Each MLB Team's Nightmare Scenario for the Rest of 2013

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystSeptember 6, 2013

Each MLB Team's Nightmare Scenario for the Rest of 2013

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    This list of nightmare scenarios is dedicated to all of the times you've frustratingly wondered aloud, "What else could possibly go wrong?"

    Technically speaking, every team's nightmare scenario would involve medical exams, police reports, natural disasters or some combination of the three. But let's not explore the incredibly inexact science of predicting the next person to fall victim to Tommy John surgery.

    Instead, these are plausible nightmares that could strike every MLB team before the end of this calendar year.

    Could the San Francisco Giants fail to re-sign any of their key free agents?

    Can the Houston Astros set a modern-day record for consecutive seasons of futility?

    Will the New York Yankees' playoff push suddenly be derailed by losing Alex Rodriguez?

    Are the White Sox actually hoping Adam Dunn retires?

    We have an answer for each of those questions and 26 others on the following slides, which are arranged in alphabetical order by team location, starting in the American League with the Baltimore Orioles.

    *Unless otherwise cited, all statistics are courtesy of Fangraphs.com and are accurate through the start of play on Thursday, September 5.

Baltimore Orioles

1 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Missing the playoffs after fully committing to the 2013 season.

    Why this would be terrible

    Since June 30, the Orioles have systematically aged by trading prospects for veterans.

    Granted, they didn't give up any of their top-of-the-line prospects (see: Bundy, Dylan; Gausman, Kevin; Rodriguez, Eduardo; etc.), but all in all they traded away Jake Arrieta (27), Pedro Strop (28), Nick Delmonico (21), L.J. Hoes (23), Josh Hader (19) and Xavier Avery (23) in exchange for four players with an average age of 30 and a catcher (Steve Clevenger) who didn't play a single game for them.

    Also since June 30, the Orioles have played three games below .500 and are currently four games outside the playoff picture.

    Michael Morse, Francisco Rodriguez and Scott Feldman will all be free agents after this season, and Bud Norris' arbitration salary for 2014 is still an unknown variable. If the Orioles miss the playoffs and immediately lose to free agency three of the four players that they traded away six young players for, there could be some serious backlash from the fans.

Boston Red Sox

2 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Clay Buchholz never returns; 2011 strikes again.

    Why this would be terrible

    As much as Red Sox Nation would love to see Ryan Dempster's 6.08 second-half ERA get booted from the starting rotation, Buchholz has cried wolf one too many times this season.

    He could potentially return as early as next week against Tampa Bay, but I'm not buying it. He's been "two weeks away" from a return for at least three months now.

    Or, perhaps he does return to the mound, but he pitches nowhere near as well as he did for the first two months of the season. Either way, I don't suspect we'll be seeing 1.71 ERA Clay Buchholz this September.

    As a result, for the second time in three years, the Red Sox lose to the Orioles on the final day of the season and fall behind the Rays in the AL East standings. They'll still make the playoffs, but they'll have to burn an ace in a one-game playoff against the AL West runner-up.

Chicago White Sox

3 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Adam Dunn's contemplation of retiring extends into the offseason before he comes back for one more year.

    Why this would be terrible

    It's bad enough that the one player with a sub-.200 batting average since the start of the 2011 season is signed for another season for $15 million. But now he's just toying with the White Sox by considering retiring after this season.

    With all due respect to a man with 436 career home runs, the sooner that he and his bloated contract leave town, the sooner the White Sox can get back on the winning track.

    In fact, getting rid of Adam Dunn is almost a rite of passage for losing teams to get better.

    From 2001-2008, the Cincinnati Reds were 588-708 and never finished above .500. A season-and-a-half after trading Dunn to the Arizona Diamondbacks, they won the NL Central and made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.

    In Dunn's two years with the Washington Nationals, the team had a .395 winning percentage. One year later, the Nationals finished within a game of .500 and followed it up with a NL East pennant in 2012.


    Only one way to find out. The White Sox are now 220-242 since acquiring Dunn in 2011. If the active leader in games played without appearing in the postseason is willing to walk away from the last year of his contract, I highly doubt the White Sox will complain.

