Every MLB Team's Biggest Reason for Optimism in 2nd Half of Season

Brandon ScottJuly 25, 2022

Every MLB Team's Biggest Reason for Optimism in 2nd Half of Season

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    No matter if a team is buying, selling or somewhere in between at the MLB trade deadline, each one has something to look forward to in the back half of the season.

    At least if you look hard enough.

    For contenders, it's watching how their rosters shape up at the deadline. Non-contenders can look ahead to developing toward next season, while tweeners try to sort through where they fit in the larger picture.

    With that in mind, let's take a look at every team's biggest reason for optimism in the second half of the season.

    Admittedly for some, we had to get creative.

American League East

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    Baltimore Orioles: Playing with house money

    Anyone who predicted the Orioles would be 3.5 games out of a wild-card spot more than halfway through the season is a savant.

    No one saw it coming.

    Just one season after tying for baseball's worst record, the Orioles are in the playoff mix, and even if they don't make it, they have set a tone for the future.

    Boston Red Sox: Clarity coming soon

    The Red Sox are in a precarious position after the All-Star break. They are three games out of the final wild-card spot, with the second-toughest remaining schedule and several key expiring contracts.

    The final week of July should inform the Red Sox's decision-making on how they go about rebuilding the team.

    Boston either becomes buyers for a postseason run or parts ways with the likes of J.D. Martinez, Nathan Eovaldi and Xander Bogaerts, who are expected to become free agents after this season.

    Or they could do a little bit of both, dealing one or two of those players for others who could help them remain competitive down the stretch.

    Either way, the Red Sox should soon have a better idea of where they're headed.

    New York Yankees: They won't see the Astros again until the postseason

    The only threat to the Yankees appears to be the reigning American League champion Houston Astros.

    The Yankees dropped the season series against Houston 2-5. They never took an at-bat with a lead in those seven games, twice winning on Aaron Judge walk-off hits.

    Yankees manager Aaron Boone acknowledged the ultimate test between these two teams, who faced off in the ALCS in 2017 and 2019, comes in October.

    These look to clearly be the best teams in the AL. Avenging '17 and '19, both won by Houston, appears to be in the Yankees' grasp.

    Tampa Bay Rays: Winning despite mediocre offense

    The Rays held a half-game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays for the top AL wild-card spot going into Sunday's action. They are doing this despite having the worst offense among the contenders.

    Only seven teams have a lower OPS, and none are in the playoff conversation. Only nine teams have scored fewer runs, and only the Orioles and Seattle Mariners are in the mix.

    Still, the Rays are positioned to make another run and should get better by the Aug. 2 trade deadline.

    Toronto Blue Jays: Best offense of wild-card teams

    The Blue Jays offense takes a backseat to very few teams. Only the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees have a higher OPS or more runs scored.

    But Toronto's lineup is every bit as talented (see 28-run demolition of Boston).

    Expect the Blue Jays to be buyers at the trade deadline, likely strengthening the back end of their rotation.

American League Central

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    Chicago White Sox: The worst of it might be over

    The White Sox have been the biggest underachievers in baseball this year, yet they are still within an earshot of the AL Central lead or a wild-card spot.

    Part of Chicago's issue has been poor performance, management and defense. But the White Sox also have not been whole for much of the season.

    Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Luis Robert and Danny Mendick have all missed significant time.

    But most of them are back, and the White Sox have the second-weakest remaining schedule.

    Cleveland Guardians: Nothing to lose

    Like the Orioles, the Guardians are outplaying their own projection this year.

    Cleveland has the youngest team in baseball, with a promising farm system that has the Guardians set up to be good in the near future.

    They also entered Sunday's action against the White Sox just two games behind the Minnesota Twins for the division lead and two games behind the Seattle Mariners for the final wild-card spot.

    Postseason experience for this young group would be valuable, but it's just as encouraging to see them compete before anyone else realized they were ready.

    Detroit Tigers: Eduardo Rodríguez is throwing again, communicating with team

    The Tigers have dealt with an odd situation concerning one of their top free-agent signings of the past offseason.

    Rodríguez left the team in mid-June because of a personal matter and had not been in communication with the organization since June 13.

    Tigers general manager Al Avila and manager A.J. Hinch said recently that Rodríguez has been throwing at his South Florida home and hopefully soon progresses toward a rehab assignment.

    The Tigers have no shot at the postseason this year, but it will be good to get their five-year, $77 million investment back into the fold.

    Kansas City Royals: Trade assets should bring more high-end talent

    The Royals have been the opposite of the Guardians or Orioles this season. Instead of taking the incremental steps forward that a young, rebuilding team can feel good about, it's been one letdown after another in 2022.

    Kansas City walks too many batters and doesn't produce enough runs to be a good baseball team right now.

    But the Royals can look forward to trading any combination of their outfielders Andrew Benintendi, Whit Merrifield and Michael A. Taylor. Each could immediately help a contender, while the Royals are likely a couple of years away from that space.

    Minnesota Twins: The needs are clear

    The first steps in fixing a problem are identifying and acknowledging the problem that exists.

