The Factor That Could Hinder MLB Playoff Contenders’ Championship Aspirations

The 2019 Major League Baseball season is winding down, and plenty of teams are vying for playoff positioning. Here’s the one factor that could hinder every MLB playoff contenders’ championship aspirations.

New York Yankees: Starting Pitching

Masahiro Tanaka has been inconsistent, James Paxton has been unreliable, J.A. Happ is having arguably the worst season of his big-league career, the Domingo German magic has lost some of its luster, and C.C. Sabathia doesn’t provide length. Case in point: The Yankees starting rotation has become a guessing game.

After making no moves to address their rotation, or deepen their bullpen at the MLB trade deadline, the Yankees could miss out on the American League pennant given their rotation’s inability to provide length and take pressure off their offense; it could force them to heavily — and dangerously — rely on their bullpen in the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Rays: Offensive Inconsistency

The Rays have a respectable lineup, but they’re productive in bizarre spurts. For example, roughly a month ago, they scored a combined 11 runs in a four-game series against the rival Yankees, but proceeded to go on a hitting barrage the next week. Then fast forward to the last two weeks, and they’ve scored a combined 35 runs in 10 games, where they faced the San Diego Padres, Detroit Tigers, Seattle Mariners, and Baltimore Orioles — who are four of the worst teams in the sport.

If they want to secure an AL Wild Card seeding, the Rays need their offense, led by Austin Meadows, Tommy Pham, and Yandy Diaz, to produce runs at a higher and more consistent clip.

Minnesota Twins: Starting Pitching

Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Martin Perez, and Michael Pineda have held down the fort this season, but, as a whole, they’ve faded over the last month — and it’s a pivotal reason for why the Cleveland Indians have bridged the gap with the Twins in the AL Central.

Shaky outings from the aforementioned starting pitchers is forcing the Twins offense to have to score six-to-seven runs to win games and is also putting pressure on their bullpen to get more outs. The Twins didn’t make a move at the deadline and are now crossing their fingers that their veterans right the ship and keep them in first place to avoid the Wild Card Game.

Cleveland Indians: Young Starting Rotation

Shane Bieber has been terrific, Zach Plesac has been a pleasant surprise, Adam Plutko has filled a void, and Mike Clevinger has been his typical self, for the most part, since coming off the injured list. At the same time, this is a young starting rotation with little postseason experience, outside of Clevinger.

If Corey Kluber doesn’t return to the hill, the Indians could be in trouble. In a one-game playoff, Bieber likely gets the ball, as he has been their best starting pitcher, but he has never pitched in a postseason game, like the bulk of their youngsters. They’ve been superb to this point, but inexperience in October could catch up to the Indians rotation.

Houston Astros: Injuries

A lot of people are ready to give the Astros the AL pennant after acquiring Zack Greinke at the trade deadline and possessing an extremely deep ballclub. However, the Astros have dealt with some significant injuries over the last year.

Jose Altuve has missed an extended period of time this season and played through injury last postseason; Carlos Correa has been limited to 72 games this season and missed a large portion of last season due to recurring injuries; Gerrit Cole recently experienced a hamstring injury. The Astros have as deep a roster as anyone in the sport, but if any of these injuries worsen, their depth could be challenged.

Oakland Athletics: Offensive Inconsistency

The A’s depth chart features a healthy mix of up-and-coming youngsters and veterans such as Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Ramon Laureano, Marcus Semien, Khris Davis, Stephen Piscotty, and Mark Canha, among others. They’re an offense that hits the long ball, but one that doesn’t score a lot of runs. They have a lot of players who hit for power, but struggle to get on base in other ways.

As a result, Oakland relies on its pitching staff, which includes a starting rotation that has come into it own, even with Frankie Montas being suspended. If Oakland wants to get in the Wild Card Game and/or make some noise in the AL playoffs, they need their offense to play more small ball and become multidimensional.

Atlanta Braves: Inexperienced Starting Rotation

The Braves bullpen is an issue, but the additions of Shane Greene and Mark Melancon figure to, in time, work themselves out. This team’s biggest issue in October will be their starting rotation. Yes, Mike Soroka has put together a stellar season, and Max Fried has been a reliable force, but neither pitcher has made a postseason start.

Meanwhile, Mike Foltynewicz has struggled mightily this season, Sean Newcomb is coming out of the bullpen, and Julio Teheran hasn’t made a postseason start since 2013. Dallas Keuchel is the only starting pitcher with consistent postseason experience on the Braves staff, but even he has struggled with his command this season.

Washington Nationals: Bullpen

Sure, the Nationals traded for Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elias, and Hunter Strickland at the trade deadline, but their bullpen remains a nagging issue. Veteran closer Sean Doolittle has been tattooed over the last two weeks and was placed on the injured list with a knee injury last Sunday, and arms such as Fernando Rodney, Tanner Rainey, and Wander Suero have been inconsistent.

As a whole, this bullpen is miles better than it was two months ago, but the Nationals are still holding their breath when they take the ball from their starter late in games. It’s a crucial reason why their starting rotation went into Saturday second in MLB in innings pitched (745.2).

