing to lean on them late in the season with unproductive bats will hurt them big time as they move on to meaningful baseball late in the season.
The Braves carry a 2.38 team ERA, nearly a full run better than the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates. At some point that torrid pace is likely to cool off, and the offense will be expected to help carry them through any rough patches.
If the above trio fail to start heating up, it could end up being a roadblock the Braves can't navigate through.
Baltimore Orioles: Bench Depth
The Baltimore Orioles have gotten outstanding play from several of their regulars, including Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Nick Markakis, Nate McLouth and Manny Machado.
The bench, however, has been abysmal.
The stats don't lie—depth could be an issue for the Orioles down the stretch.
Casilla and Flaherty are covering for Brian Roberts while he recovers from a ruptured tendon in his right knee.
Heading into the dog days of summer and the stretch drive, the Orioles will need their reserve players to lend a helping hand. That hand thus far has been limp.
Boston Red Sox: Back End of Starting Rotation
The Boston Red Sox took a 13-0 shellacking at the hands of the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday. Their No. 5 starter—Alfredo Aceves—was victimized for eight runs (seven earned) in 3.1 innings, raising his ERA to 8.66.
The Red Sox have received strong performances from both Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, combining for an 8-0 record and 1.61 ERA.
The rest of the rotation is 2-4 with a 4.64 ERA.
With a tough road to hoe in the final months of the season, the Red Sox will need the back end of their rotation to pitch consistently, get deep into games to help preserve the bullpen and support Lester and Buchholz.
That is likely the key to their success or failure in the 2013 season.
Cincinnati Reds: Ability to Fight Through Key Injuries
Much like the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Cincinnati Reds have already had to deal with injuries to key personnel.
Ryan Ludwick is lost until possibly the All-Star break with torn cartilage in his right shoulder. Johnny Cueto was felled by a back strain. Ryan Hanigan is dealing with an oblique injury. Sean Marshall is working his way back from tendinitis in his left shoulder.
The Reds were able to rally together last season when first baseman Joey Votto suffered a knee injury—they were 33-16 in his absence.
They're battling once again early on this season as well, posting a 13-9 record despite the number of walking wounded.
They'll need that same resilient attitude as the season marches on and other unknown injuries occur.
Colorado Rockies: Starting Rotation Durability
With a 14-7 record, it's hard not to call the Colorado Rockies legitimate right now.
Their surprise showing thus far has been helped in part by its rotation. While not stellar with a 4.24 ERA, it's a far cry from their dismal effort last year.
They've already had an issue that was a major problem last year—injuries. Jhoulys Chacin suffered a back strain in his start last Friday. Certainly a blow for the Rockies as Chacin had delivered a 3-0 record and 1.46 ERA.
The Rockies' big three—Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Juan Nicasio—made just 28 starts combined last year. Their durability this year will be a major factor in the Rockies' success or demise.
Detroit Tigers: Bullpen Effectiveness
The roadblock for the Detroit Tigers—bullpen effectiveness—was partially dealt with on Wednesday.
Jose Valverde was brought back on a one-year deal and made his debut against the Kansas City Royals. At least 15 pounds lighter and without the goggles, Valverde got it done with a clean ninth inning to earn his first save.
One of the benefits of bringing back Valverde was brought up by Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com.
Jose Valverde’s presence impacted the 6th, 7th and 8th innings. That’s one reason why the Tigers brought him back.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) April 25, 2013
The Tigers will need that new alignment to work throughout the season.
Kansas City Royals: Brutal September Schedule
The Kansas City Royals have jumped out to a 10-8 start and sit atop the tight AL Central Division by a half-game following play on Wednesday.
The Royals seem to have pulled off the right moves in rebuilding their starting rotation. Their 3.29 ERA is second in the American League.
While their rotation has helped in bringing respectability back to the Royals, the season is still young. The scheduling gods weren't kind to them at the end of the season.