    Minnesota shouldn't have trouble with that as the trade deadline looms.

    The pitching staff in Minnesota ranks 23rd in WAR. The bullpen ranks 29th.

    The Twins hold the lead in one of baseball's weakest divisions, but the Guardians and White Sox are on their heels.

    For any chance to separate themselves, the Twins need to upgrade their pitching staff—both the starting rotation and bullpen.

    This has been obvious all season. Now it's time to make it happen.

American League West

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    Houston Astros: They're beating up on good teams

    Prior to a nine-game stretch against the two New York teams to end June, the Astros had played the fewest games against teams above .500, with an 8-7 record against them.

    Now, the Astros are 27-16 against teams above .500, including a 5-2 record against the Yankees and a 4-0 record against the Mets. They most recently ended the Seattle Mariners' 14-game winning streak with a series sweep over the weekend.

    The Astros very much look like the defending AL champions. They are only two games behind the Yankees for the AL's top record and hold the tiebreaker after dominating the regular-season series.

    Los Angeles Angels: At least they have Ohtani

    As a team, the Angels had built-in excuses when they failed last year.

    Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon weren't healthy. They needed to add pitching, which they did by signing Noah Syndergaard in the offseason.

    Yet a healthy Trout and Syndergaard with another AL MVP-worthy campaign from Ohtani has not translated into the team success they were hoping for.

    They do, however, get to marvel at history in real time.

    Ohtani is 9-5 with a 2.80 ERA while hitting 20 home runs with 57 RBI and an OPS of .832.

    Oakland Athletics: There is honor in transparency

    The A's are not trying to fool anyone. They are tanking and resetting their roster.

    It's not pretty, but it is a comprehensible strategy for rebuilding.

    Soon enough, the A's will have dumped the worthwhile talent they have left, including Frankie Montas and Sean Murphy.

    Seattle Mariners: They are better than the last time around

    The Mariners made things interesting up until the very end of the season last year.

    This time around, they are a better team with an extra wild-card spot to spare.

    The division-leading Astros threw cold water on the Mariners' most recent hot streak, but they are positioned as well as anyone to threaten for a wild card.

    Texas Rangers: Learning more about top prospects

    With the slimmest of chances at a wild-card berth, the Rangers are prioritizing their young talent.

    They had a crowded room of middle infield prospects when they signed Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to long-term, lucrative deals in the offseason.

    Now they are getting creative with prospects such as Josh H. Smith (Rangers' No. 7 prospect) and Ezequiel Duran (No. 4), both of whom had been middle infielders when Texas traded for them in the Joey Gallo deal last year.

    Given the unlikelihood of a postseason run, learning as much as possible about young players is something the Rangers can look forward to in the short term.

National League East

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    Atlanta: Rookies contribute to winning

    Slowly, Atlanta is chipping away at the New York Mets' hold on the division.

    Atlanta was just one game behind the Mets after losing to the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday, and the team has been hot since the start of June.

    With contributions from rookies Michael Harris II in center field and Spencer Strider on the mound, Atlanta is 35-12 since the start of June after beginning the season 23-27.

    Harris has the third-highest WAR of any rookie through his first 50 games, while Strider leads all rookie pitchers in WAR through 21 games and 10 starts.

    If Atlanta is defending its World Series title into October, these rookies will be right in the thick of it.

    Miami Marlins: JJ Bleday gets a look

    It's only been a couple of games, so the sample size is small. Yet JJ Bleday, the Marlins' fourth-ranked prospect in their farm system according to MLB Pipeline, is making the most of his opportunity.

    The Marlins called up Bleday over the weekend to replace Jorge Soler, who went on the 10-day injured list with back spasms. He walked in his first career plate appearance Saturday and then went 2-for-4 on Sunday.

    Miami is headed nowhere, with less than a 6 percent chance of reaching the postseason. So it's good to get a sense of what the future might look like.

    New York Mets: Offensive help should be on the way

    The Mets are in play for any of the top hitters on the trade market. For all of their hopes and dreams after pouring so much money into the roster this past offseason, this is still a mediocre offense.

    They ranked 10th in runs scored going into Sunday's action and 14th in OPS. Maybe with one of the weaker schedules to end this season, that's enough to take the Mets to a division title.

    But past that, they are competing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta, St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers. All of those teams are producing more runs right now.

    The Mets already traded for Daniel Vogelbach from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday to help with their designated hitter weakness. They are also still scouting the Orioles' Trey Mancini and seem to love the Colorado Rockies' C.J. Cron.

    Philadelphia Phillies: Addressing Bryce Harper's absence appears to be a priority

    Filling the void left by Bryce Harper being out with a broken left thumb will be impossible to do with one single move ahead of the deadline.

    Still, the Phillies would be wise to do something.

    Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported last month that Royals outfielder Andrew Benintendi is a name to watch for the Phillies, given the limited financial impact of his expiring contract. There is also his connection to Phillies president Dave Dombrowski after spending four years together with the Boston Red Sox.

    The Phillies had a 44.7 percent chance at a wild-card spot as of Sunday. If they can withstand this run without Harper and get their MVP back at some point late in the season, the Phillies have a chance to stay relevant.

