MLB

Second-Half Guides for Disappointing MLB Teams to Get Back into Race

Jason CataniaMLB Lead WriterJuly 19, 2014

Second-Half Guides for Disappointing MLB Teams to Get Back into Race

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    The Yankees need a lot to go just right if Derek Jeter is going to return to October in his final season.
    The Yankees need a lot to go just right if Derek Jeter is going to return to October in his final season.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The second half of Major League Baseball's season is just getting underway. For a batch of teams who either went to the playoffs last year or had such aspirations this October, that's good news.

    With a little more than two-fifths of the year, not to mention the July 31 trade deadline, still to go, both time and opportunity remain for such teams to try to turn it around by getting better performances, better health or even better players via trade.

    Here's how a quartet of clubs who have disappointed so far can improve and/or get back into the postseason race from here on out.

New York Yankees

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    Associated Press

    The Disappointment

    At 48-47, the New York Yankees are by no means out of it, especially in a winnable AL East. But that doesn't mean a team that's in danger of experiencing a second straight October-less season—after spending, oh, about half a billion dollars in free agency—hasn't been more than a little underwhelming.

     

    How They Can Get Back into the Race

    1) Arm Themselves

    General manager Brian Cashman has acknowledged that he needs to address a rotation that has lost four starting pitchers from its Opening Day roster: ace and $175 million man Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), aging former ace CC Sabathia (knee), 2013 breakout right-hander Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) and injury-prone Michael Pineda (back/shoulder).

    Cashman recently told Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York:

    I have to reinforce our pitching, in my opinion...We certainly we would love to have some significant upgrades but when you lose four out of five starters, it is hard to re-materialize the same type of abilities with the guys you lost. It is whether you incrementally upgrade.

    The club already has made one such incremental upgrade by bringing in Brandon McCarthy from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Without another arm (or two), though, the Yankees will have to rely on him, Hiroki Kuroda, David Phelps and two rookies (Chase Whitley and Shane Greene) to keep them relevant into September.

     

    2) Get Healthy

    The injury issues extend beyond the rotation, unfortunately. First baseman Mark Teixeira (wrist), reliever Shawn Kelley (back) and, especially, outfielder Carlos Beltran (elbow, concussion) have battled through an ailment or two, although they're all healthy at the moment.

    With a number of veterans in their mid- and upper 30s—as well as a 40-year-old Derek Jeter manning the challenging shortstop position—all these stints on the disabled list aren't exactly surprising. But if the Yankees are going to be better, they cannot afford any more injuries and also need a few of those who are still out (see above) to make it back.

     

    3) Beat the East

    For the first time in years, the AL East lacks a legitimate World Series contender or two so late in the season. That's not to disrespect the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, the two teams ahead of New York in the standings, but they don't quite qualify as perennial powerhouses.

    YES Network's Jack Curry summed things up pretty well what the Yankees need most in a tweet on Friday:

    Keys for Yankees: Hope Tanaka returns. If not, add starter. Better production from Beltran/McCann. Dominate at home. Seize winnable division

    If the Yankees can take care of business within the division, especially against the O's and Jays—whom they play 10 more times each—that will be the quickest way to gain ground and help Jeter get one final shot at October. 

Cleveland Indians

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    Associated Press

    The Disappointment

    The Cleveland Indians might not have entered 2014 with super-lofty expectations in most corners, but don't forget that they made the playoffs a year ago after a furious 21-6 run last September. While that isn't likely to happen again, this 48-47 club is within range of both the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers and a wild-card spot.

     

    How They Can Get Back into the Race

    1) Bust Some Slumps

    The Indians have had to endure severe season-long struggles from a number of key vets, including Nick Swisher (.642 OPS), Carlos Santana (.736) and Michael Bourn (hamstring injury). Even second baseman Jason Kipnis, who missed a month with a lat strain, hasn't come close to his All-Star 2013 performance with a .706 OPS.

    If one or two of those supposed-to-be cogs can regain their former form, Cleveland's lineup would be much deeper and steadier. Scoring seven runs in the seventh inning—and getting two homers from Kipnis—against the Tigers in their first game of the second half on Friday could be a good sign.

     

    2) Ride Young Starters

    In 2013, 24-year-old fireballer Danny Salazar provided a big boost after the break by putting up a 3.33 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 11.3 K/9. The Indians might need a similar effort from Trevor Bauer, 23, a former top prospect who has thrown the ball better of late (3.13 ERA in his past five starts).

    Corey Kluber has been fantastic all year long, but with Justin Masterson hurt and a mess (5.51 ERA), Kluber needs help from Bauer and quite possibly Salazar, who was demoted to Triple-A after an inconsistent April. If Salazar can put it together—he's still showing his strikeout stuff at Columbus but walking 4.7 per nine—he would get another look.