    Whatever he decides to do, they're hoping he'll decide quickly. Entering the free agency period with a $15 million variable is not an enviable position.

Cleveland Indians

4 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Oblique injury ends Justin Masterson's season; Indians finish a distant third in AL Central.

    Why this would be terrible

    Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber have already missed a good amount of time for injuries of their own, but this would be the real dagger.

    Masterson is already expected to miss one start for the type of injury that usually results in a stint on the DL of about a month.

    Whether you view it as an opportunity to gain ground without him or as an opportunity that might be lost because of Masterson's injury, Cleveland's remaining schedule is unfairly easy. The six games against the 72-67 Royals are the only games left against teams that aren't at least 12 games below .500.

    At full strength, the Indians could almost be expected to go no worse than 17-6 through this home stretch.

    How they do without their ace remains to be seen, but falling behind Kansas City at this stage in the game would be calamitous.

Detroit Tigers

5 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Miguel Cabrera's abdomen and hip pain persist into the postseason.

    Why this would be terrible

    Even though Chris Davis has left the door wide open by hitting just one home run since August 21, forget about Cabrera winning the Triple Crown. He just needs to spend the next three weeks getting healthy enough to be at his best in October.

    The Tigers already have a nearly insurmountable lead in the AL Central, and playing for home-field advantage isn't nearly worth the risk of entering the playoffs with a still-injured Cabrera.

    Then again, since small sample sizes in baseball never make any sense, the Tigers are 9-3 this season in games in which Cabrera hasn't played. Clearly, they're better off without him.

Houston Astros

6 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Finish season with a 49-113 record, becoming fifth team in last century to lose more than 112 games in a single season.

    Why this would be terrible

    Do I really need to justify why fifth-most losses in a century is terrible?

    The tricky part is figuring out whether the Astros could actually go 3-20 for the rest of the season. 17 of their remaining games come against teams who are at least eight games over .500. And though they are 15-17 against the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners this season, those other six games aren't exactly easy, either.

    Even if they don't reach 113 losses, they're very likely headed for a third consecutive season with at least 106 losses. 109 losses would put them at 322 over the past three seasons, pushing them ahead of the 2001-2003 Detroit Tigers for the dishonor of most losses over a three-year span since the early 1960s.

    Don't worry, though, Houston fans. There's no chance of you catching the 1962-1964 Mets, who lost 340 games in a span of three years. So there's something to hang your 10-gallon hat on.

Kansas City Royals

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    Nightmare scenario

    Getting swept by the White Sox over the final weekend of the season to finish below .500 for a 10th consecutive year.

    Why this would be terrible

    Since July 22, the Royals are 12 games above .500 and have not only put themselves in a position to finish the season with a winning record, but they are within six games of the second wild-card spot in the American League.

    They haven't made the playoffs since 1985 and haven't even finished in second place in their division since a 70-74 record in 1995 was good enough for a second-place finish, 30 games behind the Indians. Being within earshot of the playoffs in September is cause for jubilation in Kansas City.

    However, the Royals about to embark upon a 15-game stretch against the Indians, Rangers and Tigers that will probably drop them out of the playoff race and within a couple games of .500.

    The final seven games of their season against the Mariners and White Sox will mean nothing aside from draft position to anyone other than a team looking for its first winning record in a decade. Missing out on that goal because of the 90-plus loss White Sox would be so deflating.

Los Angeles Angels

8 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    The Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics meet in the World Series.

    Why this would be terrible

    Having a disappointing season is one thing.

    The Angels are likely going to finish the year with their worst record since before they won the 2002 World Series. Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols have combined to hit 36 home runs while getting paid more than $33 million to have the worst seasons of their respective careers. It was a bad season, and things might only be getting worse over the next few years.

    But it's another thing altogether to have your struggles amplified by the successes of a division rival and a "crosstown" rival. Metaphorically speaking, it's the equivalent of having to move back in with your parents after losing a high-risk job and suffering through the holidays as the one sibling who didn't go to medical school or law school.

    When your team struggles as much as this one has, you just want to forget that the playoffs are even taking place by instead throwing yourself headlong into football season. But if the Dodgers and A's make the World Series, there's no possible way to live in California and avoid those frustrating conversations.