    Washington Nationals: Fantasizing about Juan Soto's trade return

    It's not a lock that Juan Soto gets traded anytime soon, or at all for that matter.

    The only way he's traded by the deadline is if Washington receives an offer it can't refuse.

    All of this is complicated by the Nats being up for sale and some potential buyers wanting Soto on the team.

    The potential return is still fascinating to consider.

National League Central

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    Chicago Cubs: Willson Contreras will get traded, but he might be back

    For the second straight year, the Cubs are sellers at the trade deadline and set to part ways with at least one member of their 2016 World Series team.

    All-Star catcher Willson Contreras is one of the top players on the trade market. What the Cubs get back for him could help determine how soon they are back in contention.

    They have the money to bring back Contreras in free agency, and he's said he would be open to returning.

    Cincinnati Reds: Thin starting pitcher market could help them

    The Reds' top trade candidates are two of the best starting pitchers on the market. Luis Castillo, the Reds' ace, has another year of arbitration before he could become a free agent after the 2023 season.

    Tyler Mahle is not as consistent but could bolster the back end of a contending rotation.

    Everything is going according to plan for the Reds, who hold the third-worst record in baseball since letting go of their best players this past offseason.

    Milwaukee Brewers: They are producing runs

    This time last year, it was the Brewers' lack of offense that held them back. It was difficult to stack up against other contenders ranking 23rd in wRC+, 20th in OPS and 12th in runs scored.

    Now, the Brewers are ninth in runs scored and top 12 in the other two categories.

    Milwaukee could still stand to add a middle-of-the-order bat such as Josh Bell or Trey Mancini, but the offense is more viable than it was a year ago even without a major deadline move.

    Pittsburgh Pirates: Jose Quintana should bring a solid return

    It would not make much sense for Jose Quintana and Bryan Reynolds to still be on this team after Aug. 2. Quintana, 33, is a free agent after this season.

    The 2016 All-Star is now two years removed from surgery to repair a lacerated nerve on his throwing hand thumb. He's back to performing closer to his career averages and could help a contender as a left-handed starter.

    Quintana also just strengthened his trade candidacy Saturday with seven shutout innings in a win over the Miami Marlins.

    St. Louis Cardinals: They have the easiest remaining schedule in baseball

    The Cardinals are good enough to compete with any NL team, as only three NL clubs have scored more runs. Just four NL teams have a higher OPS, and St. Louis doubles the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers' run differential.

    On top of it all, the Cardinals' remaining schedule figures to be the weakest in baseball. They get another 11 games against the lowly Cubs, nine against the Pirates and eight against the Reds.

    St. Louis also plays the Washington Nationals seven more times this season.

National League West

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    Arizona Diamondbacks: Daulton Varsho, Alek Thomas establish themselves as part of the long-term core

    The Diamondbacks have shown incremental improvement but remain at the bottom of the NL West standings, essentially sharing that real estate with the Colorado Rockies.

    At the very least, Arizona can feel good about Daulton Varsho and Alek Thomas establishing themselves as part of the D-backs' future.

    Varsho, 26, is sixth among qualified catchers in WAR. The rookie Thomas went 3-for-4 with a double, two RBI and a run scored in a win against the Nationals on Saturday. Playing every day will allow Thomas to continue to develop, which is what this year is about for Arizona.

    Colorado Rockies: Not making the same mistake twice

    Last year, it was odd to see the Rockies not trade Trevor Story or Jon Gray ahead of the trade deadline since it was so obvious both would be leaving in free agency.

    Given the Rockies are once again out of contention in July, it's time to learn from last year's mistake and not hold onto players who are not part of the team's future.

    Alex Colome, 33, should be in high demand as one of the better available relievers at the deadline. He becomes a free agent after this season, as does starter Chad Kuhl.

    The Mets have shown interest in 32-year-old All-Star C.J. Cron, according to Jon Heyman at the New York Post. Cron has one more season left on his current deal.

    Los Angeles Dodgers: Best NL team on its worst day

    They hold baseball's best record through 94 games and the highest run differential in the NL.

    Despite some disappointing stretches earlier in the season, the Dodgers have emerged as possibly the best team in baseball. They have the highest OPS, the most runs scored and the lowest team ERA and WHIP.

    The deadline for other contending NL teams should be about how they measure up against the Dodgers.

    San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants: There is an extra wild-card spot, just in case

    The Padres have a grip on the second of three wild-card spots, as PECOTA gives them an 83.9 percent chance at a wild card.

    Last year, San Diego fizzled down the stretch and fell short of the postseason. This year, their chances are good despite not having superstar Fernando Tatis Jr., who only recently started swinging a bat again after breaking his wrist in the offseason.

    The Giants are a far cry from last year's franchise-best 107-win team, but they are just two games out of the final wild-card spot.

    What they do at the deadline could change their outlook. Last year, they kicked the tires on Kris Bryant, even though it didn't exactly work out.

    They could make a move for another Cubs player, Willson Contreras, since they desperately need to upgrade that position.

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