Philadelphia Phillies: Pitching

Outside of Aaron Nola, who has returned to form after a troublesome start to the season, the Phillies starting rotation is an inconsistent bunch. Zach Eflin was one of their few reliable pitchers at the beginning of the season, but he has significantly faded; Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta continue to be enigmas; Jake Arrieta was struggling beforehand, but is now out for the season due to an elbow injury.

To add fuel to the fire, the Phillies bullpen went into Saturday 18th in MLB in ERA (4.64), 27th in opponent batting average (.267), and 19th in strikeouts (447). There’re in the thick of the playoff race, mostly due to their high-octane offense, but the Phillies entire pitching staff is holding them back; it could very well keep them out of the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season.

New York Mets: Bullpen

The acquisition of Marcus Stroman gave the Mets a stout starting rotation, and their offense has been one of the most productive units in the sport over the last month. But their bullpen continues to sag.

Manger Mickey Callaway is hellbent on having Edwin Diaz — who sports a 5.55 ERA this season — get big outs late in games, Jeurys Familia is having the worst season of his career, Robert Gsellman is inconsistent, and the Mets can’t repeat a late-inning rotation; it puts the pressure on their rotation to go seven innings a start. Heck, their rotation went into Saturday fourth in MLB in innings pitched (738.0).

St. Louis Cardinals: Offense

The Cardinals offense features the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Marcell Ozuna, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, Paul DeJong, and Kolten Wong, yet they’re in the bottom third of the sport in nearly every offensive category; their veterans are struggling to get on base and put runs on the board.

Concurrently, the Cardinals starting rotation has turned a corner and is providing their ballclub with length and reliability. Meanwhile, their bullpen has been one of the most reliable units in the sport. To think back in spring training that the Cardinals offense would be holding them back is perplexing, but it is, and their veterans will be the resurrection, or death, of their season.

Chicago Cubs: Aging Starting Rotation

Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana, and Yu Darvish have been steady forces for the bulk of the current decade, but they’re not the dominant forces of old. They’re not providing length, are struggling to get through innings, and getting hit hard.

For an offense that’s headlined by Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo, all the Cubs need is for one of those five pitchers to have a standout final eight, or so starts. The Cubs have a great chance of cracking the playoffs, but if their rotation doesn’t have anything left in the tank, it’ll be a challenge for them to secure a Wild Card seed down the stretch.

Milwaukee Brewers: Lack of a True Ace

The Brewers were the talk of the sport in the offseason after making it to the National League Championship Series and having the NL MVP, Christian Yelich. But they continued to ignore their roster’s biggest flaw, that being a lack of a true ace. Zach Davies is having a bounce-back season, and Brandon Woodruff is having a superb first season as a starting pitcher, but outside of those two, the Brewers sport a shaky rotation.

Jhoulys Chacin is having a turbulent season, Chase Anderson has been inconsistent, and Gio Gonzalez has been hit by the injury bug. They didn’t make a move for starting pitching in the offseason, or at the trade deadline, and now the Brewers are forced to solely rely on their offense to make a playoff push.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Having No Kenley Jansen Back-Up Plan

The Dodgers have a stacked depth chart and deep pitching staff, but Jansen has struggled closing games this season. He’s laboring through at-bats, his command has been spotty, he has blown six saves, and sports a career-worse 3.62 ERA. Does he have the ability to pitch more so like the towering, dominant right-hander he has been in years past? Of course, but it’s a little worrisome that the Dodgers don’t have a back-up plan for the ninth inning.

They didn’t make a move at the deadline for a backend reliever, and the rest of their bullpen has been mediocre, at best, this season. Imagine if the Dodgers have their championship aspirations disintegrate because of a Jansen blown save.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Young Starting Rotation

Despite dealing Zack Greinke at the trade deadline and being perceived as a rebuilding team, the D-Backs find themselves just five and a half games out of the second NL Wild Card seeding. Whether they do the unthinkable, that being make the playoffs, will be on the shoulders of their starting rotation, which is a young unit. The recently acquired Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, and Taylor Clarke are all rookies trying to get into a groove, and veteran left-hander Robbie Ray is currently on the injured list.

Their offense, headlined by Ketel Marte, Eduardo Escobar, Christian Walker, and Nick Ahmed, has been one of the most underrated units in baseball, and they will likely continue performing at a high level. But whether they continue to do so in October depends on the D-Backs young rotation coming into its own.

San Francisco Giants: Stagnant Offense

The Giants made the courageous decision to hold onto Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith at the trade deadline to make a playoff push. Their pitching staff is a respectable unit of veterans who have pitched in high-leverage situations, but the Giants offense is the largest obstacle standing in the way of a playoff appearance.

They’ve produced runs at a higher rate since the All-Star break, but Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, Pablo Sandoval, and friends aren’t an offense adept at consistently putting up four runs every night. They struggle to get runners in scoring position home and hit the long ball; the only way the Giants make the playoffs is if their offense garners consistency.

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