Minnesota Twins

9 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Justin Morneau is gone for good.

    Why this would be terrible

    On June 18six weeks prior to the non-waiver trade deadlineI argued that the Minnesota Twins should rent out Morneau's services to a playoff contender for a few months before looking to re-sign the free agent in the offseason.

    They finally shipped him to Pittsburgh just before the end of August, thereby fulfilling the first half of that request.

    While it feels like he has been around for a long time, Morneau is just 32 years old and has at least a few years left in the tank as a first baseman and/or designated hitter. Although, the same could be said for Adam Dunn, and it sounds as if he's considering hanging up his cleats for good.

    Until a few days ago, Morneau had played his entire career with the Twins, and one would think that there's at least a mutual interest for him to return in 2014.

    Maybe 29-year-old Chris Colabello is the wave of the future at first base for Minnesota, but I believe the team's best chance at getting better in the near future is by bringing Morneau back for at least one more seasonuntil top prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are ready to become the new faces of the franchise.

New York Yankees

10 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Alex Rodriguez's suspension finally gets enforced.

    Why this would be terrible

    Say what you will about his character, his contract and his off-the-field issues, but Rodriguez is much better than anything else the Yankees tried at third base in his absence.

    Since hitting his first home run of the season on August 11, the Yankees are 17-7 and have clawed their way back to within just a few games of the second wild-card spot.

    Losing Rodriguez would not only create more distractions, but it would give them a less capable batting order for at least the remainder of this season.

Oakland Athletics

11 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    A's lose their three remaining series against the Twins (seven games) and Astros (four games) to let the Texas Rangers take the AL West.

    Why this would be terrible

    Based purely on the standings, where the A's are currently a half-game behind the Rangers for the division lead, it would be silly to say that the A's should win the division. But if they let the ball drop against their remaining schedule, they don't deserve anything better than a one-game playoff for a wild-card spot.

    Even with next weekend's three-game tilt against the Rangers, the average winning percentage of Oakland's remaining opponents is .448. It's roughly the equivalent of playing 23 consecutive games against the 63-77 Philadelphia Phillies.

    Factor in that half of Texas' remaining schedule comes against Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Kansas City, and there's literally no excuse for Oakland to not win the AL West by at least three games.

Seattle Mariners

12 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Top pitching prospects flop on the big stage.

    Why this would be terrible

    Since the moment the Mariners drafted Danny Hultzen in June 2011completing a dream trio of pitching prospects with Taijuan Walker and James Paxtonthe "wait until those guys get here" buzz has been one of the few things keeping Mariners fans from setting the stadium on fire.

    Walker already has an appearance of five shutout innings under his belt, Paxton has been promoted to the big league club and Hultzen is hoping to make it back from a shoulder injury to pitch again yet this season.

    But what if those three guys are just downright terrible over the next three weeks?

    It's absolutely a small sample size and there's no legitimate reason to worry about their staying power in the majors for 2014 and beyond, but wouldn't that just be a kick in the teeth to the fans who have kept the faith?

    The team is 14-23 since July 25, but a strong showing from any or all of those top pitching prospects could at least reignite some optimism for the 2014 season.

Tampa Bay Rays

13 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Rays return to their recent losing ways and miss out on the playoffs.

    Why this would be terrible

    Less than two weeks ago, the Rays were tied for first place in the AL East and had a cushion of six losses over Cleveland and Baltimore in the race for the second wild-card spot.

    But then they lost eight out of nine and opened the door for anyone and everyone to get back into contention for the playoffs. In a span of 11 days, the Yankees gained 4.5 games on the Rays, and now the evil empire sits just 2.5 games outside the playoff picture.

    Truly, this is becoming a nightmare scenario for all of us.

    They won two in a row against the Angels and still have a three-game set against the Mariners to find their footing before next week's bloodbath against the Red Sox. However, they are merely ankles deep into a stretch of 30 consecutive games that are either on the road or against teams who are well above .500.

Texas Rangers

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    Nightmare scenario

    A one-game playoff against the Indians, followed by another one-game playoff against the Rays.

