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#pounditMonday, May 10, 2021

5 MLB teams that could fade in the second half

Mike Trout Albert Pujols

A number of MLB teams have gotten off to surprisingly good starts in the first half of the season. Several clubs that were not expected to contend find themselves involved in the playoff race, but it’s not entirely clear how many of them have the necessary staying power to remain in those races.

Here are five teams who may find their playoff hopes fading as the second half of the Major League Baseball seasons gets underway:

5) Los Angeles Angels

The Angels being on the fringes of the playoff race — just three games out of the AL wild card as of Sunday — comes as a surprise, and it’s even more of one when you consider that Mike Trout spent a significant portion of the season out injured. Yet here they are — an unremarkable 45-48, but that’s enough to at least have them in the very early playoff picture.

To be blunt, the Angels have been punching above their weight, and even Trout’s impending return won’t make up for the reality that will likely hit them soon enough. The pitching, in particular, simply isn’t good enough. While there are several solid arms at the back of the bullpen, none of the team’s five most-used starting pitchers have an ERA under 4.00, and several, including Matt Shoemaker, are on the disabled list.

Couple that with the team’s lack of hitting — Trout is the only regular hitting over .300, and only two others are above .250 — and it’s something of a miracle that they’re even in the hunt. Expect them to fall away from the pack as the second half really starts to get underway.

4) Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays may not fade as much as they’ll simply continue playing roughly .500 baseball and watch as the rest of the pack pulls away from them. They’re currently 48-43 and have done it the way the Rays have done it in the past — a core of young, homegrown talent augmented by surprise success stories from the scrap heap. Logan Morrison’s 24-home run season is just one instance of that.

Unfortunately, the Rays play in a division in which two teams — the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox — clearly have superior talent. Both are already above the Rays, and they will likely stay that way. Chris Archer and Alex Cobb have been good in the rotation, but third starter Matt Andriese is going to be out a while, and they will miss him.

3) Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers think they are for real, and it would be more surprising if they didn’t have that level of self-belief. There are, however, legitimate questions as to their staying power in the National League Central race.

Milwaukee’s offense is very reliant on the home run — they’re eighth in the National League in on-base percentage but second in slugging. That means the likes of Eric Thames and Travis Shaw, neither known as an elite power hitter before this year, need to keep up the pace to keep the Brewer offense moving. Relying on homers to power your offense is always a fairly significant risk, and it’s Milwaukee who leads the National League in homers.

The pitching, too, needs to hold up. Milwaukee’s success has been a result of two pitchers in their late 20s who have both had breakout seasons — Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson. Can they hold up? This is more responsibility and pressure than either of them will have dealt with in the past, but Milwaukee’s rotation thins out behind them. Their continued success is absolutely vital. With an aggressive Chicago Cubs team lurking behind them, Milwaukee can’t afford to slip up — but they’re facing a lot of obstacles.

2) Minnesota Twins

The Twins find themselves in a somewhat uncomfortable position. The team did not expect to contend this year, and now they have an important decision to make — is it a good idea to try to buy and bolster such a young team, and if so, how much do you buy in?

Despite their 45-44 record — sitting just one game out of the AL wild card spot — the answer may well be no. First, there’s only so much they should be willing to give away in terms of prospects to get an impact player. This is an organization that has been building for the future, and they shouldn’t compromise that plan just to try to win in 2017.

The other reason is they may not be good enough anyway. The Twins boast a truly bizarre split of being 20-28 at home and 25-16 on the road, and outside of the surprising Ervin Santana and star youngster Jose Berrios, they probably don’t have the pitching for a genuine playoff push. Their offense is also fairly pedestrian, with Miguel Sano providing the bulk of the power and nobody hitting for a particularly high average. They also share a division with a Cleveland Indians team that nearly won the World Series a year earlier and is a clear division favorite again in 2017. With all that in mind, is it really worth investing — or should they just stick to the plan for long-term contention? The second choice might be the best one, as the current team isn’t particularly constructed to contend in 2017.

1) Colorado Rockies

The warning signs have already started to appear for the Rockies toward the end of the first half. At the end of June, they lost eight straight, and have not won consecutive ballgames since June 20. They’ve gone from 47-26 to 52-40, and while they’re still right in the thick of the National League wild card race, their position is a lot weaker than it was a month ago.

Colorado’s offense will always be strong, and not just because they play in Coors Field. Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado are legitimately excellent offensive players, and the Rockies’ strong batting numbers are no joke. It is the pitching, however, that will trip them up. The Rockies’ young rotation has been inconsistent, and though the arrival of Jon Gray has helped, relying on your lineup to outslug what your pitching staff does is generally a mediocre strategy.

The Rockies share a division with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks, two teams with superior rotations. They may also have to fend off an ascendant Chicago Cubs team. This is a good team, but not an elite one, and they may be better in the years to come — but the 2017 Rockies may have arrived a year too soon.

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