If Your Team's Still In It, Here's How It Can Win the Pennant

Chris MurphyAnalyst IJuly 16, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 06:  Fans look at the 2002 World Series trophy of Los Angeles Angels at Angels Stadium of Anaheim after the gates opened for the Los Angeles Angels home opener against the Oakland Athletics on opening day April 6, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

With the second half of the baseball season beginning tomorrow there are 19 teams, six of which are leading their divisions, within seven games or less of their division lead. 

There are many questions floating around baseball right now.

Where will Roy Halladay end up?

Which teams are buyers and which teams are sellers?

How many outs are there?  Okay, that is just in Milton Bradley's head.

But the most important question amongst any baseball team is: What does our team need to do to win?

Teams such as the 2006 Cardinals and even the Phillies of last year prove that all you need to do is make the playoffs.  From there, all you need is three weeks of good baseball and you're World Series champions.

So, lets get your team in the playoffs. 



Boston Red Sox

The Positive

You are in first place by three games.  Jason Bay, Kevin Youkilis, and Jacoby Ellsbury have completely saved your offense from the down years of David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and JD Drew.  Your pitching has been great with a slumping Daisuke Matsuzaka. 

You have the second best team ERA in the American League and the third most runs offensively in baseball.  You are a well-oiled machine. 

Directions Toward Champagne

You have come this far with a slumping Ortiz, who is starting to turn things around, and an injured Mike Lowell.  Lowell should be coming back soon to an already great offense.  Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Tim Wakefield need to keep up the good work. 

Hopefully Matsuzaka can change things, but until then, John Smoltz will need to step things up.  Brad Penny's last six starts have been solid.


New York Yankees

The Positive

Your giant signings of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and AJ Burnett are paying off as you sit three games back of the Red Sox and in the lead for the wild card.  You have the most runs in baseball.

Directions To Champagne

You are 23rd in ERA in baseball.  Unfortunately after Sabathia and Burnett, your rotation is all over the place as is your bullpen aside from Rivera.  Pettitte and Chamberlain have been decent, but inconsistent, Alfredo Aceves, your best bullpen pitcher this year aside from Rivera, will have to help as the fifth starter. 

Chamberlain and Aceves need to fix the end of that rotation because there are no other options as long as Chien-Ming Wang is out.  Wang's last four starts were decent, so if he can come back and act as a nice four, pushing Chamberlain to the five and Aceves back to the bullpen, the Yankees staff could turn things around.  

Posada and Matsui also need to stay healthy for that offense.  


Tampa Bay Rays

The Positive

You have a total machine at third base in Evan Longoria.  Ben Zobrist has saved you with the loss of Akinori Iwamura, who may be back before the season, and you have the second most runs in baseball.  You currently sit six-and-a-half games back of the Red Sox.   

Directions To Champagne

Your pitching, although 10th in ERA in baseball, has been the disappointment.  Scott Kazmir has had a rough season, but since coming back from injury, has had two decent starts and one terrible one.  Kazmir needs to get back on track along with Jeff Nieman and David Price blossoming at the end of that rotation for you to compete.  

Increases in batting average between Carlos Pena and BJ Upton couldn't hurt either along with a return of Iwamura, which would push Zobrist to right field and solidfy the Rays offensively and defensively.


Toronto Blue Jays

The Positive

You have a nice core of blossoming young stars in Adam Lind and Aaron Hill along with veterans Scott Rolen, Vernon Wells, Marco Scutaro, Rod Barajas and Alex Rios.  Ricky Romero is the rookie of the year of the first half.  Your bullpen is solid all around.  You have Roy Halladay to shop for the pieces you need in the future if you choose.  

Directions To Champagne

Not this year, but the last two years you have put together a nice core of players.  Get some starting pitching for Roy Halladay and you could compete in the next two years with the defense you have (fewest errors in baseball) and Cito Gatson at the helm. 

