Contender or Pretender for 2019 MLB Playoff Race with 2 Months Left

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistAugust 2, 2019

Contender or Pretender for 2019 MLB Playoff Race with 2 Months Left

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    With the MLB trade deadline now in the rearview mirror, we're entering the crucial final two months of the season.

    It's time to separate the contenders from the pretenders.

    Here, we've sorted clubs into three categories, division by division. The contenders are teams with a realistic shot at making a postseason run. The pretenders are squads whose dim playoff dreams are more illusion than reality. And the non-factors are teams that aren't even worth discussing.

    We'll rely on deadline action, stats, standings andas alwaysa sprinkling of subjectivity.

American League East

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    Boston Red Sox: Contender

    At 59-51, the Red Sox are 10.5 games out in the American League East. Their chances of repeating as division champions are dim. They made no major additions at the trade deadline, nor did they tear down the roster. Yet they're still in the wild-card mix and could make a run, especially if ace Chris Sale and reigning American League MVP Mookie Betts go into vintage mode.


    New York Yankees: Contender

    The Yankees didn't add an ace-level arm at the deadline despite a wonky rotation that's been without ace Luis Severino (shoulder) since Opening Day. They've battled a raft of injuries to key offensive contributors. Despite all of that, they're sitting in first place in the AL East at 68-39 with a plus-119 run differential. They'll make the playoffs. Whether they can win title No. 28 is another question.


    Tampa Bay Rays: Contender

    You'd have to have a Grinch-sized heart to root against the Rays. They're perennial small-market underdogs in a division that features the big-spending Sox and Yanks. Still, they're in the thick of the postseason chase with a 62-48 record. They made solid additions at the deadline, acquiring pitchers Nick Anderson and Trevor Richards and infielders Jesus Aguilar and Eric Sogard. That won't flip the balance of power in the Junior Circuit, but it keeps the Rays squarely in the picture.


    Non-factors: Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays

American League Central

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    Cleveland Indians: Contender

    The Indians took a gamble when they traded right-hander Trevor Bauer in a three-team swap with the Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres. On the one hand, they jettisoned an ace-level arm. On the other hand, they acquired outfielder Yasiel Puig, who will inject needed energy and offense, and outfielder Franmil Reyes, who can contribute now and is controllable through 2024. At 63-45, the Tribe are in position for a wild-card spot and within striking distance of a division title. They'll miss Bauer come playoff time, but they added much-needed bats.


    Minnesota Twins: Contender

    The Twins own first place in the AL Central at 66-42 and lead the American League with a plus-128 run differential. They didn't land a playoff-tested ace at the trade deadline, which could come back to bite them. But they're an undeniably dangerous team capable of making noise come October behind a young core led by outfielder Byron Buxton, among others.


    Non-factors: Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals

American League West

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    Houston Astros: Contender

    After adding Zack Greinke at the trade deadline to join co-aces Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, the Astros might be unstoppable. Their rotation is stacked. Their lineup is deep. Their bullpen ranks fifth in baseball with a 3.87 ERA. Winning the AL West is a foregone conclusion. Grabbing their second title in three years is more than attainable.


    Los Angeles Angels: Pretender

    At 56-54, the Angels are technically within shouting distance of a playoff berth. They employ Mike Trout, the best baseball player on the planet. But with a modest plus-one run differential and a starting rotation that ranks 25th with a 5.25 ERA and wasn't sufficiently bolstered at the trade deadline, the Halos aren't equipped to make the playoffs. 


    Oakland Athletics: Contender

    Like the Rays, the Athletics are a small-market David that often manages to challenge Goliath. At 62-48, they're eight games out in the AL West, but they have a realistic shot at a wild-card berth. They added starters Homer Bailey and Tanner Roark and hard-throwing reliever Jake Diekman ahead of the deadline without decimating their farm system. Catching the 'Stros is unrealistic, but the A's are sneaky contenders.


    Texas Rangers: Pretender

    At 54-54, the Rangers are exactly mediocre. They made no major deadline additions, have a minus-two run differential and would need to leapfrog multiple teams to sniff the playoffs. It's time for Texas to see the writing on the wall and initiate a full-blown rebuild.


    Non-factor: Seattle Mariners 

National League East

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    Atlanta Braves: Contender

    The Braves could have added a playoff-proven ace to join left-hander Dallas Keuchel, but they did boost the bullpen at the deadline with the acquisitions of Shane Greene, Mark Melancon and Chris Martin. They have a comfortable lead in the National League East at 65-45 and tout a solid-plus-62 run differential. Their offense, led by an emerging core that includes outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., is second in the Senior Circuit with 585 runs scored. This team is dangerous.


    Philadelphia Phillies: Pretender

    Sorry, Phillies fans. Despite the deadline acquisitions of outfielder Corey Dickerson and pitcher Jason Vargas, Philadelphia didn't do enough to make the postseason in 2019. Yes, the Phillies are technically in the hunt at 57-51. But their minus-16 run differential tells the real story. After handing Bryce Harper a record-breaking contract this winter, the Phils are headed for a disappointing thud.


    Washington Nationals: Contender

    The Nationals desperately needed to buttress a bullpen that had been a major liability all season. They added Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elias and Hunter Strickland via trade. None of them are game-changers, but they'll help. The Nats are 57-51 and have a plus-47 run differential. They likely can't catch Atlanta, but a wild-card berth is plausible.


    Non-factors: Miami Marlins, New York Mets

National League Central

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    Chicago Cubs: Contender

    The Cubs were active at the deadline, adding outfielder Nick Castellanos from the Detroit Tigers. They're a game off the pace  in the NL Central at 57-51. They don't feel like a juggernaut and will need established contributors such as Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez to carry the offensive load down the stretch. But the Cubbies are playoff tested and won a title in 2016. They've been here before.


    Milwaukee Brewers: Pretender

    The Brewers advanced to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series in 2018 and are two games out in the NL Central at 57-53. However, they made only minor additions at the trade deadline. Most notably, they failed to significantly upgrade a starting rotation that ranks 19th with a 4.78 ERA. Add in their minus-17 run differential, and they could be toast in one of baseball's most competitive divisions.


    St. Louis Cardinals: Contender

    The Cardinals basically stood pat at the deadline, which may prove to be a mistake. Their starting staff ranks 13th with a 4.26 ERA and could have used an arm or two. Their offense ranks 22nd with 483 runs scored and could have used a bat. Still, the Cards are tied for first place at 58-50. They aren't World Series favorites, but a postseason appearance is well within reach.


    Non-factors: Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates

National League West

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    Arizona Diamondbacks: Pretender

    The Diamondbacks are 54-55 but have a plus-61 run differential, the third-best mark in the National League. Yet they waived the white flag when they traded Greinke to the Astros. Catching the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers is out of the question, and sniffing a wild-card spot isn't much more likely.


    Los Angeles Dodgers: Contender

    The Dodgers lead the Senior Circuit in runs scored (595) and pace baseball in ERA (3.39). They didn't make any deadline splashes, but they're arguably the most complete team in either league and are well-positioned to win their first title since 1988. After losing the last two Fall Classics, there's little question L.A. is motivated.


    San Francisco Giants: Pretender

    After a dreadful start that seemed to portend an inevitable rebuild, the Giants have gone on a summer hot streak and sit above .500 at 55-54. They traded some ancillary bullpen assets at the deadline but also added second baseman Scooter Gennett. Let's get real, though. The Giants' minus-51 run differential is third-worst in the NL. They trail four teams in the wild-card standings. This might feel like even-year magic, but it's actually an odd-year mirage.


    Non-factors: Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres