Answering All 30 MLB Teams' Hottest Debate for the Rest of 2013
With the 2013 season coming to a close in a matter of weeks, every team still has some major questions to be answered before the calendar turns over to October.
Whether it's a postseason team making a decision regarding their playoff roster, a team deciding whether or not a September call-up is ready to take on a bigger role next season or something else altogether, there is a lot to be decided over the remainder of September.
With that in mind, here is a look at all 30 MLB teams' hottest debate for the remainder of 2013 and my best guess for an answer to the debate.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Is There an Incumbent Option to Close Games in 2014?
The back end of the bullpen has been an issue for the Diamondbacks this season, but it's not for a lack of options, and they'll have to decide if anyone currently in-house can fill the role in 2014 or if they need to sign someone.
Heath Bell ($10 million) and J.J. Putz ($7 million) are both signed for a sizable amount next season, while it's Brad Ziegler who has seen the bulk of the ninth-inning action in the second half.
Putz has a 0.77 ERA in 14 games in a setup role since the All-Star break, while Ziegler has a 2.11 ERA and is 6-of-8 in save chances.
Bell has been unimpressive at best all season, posting a 4.58 ERA in 63 appearances and converting just 15-of-22 save chances before losing the job.
Prospect Jake Barrett (52 G, 1.21 ERA, 29 SV, 10.2 K/9) split the season between High-A and Double-A and looks like the future at closer, but the 21-year-old may not be ready to assume that role until 2015.
Return J.J. Putz to the job next year and hope he stays healthy. He and Bell are free agents at the end of 2014, at which time Barrett can slide into the role.
Atlanta Braves: How Should the Playoff Rotation Look?
With Tim Hudson on the shelf, the Braves are without a proven veteran arm on their staff, and while the rotation has been solid all season there are still some questions as to how they'll set things up for the postseason.
In some order, Julio Teheran (26 GS, 11-7, 3.01 ERA), Mike Minor (28 GS, 13-6, 3.06 ERA) and Kris Medlen (27 GS, 12-12, 3.48 ERA) will likely take the ball in the first three games, with the likely order based on recent performance being Medlen, Teheran and Minor.
After that, rookie Alex Wood (25 G, 10 GS, 3-3, 3.45 ERA) or Paul Maholm (10-10, 4.35 ERA) would be the choices to take the ball in a potential Game 4.
While Wood would seem like the better choice based on overall numbers, he's inexperienced and has allowed 17 hits and 11 earned runs in seven innings of work over his last two starts. Maholm, meanwhile, has a 3.18 ERA and a pair of quality starts in his last three outings.
Figuring out the rotation will be the biggest remaining question for the Braves, as they look to lock up the best record in the National League and set their sights on a lengthy postseason run.
Wood will continue to struggle, as he's thrown 132.1 innings on the season in just his second pro year and may be running out of gas at this point. The team will go with the veteran Maholm as their No. 4 starter once October rolls around.
Baltimore Orioles: Can the Starting Pitching Step Up for a Late-Season Push?
With the trio of Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Manny Machado fronting one of the best offenses in all of baseball, the Orioles won't have any trouble scoring runs down the stretch.
The pitching on the other hand remains a concern, as they lack a bona fide staff ace and still have rotation questions even after the July acquisitions of Scott Feldman and Bud Norris.
Feldman has been their best starter since the All-Star break (8 GS, 4-3, 2.84 ERA), and All-Star Chris Tillman remains a solid bet to turn in a good start, but the rotation as a whole remains inconsistent at best.
If Miguel Gonzalez and/or Wei-Yin Chen can step up down the stretch, and they can consistently get some quality starts from their staff the rest of the way, they may still have a chance at the postseason. If not, they'll likely be watching the playoffs from home.
Chen will step up, and the Feldman/Tillman duo will continue to pitch well, but in the end the Orioles will miss out on the postseason and have some big decisions to make regarding their rotation heading into next year.
Boston Red Sox: Will Clay Buchholz Return to Ace Form for the Postseason?
Through his first 12 starts this season, Clay Buchholz was arguably the best pitcher in all of baseball, going 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA and 1.020 WHIP.
However, neck and shoulder injuries have sidelined him since June 9, and the Red Sox's pickup of Jake Peavy at the deadline was at least somewhat a result of the team being without Buchholz.
