There is no such thing as a perfect baseball team. Every team in the league — even the good ones — have flaws that stick out. The task of those running the teams competing for MLB playoff spots will be to fix these, the most glaring flaws on those teams.
Before identifying the flaws, we first have to identify the contenders. Some teams are obviously more legitimate than others. But for the sake of this, we’re going to say that any team with at least a .500 record qualifies. We’ll also say that any team within five games of playoff spot qualifies.
That eliminates only the Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers, Miami Marlins, Kansas City Royals, Kansas City Royals, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles. Everyone else can still be considered a postseason contender.
These are the most troubling flaw for each MLB contender.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Not enough power
Los Angeles ranks 19th in slugging percentage and 21st in home runs. And for all intents and purposes, nobody is immune. Catcher Yasmani Grandal and first baseman Cody Bellinger lead the team with eight homers. As a point of comparison, Bellinger entered June with 11 home runs in his historic rookie season last year, and he didn’t even debut until late-April. Given what we saw a season ago, we never thought we’d say that this Dodgers team lacks power, but it really does.
Cleveland Indians: Problems in the bullpen
No bullpen has been worse than the Indians’ in 2018. Cleveland relievers have a 6.02 ERA an are probably the No. 1 reason that this team has struggled so much. Outside of Cody Allen, nobody coming out of the Indians’ bullpen has an ERA under 4.00. Moving struggling starter Josh Tomlin to the ‘pen has helped, as will the eventual return of Andrew Miller. But even then, a bullpen with only three trustworthy pitchers isn’t going to cut it. There’s a lot of work to be done.
Milwaukee Brewers: Lack of frontline starting pitching
In terms of depth, the Milwaukee rotation is not bad. But if you’re a fan of the Brewers, would you really feel good heading into a playoff series with Junior Guerra matched up against Max Scherzer? It would probably happen twice. The postseason has become more about relievers, yes. Still, it’s hard to imagine a team winning without a top-tier starter. Milwaukee should be looking into the non-contenders and keeping a close eye on those teams on the fringe. If a top-tier arm becomes available, the Brewers should pounce.
Boston Red Sox: Offense from the catcher
Boston doesn’t have many bigger issues that stand out, so we have to get a little more specific. The Red Sox catchers have struggled to produce much offensively. Boston’s backstops have hit only two home runs, the second-worst total in MLB. Collectively, they are hitting .211/.255/.279, which puts them at 19th, 29th, and 30th in each respective category. This isn’t a team with many flaws. But that’s certainly one that can be addressed.
Philadelphia Phillies: Corner outfield offense
Odubel Herrera is holding things down in center. But Philadelphia definitely has a problem with the men on either side of him. Rhys Hoskins has held down the fort reasonably well in left. The Phillies’ left fielders have eight home runs and a .361 OBP. That does a lot to offset the .228 batting average. But with Hoskins now down, it’s a greater problem. Philadelphia’s right fielders have hit five home runs and are slashing at .168/.284/.281. That’s not what you want from any position, let alone a traditionally strong one. These issues will have to be addressed.
Houston Astros: Lack of home run production
Like the Red Sox, the Astros don’t have any glaring flaws. One thing that is noticeable is that this team hasn’t quite matched its home run productivity from 2017. Houston ranks eighth in the American League in home runs. That may not seem like a huge problem, given that the Astros’ offense is still productive. But this team won a World Series a year ago and the long balls were a big reason why that happened. The lack of home runs may not be anything to panic about, but it’s nothing to dismiss, either.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Questionable pitching
Pittsburgh’s pitchers haven’t been terrible, they just haven’t been very good. The bullpen has been the weak link. Its 4.18 ERA and 1.41 WHIP check in at 19th and 22nd in the league. The starters have been a little better. They rank 14th in ERA (4.12) and 13th in WHIP (1.25). But even still, is that the kind of pitching staff you want to take into the height of summer going against teams like the Brewers and Chicago Cubs?
New York Yankees: Starting pitching
While the Yankees have generally been overpowering in 2018, the starting pitching remains something of a question. New York’s starters have been perfectly average. The rotation has a 4.12 ERA, MLB’s 15th best total. Outside of Luis Severino, it’s hard to feel really confident in any starter, especially against a top-tier offense. This isn’t going to cost the Yankees a playoff spot. But it certainly could cost them dearly once the postseason gets going.
Atlanta Braves: Too many walks
Atlanta’s 3.64 ERA ranks 10th in baseball. That’s the good news. The bad news is that no team has walked more hitters than the Braves. Getting into the dog days, the last thing any pitcher wants to do is be facing a slugger with men on base. And even if Atlanta gets into the postseason, something as small as a walk can be a rally in the playoffs. By issuing so many free passes, the Braves are just giving their opponents too many chances to beat them.
Los Angeles Angels: Defending the home field
The Angels have been great on the road. They have an 18-9 record away from home and a +59 run differential. Unfortunately, Los Angeles is only 12-17 at home with a -32 run differential. Now, if things continue at their current rate, the Halos might be okay. That said, a .667 winning percentage on the road is not sustainable. It’s going to come down. The Angels are going to have to find a way to play better in Anaheim.