You are in the wrong division, unfortunately, but you also lost three of your starting pitchers which doesn't help.  A rotation of Romero, Jesse Litsch, Dustin McGowan, and Shaun Marcum is solid and young.  If you keep Halladay, then you have an extremely solid rotation.     


Baltimore Orioles

The Positive

Your youngsters have been progressing nicely in the form of Adam Jones, Matt Weiters, and Nolan Reimold.  Nick Markakis is no old man either.  

Directions To Champagne

Not this year, but you have nice players to sell in the form of Luke Scott, Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora, and George Sherrill.  You need pitching.  Your offense is young and showing talent, so fix that pitching staff which is 28th in ERA in baseball.  


Detroit Tigers

The Positive

You are sitting atop the American League Central by three-and-a-half games with the third best ERA in the AL and the 12th most runs in baseball.  Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson are dominating while Rick Porcello is runner-up for the rookie of the year award in the first half. 

Miguel Cabrera has stayed healthy and productive while Brandon Inge and Curtis Granderson compliment him in the lineup and the team on the field.

Directions To Champagne

Magglio Ordonez and Armando Galarraga must turn things around.  You already have problems with the fifth starter position with Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis, and Jeremy Bonderman being out of the picture, you do not need a rotation of only two reliable pitchers and a rookie. 

Galarraga seems to be having a sophomore slump and Ordonez seems to be having an eighth-year senior slump.  If Bonderman can come back and add something while Porcello, Jackson, and Verlander stay productive, this is a really good rotation.  


Chicago White Sox

The Positive

You're young and competing before anyone thought you could.  Aaron Poreda, Gordon Beckham, and Chris Getz are progressing well while John Danks, Gavin Floyd, and Alexei Ramirez continue to play like veterans at young ages.

The older guys continue to be productive in the form of Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, and Jim Thome while staying healthy.  Mark Buehrle is having one of the best years of his career and Jose Contreras found something during his minor league stint. 

Three-and-a-half games back without your MVP last season Carlos Quentin.

Directions To Champagne

Contreras must stay healthy and continue filling the back end of the rotation.  Clayton Richard may lose his spot in the rotation to Poreda, but must be ready to fill in if Contreras goes down.  The talent level of a rotation of Buehrle, Danks, Floyd, Poreda, and Contreras is off the charts, but execution is a whole different ballgame.  

Josh Fields also must be ready to actually do something in case Jim Thome gets hurt.  The next two weeks will decide whether the White Sox trade Jermaine Dye or not.  


Minnesota Twins

The Positive

You have the best one-two punch in baseball in the form of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.  Denard Span and Brendan Harris are perfect above them while Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer have been extremely productive below them.  You also play great defense.  Adding Joe Crede at third filled a spot defensively you haven't really had in years.

Directions To Champagne

Your pitching has proven actually to be human this year sitting 19th in ERA.  Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker are having terrible seasons compared to last year with Nick Blackburn being the only positive thing about the starting rotation. 

Boof Bonser being out for the season has not helped either.  In order to pop that bubbly, the rotation has to turn things around.  


Kansas City Royals

The Positive

You have one of the best pitchers in baseball in Zack Greinke.  Miguel Olivo is having the best season of his career.  Alberto Callaspo is proving to be a very good young talent.

Directions To Champagne

Not this year.  Brian Bannister and Greinke have been good, but the rest of the rotation has been terrible.  Mike Jacobs and Jose Guillen were really bad moves shown in the team's second to last ranking in runs scored.  Mark Teahen and Billy Butler are not too bad and are young. 

Alex Gordon needs to show some sort of progression.  Your future depends on Gordon, Butler, Teahen, and Greinke.  They are in a division that is constantly up and down, so they could be a few moves and a healthy Mike Aviles away from contending, but not this year.


Cleveland Indians

The Positive

It can't get much worse.  As usual your offense is there, ranking sixth in baseball in runs and this without a healthy Grady Sizemore.  Victor Martinez is alive and well while young players like Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo are showing very positive signs of progression. 

Directions To Champagne

You are dead last in ERA in baseball and Travis Hafner should probably be investigated for steroids.  Cliff Lee has completely underperformed after last year, Carl Pavano is your No. 2 starter, Fausto Carmona, Ben Francisco, Ryan Garko, and Andy Marte have not turned out the way you thought they would and your bullpen is god-awful. 

Your pitching needs a lot of work to ever compete.


Los Angeles Angels

The Positive

You sit atop the AL West by one-and-a-half games.  Jered Weaver has been incredible and your offense is fourth in baseball in runs.  Bobby Abreu was a great signing while Chone Figgins and Torii Hunter are All-Stars. 

Directions To Champagne

No pitching rotation has gone through more problems than you hence why you're 27th in baseball in ERA.  Nick Adenhart, a young prospect, tragically died, while Kelvim Escobar, Dustin Moseley, John Lackey, Erving Santana, and Scot Shields have all been hurt and/or struggling terribly. 

Joe Saunders is beginning to fatigue, so Weaver is the only reliable one on the pitching staff.  Brian Fuentes has done okay closing, but he is no K-rod.  All this with Vladamir Guerrero and Torii Hunter recently hitting the DL.  

Either Lackey and Santana step up or the Angels have to make a move for Halladay.  


Texas Rangers

The Positive

Although your offense has cooled off a bit with struggles to Kinsler and Cruz, the talent is still there.  You are 11th in baseball in runs and all this without Josh Hamilton, who is now back. 

Hank Blalock also is having an extremely productive year while Kevin Millwood is having his best season since 2005.  Even Andruw Jones looks a bit like his old self, minus the whole defense thing.

Directions To Champagne

Your offense can be explosive, there is no doubt about that.  Facing Kinsler, Cruz, Hamilton, Young, and Blalock is tough for any pitcher.  That pop with Kinsler, Andrus, and Cruz running all over the base paths could be lethal; however, your pitching is 20th in ERA in baseball. 

Injuries to Brandon McCarthy and Matt Harrison did not help your starting rotation, although they weren't having the best seasons anyway.  Aside from Millwood and Scott Feldman, the starting rotation is not good.  The bullpen is pretty solid with CJ Wilson and Frank Francisco, but there is no one to get the ball to them.  

Josh Hamilton needs to step things up if the Rangers want to outslug teams or the pitching must be fixed.  You are lucky to be only one-and-a-half games out with the 20th worst ERA in baseball.  


Seattle Mariners 

The Positive

You have the best ERA in the American League.  You have three starting pitchers with ERAs below 3.00 in Felix Hernandez, Jarod Washburn, and Erik Bedard.  Miguel Batista, and Mark Lowe are getting the ball to the nearly unhittable David Aardsma to close games out. 

Russell Branyan is having the best season of his career and Ichiro continues to hit like clockwork.  

Directions To Champagne

You are 27th in baseball in runs.  Russell Branyan has 22 home runs and 49 RBI which means no one is one base for him seen in the team's .317 OBP.  I would like to see you add Brandon (I wish his first name were Tom) Morrow to the rotation, but that means nothing if there is no offense. 

The loss of Adrian Beltre is huge because nothing in the lineup scares you but Ichiro and Branyan and who knows how long Branyan can keep this up.  Jose Lopez needs to continue his hot hitting and someone else needs to step up.  I can't even find anyone in their lineup who can be scary.

You have a step up on the Angels and Rangers, however, because as we all know, pitching wins championships.  Although, you do need some kind of offense.  Only four games back, so just a little offense away from the bubbly.


Oakland Athletics

The Positive

Good young pitching.  Trevor Cahill, Andrew Bailey, Josh Outman, Dallas Braden, Vin Mazzaro, and Brett Anderson are all extremely young and have shown great progress this season. 

We also did not get to see Joey Devine at all this year.  People also have forgotten about Justin Duchscherer who, if healthy, could be the veteran of this extremely young staff next year or just get traded away by Billy Beane.  