According to the Boston Herald, the 29-year-old right-hander will return to the Boston rotation on Tuesday, just in time to take on the rival Tampa Bay Rays.
With John Lackey (6 GS, 2-3, 4.29 ERA), Ryan Dempster (4 GS, 2-1, 5.47 ERA) and Felix Doubront (6 GS, 2-1, 6.60 ERA) all struggling over the past month, a healthy Buchholz would be a huge addition for the postseason.
Buchholz stays healthy and pitches decent down the stretch but as more of a No. 3 starter behind Jon Lester and Jake Peavy than as the ace he was pitching like early this season.
Chicago Cubs: Is Chris Rusin for Real?
Pitching remains the biggest question mark in the Cubs' rebuilding process, and while Travis Wood, Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson have rotation spots more or less locked up for next season, the other two starter spots are up for grabs.
One pitcher who could lay claim to them with a strong finish to the season is left-hander Chris Rusin, who has gone 2-3 with a 2.89 ERA in 10 starts since joining the rotation following the Scott Feldman trade.
He had a 1.93 ERA in 23.1 innings of work in spring training, but the team opted to keep him stretched out as a starter in the minors rather than giving him a bullpen spot.
The 26-year-old has never been regarded as a top prospect, but he's proven capable of getting big league hitters out, and a strong finish could give him a leg up on winning a rotation spot in 2014.
Rusin will finish the season strong, ending the year with an ERA under 3.25, and he will enter camp next season with every chance to win a rotation spot in what will likely be another rebuilding season.
Chicago White Sox: Can September Call-Ups Play a Key Role in 2014?
The White Sox, like most teams, called up a handful of players when rosters expanded in September, including a trio of their top prospects in RHP Erik Johnson, SS Marcus Semien and RHP Daniel Webb.
Johnson (24 GS, 12-3, 1.96 ERA, 8.3 K/9) is the team's top pitching prospect, and he had a fantastic season split between Double-A and Triple-A. He allowed three runs in six innings of work in his first career start and will likely remain in the rotation for the rest of the year.
Semien (.284/.401/.479, 19 HR, 24 SB) had not played a game above High-A prior to this season, but he turned in a terrific season between Double-A and Triple-A while playing all over the field.
Webb (42 G, 10 SV, 1.87 ERA, 11.2 K/9) was acquired from the Blue Jays in the Sergio Santos deal, and the 23-year-old looks like he could be a key part of the bullpen as early as next season.
Johnson will earn a spot at the back of the White Sox rotation next year, while Webb will break camp in the bullpen. Semien will need to settle in at a position in the minors before being handed an everyday job though, and third base may be his best bet.
Cincinnati Reds: What Impact Will Johnny Cueto Have Down the Stretch?
Johnny Cueto enjoyed a breakout season last year, staying healthy for a full season and going 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA to finish fourth in NL Cy Young voting.
He entered the year as the Reds' staff ace, but he's made just nine starts on the year, with his last coming on June 28 as he's been sidelined with a lat injury.
Luckily for the Reds, rookie Tony Cingrani (22 G, 17 GS, 7-3, 2.80 ERA, 10.4 K/9) has stepped in and pitched well filling his spot in the rotation, and Mat Latos (14-5, 3.02 ERA, 8.3 K/9) has thrived in the role of staff ace.
According to Jeremy Warnemuende of MLB.com, Cueto threw batting practice on Sunday and next in line is a simulated game as he continues to inch back to the big leagues. The Reds are playing great baseball right now and are still legitimate title contenders without him, but getting him back would still be a welcome addition.
Cueto won't pitch again in 2013, but the Reds will come away with the NL Central title anyway.
Cleveland Indians: Can the Offense Get Back on Track in Time to Make Postseason?
The Indians' offense was among the best in all of baseball in the first half, as they ranked fifth in baseball with 454 runs scored for an average of 4.78 runs per game while posting a .748 OPS as a group.
However, those numbers plummeted to just 3.29 runs per game with a .658 OPS in the month of August, and the team went just 12-16 for the month.
In eight September games they've averaged 4.75 runs and posted a .743 OPS, and while that's a small sample size, they will need to keep that up if they have any chance of still reaching the postseason.
They are just 1.5 games out of a wild-card spot, and their pitching continues to exceed expectations, so if they can keep putting up runs they could still find their way into the October picture.
