All 30 MLB Teams' Burning Question as Midseason Approaches

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJune 20, 2013

All 30 MLB Teams' Burning Question as Midseason Approaches

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    As we near the midway point of the 2013 MLB season, there are a number of burning questions around the league. Each team has something that it needs to figure out moving forward, whether it is a struggling team trying to decide who to deal at the deadline or when to call up its top prospect, or a contender looking to put the finishing touches on its roster.

    With that in mind, here are all 30 MLB teams' burning question as we approach the midway point of the 2013 season.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Should the Team Add a Starting Pitcher?

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    The Diamondbacks had a busy offseason, and among their additions was free-agent starter Brandon McCarthy, who signed a two-year, $15.5 million deal to help bolster the staff.

    After a strong past two seasons in Oakland, McCarthy has gone just 2-4 with a 5.00 ERA in 11 starts so far this season and is currently on the DL with shoulder soreness.

    He's not the only starter who has struggled either, as Ian Kennedy (3-4, 5.21 ERA) has also been hit hard in 14 starts and top prospect Tyler Skaggs (1-1, 5.40 ERA) has not looked ready to make a big-league impact either.

    That may be reason enough for a Diamondbacks team looking to contend to add an arm at the deadline, even if it winds up being a No. 3 starter type as opposed to a true splash acquisition.

Atlanta Braves: Who Goes to the Bullpen When Brandon Beachy Returns?

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    Kris Medlen was the surprise story of the Braves last season, but before he broke out, it was Brandon Beachy who turned heads in the Atlanta rotation.

    The 26-year-old was 5-5 with a 2.00 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 13 starts before an elbow injury landed him on the DL and eventually led to Tommy John surgery.

    His return is drawing near, and when he does come back, the Braves will have a decision to make on where he fits into the team's plans.

    With setup men Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty both lost for the season, the team needs help in the setup role, and Medlen has the most experience of the team's five current starters pitching out of the bullpen.

    He has been terrific so far, with a 2.96 ERA in 15 starts, but he may well be ticketed for the 'pen very soon.

Baltimore Orioles: When Will Dylan Bundy Be in Baltimore?

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    The Orioles have already seen one top prospect work out of the Baltimore rotation this season, as last year's No. 4 overall pick, Kevin Gausman, made his big league debut on May 23.

    However, the right-hander has done little to solve the Orioles' starting pitching problems, going 0-3 with a 7.66 ERA in five starts before being optioned back to the minors.

    With that, the attention now returns to 20-year-old right-hander Dylan Bundy and when he'll make his 2013 debut in Baltimore after shooting through the minors last season.

    Elbow stiffness this spring led to him eventually being shut down for six weeks, and he only recently resumed baseball activities. How soon he's back to pitching in games and on his way to Baltimore remains to be seen, but it can't come soon enough for a contender in desperate need of rotation help.

Boston Red Sox: How Long Before Jose Iglesias Takes over Everyday SS Duties?

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    Among their many offseason acquisitions, the Red Sox signed Stephen Drew to a one-year, $9.5 million deal to serve as the team's everyday shortstop after he showed signs of getting his career back on track with the A's last season.

    The numbers just haven't been there so far this season, though, as he's hitting just .215/.300/.371 with 63 strikeouts in 205 at-bats. That is reason enough to at least consider making a chance at this point.

    Meanwhile, 23-year-old Jose Iglesias, a natural shortstop, has been filling the utility infield role for the team to this point and has certainly warranted consideration for everyday at-bats.

    In 30 games, he's gone 41-for-97 (.423 BA) with a 1.034 OPS. On top of the offensive numbers, he has long been considered one of the elite defensive shortstop prospects in the game.

    At this point, it seems like it's only a matter of time before Iglesias and Drew swap roles.

Chicago Cubs: Who All Gets Moved at the Trade Deadline?

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    The Cubs are still very much in the middle of a major rebuild, and after trading the likes of Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Reed Johnson, Geovany Soto and Jeff Baker at last year's deadline, they'll no doubt be aggressive sellers once again this season.

