'Must-Win' Series That Will Decide If MLB Teams Are Trade Buyers or Sellers

Sam Stryker@sbstrykerContributor IIIJune 17, 2013

'Must-Win' Series That Will Decide If MLB Teams Are Trade Buyers or Sellers

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    Deal, or no deal?

    The non-waiver trade deadline may be weeks away—July 31 at 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, to be exact—but that doesn’t mean teams haven't begun to ponder the question of whether they will be buyers or sellers when it comes time to deal. 

    For the teams at the top of their game—and for the cellar-dwellers out there as well—the decision is easy.

    But for those on the cusp of a playoff berth, buying may seem like an appealing option. Likewise, for those teams who are close but on the outside looking in, selling could be an option to boost future playoff runs.

    But all that can change in a heartbeat, or one crucial series, at least. 

    For the following teams on the fence, the question of whether they will be buyers or sellers come July 31 could very well be decided in the coming weeks before the All-Star break. 

    The following is a list of “must-win” series for teams who can make or break their season now. 

    All statistics via ESPN.com.

Kansas City Royals: July 8-11 at New York Yankees

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    The Royals may be playing below-.500 baseball, but Kansas City sits just four games out of the second Wild Card spot. Conveniently enough, they have a four-game series coming up against the Yankees in July, and New York holds one half of the tie for that last playoff spot.

    Sub-.500 ball may not normally be something to get excited about, but for the Royals, this is about as close as they have been to the playoffs in recent memory.

    Kansas City hasn’t made the playoffs since 1985 and hasn’t had a winning record since 2003, when they barely squeaked by at 83-30. 

    You can bet the Royals will do everything in their power to end that streak. A strong showing against the Yankees should convince the team’s higher-ups to be buyers at the deadline. 

Pittsburgh Pirates: June 17-20 at Cincinnati Reds

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    The Pirates are in a similar, albeit slightly better, position as the Royals. Pittsburgh hasn’t made the playoffs since 1992, and this looks like as good a year as any to end that streak.

    The Pirates sit third in the high-stakes National League Central, three games behind the league-leading Cardinals.

    In fact, if Pittsburgh played in any other division in baseball, they would be winning it. But the fact of the matter is, there is a long road before the Pirates can even lock up the second NL Wild Card spot.

    A four-game series against the Reds prior to the All-Star Game is one of those challenges. Cincinnati sits just a half-game ahead of the Pirates in the standings, so a big series from either team would go a long way.

    If the Pirates are a serious threat, they need to make a convincing statement with this series—and can then go into the trade deadline wholeheartedly as buyers.

NY Yankees: June 20-23 vs. Tampa Bay Rays

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    All things considered (namely, a banged-up roster), Yankees manager Joe Girardi has done a masterful job with the parts he was handed this season. But in New York, it’s World Series or bust, no excuses.

    New York currently sits third in the American League East and is in a tie for the second Wild Card spot with the Texas Rangers—with the Rays just two games behind, hot in pursuit.

    That’s why this series is so crucial to New York. Win, and the Yankees establish some serious breathing room in the Wild Card race—and can look to become serious buyers at the trade deadline. Lose, and all hell may break loose in the Bronx.

Tampa Bay Rays: July 1-4 at Houston Astros and July 12-14 vs. Houston Astros

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    The aforementioned series against the Yankees is also crucial for the Rays, who sit fourth in the AL East but just two games out of the second Wild Card spot. But the Rays also have a distinct advantage in their pre-deadline playoff push.

    With seven games against the lowly Houston Astros—who have the worst record in the AL—Tampa Bay can mount a huge winning streak heading into the trade deadline and mold themselves as serious buyers and playoff contenders—if, and only if, the Rays win the easy games. 

    Lose them, however, and the Rays will have no choice but to be sellers.

San Diego Padres: July 11-14 vs. San Francisco Giants

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    The Padres may sit in fourth place in the lowly National League West, but with the team playing better than .500 baseball, things are looking up in San Diego.

    The Padres sit just two games out of the division lead, which is held by the Arizona Diamondbacks. In between the Snakes and Pads are the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants.

    With a four-game set against the defending World Series champs coming up right before the All-Star break, San Diego has a tremendous opportunity to make leaps and bounds in the division race—and maybe even force the Giants down the division ladder. 

    A big series against the Giants would force Padres’ brass to realize San Diego has a tremendous opportunity to break the team’s playoff drought, which extends to 2006—and therefore make the team buyers at the deadline. Fail, and the Padres may have no choice but to be sellers.