Directions To Champagne

Not this year.  Your pitching staff is set for many years to come, but unlike typical Beane teams, your offense isn't walking.  You're 27th in OBP and 25th in runs scored. 

Additions of Matt Holliday, Orlando Cabrera, Jason Giambi, and Nomar Garciaparra were thought to be just enough for this good young pitching staff, however, none have played well. 

Beane will definitely be trading Holliday before the trade deadline.  National League teams' mouths are watering.  


Philadelphia Phillies

The Positive

You are sitting atop the NL East by four games.  Your offense is fifth in baseball in runs scored.  Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth are having monster seasons along with Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard doing their usual production.  

Directions To Champagne

You are 25th in team ERA.  This reminds me of the 2006 Chicago White Sox, who, after winning the World Series in 2005, completely lost their pitching while exploding offensively. 

The Phillies' 2008 pitching was not that good outside of Cole Hamels, so it comes as no surprise that Jamie Moyer and Brett Meyers are doing terrible and hurt respectively in 2009. 

Cole Hamels is probably simply struggling due to so much pitching last year (Mark Buehrle had a 4.99 ERA in 2006).  Pedro Martinez will help, but that is only because your starting pitching is awful.  

Jimmy Rollins needs to step up a bit, but more importantly Joe Blanton, who shouldn't be tired from last year's World Series run, and J.A. Happ, who is the rookie of the year in the National League for the first half of the season, must continue to help keep the starting rotation sane. 

Brad Lidge also needs to get back on track.  He showed good signs closing his last five save opportunities before the end of the first half.  


Florida Marlins

The Positive

You are 13th in runs scored and 16th in ERA, so you are middle of the road in both.  That is not a bad thing because it shows you have talent in both areas.  Josh Johnson has been amazing for your starting rotation.  Hanley Ramirez continues to shine, Emilio Bonifacio looks good at the age of 24, and Cody Ross is having a great season.  

Directions To Champagne 

Chris Volstad seems to be turning things around and he has to if this team wants to compete.  Ricky Nolasco needs to get himself together because he is killing the starting rotation.  The bullpen is banged up and bad, although Leo Nunez has filled in quite well for the awful Matt Lidstrom. 

Jorge Cantu needs to add some power production whereas John Baker, Dan Uggla and Jeremy Hermidia need to get their averages up. 


Atlanta Braves

The Positive

You are sixth in team ERA and only six games back.  Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Javy Vazquez, and Kenshin Kawakami is easily the best rotation in the division.  Imagine what you would be with Tim Hudson.

Directions To Champagne 

Chipper Jones has stayed healthy, but isn't producing as he usually does, so a hot streak from him would be nice.  Yunel Escobar needs to stay healthy and Casey Kotchman needs to fix whatever is wrong with him. 

Nate McLouth was a huge boost to the 22nd ranked team in runs scored and Brian McCann needs to keep producing.  The bullpen has looked good since moving Mike Gonzalez to setup man and Rafael Soriano to closer.  

Pitching wins championships and you have the best pitching in the division.  


New York Mets

The Positive

Not much has gone right for the Mets, but you are still just six-and-a-half games out.  Citi Field is an extremely hard place to hit home runs, but Carlos Beltran and David Wright still find production.  Johan Santana has just begun to heat up, and he is a second half pitcher.  

Directions To Champagne

You are six-and-a-half games back with no Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, John Maine, Carlos Beltran, and JJ Putz.  Each one of these players should return except Delgado most likely. 

John Maine needs to get back because the starting rotation has been terrible.  Pelfrey is erratic while Livan Hernandez, and Oliver Perez have been terrible.  Fernando Nieve has been one of the few good surprises for the Mets. 


Washington Nationals

The Positive

You make a lot of people laugh.  Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman are good.  John Lannan has been surprising.  You are 19th in runs scored which is not last.

Directions To Champagne

Mapquest says your trip will take at least five years.  You have the worst team ERA in the National League, the most errors in baseball, and Mike MacDougal is your closer which says something about your bullpen.  You have to trade Dunn, Nick Johnson, and Cristian Guzman at the deadline and start rebuilding...again.  