     

    3) Catch and Throw

    Which team ranks dead last in both errors (77) and fielding percentage (.979)? That's rightthe one you're reading about right now.

    What makes this especially problematic is that the primary culprits come from the two positions that require the most stability: shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera with 14 miscues and catcher Yan Gomes with 12.

    One way to address this might be to call up Francisco Lindor from Double-A. The elite shortstop prospect will likely replace Cabrera, who is headed for free agency. Regardless, reigning AL Manager of the Year Terry Francona needs to get his team's fundamentals under control.

Boston Red Sox

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    Associated Press

    The Disappointment

    In case you've forgotten based on how bad their season has gone, the Boston Red Sox did, in fact, win it all in 2013. Their title defense, however, has taken a turn for the worse with a 12-16 June, and they currently sit in last place in the AL East at 44-52.

     

    How They Can Get Back into the Race

    1) Reach Potential

    Boston went into the season hoping to get solid, or at least capable, play from a pair of highly regarded rookies at two up-the-middle positions, but center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and shortstop Xander Bogaerts have been inconsistent and unreliable. The former has a .612 OPS, while the latter's is only slightly better at .669.

    Bogaerts has been in a tailspin at the plate of late, as Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald notes:

    Over [Bogaerts'] last 29 games, since June 8, he’s 11-for-107, a .103 average, that included an 0-for-25 drought. He has one extra-base hit — a solo homer June 13 against Indians closer Cody Allen — and an inconceivably dreadful .271 OPS.

    Unless these two, particularly Bogaerts, can make some sort of impact now that they have more than half a season of fairly regular playing time under their belts, there's very little hope for the Red Sox when it comes to defending their crown.

     

    2) Make Use of the Farm

    Although Bradley and Bogaerts haven't quite worked out yet, that doesn't mean this club shouldn't turn to its pool of talented prospects for a spark or three.

    With one of the best and deepest batches of youngsters in the sport, the Red Sox can shake things up on the mound by making use of right-handers like Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo. On the position player side, third baseman/left fielder Garin Cecchini might get another shot to come up and do something positive, like outfielder Mookie Betts and catcher Christian Vazquez have recently.

     

    3) Find Last Year's Offense

    After leading the majors in runs last year—by a wide margin—Boston actually ranks second to last in the AL. Sure, the Sox lost Jacoby Ellsbury in free agency and have dealt with injuries to Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli, but that kind of drop-off is hard to believe.

    Then again, those Opening Day rookies haven't worked out (duh), and stalwarts David Ortiz (.843 OPS down from .959) and Dustin Pedroia (.727 from .787) have been less productive than just about anyone could have imagined. Ideally, both sets of hitters would show something in the second half, but it may come down to the veterans having to pick up the slack for the still-finding-their-way first-year hitters.

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Associated Press

    The Disappointment

    After losing to the eventual champs in the ALDS last year, the Tampa Bay Rays were a popular pick to win the AL East, get back to the playoffs and maybe even reach the World Series for just the second time ever (2008). Alas, early injuries and slow starts put them behind before they knew what happened, and at 45-53, they're still playing catch-up.

     

    How They Can Get Back into the Race

    1) Keep Price

    In order to go all David and Goliath on the AL East, the Rays need to keep their David—Price, that is. Trade rumors surround the left-hander these days, but if Tampa has any chance at all to get back in this thing, it can't move Price, who currently leads the majors in both innings pitched (147.2) and strikeouts (164).

    Same goes for valuable infielder-outfielder/on-base maven Ben Zobrist or any other piece with the potential to be traded.

     

    2) Fix the Foundation

    With well north of $100 million coming to him over a contract that runs through 2022, Evan Longoria is being paid to be the cornerstone of a small-market franchise—and be a heck of a lot better than this.

    The 28-year-old is slugging .390, which is not only a career low but also the first time that mark has been below .495. He'll need to hit with more authority, like he did on his three-RBI double with two outs to open the scoring in Friday's win over the Minnesota Twins.

    A return to health and 2013 production by Wil Myers—last year's Rookie of the Year whose sophomore slump (.666 OPS) turned into a full-on disaster following a May wrist injury—would help ease the burden on Longoria.

     

    3) Count on Continued Chaos

    In case you haven't realized by now, three of these clubs are from the AL East, which goes to show how upside down that division has been in 2014. More so than the Yankees and similar to the Red Sox, the Rays have to hope like heck the circuit stays wide open.

    That could require the Orioles and Blue Jays not fully fixing their flaws between now and the trade deadline and then also facing some second-half struggles to allow Tampa to hang around and eventually make a charge.

    Hey, it's a long shot with crazy odds, but then again so were the Rays down the stretch in 2011—and in the end, that turned out in their favor.

     

    Statistics are accurate through July 18 and come from MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com, except where otherwise noted.

    To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

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