The offense will continue to perform well, but they'll inevitably fall short of the playoffs.
Colorado Rockies: Should the Team Extend Jhoulys Chacin Now?
Starting pitching has once again been the Rockies' downfall this season, but by no fault of right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, as he has turned in a fantastic season after injuries limited him to just 14 starts last season.
In 28 starts this year, the 25-year-old has gone 13-8 with a 3.09 ERA, and he has been lights-out since the All-Star break at 4-4 with a 2.43 ERA in 10 starts.
The Rockies bought out his first two years of arbitration eligibility in January with a two-year, $6.5 million deal, but he still has one year of team control in 2015 before hitting free agency in which he does not have a contract.
Since joining the rotation in 2010, he's gone 36-38 with a 3.50 ERA (130 ERA+), proving he knows how to get hitters out at Coors Field. The long-term deal the team gave Ubaldo Jimenez backfired, but Chacin actually has a longer track record of success at this point than Jimenez did when he signed, so extending him long term may be the best move for everyone involved.
Yes, with a base salary of $4.85 million for next year he's still a steal, but he'll only get more expensive to lock up if he keeps pitching like he has this year. Something like a three-year, $24 million deal that kicks in after 2014 with a few option years tacked on may be enough to get him to agree long term.
Detroit Tigers: Should Nick Castellanos Get Everyday at-Bats Down the Stretch?
With the second-highest scoring offense in baseball, the Tigers don't have many holes in their lineup, but left field has been one area where they have not gotten consistent production this season.
Andy Dirks has seen the bulk of the playing time, and while his .260/.327/.372 line is not horrible, they're the worst numbers of any everyday player outside of catcher Alex Avila and are below average for a left fielder.
Enter top prospect Nick Castellanos, who entered the year ranked as the No. 21 prospect in all of baseball, according to Baseball America. The 21-year-old hit .276/.343/.450 with 18 home runs and 76 RBI in a full season at Triple-A before being called up in September.
He's already seen two starts since being called up, and he could continue to see his playing time expand if he can string together some hits.
Dirks will likely be the starter for the postseason, so while Castellanos will likely continue to see starts sprinkled in here and there, chances are he won't take over everyday at-bats just yet.
Houston Astros: Should Jason Castro Be Extended?
After a breakout season in 2012 saw him hit .290/.340/.399 and make the All-Star team, the Astros locked up second baseman Jose Altuve with a four-year, $12.5 million deal that included a pair of option years.
That bought out his final year of pre-arbitration, all three arbitration years and at least one year of free agency. Now the team could look to do the same with catcher Jason Castro.
The No. 10 pick in the 2008 draft, Castro has put together a full, healthy season in the big leagues for the first time this year, and he's broken out in the process, hitting .276/.350/.485 with 18 home runs and 56 RBI.
He'll be arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason, and the 26-year-old certainly looks like a core piece of the team moving forward, so a similar extension may be a solid move.
Much like the A's, expect Houston to be aggressive in locking up their young talent pre-arbitration here over the next few seasons, with Castro likely among them. A three-year, $12 million deal would be a reasonable offer to at least buy out his arbitration years.
Kansas City Royals: Will Manager Ned Yost Be Back in 2014?
After a busy offseason saw them completely retool their starting rotation, the Royals were expected to make a run at contention in the AL Central this season, but an anemic offense had the team at just 43-49 and eight games out of first place at the All-Star break.
They have rebounded in the second half though, going 32-20 since the break, and they're currently four games out in the AL Wild Card and eyeing their first winning season since 2003.
Manager Ned Yost has been at the helm in Kansas City since 2010 but is in the final year of his contract, and according to Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star, the team has had no talks of an extension to this point.
As the Dutton article points out, Royals GM Dayton Moore prefers to handle extensions in the offseason, so that's likely why there have been no talks to this point, but at the same time it would not be at all surprising to see the Royals head in another direction.
As long as Yost can avoid a late tumble and deliver a winning season this year, I think the team brings him back on a two-year deal with an option for a third year.
Los Angeles Angels: End of the Line for GM Jerry Dipoto?
With a second straight disappointing season almost in the books, someone from the Angels' brain trust is likely on their way out this season, whether it's GM Jerry Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia or both.
As Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports points out, Dipoto is the more likely of the two to be gone in the offseason, but depending on how big of a shakeup the team is looking to make, both guys could be looking for work this offseason.