St. Louis Cardinals

The Positive

You sit atop the NL Central by two-and-a-half games.  You have the best hitter in baseball in Albert Pujols.  You have the fourth best ERA in baseball behind a healthy Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse, and Joel Pineiro, where a 4.26 ERA is the highest amongst them. 

Colby Rasmus is doing well as a rookie and Ryan Franklin has completely saved (pun definitely intended) what looked like a terrible closer situation at the beginning of the year.  

Directions To Champagne

Either Todd Wellemeyer or Brad Thompson have to step up in that fifth starter role.  Mark DeRosa needs to get healthy and help the offense.  


Milwaukee Brewers

The Positive

Any middle lineup that has Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder is scary, but Mike Cameron has added some more pop to it.  Yovani Gallardo and Trevor Hoffman have held things down for the pitching staff.  

Directions To Champagne

The rest of the pitching staff needs to step up especially starters Jeff Suppan, Brandon Looper, Manny Parra, and Seth McClung (until Dave Bush comes back) because it represents the 24th ranked ERA in baseball.  Corey Hart, JJ Hardy and Bill Hall are also having awful seasons, so any upgrade from them would be much needed.


Chicago Cubs

The Positive

You have been bruised and battered this entire year while having uncharacteristically bad years from players.  All this and you are still just three-and-a-half games out of the division lead.  You are fifth in baseball in ERA.

Bright spots have been Ted Lilly, the most consistent starting pitcher, Randy Wells, who has to be considered a first half rookie of the year candidate, Angel Guzman, the most consistent pitcher in the bullpen, Derrek Lee, who is tearing the cover off the ball, and Kosuke Fukudome batting leadoff finally (he has a .361 OBP). 

Directions To Champagne

You are paying your outfield, made up of Milton Bradley, Kosuke Fukudome, and Alfonso Soriano, $36.5 million this year and they are batting .241 with 27 home runs and 81 RBI.  Could be a big reason why you are 27th in runs scored in baseball. 

Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Dempster need to get healthy, Carlos Zambrano needs to act like a big boy and keep his hands to himself and his mouth shut, and Rich Harden needs to fix whatever is wrong with him.  Kevin Gregg has been pretty good lately, but Carlos Marmol and Aaron Heilman have to step things up.

All together now, pitching...wins..championships.


Houston Astros

The Positive

You have a lineup made up of Michael Bourn, Miguel Tejada, Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence.  Your pitching is 11th in baseball in team ERA.  Wandy Rodriguez is having the best season of his career along with Roy Oswalt, Russ Ortiz and Mike Hampton having solid years. 

Chris Sampson and LaTroy Hawkins have been handing the ball to closer Jose Valverde with ease.  

Directions to Champagne

Even with a lineup featuring the players above, you somehow are 23rd in baseball in runs scored.  This could because Berkman and Lee are having down years, but both have been getting hot as late. 

The rest of your lineup outside those five is also pretty awful.  Hampton and Ortiz will need to stay healthy in the second half and Oswalt will need his usual second-half magic for the Astros to compete.


Cincinnati Reds

The Positive

Not much to say positively about this team.  It is pretty mediocre, but only five games out of the division lead which says something about the NL Central.  Brandon Phillips has had a good season and David Weathers, Nick Massett, and Francisco Cordero have shortened games for their awful starting staff. 

Aaron Harang has been up and down, Johnny Cueto has recently had some struggles while Micah Owings and Bronson Arroyo have been terrible.  

Directions to Champagne

Jay Bruce and Edinson Volquez need to get healthy and improve their terrible numbers.  Arroyo and Harang also need to be far more consistent.  Johnny Cueto cannot hold the starting staff together by himself.  


Pittsburgh Pirates

The Positive

Andrew McCutchen looks like the real deal and Zach Duke is back to his old form.  You are only nine-and-a-half out of the division lead, but really don't have a chance.