    Why this would be terrible

    First and foremost, stranger things have happened. The Rangers are currently in the lead in the AL West, but their schedule is about to get much more challenging than it has been for the past four weeks. Cleveland, meanwhile, doesn't play another game this season against a better team than the Kansas City Royals.

    Blowing a seven-game lead over a team in early September might not be likely, but it's certainly a nightmare scenario.

    Let's say Texas goes 10-14, while Cleveland finishes out the season with a 17-7 record and Tampa Bay goes 15-10 (which includes a four-game sweep of Texas in late September). Again, it's not likely, but it's possible.

    That would give Tampa Bay the first wild-card spot and put Cleveland and Texas in a one-game playoff for the right to a one-game playoff with Tampa Bay.

    This season, the Rangers went 1-5 against the Indians, and they would be 2-5 against the Rays if that four-game sweep actually happens. Justin Masterson would likely start the game for Cleveland (if he's healthy), and he pitched 7.2 shutout innings against Texas a little over a month ago.

    The Rangers would be forced to use Yu Darvish and Derek Holland in those two games. Even if Texas made it to the ALDS (likely to face Detroit), its rotation would be a mess for that best-of-five series.

Toronto Blue Jays

15 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Josh Johnson leaves via free agency, excels with Yankees.

    Why this would be terrible

    The Blue Jays did not much enjoy the Josh Johnson Experience. Having already been shut down for the year, he made 16 starts and compiled a 6.20 ERA.

    When he's healthy, there are few pitchers out there better than Johnson. Unfortunately, he's rarely healthy. In his eight "full" seasons in the big leagues, he has pitched more than 157 innings four times and failed to reach 88 innings four times.

    This season was by far his worst, though. His HR/9 and BABIP were astronomically higher than his previous career averages. Not only did he miss half the season, but the Jays spent the other half of the season wishing he wasn't on the mound.

    He'll likely fetch a multi-year, seven-figures-per-year type of deal with someone. It just probably won't be with the Blue Jays.

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Nightmare scenario

    Diamondbacks get to within a couple games of the second NL wild-card spot, only to be officially eliminated from contention by an Ian Kennedy no-hitter.

    Why this would be terrible

    Just imagine where this one would rank on the all-time list of feelings of betrayal. I don't know if anyone has ever no-hit a team that traded him in the middle of a season, but I'm excited to find out if it could happen this year.

    Kennedy was supposed to be a key cog in Arizona's machine. Instead, just two years after going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA, he had three wins through 21 starts with a 5.23 ERA. Under the "anything is better than this" theory, the D-backs shipped him to a division rival before the non-waiver trade deadline.

    Since the start of the 2011 season, Kennedy has had just two starts in which he allowed fewer than three hits. He gave up at least one earned run in each of his 21 starts with Arizona this season.

    To have him not only end the Diamondbacks' season, but to do it while accomplishing something he never even came remotely close to doing in their uniform, would be a stomach punch of epic proportions.

Atlanta Braves

17 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    The injury bug claims another victim.

    Why this would be terrible

    We could write about potential injuries as a nightmare scenario for literally all 30 teams, but Atlanta has spent the entire season dealing with injury after injury.

    Save for Andrelton Simmons, every starting position player for the Braves has either hit the disabled list or missed a handful of games due to nagging injuries. Dan Uggla had eye surgery, Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis each had oblique strains and I'm not so sure Jason Heyward has been fully healthy at any point this season.

    As far as pitchers go, Paul Maholm's time on the DL for a sprained wrist was child's play compared to some of the injuries. Tim Hudson suffered a broken ankle and is out for the season. Jonny Venters didn't even throw a pitch this season before having the second Tommy John surgery of his career. Eric O'Flaherty only lasted a handful of games before undergoing a Tommy John of his own.

    Somehow, the Braves still have the best record in the majors. Aside from fighting for home-field advantage, the entire month of September is something of a formality for them, which would make it even more asinine if they lost someone like Craig Kimbrel or Julio Teheran at this stage in the game.

Chicago Cubs

18 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Cubs enter 2014 season without upgrading their bullpen at all.