Scioscia has been at the helm since 2000, and he is currently signed through the 2018 season, so firing him would mean owner Arte Moreno eating an awful lot of contract for a guy who, by all accounts, is still a well-respected manager.
Dipoto took over as GM prior to the 2011 season, and he is signed through 2014 with options for 2015 and 2016.
My guess is Dipoto is gone at the end of the year, and Scioscia gets one more chance to turn things around before he too gets the axe.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Will Matt Kemp Take the Field Again in 2013?
Matt Kemp joined the ranks of the game's elite with a monster season in 2011, as he hit .324/.399/.586 while leading the NL with 39 home runs and 126 RBI and kicking in 40 steals as well to finish second to Ryan Braun in MVP voting.
That earned him a massive eight-year, $160 million extension and fueled talks of a run at a potential 50/50 season, as he was at the top of his game.
Injuries struck last season though and limited him to just 106 games, as he's spent a good deal of time on the shelf again this year, playing just 62 games and not taking the field since July 22. He's dealt with a hamstring injury, shoulder injury and now ankle injury this year.
After aggravating his hamstring while rehabbing his ankle injury, Kevin J Wells of the Washington Times reported that this may be the end of the line for Kemp this season as he may not be back in time for the playoffs.
With an outfield of Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig in place and Kemp hitting just .263/.319/.382 this year when he has been on the field, my guess is the Dodgers won't push it and Kemp won't see the field again in 2013.
Miami Marlins: Can Jose Fernandez Still Win NL Rookie of the Year?
The debut of Jose Fernandez in Miami this season has been nothing short of phenomenal, but the 21-year-old will make his final start of the season on Wednesday against the Braves before being shut down at his innings limit.
The 21-year-old has gone 11-6 with a 2.23 ERA and 182 strikeouts in 165.2 innings in 27 starts to this point, and his 5.8 H/9 and 9.9 K/9 marks both lead the National League.
If the season were to end today, he'd be a shoe-in for NL Rookie of the Year and would have a good chance at finishing second behind Clayton Kershaw in NL Cy Young voting.
However, the NL Rookie of the Year field is a deep one, and with Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers, Julio Teheran of the Braves and Shelby Miller of the Cardinals all playing key roles on contenders for their late-season push, one of them could finish strong and unseat Fernandez before all is said and done.
Unless he gets shelled in his last start and closes his season on a low note, I think the NL Rookie of the Year will be tough to pry from Fernandez at this point.
Milwaukee Brewers: Is Tyler Thornburg Ready for a 2014 Rotation Spot?
The starting rotation in Milwaukee has been a disaster this season, and the rest of the way in Milwaukee will be dedicated to figuring out who fills out the bottom of their rotation next year.
Veterans Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse are locked into spots, as is rookie Wily Peralta (9-14, 4.51 ERA) after a decent first full season in the rotation, but the final two slots will be up for grabs heading into camp next year.
One player who could lock one up down the stretch is 24-year-old Tyler Thornburg, who has made 15 appearances (four starts) in Milwaukee so far this season and gone 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 47.2 innings of work.
He's 0-1 with a 1.13 ERA over 24 innings in his two starts, and he has a good track record of success in the minors, so a few more solid starts the rest of the way could be enough to seal a rotation spot for the right-hander.
His performance of late, accompanied by the fact that a trade of Gallardo or Lohse looks like a real possibility for the Brewers this offseason, should mean a rotation spot for Thornburg in 2014.
Minnesota Twins: Is Andrew Albers for Real?
Andrew Albers burst onto the scene in August, throwing 17.1 scoreless innings over his first two starts, including a two-hit shutout of the Indians, and immediately becoming the Twins' best starter.
Now seven starts into his big league career, he's 2-2 with a 3.35 ERA, and he has four quality starts. When he's been good, he's been very good, but when he's struggled it has not been pretty.
In his four quality starts he has a 0.57 ERA in 31.1 innings of work, but in his three non-quality starts he has a 9.42 ERA in just 14.1 innings of work.
At 27, he's not exactly a high-upside prospect, but for a Twins team starved for reliable starting pitching he'll get every chance to prove he's capable of duplicating this success next year.
At best, my guess is Albers is a No. 5 starter-type next year who has a good outing here and there but finishes with an ERA over 4.50.
New York Mets: Should Ike Davis Get One More Chance at 1B?