Directions to Champagne

Mapquest has this estimated at least five years.  You have to unload Matt Capps, Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, and maybe even Paul Maholm.  They need to start rebuilding...again.  


Los Angeles Dodgers

The Positive

In first place by seven games and you have the best record in baseball.  You added Manny Ramirez to a team that was already winning.  Russell Martin, James Loney, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier compliment veterans Casey Blake, Orlando Hudson, Juan Pierre and Rafael Furcal perfectly. 

It is a perfect mix of young and veteran talent.  This gives you the seventh-ranked offense in runs scored and their defense helps to make them second in team ERA.  The highest ERA amongst Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, and Randy Wolf is 3.45.  Ramon Troncoso and Jonathon Broxton have been lights out for the bullpen as well.

Directions To Champagne

Better numbers out of Russell Martin would help.  Eric Milton getting healthy would help along with Hiroki Kuroda finding his 2008 form to solidify the back end of the rotation.


San Francisco Giants

The Positive

Although seven games back of the division lead, you are leading the NL wild card.  You have the best pitcher in the National League and maybe all of baseball in Tim Lincecum.  You certainly have the best one-two punch of any rotation with Lincecum and Matt Cain. 

This accounts for being second in all of baseball in ERA.  Pablo Sandoval is also one of the best young talents in baseball.  

Directions To Champagne

Aaron Rowand and Bengie Molina cannot make up the middle of any lineup which accounts for the ranking of 24th in runs scored.  Barry Zito started off extremely hot, but has cooled off significantly. 

If Zito, Jonathan Sanchez, recently coming off a no-hitter, and a healthy Randy Johnson can give even the slightest of help to Lincecum and Cain, the Giants could be brutal to face in the playoffs.  Imagine facing Linecum and Cain four times in a playoff series.  Jeremy Affeldt has also been lights out setting up Brian Wilson.

All together, kids, pitching...wins...championships.


Colorado Rockies

The Positive

You are two games behind the Giants for the lead in the wild card.  Troy Tulowitzki, Todd Helton, Clint Barmes, Brad Hawpe, and young Dexter Fowler are as hot as can be.  You are eighth in runs scored.  

Directions To Champagne

Pitching.  You are 21st in team ERA.  Jason Marquis is known for his second-half flopping, Aaron Cook is finally starting to come around after a slow start, and Ubaldo Jiminez has been very good, but Jorge De La Rosa has been terrible and Jason Hammell has been mediocre. 

Cook has to step things up because the Marquis collapse is inevitable.  The bullpen also needs to get healthy.  Huston Street, Franklin Morales, and Josh Fogg have been extremely good for the bullpen, but the rest has been pretty bad.


Arizona Diamondbacks

The Positive

Watching Dan Haren pitch is pretty amazing.  Between Haren, Max Scherzer, Doug Davis, and Jon Garland, your rotation is pretty good.  With Brandon Webb, it would be extremely good. 

Directions To Champagne

Not this year.  Not one pitcher in your bullpen has below a 4.00 ERA except Clay Zavada and Chad Qualls who has an unimpressive 3.64 ERA as a closer.  Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, and Felipe Lopez are the only good hitters in the lineup with Stephen Drew, Eric Byrnes, Chad Tracy, and Chris Young completely flopping this season. 

This team seemed to die once Webb got hurt.


San Diego Padres

The Positive

Adrian Gonzalez is really good.  Heath Bell has also been a nice surprise.  

Directions To Champagne

Not this year.  Ranked 26th in ERA and dead last in runs scored won't cut it.  Three starting pitchers are hurt (Jake Peavy, Chris Young, and Shawn Hill).  Kevin Correia currently has the lowest ERA in the starting rotation at 4.50. 

Kevin Kouzmanoff has been nowhere to be found this year leaving Adrian Gonzalez as the only weapon on offense due to injuries to Marcus Giles and big-bopping David Eckstein.  

This team really needed to trade Jake Peavy.  


Always remember, the only time crying is allowed in baseball is when you get champagne in your eyes.