    Why this would be terrible

    No one actually expects the Chicago Cubs to win the NL Central or make the playoffs in 2014, but wouldn't it be nice if they were at least competitive for a change? Barring some sort of miracle over the next three weeks, this will be their fourth consecutive season finishing at least 12 games under .500 and missing the playoffs by at least 16 games.

    If they go into the 2014 season with these names headlining their bullpen situation, there's little reason to believe they'll break that losing trend.

    I wouldn't suggest the Cubs go out and enter into a bidding war for top notch guys like Grant Balfour, Koji Uehara or even Javier Lopez. However, I would hope they could at least go out and get a few reliable middle relievers so they can stop blowing 42 percent of their save opportunities.

    It's hard enough to shake a stigma as a losing team when you haven't won a World Series in over a century. Fueling that flame by putting together a team that blows the few leads that it does get only makes matters worse.

Cincinnati Reds

19 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Losing record in month of September allows either Arizona or Washington to slip past the Reds for the final NL playoff spot.

    Why this would be terrible

    Try as they might, the Reds have been unable to give away the second wild-card spot in the National League.

    On July 25, they were 15 games over .500 and held a 5.5-game lead over Arizona. Since then they're 19-18, but they have actually expanded their lead to 6.5 games over the Nationals, because the Diamondbacks have played two games below .500 during the same length of time.

    The Reds have lost seven of their last 12 and have 10 games remaining against the Pirates, Dodgers and Cardinals. Based on how they've played over the past six weeks, a losing record over these final 22 games isn't much of a stretch.

    Missing the playoffs with this much of a lead at this stage in the season would be a real nightmare, though.

Colorado Rockies

20 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Rockies fail to attract any starting pitchers via free agency.

    Why this would be terrible

    Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa have had better than adequate seasons, and Tyler Chatwood was pitching relatively well while healthy. However, the Rockies are more desperate for starting pitching than any other team in baseball. They even brought Roy Oswalt out of retirement for four starts just to prove how badly they need help.

    Juan Nicasio has struggled and dealt with injuries over the past three seasons. Jon Garland was released in June, and Jeff Francis was sent to the minors before coming back as a relief pitcher (as someone astutely suggested). And the team's attempts to fill those voids have failed miserably in the forms of Drew Pomeranz, Chad Bettis and Jeff Manship.

    Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray are quality pitching prospects, but they're both still at least another two years away from the big leagues.

    If the Rockies are going to put together another playoff run while Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are still in their prime, they'll need to beef up the starting rotation via free agency.

Los Angeles Dodgers

21 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Clayton Kershaw falters in the playoffs, yet still signs a record-setting contract in the offseason.

    Why this would be terrible

    The negative effect of faltering in the playoffs should be self-explanatory. The Dodgers have worked like crazy over the past two-plus months to go from dead in the water to contending for home-field advantage, but it only takes one or two postseason duds from your ace for a season to come crashing to a halt.

    The contract negotiations are the concerning part. The Dodgers are practically printing and distributing money, but there has to come a point somewhere in the troposphere of team salaries at which they're no longer turning a profit.

    I have no idea what their break-even number might be, but I do know that Kershaw would make at least $28 million per year if signed to a long-term deal, since those were the terms of Justin Verlander's five-year contract extension this past offseason. Theoretically, Kershaw will be making at least $17 million more than he did this season.

    The Dodgers have a 2013 payroll of approximately $240 million and are already on the hook for $155.25 million next season to nine players. That doesn't include Kershaw. It also does not include Ricky Nolasco or a single relief pitcher other than Brandon League.

    They're either going to be approaching a $300 million payroll in 2014, or they'll be putting an inferior product on the field next season. Either way, they'll be hoping Kershaw shows up for the playoffs after an incredible regular season and earns his record-setting pay day.

Miami Marlins

22 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Losing 100 games and failing to score 500 runs.

    Why this would be terrible

    The 2010 Seattle Mariners were horrible. They went 61-101 and scored just 513 runs all year. The next-lowest run total from a 162-game season in the past 21 years belongs to the 1982 Cincinnati Reds, who scored 545 runs while also going 61-101.