It's been a rough season for Ike Davis, as the 26-year-old has hit just .205/.326/.334 with 101 strikeouts in 317 at-bats on the year.
He hit just .227/.308/.462 last year but managed 32 home runs and 90 RBI thanks to a strong second half, leading many to believe he was in for a breakout year this season.
That was not the case though, and he found himself demoted to the minors in June after a .161/.242/.256 start to the season.
He's hit .267/.429/.443 in 48 games since being recalled, but he's currently sidelined with a strained oblique, and for a Mets team looking to make the move back toward contention next season, one has to wonder how many more chances Davis is going to get.
Davis won't simply be handed the starting first base job next year, and depending on what the team does as far as signing outfielders he may find himself competing with Lucas Duda for the job. My guess is he uses a strong spring to win the Opening Day job, but early struggles once again are the end of his time as a starter, and he's traded to someone looking to buy low at some point next year.
New York Yankees: Are CC Sabathia's Days as a Legitimate Staff Ace Over?
It's been a rough season for Yankees' ace CC Sabathia, as he's gone 13-12 with a 4.82 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 30 starts so far this season.
That represents the worst ERA of his 13-year career, and the second-worst WHIP, as he has simply not been the same pitcher this season.
He's gone 7.1 innings and allowed three earned runs in each of his past two starts, so he's turned things around a bit of late, but for a team in the thick of a playoff race this is when we would expect to see CC step his game up and put the team on his shoulders.
A workhorse throughout his career who is set to break the 200-inning mark for the seventh straight season, the 33-year-old does not have the same overpowering stuff he once did, and he'll need to turn himself into a pitcher rather than just a thrower if he hopes to return to frontline form.
Long one of the most reliable arms in all of baseball, I certainly wouldn't bet against Sabathia reinventing himself and turning things around with a dominant season next year. At the same time, the Yankees probably shouldn't count on that either.
Oakland Athletics: Who Takes the Ball After Bartolo Colon and Jarrod Parker?
The A's have been one of the hottest teams in baseball of late, as they have taken the lead in the AL West and look poised to return to the playoffs this season one way or another.
Their young starting rotation has had its ups and downs this season, but things have fallen into place of late, and the staff ranks among the best in baseball right now.
Bartolo Colon (15-6, 2.85 ERA) and Jarrod Parker (11-6, 3.57 ERA) are no doubt the team's top two starters, but after that there is some question as to how the postseason rotation will shake out.
A.J. Griffin (13-9, 3.91 ERA), Dan Straily (9-7, 4.15 ERA) and Sonny Gray (2-3, 2.51 ERA) make up the rest of the rotation and its current order. However, in August, Gray (2.90 ERA) outpitched Griffin (4.13 ERA) and Straily (4.44 ERA) so there is some question as to who rounds out the rotation.
Predicted postseason rotation: 1. Colon, 2. Parker, 3. Straily, 4. Griffin. If either Straily or Griffin struggles and their spot comes back around, Gray will get an opportunity.
Philadelphia Phillies: Does Roy Halladay Still Have Anything Left in the Tank?
In 2011, Roy Halladay went 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA to finish second in NL Cy Young voting, the sixth straight season he had finished in the top five in voting for the award.
Age finally seemed to catch up to him last season though, as he missed time with a strained lat and went just 11-8 with a 4.49 ERA and saw his peripheral numbers drop across the board.
Looking to get back on track this season, the 36-year-old instead continued his decline, going 2-4 with an 8.65 ERA through his first seven starts before undergoing shoulder surgery.
He returned on August 25, and in three starts since coming back he is 1-0 with a 4.24 ERA as opponents are hitting just .223 against him. A free agent at season's end, he will be an interesting option for teams looking to buy low.
His days as an ace are over, but Halladay could still be a solid No. 4 starter-type for a contender who could eat innings and win double-digit games if he can stay healthy.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Who Gets the No. 4 Starter Spot in the Postseason?
For now the Pirates are focused on winning the NL Central title and avoiding the Wild Card Round, but provided they make it to the NLDS and beyond, there is a legitimate question as to who fills the No. 4 starter spot in their rotation.
Francisco Liriano (15-7, 2.98 ERA), A.J. Burnett (7-10, 3.31 ERA) and rookie Gerrit Cole (7-7, 3.48 ERA) will occupy the first three spots in the rotation, but there are a couple options beyond that.
Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.44 ERA) has been fantastic since returning from Tommy John surgery in June, while All-Star Jeff Locke (9-5, 3.23 ERA) has gone 0-2 with a 7.77 ERA over his last five starts.
After a brief trip to the minors, Locke gave up three hits and two runs in five innings his last time out, and a strong finish may be enough to bump hit ahead of Morton.
I said at the All-Star break that Locke was a prime candidate to drop off, as he was as lucky as any pitcher in baseball as far as BABIP in the first half, and chances are he's not going to pitch well enough in September to overtake Morton.
San Diego Padres: Is Will Venable for Real?
With a .224/.268/.423 line in the first half, Will Venable was arguably the Padres' least-productive everyday player heading into the All-Star break, though he did contribute 11 home runs and nine steals.
He's been a different player entirely since the break, hitting .343/.386/.616 with 10 home runs in just 172 at-bats, and the question now is whether the 30-year-old is just enjoying an extended hot streak or if this is a real breakout.
The Padres gave Venable a two-year, $8.5 million extension earlier this month, in hopes that he can build off of his fantastic second half and provide an offensive spark once again next season.
With 21 home runs and 51 RBI, he currently leads the team in both categories hitting out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup, so it's no surprise the Padres worked quickly to keep him around.
Don't expect a .343/.386/.616 line over a full season next year, but Venable could provide something like a .270/.340/.550 line and a 20/20 season.
San Francisco Giants: Should Tim Lincecum Be Re-Signed?
Had someone said back in 2011 that Tim Lincecum would get a $200 million contract when he hit free agency at the end of the 2013 season, few would have argued that being a real possibility.
Instead, the right-hander has gone 19-28 with a 4.80 ERA since the start of 2012, and he will no doubt have to settle for something substantially less this winter. The question is, will it be the Giants signing him or someone else?
The 29-year-old has been markedly improved this season over last year, dropping his ERA from 5.18 to 4.40, and he has shown flashes of being the ace of old including a July no-hitter against the Padres and 10 games with eight or more strikeouts.
With Barry Zito gone and Chad Gaudin a long shot to duplicate his 2013 success, the Giants rotation could have a very different look next season if Lincecum departs as well.
The Giants will likely make Lincecum a qualifying offer, and if the thinks he can build off of this season and set himself up for a better deal next offseason, he may very well accept it. If not, the Giants will likely let him walk.
Seattle Mariners: Should Kendrys Morales Be Re-Signed?
The Mariners dealt left-hander Jason Vargas to the Angels in the offseason to acquire Kendrys Morales, as they looked to avoid finishing with the lowest-scoring offense in the American League for a fourth straight season.
Morales has been one of the team's best hitters this season, with a .280/.339/.450 line to go along with 20 home runs and a team-high 75 RBI.
A free agent at season's end, the 30-year-old looks like a candidate to be re-signed or at the very least extended a qualifying offer, as he will no doubt make more than the $5.25 million he did this season one way or another.
The Mariners have no real replacement for him and could certainly use his power and veteran presence as they continue to rebuild with a plethora of young guys. However, Morales has hit just .220/.304/.340 with three home runs over the past month, at least raising questions as to whether or not he's worth $10 million-plus.
With the market thin on impact bats and Morales having proven he can hit at Safeco Field (.807 OPS, 10 HR, 38 RBI), bringing the slugger back looks like a solid move for the Mariners.
St. Louis Cardinals: How Does the Postseason Rotation Line Up?
The Cardinals have been without Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Kyle Lohse from last year's starting rotation, yet they remain one of the best teams in all of baseball as they look to lock down the NL Central title.
Adam Wainwright is the unquestioned staff ace, and he bounced back with a great start last time out after back-to-back rocky outings, so he'll take the ball in Game 1.
After him, however, the team is thin on experience and will have some decisions to make regarding the postseason rotation.
Rookie Shelby Miller (12-9, 3.19 ERA) has not been as dominant in the second half (3.80 ERA) but looks like the likely choice for the No. 2 starter. After him, Lance Lynn (13-10, 4.37 ERA) may be an option, but he has struggled since the break (5.10 ERA).
In fact, the team's two best starters since the break have been Joe Kelly (9 GS, 7-0, 1.70 ERA) and Michael Wacha (9 G, 3 GS, 2-0, 1.57 ERA), and if they keep it up they'll have a strong case for a rotation spot as well.