Colorado Rockies: Depth in the bullpen
As far as reliable relievers go, the Rockies have Wade Davis and an injured Adam Ottavino. If we’re generous, we can throw Bryan Shaw in. He’s struggled this year, but does have enough of a track record to get some benefit of the doubt. But even then, three reliable relievers will not do the trick as we get deeper into the season. Not when you play at Coors Field. The Rockies need at least two more trustworthy guys coming out of the bullpen for us to feel confident about their long-term chances.
Detroit Tigers: Power outage
While the Tigers are barely contenders, they are within range of the AL Central lead. To become a more realistic contender, the offense will need an upgrade, and not a small one. No Detroit player has more than eight home runs. Only five Tigers have five long balls. The pending return of Miguel Cabrera will help matters, but not enough if this team is going to remain in contention through the year.
St. Louis Cardinals: Minimal offensive punch
If home runs were the only metric we used to rank power, the Cardinals would be okay. They rank 13th in baseball and fifth in the National League. But we also want to see guys driving balls into the gap. That’s how you score a lot of runs. St. Louis hasn’t done that. The Cardinals rank 23rd in MLB with a .323 slugging percentage and the Marlins are the only team with fewer extra-base hits. If your goal is to make the playoffs in 2018, Miami isn’t the team you want to be keeping company with.
Oakland Athletics: Getting on base
The A’s can hit for power. They rank ninth in baseball in both home runs and extra-base hits. But despite that, Oakland is 15th in runs scored. That can largely be chalked up to a .308 OBP. The extra-base hits just aren’t driving in enough runners. It’s crazy that the A’s — the team of “Moneyball” — would struggle at putting guys on base. But one-third of the way into the season, it’s been an issue for Oakland.
New York Mets: Starting pitching depth
The Mets are the prime example of a team that would be a real World Series threat if they make the playoffs. Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are that good. The problem is that New York has a significant hill to climb to even reach the playoffs. For that to happen, depth is needed. Unfortunately, Mets’ starters besides deGrom and Syndergaard have a 5.67 ERA and 1.51 WHIP. One way or another, those numbers have to come down.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Underachieving offense
Arizona ranks at or near the bottom of the league in most major offensive categories. Paul Goldschmidt getting hot would do a lot to offset that, but this problem goes deeper than a slumping star. Aside from A.J. Pollock (who’s now hurt), it’s hard to point to any one Diamondback and say he’s doing well. Nick Ahmed is second on the team with eight homers, but is hitting only .202/.257/.399. For Arizona to make the playoffs or even remain in contention, this offense is going to need a huge spark.
Seattle Mariners: Starting pitching after James Paxton
Paxton has a 3.13 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and an 11.5 K/9 rate. If he continues to pitch that well, Seattle would have a great chance with him taking the ball in the single-elimination American League Wild Card Game. The problem will be getting through the playoffs (or even reaching them) with the rest of the rotation. Aside from Paxton, Mariners’ pitchers have a 4.50 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 6.8 K/9 rate. That’s not where you want to be heading into the dog days.
Washington Nationals: Relief pitching
The Washington bullpen isn’t as bad as we’ve seen in recent years. Still, things remain shaky. Sean Doolittle has been fantastic (1.78 ERA, 0.63 WHIP, 13.5 K.9). But other than him, none of the Nats’ relievers have inspired a great deal of confidence. Washington has a top-tier starting rotation and doesn’t play at Coors Field, so it may not need the number of quality relievers that Colorado would need. Still, it’s hard to see this team going on a big playoff run without at least three reliable arms in the bullpen. Right now, it has one.
San Francisco Giants: Too many strikeouts
The starting rotation would seem to be the more obvious problem. But help is at least on the way. The offense is more troubling. The Giants are 20th in home runs and 16th in extra-base hits. That’s not good, but it’s not so concerning when we remember where they play. More problematic is that San Francisco hitters have struck out 528 times, the third-highest total in baseball. That number is way too high. Even when we adjust for AT&T Park, the Giants don’t hit for enough power to strike out that often.
Tampa Bay Rays: Outfield productivity
The Rays have gamely hung in the race after a bad start. Still, the team lacks much offensive punch. The outfield has been a big source of that. Collectively, Tampa outfielders are hitting .241/.326/.392 with 16 home runs. Four of those homers came from Denard Span, who’s no longer on the team. For the Rays to remain in the race, they’re going to need to hit. That’s going to require a much more offensively productive outfield.
Chicago Cubs: No. 3-5 starters
While they don’t currently occupy a playoff spot, it doesn’t feel like the Cubs are really in danger of missing the postseason. Something that can change that, and can certainly hurt Chicago once October rolls around, is the lack of quality pitching behind Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks. The rest of the rotation, including the now-injured Yu Darvish, has been awful. Excluding Lester and Hendricks, Chicago’s starters have a 4.54 ERA and 1.52 WHIP. Darvish and Jose Quintana are certainly capable of bringing it around. Now they need to do it.