    The 2013 Miami Marlins are currently on pace for just over 520 runs, but they scored just 86 runs in the entire month of August. 14 of their remaining 24 games come against the pitching staffs of Atlanta, Detroit and Washington. Let's just say I'm not ruling out an average of 2.3 runs per game the rest of the way.

    No one was expecting much from this team, but the Marlins had a stretch of 30 games leading up to July 4th in which they went 19-11 and averaged 4.3 runs per game.

    Finishing the season at 500 runs and 100 losses would mean they went 43-89 and averaged just 2.8 runs per game over the season's other 132 games.

Milwaukee Brewers

23 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    The Ryan Braun drama never goes away.

    Why this would be terrible

    The Milwaukee Brewers have Braun signed through the end of the 2020 season, with a mutual option for 2021 to boot.

    Eventually, we'll forgive and somewhat forget. People swore they would never root for Tiger Woods again after his scandal, but he has regained many of the sponsorships he lost and is once again the primary golfer of rooting interest on Sunday afternoons.

    But things will be dicey for awhile. No one outside of Milwaukee has had reason to even talk about the Brewers since Braun's suspension was handed down. However, once this season ends and the 2014 predictions start surfacing, expect every single NL Central projection to heavily involve the phrase "if Ryan Braun."

    He'll be talked about plenty this offseason and will likely spend the first half of the 2014 season as the subject of spiteful articles asking if he'll ever be the same again if he struggles or asking if he's back on PEDs if he does well.

    How he handles himself over the next eight months will go a long way toward determining whether his marriage to Milwaukee can be saved.

New York Mets

24 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Groundhog Day becomes a real-life phenomena, Mets forced to relive Matt Harvey's post-injury press conference day after day after day.

    Why this would be terrible

    In the NL Cy Young race, Matt Harvey and Clayton Kershaw were ranked No. 1 and No. 1a in one order or the other. With the team spending the bulk of the season at 10 or more games below .500 and David Wright already on the sidelines, Harvey was just about all the Mets fans had left to root for.

    And then he partially tore his UCL.

    New York's nightmare scenario has already hit.

    Whether or not the Mets wake up from it depends on Harvey's ability to actually get back on a mound in six months and not need 2014 season-ending surgery.

Philadelphia Phillies

25 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Ryan Howard tries to make a late-season comeback and further aggravates his knee injury.

    Why this would be terrible

    Whatever favor Howard once had among fans in Philadelphia has long since gone by the wayside.

    The strikeouts have always been an issue, but at least in the past he was drawing enough walks, hitting enough home runs and playing in enough games to almost make up for it.

    From 2006-2009, Howard averaged 156.25 games per season with 49.5 home runs and a 2.06 K/BB ratio. Over the last four seasons, he's averaging 111.5 games per season with 22.25 home runs and a 2.87 K/BB ratio.

    Oh, there's also the money issue.

    During that first stretch of four years, Howard had an average salary of $6.56 million per year. From 2010-2013, he has averaged $19.75 million per year. Howard is also owed $25 million per year for the next three seasons.

    Maybe he'll never hit 58 home runs in a single season again, but it would've been nice of him to hit more than 58 home runs over the course of the last three seasons combined.

    Phillies fans might argue that the nightmare scenario is 162 games of watching Howard miss sliders by three feet per swing, but the true nightmare would be spending $25 million on someone who isn't even healthy to start the year due to an ill-advised attempt to return to a lost season.

Pittsburgh Pirates

26 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Francisco Liriano's magic potion wears off.

    Why this would be terrible

    Jeff Locke's highwire act has already come crashing to the ground in the second half of the season. His 6.18 BB/9 is identical to his 6.18 ERA since the All-Star Break. Effectively losing another starting pitcher could be disastrous for a team in an incredibly tight race.

    Take out the 10-run shellacking he took at Coors Field last month and the seven runs he gave up to Milwaukee on Wednesday and Liriano has a 1.93 ERA on the season. In three starts against the Cardinals, he has a line of 24.0 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 20 K.

    This is the same pitcher who had a 5.23 ERA and 5.01 BB/9 over the previous two seasons. The same pitcher who signed a two-year contract worth $12.75 million before breaking his non-throwing arm and having to renegotiate it to a mess of terms that only guaranteed him $1 million this season.

