Eight MLB teams that must step up in June

By Michael Dixon

For many reasons, June is an important month on the MLB calendar.

It’s also an important month for the teams. At the end of June, the season is roughly half over and if you’re not contending by then, chances are that it’s not going happen in July-September.

As such, we’ll probably know which teams will be buyers and sellers in the month leading up to the trade deadline.

So, we’ve established why it’s a big month on the MLB calendar in general. But as far as June of 2016 goes, which MLB teams need to step up?

Arizona Diamondbacks

shelby miller

What’s the problem?

Quite frankly, we’d probably be ignoring completely if not for an aggressive offseason. The Diamondbacks have been awful through the first two months of the season and really, are only even semi-contenders at this point due to some early season inconsistent play from the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.

The good news is that while Arizona’s hitters have been inconsistent, they’ve come around. The loss of A.J. Pollock at the beginning of the season hurt but even without him, the D-Backs are a top-10 offense by most standards.

Unfortunately, pitching has been a much different story.

Those numbers are especially problematic as the Diamondbacks’ two biggest off-season acquisitions — Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller — are both pitchers.

What does June look like?

Not bad. The Diamondbacks have 27 games remaining in June and only 12 of those are against winning teams. It’s a pretty decent opportunity to post a winning month and maybe make up some ground on the Giants and Dodgers.

Unfortunately, if they can’t have a strong month, it bodes even worse for the rest of their season.

Baltimore Orioles: 29-22

MLB teams, Orioles

What’s the problem?

As their solid record shows, the Orioles have been good for most of the season. Unfortunately, the Birds entered June limping, as they dropped eight out of their last 10 in May.

Now, every team has peaks and valleys but in the Orioles most-recent slump, the Boston Red Sox have passed them up in the standings.

Objectively, the Red Sox are a better team than the O’s. Boston has a plus-76 run differential compared to the plus-12 that the Orioles sport. Additionally, the Sox are a deeper, more-talented team. Baltimore needs to hang close to the Red Sox through June or risk getting lapped in the second half of the season.

If the Orioles fall too far back, then it’s the Wild Card or bust for them. There are two big problems with that.

One, the American League Wild Card chase figures to be very deep. It could easily include two additional American League East teams, three American League Central teams and one American League West team.

Two, even if the Orioles came out of that, they don’t have a classic ace that a team would want to have in a single elimination setting.

What does June look like?

Not great. All but nine of Baltimore’s 27 games in June come against winning teams. Even that’s a little deceiving, as it only includes one game in a four-game series on the road against the Seattle Mariners that overlaps with the beginning of July.

The Orioles are not only slumping, but slumping at the wrong time. They won’t be able to fake their way through this month.

Chicago White Sox: 29-25

Chris Sale, MLB

What’s the problem?

The White Sox are riding a mini-hot streak, having won two in a row. Even with that, Chicago is 3-7 in its last 10 games.

And as an American League team, Chicago will only get the fantastic bat and stellar base-running of Matt Albers during the occasional inter-league game.

https://twitter.com/SportsonEarth/status/738126346228883456

In all seriousness, the White Sox are a lot like the Orioles. They started well and spent a lot of the first two months in first place but have now been passed. Chicago has not only been passed, but passed by the Kansas City Royals, the reigning World Series champ and two-time defending American League champions.

Additionally, Kansas City has really under performed through much of the season and still has a two-game lead. Imagine how tough the Royals will be to catch once they heat up.

The Chicago pitching staff has carried the day for most of the season. Now, it’s time for their bats to do what they should do and be the strength of the team through the summer. If that doesn’t happen, the White Sox will be relegated to the same crowded Wild Card race as the Orioles.

What does June look like?

The comparison to the Orioles don’t stop as much like Baltimore, Chicago is facing a tough June.

The White Sox have 25 games remaining and 16 are against winning teams. If the South Siders don’t right the ship fast, a June swoon is imminent and will put them in a lot of trouble for the second half of the season.

Detroit Tigers: 25-27

Courtesy of Aaron Doster, USA Today Sports

What’s the problem?

Detroit didn’t enjoy many May flowers, as it went 11-17 and were outscored by 35 runs. The good news is that May is over. The bad news is that the Tigers now solidly have their work cut out them, five game back and in fourth place in the American League Central.

The problem in Detroit is similar to what it is in Arizona — the pitching has been awful. As a team, Detroit is tied for 24th in team ERA (4.63), 19th in starter’s ERA (4.55), 28th in bullpen ERA (4.78), tied for 23rd in WHIP (1.41), 20th in starter’s WHIP and 23rd in bullpen WHIP (1.44).

In no way is that going to come close to getting it done.

Worse, because the problems are so rampant within the entire pitching staff, they won’t be easy to improve on in the trade market. The team will need to get better from within and that will need to happen in June.

