One Lucky Break Each 2013 World Series Contender Needs to Win It All
Even though many contending teams acquired “missing pieces” during the non-waiver trade deadline, there isn’t one team in particular that is a lock for a World Series berth. In order to get into the playoffs and advance to the World Series, MLB teams sometimes need just one thing to go right for them.
For some teams (i.e. Boston Red Sox) an injured player returning earlier than expected could put them over the top. But for another (i.e. Atlanta Braves), they merely need their big talent(s) to play to their abilities.
Below is the one lucky break each 2013 World Series contender needs to win it all.
Boston Red Sox
Before enduring a shoulder injury in early June, Clay Buchholz was vying for a Cy Young Award. The 28-year-old posted a 1.71 ERA (versus park-adjusted 245 ERA+), 1.02 WHIP and 2.79 K/BB. Buchholz, however, has been sitting on the disabled list since June 8 with a variety of frustrating setbacks.
The Boston Red Sox were alarmed enough to acquire pitcher Jake Peavy to replace Buchholz in the rotation. But if the team wants to make a serious run at the World Series, Buchholz will need to be on the hill during the playoffs.
According to Drew Silva of NBCSports.com’s Hardball Talk, the right-hander threw off the mound Tuesday for the first time since July. If Buchholz can continue this progress, perhaps his return to the team isn’t as much of a long shot as once thought.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays’ rotation has witnessed some pretty significant injuries in 2013. For instance, Alex Cobb was struck in the head with a line drive, and most recently, Matt Moore was disabled with a sore elbow. Without two of their top starters, the Rays stand little chance of doing well in the playoffs.
Luckily for the Rays, both Cobb and Moore are expected back in the near future. Despite being transferred to the 60-day disabled list, according to KFFL, the 25-year-old Cobb is scheduled to return on August 15. As for Moore, the team is confident his elbow ailment isn’t serious.
Needless to say, a Rays team with both Cobb and Moore is better than one without them.
The Baltimore Orioles were one of the more active teams during July, acquiring Scott Feldman, Francisco Rodriguez and Bud Norris. Even though the second half is still young, the Orioles need their pitching trio to perform well in order to push out the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles.
Feldman, who was acquired on July 2, has been particularly disappointing, only posting two games (of six) with two earned runs or fewer. The 30-year-old might have overachieved with the Chicago Cubs, but the Orioles are hoping the pitcher can re-spin some of his first-half magic.
The Detroit Tigers received some devastating news this week, with starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta being suspended due to his involvement with the Biogenesis scandal. The Tigers were prepared for the scenario, as they acquired Boston Red Sox infielder Jose Iglesias specifically to replace Peralta.
Despite owning a career .622 OPS in the minor leagues, Iglesias has posted a vastly improved .774 OPS in his first full major league season this year. Even with his emergence as a legitimate hitter, the 23-year-old is still no match for Peralta. Peralta has posted a park-adjusted 122 OPS+ with 11 home runs in 2013.
It would be unfair to expect big power numbers from Iglesias, but unless he helps fill the void, the Tigers’ chances of a ring are weakened.
After weeks of speculation, the Texas Rangers were named the winners of the Matt Garza sweepstakes before the deadline struck. Garza had been pitching well for the Chicago Cubs this season, posting a 3.17 ERA (versus park-adjusted 123 ERA+), 1.14 WHIP and 3.10 K/BB. But like many pitchers who switch over to the American League, regression is always expected.
In Garza’s first 22.1 innings, however, the 29-year-old has looked like an ace. The right-hander has posted a 2.82 ERA (versus 152 ERA+), 0.98 WHIP and 4.00 K/BB over three starts.
Simply put, the Rangers need Garza to continue pitching like he has. With the Oakland Athletics refusing to let up their lead in the American League West, the Rangers must rely on their pitching—especially since outfielder Nelson Cruz is suspended for the season for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.
The Oakland Athletics always find a way to win and they certainly deserve credit for it. The A’s rotation, however, is still outperforming its peripherals.
In order to keep the Texas Rangers from surpassing their two-game lead in the American League West, the Athletics’ starters need to keep pitching more like their ERA as opposed to their more indicative FIP. Considering the rotation has achieved this feat for most of the season, perhaps continuing an otherwise unsustainable level of play won’t be so difficult.
In the offseason, the Atlanta Braves’ goal was to improve their offense. The team seemingly addressed this void by acquiring both Justin and B.J. Upton via trade and free agency, respectively.
The brothers, however, have been major disappointments thus far.
Even though Justin boasted a superb April, posting a 1.136 OPS with 12 home runs, the slugger has provided a mere .737 OPS and eight home runs since. To Justin Upton’s credit, he has noticeably improved his production since July (.896 OPS and five home runs), but his inconsistencies have hurt the Braves' offense.
B.J. Upton on the other hand, hasn't come close to earning the five-year, $75.25 million contract he signed before the season. The former Tampa Bay Ray star has hit to the tune of a .188 batting average, park-adjusted 59 OPS+ with just eight home runs and 10 stolen bases.
Despite the Uptons' underachieving, the Braves still have a comfortable 14.5 game lead over the Washington Nationals in the National League East. But if the team wants to be a legitimate World Series contender, they’ll need to bank on the Uptons busting out in the latter months.
The Pittsburgh Pirates lost stud closer Jason Grilli to injury after his appearance on July 22. Considering Grilli posted a 2.34 ERA (versus park-adjusted 152 ERA+), 0.92 WHIP, 6.60 K/BB and 30 saves in 2013, the loss has been a great one.
Luckily for the Pirates, Grilli’s replacement has been just as dominant. Mark Melancon, who owns a 0.86 ERA (versus 412 ERA+) on the season, has been flawless as the Pirates’ closer. Melancon has posted a 0.56 ERA, 0.62 WHIP, 3.33 K/BB and five saves since July 23.
In order for the Pirates' playoff, and hopefully World Series, surge to stay alive, Melancon must lead the bullpen like he’s done to date. The Pirates obviously trust the reliever as the team decided against acquiring an outside closer at the deadline.
St. Louis Cardinals
If you ask any St. Louis Cardinals fan or critic who the “glue” on the team is, the answer would be Yadier Molina. Molina has long been a fantastic defender behind the dish, but the 30-year-old has also emerged as an elite hitter, too (park-adjusted 132 OPS+ since 2011).
So when the Cardinals were forced to place Molina on the disabled list with a right knee sprain last week, concern spread. Between squatting and being in the line of fire on a consistent basis, a knee sprain is a serious injury for a catcher to have.
The actual severity of Molina’s sprain is still unknown, but the Cardinals will be hard pressed to be a true contender without their star catcher.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers have won eight of their past 10 games. They’ve witnessed the emergence of star prospect Yasiel Puig. Heck, they even acquired starter Ricky Nolasco to solidify their rotation.
But what the Dodgers really need is for Matt Kemp to stay healthy and play to his abilities. Kemp has only played 62 games in 2013, sitting on the disabled list multiple times with a litany of injuries. But even when he’s been healthy, the 28-year-old has only posted a park-adjusted 98 OPS+ (versus career 128 OPS+).
The Dodgers might be outplaying the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West, but the playoffs will be an entirely different competition. Kemp doesn’t necessarily need to post an MVP-worthy 172 OPS+ like he did in 2011, but he should at least play to his career averages.