Starting on Sept. 9, the Royals will play 13 of their final 19 games on the road. That's a huge hill to climb if they're still lurking anywhere near the top of the AL Central at that point.
The new starting rotation has absolutely helped, but they'll be taxed to deliver away from Kauffman Stadium over the final few weeks.
Los Angeles Angels: Organizational Depth
Heading into the season the Los Angeles Angels were dealing with a farm system that was short on major league-ready talent. In fact, they were short on talent throughout.
They traded three top-25 prospects last July to acquire the services of Zack Greinke. They now have nothing to show for that deal.
They also made that deal after not having a pick in the 2012 MLB draft until the third round. Their signing of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson the previous offseason saw to that.
The Angels also won't have a first-round pick in this year's draft—courtesy of the five-year deal given to Josh Hamilton.
That lack of depth not only hurts them in the future, it could well hurt them later this year.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Living Up to Lofty Expectations
Since last July, the new ownership group of the the Los Angeles has spent well over half a billion dollars in orchestrating several trades and acquiring free agents.
That chunk of change—combined with a few injuries—has led to a 9-11 start.
With Hanley Ramirez, Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley and Chris Capuano currently on the disabled list, all of the work the Dodgers did in the past several months is all of a sudden in jeopardy.
The injuries can be overcome, but the expectations will nonetheless persist. Manager Don Mattingly is in lame-duck status and will continue to hear whispers of his demise with each passing loss.
Those expectations obviously come from the owners' intent to build an instant winner. It's those lofty expectations that may be the Dodgers' biggest downfall.
Milwaukee Brewers: Rotation Depth and Consistency
The Milwaukee Brewers are on a roll, having won nine games in a row heading into Wednesday's game with the San Diego Padres.
Starting the season 2-9 the Brewers looked like they were headed for a season of despair. They're now right in the thick of things in the crowded NL Central race.
With the season not even a month old, the Brewers are showing their mettle. But they're doing it with a starting rotation that's ranked just 13th in the National League with a 4.47 ERA.
The rotation is topped by Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse. It's the rest of the rotation that worries many experts and observers.
Thus far, the quartet of Marco Estrada, Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers and Hiram Burgos have combined for a 4-2 record and 5.08 ERA. The offensive support has certainly helped, but that support won't always be there.
Consistency from their rotation will be a factor for the Brewers as they continue to navigate their way through what could be a tight NL Central race.
New York Yankees: Stamina and Durability
If you think this is a shot at the older New York Yankees roster, to a degree that's exactly what it is.
The Yankees are 11-9 and occupy third place in the AL East. It's a credit to replacement players like Kevin Youkilis and Vernon Wells, who have both been a pleasant surprise early on.
But Youkilis is once again battling injuries, dealing with a sore back that could land him on the disabled list.
Travis Hafner has remained healthy, but he hasn't played a full slate of games since 2007.
The Yankees are already without the services of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson. Adding Youkilis to that list doesn't bode well for the Yankees' chances in 2013.
At some point one would think that general manager Brian Cashman could be enticed to make some moves. But with ownership's edict to be more fiscally conservative, his hands could be somewhat tied.
Oakland Athletics: Another Wicked September Road Schedule
The Oakland Athletics sit just 1.5 games in back of the Texas Rangers in the AL West race. They certainly seem to be proving that last year's surprise division title was no fluke.
However, their road back to another title is fraught with peril this season.
The month of September sees the A's playing 19 of 27 games against AL West opponents. They'll close with a six-game road trip against the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners.
Philaelphia Phillies: Rotation Issues
The ability of the Philadelphia Phillies rotation to work deep into games has been a strength for the past several seasons.
That strength has disappeared this season.
Phillies starters as a group are barely averaging six innings per start—only Cliff Lee has an average of seven innings.