The American League Central is not as deep as it looked like it might be to start the year, but chasing down the Royals, White Sox, and Cleveland Indians will not be easy. They don’t need to make all of the ground up in June, but it’s important for the Tigers to make progress.

What does June look like?

There’s one major positive — Detroit will get plenty of chances to gain ground on the teams they’re competing with. They have six games against the White Sox, four against the Royals and three against the Indians.

Unfortunately, it will be very difficult to make up big ground. That’s only 13 of their 22 games against opponents with winning records. Only five games come against opponents with a losing mark.

That’s not a good recipe for a team already in a spin.

Houston Astros: 25-29

Jose Altuve

What’s the problem?

The problem is that their current run is really the first winning streak they’ve had all year. Because of that, the Astros are not only 6.5 games behind the division leading Texas Rangers, but six behind the second-place Seattle Mariners.

The good news for Houston is that it is indeed playing their best baseball of the season. The Astros have won eight of their last nine, including each of the last five.

Houston has a long way to go, but it has started to turn a corner.

What does June look like?

Better than some of our past subjects, as 16 of the 25 games they’ve yet to play are against teams with a losing record. If they’ve really turned a corner, that’s a run of games that the Astros should play at 10-6, and really, that’s a conservative estimation.

Four of the nine games against winning teams are against the Rangers, who are currently 6-0 against Houston on the season. If the Astros are going to get back in the playoff race, that needs to change. What better way to change that than by winning three of four (or better) against the in-state rival?

Los Angeles Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw

What’s the problem?

The Dodgers have not been bad, but they’re a little too dependent on Clayton Kershaw. Los Angeles is 18-25 in games not started by Kershaw, which works out to about a 68-94 pace over a full season.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Kershaw will throw a perfect game in each of his remaining starts this season. If Los Angeles can’t play any better than that over the other four days, this team is not going to the playoffs, let along winning a World Series.

The real issue is not so much with their other pitchers. The problem is that given how bad their bats have been, Kershaw is the only pitcher on the team (and probably the league) good enough to win games with how bad the Los Angeles offense has been.

The Dodgers are a rather mediocre 14th in runs per game (4.3), but even that may not be sustainable. They are tied for 23rd in batting average (.238), 22nd in OBP (.309) and 26th in slugging (26th). Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig and company need to be much better.

What does June look like?

Not bad. Not bad at all. Los Angeles has 27 games remaining in June and only 11 are against winning teams.

The Dodgers also have a chance to gain ground on the Giants with a three-game series. Better yet for Los Angeles, if the current matchups hold (Clayton Kershaw vs. Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir vs. Jake Peavy, Mike Bolsinger vs. Madison Bumgarner), it should have a decent chance to win the series.

St. Louis Cardinals: 28-26

Yadier Molina

What’s the problem?

It’s not that the Cardinals have been bad, but playing in the National League Central and trailing the Chicago Cubs essentially relegates them to the Wild Card race.

St. Louis is only two games behind the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates, who are currently tied for the two Wild Card spots. That’s not a terrible position to be in, but it does place the team in with a cluster of teams.

The Cardinals offense has been good, but their pitching has been mediocre. They are 11th in quality starts (27), 18th in ERA (4.19) and 13th in WHIP (1.27).

Those numbers may not be terrible, but they’re not good enough to make the playoffs in a deep playoff race — especially when we look at what’s ahead.

What does June look like?

Very tough. The Cards have 24 games remaining in June and 19 are against winning teams.

The pitching in St. Louis will need to be a lot better than just mediocre to get through this month. If it’s not, the Cardinals could find themselves in a very unfamiliar position — out of contention.

Toronto Blue Jays: 29-26

Josh Donaldson

What’s the problem?

Things are actually going pretty well for the Blue Jays at the moment. They’ve won eight of 10 games. Even when things go bad, they find a way to make it good.

The problem is that like the Cardinals, Toronto is in the middle of a highly crowded playoff race. It’s closer to the Red Sox than St. Louis is to the Cubs, but Boston is a deep team and riding a hot streak.

Additionally, the Blue Jays have just not looked like the same juggernaut that they were at the end of last season. They had a solid month of May, but have only had a few hot streaks this year, mixed in with several colder runs.

They can play good baseball for the rest of the way, but won’t be anywhere near the .800 ball that they’ve been playing at for the last 10 games. Eventually, things will simmer down a little bit.

What does June look like?

June is a good time to go on a run. Only 14 of the 26 games that they’ve yet to play in June are against teams with a winning record.

Toronto will also get three against the Red Sox and seven against the Orioles. If they can win the majority of those games, the Jays will gain ground on a team they’re chasing (Boston) and create separation from one they’re potentially competing with in the Wild Card chase (Baltimore).

Unfortunately, if they lose the majority of those games, they’re digging a deep hole for the second half of the season.

It’s really a make or break month for the Blue Jays.