The 2011 MLB Playoffs are just a month away and it's that time of the season where the true postseason contenders start to distance themselves from those just pretending.
Teams like the Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates gave their respective fan bases reason to believe that better days are just a season away after their surprise early season run. While teams like the Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants entered the season as favorites in their divisions, yet fizzled out as the year progressed.
All of these teams, along with a few others, will be looking ahead to next year as they look to pull off that one big trade, or add that prized free agent who could put them over the top. Here are the top five teams that are one big move away from being serious title contenders.
The Toronto Blue Jays are one of the most exciting offensive teams in all of baseball. Jose Bautista leads the majors in just about every batting category and is in the running for the AL MVP award.
Veterans like Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus and Yunel Escobar provide stability throughout the lineup. An emergence from prospects Brett Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia could make this offense one of the most feared in all of baseball.
What they lack is the presence of a true No. 1 starter.
Ricky Romero is a very solid pitcher with an ERA under three, but he seems more like a No. 2 guy. Behind Romero, the Blue Jays are left with players with unfulfilled promise like Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek.
Should the Los Angeles Angels fall out of the race in the AL West race, they could look to move Dan Haren who would command a good set of prospects. Haren would provide that true ace the Blue Jays desperately need to get back to the playoffs and they have the prospects to satisfy the Angels' desires.
They are right on the verge of competing in the best division in all of baseball, they just need that one guy to get them over the hump.
The Cincinnati Reds are loaded with Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce on offense. Throw in big name prospects Devin Mesoraco, Zack Cozart and Yonder Alonso and the Reds should have no problems producing a ton of runs.
What they lack is in pitching. After Johnny Cueto, the Reds rotation boasts under-performing names such as Bronson Arroyo, Edinson Volquez and Homer Bailey. Even if the Reds made the playoffs, without an addition, they're going nowhere with a rotation like that.
Any big name starter should be welcomed here like Dan Haren and the Rays' James Shields. They don't necessarily need a No. 1 because of how well Cueto has pitched, but they need that one big pitcher to get them over the hump.
The Rays are so close to competing, once again. They have excellent starting pitching behind David Price, James Shields and Jeff Niemann, and they have one of the premier players in the game in Evan Longoria. Desmond Jennings is one of the more exciting young players in the game and pitching prospect Matt Moore could be something special.
They are a good young team but seem to be one piece away from competing with the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East.
That one piece in a dream scenario would be Jose Reyes. Yes, Reyes is not a trade candidate as he will be a free agent, but he is just the player the Rays need. Imagine Reyes and Jennings batting back-to-back before slugger Evan Longoria. He fills a hole at shortstop and fits their aggressive style of play.
Of course, the Rays are a very frugal club and should not have enough funds to sign the super star shortstop. Should they decide to pursue some offensive help, expect them to go after a power bat to go alongside Longoria.
The Los Angeles Angels stand to be one of the potential break out teams in 2012. In Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana the Angels have one of the top three pitching combinations this side of Philadelphia.
The offense stands to be much improved next year as first baseman Kendrys Morales should return from injury to go along with Howie Kendrick, Torii Hunter and Mark Trumbo. Throw in the Angels all-world prospect Mike Trout and lightning-quick center fielder Peter Bourjos, and you have the recipe for a much improved offense.
Where there are concerns is in the bullpen.
Outside of Scott Downs and Jordan Walden, the Angels bullpen is littered with the likes of Fernando Rodney. They decided not to trade for a bullpen arm at the deadline, which is still puzzling, and it might just keep them out of the postseason. They will not make the same mistake next season.
Someone like Joakim Soria of the Kansas City Royals makes sense, but there is likely to be a few big name relievers available between now and next July 31.
The San Francisco Giants are just one year removed from a World Series title and boast one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball. Behind Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez, the Giants look poised to compete once again in 2012.
The one thing holding them back is the offense. The Giants' bats rank dead last in all of baseball in runs and it does not matter who is pitching, if the offense can't hit the ball you're not going to win.
That being said, they are just one offensive addition away from being considered one of the favorites in the National League. A player like Brandon Phillips of the Cincinnati Reds would make sense, or an outfield power bat.
With the return of Buster Posey and the potential emergence of Brandon Belt, the Giants offense stands to be much improved in 2012. However, they are still one offensive move away from being contenders.