    They have a handful of movable pieces, and Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz and Kevin Gregg look to be the guys who are capable of bringing a solid return and likely to be shopped.

    It will be a busy July in Chicago, and an ever-improving farm system could be even better when the dust settles on the trade deadline.

Chicago White Sox: How Do They Start the Rebuilding Process?

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    The White Sox were surprise contenders last season, and as a result, they decimated their already thin farm system even further by trading for Brett Myers and Francisco Liriano at the deadline.

    That didn't result in a postseason appearance, though, and with their early season struggles this year, it appears to be time for a full-scale rebuild on the South Side.

    The quintet of John Danks, Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy, Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez are set to make a combined $67.75 million next season, and unloading one or more of them would be a nice start.

    Rios and Peavy have undeniable trade value, but the asking price for them will likely be high even with their salaries. Beyond them, shortstop Alexei Ramirez and setup man Jesse Crain could also net a solid return.

Cincinnati Reds: Who Fills the Setup Role?

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    The Reds don't have many holes, as they've managed to overcome injuries to starter Johnny Cueto and left fielder Ryan Ludwick thanks to the play of Tony Cingrani and Xavier Paul, respectively.

    One area that remains a concern, however, is the seventh- and eighth-inning roles and bridging the gap to flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman.

    Sam LeCure (28 G, 2.48 ERA) and Alfredo Simon (27 G, 3.46 ERA) have pitched well in middle relief, and Chapman (18-of-20 SV, 1.97 ERA) has been overpowering again in the ninth, but the setup role has been an issue.

    Jonathan Broxton (29 G, 4.33 ERA) is currently on the DL with an elbow strain, Logan Ondrusek (21 G, 5.64 ERA) has struggled to the point of demotion and J.J. Hoover (32 G, 4.55 ERA) has been inconsistent. They'll likely need one of those three to step up between now and July, or they may consider dealing for someone.

Cleveland Indians: Buy, Sell or Both at the Trade Deadline?

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    Entering this past offseason, most expected the Indians to be aggressive sellers and for guys like Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Perez and Asdrubal Cabrera to all be on the market.

    Instead, the team signed a handful of veterans and started off the season with a bang before falling back to mediocrity of late, as it currently stands at 36-35 on the season.

    With the long-term deals they gave to Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn and the team's moderate performance here in the early going this season, it seems unlikely the Tribe will go the fire sale route at this point.

    Right now, they're in that gray area between contention and selling, and depending on how things shake out over the next few weeks, they could go in a number of directions come July.

Colorado Rockies: Should Rafael Betancourt Be Moved at the Deadline?

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    The Rockies have been one of the biggest surprises of the season, as they're currently right at .500 with a 37-37 record and just three games out of first place in the NL West.

    Their offense is one of the best in baseball, but it remains to be seen if they have the starting pitching to hang around all season, as Jorge De La Rosa (7-4, 3.21 ERA) is the only starter with an ERA under 4.00.

    While the rotation has been shaky, the bullpen has been much better than expected, and 25-year-old Rex Brothers (34 G, 31 IP, 1 ER) has been a breakout star. 

    As a result, the team could opt to give Brothers a look as the closer of the future in the second half. That would mean shopping current closer Rafael Betancourt (11-of-12 SV, 3.20 ERA). He has a $4.25 million option for next season, and he's pitched well enough to have a good deal of value come July.

Detroit Tigers: Who Closes for the Team in the Second Half?

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    The Tigers opted against signing a closer in the offseason, letting incumbent Jose Valverde walk in free agency with the intention of turning things over to flame-throwing rookie Bruce Rondon.

    When Rondon struggled in the spring, the team sent him down to open the season and opted to go with a closer-by-committee approach in the early going.

    Eventually, the team wound up re-signing Valverde, and he didn't allow a run with three saves in his first five appearances. Since then, however, he's converted 6-of-9 chances with a 7.53 ERA, as the inconsistency that plagued him last season has once again reared its head.