    Of all the "who saw that coming?" storylines, Liriano's is near the top of the list of surprises.

    As such, who's to say that it will last for another month or two?

San Diego Padres

27 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Chase Headley suddenly catches fire in September.

    Why this would be terrible

    Headley made 184 appearances at the plate between July 5 and September 3, hitting precisely one home run over that stretch of games.

    The Padres refused to trade him this summer, instead taking their chances at signing him to an affordable one-year arbitration deal before revisiting their options next July.

    Thus far, that one-year deal should be incredibly affordable.

    Headley made $8.575 million in 2013 after an impressive 31-homer campaign in 2012, but he has been anything other than impressive this year, hitting just eight home runs through the start of September.

    If he gets hot over the final three weeks of the season, though, it could cost the Padres a good chunk of change this winter.

San Francisco Giants

28 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Free agents Hunter Pence and Javier Lopez both accept contracts elsewhere this offseason.

    Why this would be terrible

    Despite strong opinions or beliefs from many people that both would be on the move at the non-waiver deadline, the Giants held on to both Pence and Lopez, presumably hoping to re-sign them after the season.

    Pence made $13.8 million this season and has, in most ways, been a much better player in 2013 than he was in 2012. Among free-agent outfielders worth signing to multi-year deals, he's at the top of the list with Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo.

    I doubt he'll get a Jayson Werth-type of contract, but someone is going to offer him an amount that San Francisco isn't willing to match.

    Lopez, on the other hand, has a 2.39 ERA since the start of the 2010 season, which makes him one of the best left-handed relievers in all of baseball. He may turn 37 next season, but he's currently enjoying the best season of his career while making $4.25 million in the process.

    Paying even more than that to an aging, non-closing reliever might be outside of San Francisco's budgeteven with the contracts of Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito both coming off the books this season.

St. Louis Cardinals

29 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Pittsburgh wins NL Central.

    Why this would be terrible

    A division title for Pittsburgh would put the Cardinals in the one-game playoff scenario for a second straight season.

    In all likelihood, that game would be against the Cincinnati Reds, against whom they are 11-8 this season.

    The big question, though, is who would be the Cardinals' starting pitcher in a must-win game? Two months ago, it would have been Adam Wainwright, but he has struggled mightily over his last 12 starts. Better yet, Wainwright has a 1-3 record and a 7.77 ERA against the Reds this season.

    Lance Lynn has had the most success against the Reds (3-0 with a 2.67 ERA), but he's falling apart down the stretch for the second consecutive season. He hasn't had an ERA below 4.80 in a month since May, and this comes on the heels of a 2012 season in which he wasn't even a useful relief pitcher by the time the playoffs rolled around.

    That leaves 22-year-old Shelby Miller, 21-year-old Michael Wacha, twice-injured Jake Westbrook's 4.92 xFIP in 2013 and Joe Kelly as their remaining options to start the most crucial game of the season.

    I love St. Louis' chances in either five or seven games, but that win-or-go-home situation seems more daunting for the Cardinals than it would for most teams.

Washington Nationals

30 of 30

    Nightmare scenario

    Arbitration hearings keep the Nationals from adding another veteran pitcher via free agency.

    Why this would be terrible

    Like a big-name actor appearing for one season of Dexter before getting killed off in the finale, the Nationals have made a habit of adding an expensive starter for a season before letting him go.

    After signing Jason Marquis to a two-year deal worth $15 million in 2010, they signed Edwin Jackson for $11 million in 2012 and Dan Haren for $13 million this past offseason. It's almost becoming an annual tradition.

    Unfortunately, Ian Desmond, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Wilson Ramos, Tyler Clippard and several others are each slated for arbitration hearings this offseason. Those five players combined to make $17.55 million in 2013.

    I suspect that number will nearly triple in 2014.

    Without being able to go out and grab a one-year rental of Ervin Santana or Tim Lincecum, they'll be left with some combination of Ross Detwiler, Ross Ohlendorf, Taylor Jordan, Nathan Karns and Tanner Roark for the final two spots in their 2014 rotationensuring that any preseason World Series talk is severely muted next year.