Answer: Predicted postseason rotation: 1. Wainwright, 2. Miller, 3. Kelly, 4. Lynn. Wacha could play a role similar to what Tim Lincecum did out of the 'pen for the Giants last season.
Tampa Bay Rays: Can Jeremy Hellickson Be Counted On?
After winning AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2011 when he went 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA, Jeremy Hellickson turned in an equally solid sophomore campaign last year, going 10-11 with a 3.10 ERA and raising his K/BB rate from 1.63 to 2.10.
With James Shields gone, he was expected to step up alongside David Price at the top of the rotation, and he opened the season as the team's No. 2 starter.
He allowed eight earned runs in 11.1 innings of work over his first two starts, then just two earned runs in 14 innings over his next two starts, and that has been a microcosm of what has been an up-and-down season.
He was 10-8 with a 5.21 ERA through August 26 when the team sent him down to the minors to regroup. He returned to the rotation on September 4 and allowed four hits and no runs in 5.1 innings of work. With the Rays eyeing a long postseason run, the question now is whether he can be counted on as part of their rotation come October.
Hellickson is too talented to struggle the way he has this season, and the brief downtime to regroup may have been exactly what he needed. With the trio of David Price, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb in place, they don't need him to be anything more than a No. 4 starter in October, and he should be able to handle that.
Texas Rangers: Can Lance Berkman Provide Anything Down the Stretch?
Signed to a one-year, $11 million deal in the offseason, Lance Berkman was expected to help replace some of the production lost with the departure of Josh Hamilton and others.
The veteran hit .263/.362/.392 with six home runs and 34 RBI through his first 64 games, before right knee issues sidelined him on June 26. He returned on July 3 but went just 1-for-14 in four games before returning to the DL with a left hip issue.
That injury kept him sidelined for nearly two months, as he returned to the Rangers lineup on September 2. He has played just two games since returning, going 0-for-6, but the Rangers will look to see if he's worth including on the postseason roster over the final few weeks here.
The 37-year-old is coming to the end of the line in what has been a great career, and while he's not likely to see everyday playing time, it would not be at all surprising to see him deliver a few key hits off the bench and earn a spot on the postseason roster.
Toronto Blue Jays: Will Kyle Drabek Be Part of the 2014 Rotation?
The Blue Jays have been a huge disappointment this season, and their struggles can be largely traced to the performance of the starting rotation.
R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle will be back next season, but the rest of the rotation is up for grabs, and one guy who the team hopes will be part of the staff is right-hander Kyle Drabek.
A first-round pick in 2006, Drabek was in the process of securing his spot in the rotation last year when injury struck and he was lost to Tommy John surgery. In 13 starts, he was 4-7 with a 4.67 ERA, and things appeared to be starting to click for the then 24-year-old.
He made his 2013 debut on Saturday out of the bullpen but allowed three hits and one run without getting an out. He'll no doubt get a few more chances to shake off some of the rust before the season is up, but it's hard for the Blue Jays to rely on him for a rotation spot at this point.
Drabek will have some work to do to win his rotation spot back, as the win-now Blue Jays will likely look to add a veteran starter or two in the offseason, and they still have a number of in-house options as well, led by J.A. Happ. My guess is Drabek opens 2014 in Triple-A.
Washington Nationals: Will Injuries Keep Bryce Harper from Reaching Potential?
When he's been on the field this season, Bryce Harper has once again been a dominant force in the middle of the Nationals lineup and one of the most exciting players in the game.
The 20-year-old is hitting .273/.377/.504 with 20 doubles and 19 home runs in 359 at-bats this season. The trouble is he's been limited to that many at-bats over 101 games due to a handful of different injuries.
A right shoulder injury from crashing into the wall, left knee bursitis, a left arm contusion after being hit by a pitch and left hip soreness have all cost him time this season.
This is just his second season in the league, but he already has a laundry list of minor injuries on top of the more serious ones he's dealt with, as you can see on his Baseball Prospectus page.
It's too early to peg him as "injury prone" but this season can't be a comforting one for Nationals fans, as the current and future face of their franchise has spent far too much time watching from the sidelines.
With his all-out style of play and early injury history, comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr. who had a phenomenal career but could have been even better had he avoided injury, may not be too far off.