    With a potent lineup and arguably the best starting rotation in baseball, the Tigers have a real shot at contending for a title this season. That may be reason enough for them to look to make a splash and add the top available closer at the deadline, perhaps Jonathan Papelbon if the Phillies decide to sell big.

Houston Astros: When Should the Team Call Up Jonathan Singleton?

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    The Astros have played better than most expected them to so far this season, but they are still in the early stages of a full-scale rebuild and are at least a few years from legitimate contention.

    One player who looks as though he'll be a major part of the team's future is first baseman Jonathan Singleton, and he likely would have opened the season in an everyday role had it not been for a 50-game suspension due to a positive marijuana test.

    He hit .284/.396/.497 with 21 home runs and 79 RBI as a 20-year-old in Double-A last season, and he's currently hitting .269/.383/.577 with five home runs and 13 RBI in 22 games since returning.

    With the Super 2 deadline passed, it's no longer a matter of starting his arbitration clock, and as long as he keeps hitting like he has, he could very well be up within the next couple weeks.

Kansas City Royals: Will the Offense Turn Things Around, Allow Team to Contend?

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    The Royals vastly improved their starting pitching with the offseason additions of James Shields and Ervin Santana, and their bullpen remains one of the best in all of baseball, but their offense has not pulled its weight so far this season.

    They remain on the outskirts of contention at this point, sitting at 34-36 on the season, but they have a chance to really make some noise if they can turn things around at the plate.

    The duo of Mike Moustakas (.195 BA, .550 OPS) and Jeff Francoeur (.214 BA, .592 OPS) in particular have provided virtually nothing at premium offensive positions.

    If those guys can start producing up to expectations, and the team as a whole can step its offensive game up a notch, the Royals have the horses to make a surprise run after the All-Star break.

Los Angeles Angels: Will Josh Hamilton Ever Get It Going in 2013?

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    Last season, the Angels watched Albert Pujols open his Angels career with a .194 batting average and zero home runs through his first 27 games with the team.

    However, he rallied from there to hit .305 with 30 home runs and 100 RBI the rest of the way, and when all was said and done, he was once again among the top run producers in the league.

    Fast forward a year and the Angels have added another big-money slugger in Josh Hamilton, and through his first 27 games, he hit a similarly poor .214 with two home runs.

    He's not been able to right the ship the way Pujols did, though, and he's currently hitting .207/.262/.378 though 275 at-bats. While he does have 10 home runs, it's safe to say he's not been worth his $17.4 million salary this season.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Who Loses Playing Time Once the Entire Outfield Is Healthy?

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    The Dodgers have one of the most exciting players in all of baseball right now on their team in 22-year-old outfielder Yasiel Puig.

    The Cuban defector has hit .452/.477/.790 with six home runs and 12 RBI through his first 16 big league games, marking the best stretch to open a career in baseball history from a batting average standpoint.

    Puig was originally called up when Matt Kemp hit the disabled list, and the Dodgers are now also without Carl Crawford, who is on the DL as well, but once everyone gets healthy, the team will have a tough decision to make.

    Given the salaries of Kemp ($20.3 million), Crawford ($20 million) and Andre Ethier ($13.5 million), the team will have to get some sort of production out of their regular starting outfield, but it is impossible to send Puig down at this point.

Miami Marlins: Should the Team Give Christian Yelich a Second-Half Call Up?

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    The Marlins have been the worst team in baseball this season by a sizable margin, and the team has already turned key roles over to prospects Jose Fernandez, Marcell Ozuna and Derek Dietrich.

    The youth movement is likely just beginning, and the name to watch now is outfielder Christian Yelich, who entered the season as the No. 15 prospect in all of baseball, according to Baseball America.

    After hitting .329/.402/.516 with 12 home runs and 20 steals in a full season at High-A last season, the 21-year-old went 16-for-44 with five home runs in spring training.

