As the All-Star Game approaches, Major League Baseball’s players and teams get a short yet welcomed respite from the everyday grind of the season. Though the players who appear in the game won’t get a full break, it’s still sufficient to refuel their tanks. Considering that the break occurs almost exactly halfway through the season, a team’s status now can be a good indicator for what’s to come. It isn’t necessarily the only indicator though—a lot can happen in the second half of the season and usually does.
Regardless of what’s to come, no team wants to go limping into the All-Star Break. Taking momentum into the break normally means momentum after, and with less than 80 games remaining, the push to move up the standings starts now. Sure, 80 games sounds like a lot, but any deficit more than five or six games (which various teams are facing) can take months to cut.
The worst teams—take the Philadelphia Phillies who currently have the worst record in the majors at 29-62—don’t necessarily desperately need the All-Star Break because they really just desperately need the season to end. This list isn’t about the worst of the worst. No. It’s about teams in contention who stumbled into the break and need to rally their troops. Here are four teams that should find this coming week’s four-day hiatus especially crucial for the remainder of their season.
1. Houston Astros
One might be surprised to find the Astros on this list: after all, if the season ended today, they’d be in the playoffs. And even more suprising since Houston started out the season hotter than any team, winning 18 of their first 25 games. But things have slowed down since. Ironically enough, on Sunday (the last day before the official break started) the Los Angeles Angels took over first place from the Astros: a title they had held since the beginning of the season.
Limping into the All-Star break is an understatement for Houston—they lost eight of their last 10 games, and overall are just 31-32 dating back to May 5. Although they weren’t predicted to be this good in the preseason, when you start the year 18-7, expectations rise. This four-day break might be just what the doctor ordered. First, the bats need to wake up. On top of losing five of their last six games, the Astros managed to score just seven runs in that stretch. Those kinds of numbers are not the mark of a playoff-caliber team.
While it’s difficult just to blame the offense for Houston’s downward trend, the pitching has been more than adequate. Starting pitcher Dallas Kuechel, whose 2.23 earned run average sits atop the league, is the ace any team would want. The rest of the rotation and the bullpen haven’t been as significant, but certainly good enough to still be in first place. Which brings us back to the offense—something needs to change. Not a drastic change, mind you, just any change. It might even be as simple as bringing up a few new faces and inserting them into the lineup. While a trade might be too drastic, change needs to occur, or else Houston might blow its first chance at the playoffs for quite some time.
2. San Francisco Giants
Similar to the Astros on this list, the Giants are far from desperation mode. They’re 46-43 and only four games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers—a team that many predicted to win the National League West. But as the defending World Champions, the stakes are a bit higher. And with the current quality of the NL Central division (which has three teams with a better record than the Giants), it seems likely that San Francisco will need to win its division in order to make the playoffs.
Dissimilar from Houston, though, the Giants pitching staff has been the thorn in their side. Ace Madison Bumgarner, the reining World Series MVP, hasn’t been as dominant as years past. His 3.33 earned run average sits in the middle of the pack for NL pitchers, and unfortunately, he has the best ERA on the team among the starters. Needless to say, the Giants could use another starter before the trade deadline hits. As a franchise that has won two World Series’ in the past three years, the front office knows what it takes it to win. With only seven more head-to-head games with the Dodgers, the Giants will have to win the division on their own, and might need some help.
3. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers have been one of the season’s biggest surprises…just not a pleasant suprise. Though they enter the break with a .500 record, Detroit seems like they’re miles behind the division leader Kansas City Royals. Star first baseman Miguel Cabrera is injured—a devastating event for a team that heavily relies on his bat—and every aspect of the pitching staff is in shambles. Whether it’s the starting rotation, excluding David Price, or the bullpen, the Tigers need a big change if it’s going to squeak into the playoffs.
Fortunately for fans of the franchise, the Tigers pitching needs could be fixed from the outside. General Manager Dave Dombrowski has proven time and again that he’s not unwilling to wheel and deal come the trade deadline. Either a quality starter or a quality reliever, or both, could turn what appears to be a flop season into a playoff appearance. Of these teams on this list, Detroit probably has the most need to make a move if they’re going to come out of the All-Star Break with new life.
4. Atlanta Braves
As already mentioned, the National League Race for the wildcard spot is going to be a tight one. Two good teams—teams usually worthy of a divisional spot in the playoffs—will appear. So that’s why a team like Atlanta, who’s 6.5 games back from the Washington Nationals, needs some new personnel. They puttered into the All-Star Break, losing their final five games, and didn’t look like a team that was going to make a big comeback. But they have the parts in place to do just that, they just need a few more.
Atlanta has a young, versatile pitching staff, and a lineup that boasts more than a few seasoned veterans: players like Jonny Gomes and Nick Markakis for example. The veterans will play a crucial role if Atlanta’s to get back to its winning ways and make a second-half push. They aren’t playing well as a team right now, and until they do so, they’ll continue to look from the outside in at the success of the Nationals.