That trend will be an issue later in the season, taxing a bullpen that currently sits 10th in the National League with a 4.34 ERA.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Reversing a Disturbing Second Half Trend
Over the past two years, the Pittsburgh Pirates entered the All-Star break with a chance to finally break their long-standing streak of consecutive losing seasons.
But horrible play in the second half of both of those seasons extended that dubious streak.
That's the obvious roadblock for the Pirates this season as they sit with a 12-9 record and in the thick of the NL Central race once again for the third straight season. Their first-half play has been inspiring—their second-half play has been downright embarrassing.
San Francisco Giants: Relying Too Heavily on Starting Rotation
The San Francisco Giants two World Series in three years largely on the strength of their starting pitching.
Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner were the key factors in the 2010 title and Cain, Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito were major factors in their 2012 title. Lincecum's relief efforts were an obvious key as well.
At some point, pitching simply won't be enough, the bats will need to assert themselves. A prime example of that was in 2011 when the Giants led the majors in pitching yet were woefully inadequate at the plate.
Cain has gotten off to a rocky start thus far. Vogelsong has struggled somewhat as well. The Giants find themselves with a 13-9 record despite their struggles, and the offense has in fact played a part in that start.
That will need to continue throughout the entire season. A healthy balance of both can get the Giants a third title in four seasons.
St. Louis Cardinals: Late Inning Efficiency
New closer Edward Mujica for now has quieted talk of the bullpen woes for the St. Louis Cardinals.
With four saves in the past week, Mujica has taken hold of ninth-inning duties in place of Jason Motte, who could be lost for the season.
However, the rotation has come through with a 13-4 ERA and 2.37 ERA. But the bullpen has struggled with an 0-4 record and 5.20 ERA.
That effort must be reversed if the Cards hope to get back to the postseason once again.
Tampa Bay Rays: Overcoming Offensive Deficiencies
The Tampa Bay Rays are starting the 2013 season in much the same fashion as previous years—strong pitching with an impotent offense.
The Rays have a .230 batting average after play on Wednesday night. They're hitting only .228 with runners in scoring position as well.
In a wide open AL East Division race, any team has the ability to win, and any edge the Rays can gain can make the difference between moving on in October or setting up tee times.
Texas Rangers: The Back-End of the Rotation
The Texas Rangers currently lead the American League with a stellar 2.84 ERA through the first 20 games of the season.
Aside from a rough two starts from Matt Harrison the rotation has been effective as well. But can the back end of the rotation hold up over a long season?
The Rangers will get reinforcements in the form of Colby Lewis and possibly Neftali Feliz later in the season. Martin Perez will also soon start throwing batting practice and Harrison himself should be healthy by the All-Star break.
Those reinforcements will definitely be needed later in the season as the Rangers contend with the Oakland A's and Los Angeles Angels in the AL West.
Toronto Blue Jays: Lack of Postseason Experience
The Toronto Blue Jays haven't been to the postseason since the 1993 World Series. Many of their players have never experienced the playoffs, either.
In a tight race later in the season, that could be a factor.
Manager John Gibbons will have to keep his troops focused on the end game, and other veterans like Mark DeRosa and Mark Buehrle will have to serve as guides for their teammates in showing them how to play like a playoff team.
All of the transactions pulled off by general manager Alex Anthopoulos are meaningless if his troops can't learn how to win and how to react in pressure situations.
Washington Nationals: Fending off a Tough NL East Crowd
After getting swept by the St. Louis Cardinals, the Washington Nationals are 10-11, the first time since 2011 the team has been under .500.
They'll have a tough road to hoe as they continue on, especially with a competitive NL East Division.
The Atlanta Braves have already surged to a 15-6 record and show no signs of slowing down. The New York Mets have even put up an early fight with a 10-9 record.
The Nationals have been favored by many to repeat as NL East Division champions. Their early difficulties haven't totally dampened those expectations, but it's certainly clear they'll have battle on their hands in attempting to keep up with the Braves.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
Feel free to talk baseball with Doug anytime on Twitter.
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