    He's currently playing in Double-A, and while his numbers are not overwhelming at .262/.342/.518, they are still impressive for someone his age playing in the high minors. He may be one hot streak from manning center field in Miami.

Milwaukee Brewers: Will Corey Hart Return in Time to Build Trade Value?

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    The Brewers are currently tied with the rebuilding Cubs for last place in the NL Central, as their complete lack of starting pitching has led to a 29-42 start and all but ended any hopes they had of contending.

    Despite their struggles on the mound, the offense has been terrific once again, led by a pair of young breakout stars in Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura who give plenty of reason for hope moving forward.

    That said, one player who may not be part of the team's future is first baseman Corey Hart, as he's a free agent at season's end, and the team may opt against spending to keep him given its need to focus on pitching.

    He's been sidelined all season to this point following knee surgery, but if he can return in time to flash some of the tools that helped him hit 30 home runs with an .841 OPS last season, he should be able to drum up plenty of trade interest.

Minnesota Twins: Should Justin Morneau Be Moved at the Deadline?

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    Like the Brewers, the Twins have struggled greatly from a pitching standpoint despite their best efforts to shore up the situation in the offseason.

    Unlike the Brewers, however, the Twins don't have much in the way of impactful offensive pieces outside of superstar catcher Joe Mauer.

    As a result, a team that certainly fits the bill of a "seller" may not have much to sell at the deadline, especially if it keeps its asking price for slugging outfielder Josh Willingham as high as it was last season.

    One guy who is having a decent season and could generate some interest is veteran first baseman Justin Morneau. He's currently hitting .289/.339/.391 with a team-high 42 RBI, and while it would be nice to keep the lifelong Twin, he's a free agent at season's end and will likely be gone next year either way.

New York Mets: Can Zack Wheeler Continue to Pitch at a High Level?

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    Last season, the Mets called up top prospect Matt Harvey in time for him to make 10 starts, and he showed the makings of a future stud with a 2.73 ERA and 10.6 K/9 in his debut.

    He's built off of that this season to emerge as a potential Cy Young candidate, and the Mets are hoping the same scenario plays out for this year's stud rookie, Zack Wheeler.

    The right-hander went 4-2 with a 3.93 ERA and 9.6 K/9 in 13 starts at Triple-A this season before making his big league debut on June 18 against the Braves.

    He threw six shutout innings, allowing just four hits while walking five and striking out seven, to pick up the win in a doubleheader that also featured a gem from Harvey. That duo will be integral in the Mets' return to contention, and the question now is whether Wheeler will be able to put up numbers similar to what Harvey did the rest of the way.

New York Yankees: Can the Team Continue to Overcome Injuries and Contend?

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    The Yankees have done a commendable job overcoming the rash of injuries they've been struck with so far this season, starting off the season 30-18 and in first place in the AL East.

    Since then, however, they've gone just 9-15 and have slipped to third place in the division, and it could be a matter of the injuries finally catching up with them.

    The trio of Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and Travis Hafner has slumped badly after carrying the offense in the early going, and the back end of the starting rotation remains a major question mark.

    Derek Jeter is expected back soon, as he took batting practice for the first time on Wednesday night since re-fracturing his ankle. That may not be enough at this point, though, as the downward spiral may very well continue in the days and weeks ahead.

Oakland Athletics: Should the Team Look to Make a Splash at the Deadline?

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    Despite an inconsistent rotation and a lineup that has managed to hide some holes thanks to the constant shuffling of their lineup, the A's have been among the hottest teams in all of baseball lately and currently have the second-best record in the American League.

    Last season, they managed to string together a fantastic second half to capture the AL West title, and if they keep playing the way they have this year, they should once again be in a position for a postseason push.

    That begs the question: Would the low-budget A's consider making a splash at the deadline if it meant a real shot at contending for a title?

    Despite their record, it's safe to say that it would still be a major surprise to see them in the World Series come October. Adding an impact bat or a front-line starter could be the final piece to the puzzle, but would they go against their organizational strategy to do it?

Philadelphia Phillies: Is Trading Cliff Lee the First Step in Rebuilding?

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    The Phillies' title-contention window appears to have closed, as they are currently 35-38 on the season and no longer have injuries to blame their poor performance on.

    Chase Utley, Roy Halladay and Michael Young are all free agents at season's end, and they are making a combined $46 million this season, so they can start the rebuilding process simply by unloading these contracts.

    However, they could kick things off even sooner if they opted to move ace Cliff Lee (9-2, 2.53 ERA) at the deadline, and he could be the most sought-after trade chip on the market if made available.

    With a $25 million salary this season, and due another $62.5 million at least over the next three years, moving him would be complicated. That said, with his track record of postseason success and current level of production, a contender may well be willing to make the sort of commitment.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Can Jeff Locke and Francisco Liriano Keep It Up?

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    The Pirates are currently 43-30 on the season, and they look to be an improved team over the past two seasons when they contended in the first half but fell off significantly after the All-Star break.

    A big reason for their improved play has been the performance of a pair of left-handers in Jeff Locke and Francisco Liriano, as they have unexpectedly bolstered the starting rotation.

    The 23-year-old Locke has gone 6-1 with a 2.01 ERA in 15 starts, as the former second-round pick has emerged from the prospect shadows of Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon to put up fantastic numbers.

    Then there's Liriano, who signed a one-year, $1 million deal in the offseason after an up-and-down year split between the Twins and the White Sox. He opened the season on the DL but has gone 5-3 with a 2.44 ERA in eight starts.

San Diego Padres: Is This Team a Legitimate Contender or Just on a Hot Streak?

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    In the midst of a 10-4 stretch, the Padres have been one of the hottest teams in baseball of late, and while they are in third place in the NL West, they are 37-36 and just 2.5 games behind the Diamondbacks.

    The offense has gotten solid contributions from up-and-down the lineup, but the Padres still have plenty of room to improve if Chase Headley can return to last season's form and youngsters Jedd Gyorko and Yonder Alonso can continue to improve.

    Pitching is the big question, as the team's top two starters in Edinson Volquez (5-5, 5.84 ERA) and Clayton Richard (2-5, 7.01 ERA) have struggled mightily, and the likes of Jason Marquis and Eric Stults have carried the staff.

    The bullpen has been great, so if the back of the rotation can keep it up and the aforementioned duo can get on track, they have a chance at contending. That's a major "if," though, and in a deep NL West, the chances appear remote at this point.

San Francisco Giants: Will the Starting Pitching Come Around?

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    Pitching has been the hallmark of the Giants' recent run of success, and their title run last year was no exception with the trio of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong leading the charge.

    This season, the offense has picked up the pace and carried the team, as the starting rotation has been far from its usual dominant self.

    Bumgarner (7-4, 3.25 ERA) has been terrific once again, but no other starter has an ERA below 4.50, and the rotation will need to improve if the Giants are going to have a legitimate chance at defending their title.

    Cain (5-3, 4.55 ERA) has been better as of late with just three earned runs allowed in 20.2 innings of work over his past three starts. If he can return to his ace form, that would be a big step in the right direction.

Seattle Mariners: When Will Taijuan Walker, Other Top Prospects Be Called Up?

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    The Mariners had five players on the Baseball America preseason top 100 prospect list, and they are all expected to be on the big league roster by season's end.

    Shortstop Nick Franklin (23 G, .278 BA, .835 OPS) and catcher Mike Zunino (6 G, .200 BA, .673 OPS) have already arrived, and a trio of pitchers may not be far behind.

    Taijuan Walker (14 GS, 2.46 ERA, 10.3 K/9 at Double-A), Danny Hultzen (4 GS, 2.78 ERA, 9.9 K/9 at Triple-A) and James Paxton (14 GS, 5.18 ERA, 8.9 K/9) all have tremendous upside and figure to help lead the team back to contention alongside Felix Hernandez.

    With the Mariners out of contention at this point, the ongoing youth movement is the biggest reason for excitement for the team's fans this season.

St. Louis Cardinals: Can the Unproven Duo of Mujica and Rosenthal Keep It Up?

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    The Cardinals are better than any other team in the league at overcoming injuries and free-agent departures, and they had a big hurdle to overcome at the beginning of the season when their bullpen was in shambles.

    With closer Jason Motte lost for the season before it even started, the team turned to Mitchell Boggs to close, but he was not up to the task.

    One of the few relievers pitching well at the time was setup man Edward Mujica, so he stepped into the closer's role and has gone a perfect 21-of-21 on save chances with a 1.97 ERA so far.

    Rookie flame-thrower Trevor Rosenthal, in turn, stepped into his setup role and has posted a 1.77 ERA with 12.9 K/9 in 34 appearances. They've shown no signs of bending to this point, but having a pair of somewhat inexperienced relievers anchoring the bullpen is probably the biggest question for a great Cardinals team at this point.

Tampa Bay Rays: Can Starting Pitching Once Again Be a Strength of the Team?

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    The Rays worked aggressively to improve their offense this offseason, and that included trading right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals for a package of prospects to build around Wil Myers.

    Expected to have the horses to fill any void in the rotation, the starting pitching has instead been an issue to this point, as their 4.56 starters' ERA ranks 23rd in the MLB.

    Reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price (1-4, 5.24 ERA) struggled through nine starts before hitting the DL, and Jeremy Hellickson (5-3, 5.50 ERA) has not been the same pitcher he was the past two years.

    Add to that the scary head injury breakout star Alex Cobb (6-2, 3.01 ERA) suffered last week and the recent struggles of Matt Moore (10.07 ERA in last five starts), and the Rays have plenty of question marks. The talent is still there for them to have one of the best staffs in the league, but they'll need to do a complete 180.

Texas Rangers: Can the Young Starting Rotation Hold Up?

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    The Rangers have had a ton of injuries to their pitching staff over the past year or so, and that coupled with their offseason losses in the lineup have stacked the odds against them so far.

    They managed to overcome that for the first month-and-a-half of the season or so, but they have fallen off of late, and the back end of the rotation may be the biggest culprit.

    Over the past month, Justin Grimm (6 GS, 3-2, 7.58 ERA) and Nicholas Tepesch (5 GS, 0-2, 6.18 ERA) have both struggled mightily, and Josh Lindblom (2 GS, 0-1, 5.25 ERA) has not been the answer either.

    The duo of Yu Darvish and Derek Holland has been great atop the rotation, but the rest of the staff is a huge question mark for a team looking to contend.

Toronto Blue Jays: Can the Team Continue Hot Play, Live Up to Expectation?

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    The Blue Jays' busy offseason left them as a sexy pick to win the AL pennant this season, but they found themselves at just 23-32 when the month of May came to a close.

    Things have turned around quickly in June though, as they are 12-4 this month and have pulled within 7.5 games of the first-place Red Sox in the AL East.

    An improved pitching staff has been the biggest reason for the turnaround, and the lineup will get a boost from the impending return of shortstop Jose Reyes from a serious ankle injury.

    The talent that made the Blue Jays such a hyped team heading into the season is still there, and riding an eight-game winning steak, they are playing their best baseball of the season right now. The question now is, can they keep it up and make a serious push for the division title?

Washington Nationals: Can Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg Stay Healthy?

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    The Nationals have been a major disappointment so far this season, as they currently sit one game under .500 at 35-36 on the season after entering the year as one of the favorites in the National League.

    There is talent up and down the Nationals roster, but there is no question that former No. 1 overall picks Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are the faces of the franchise right now and perhaps the two players most important to the team's success.

    Those two have both battled injury so far this season though, with Strasburg landing on the 15-day DL with a shoulder strain and Harper currently on the shelf with a knee injury.

    Keeping those two guys healthy will be paramount not only in the team turning their season around, but in the future of the franchise.