MLB Contenders or Pretenders: Separating the Legitimate Threats from the Rest of the Pack (Part II)

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LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 04: An Arizona Diamondbacks 4th of July cap during an MLB game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 4, 2017, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

July is already upon us; we have passed the midway point of the 2017 MLB season. As is usually the case right about now, the crowded chase for each league’s two respective Wild Card spots has begun to heat up. But which teams currently in the hunt are there for the long haul, and which are likely to taper off as the second half unfolds?

This article examines a handful of surprise teams in order to evaluate the odds of them sustaining their first-half success. Therefore, teams that were expected to be in the playoff mix at the outset of the season will not be included. Rather, the teams that have seen sizable improvements in the first half of the season from their 2016 campaigns are analyzed. For Part I, click here.

MLB Contenders or Pretenders: Separating the Legitimate Threats from the Rest of the Pack (Part II)

Pretender: Atlanta Braves

40-42, 2nd NL East, 4th NL Wild Card (7.0 GB)

Readers of Part I might be catching wind of the trend here. At 40-42, the Braves are in the same category as the Brewers and Twins in that they have exceeded expectations to this point. Yet, the fact remains that, for these organizations, their hopes for contention still lie in the hands of a number of their top prospects currently working away in the Minor Leagues. Patience, therefore, is still the number one priority for the Braves; they should avoid deviating from their master plan and rushing prospects up to the big leagues for the sake of a Wild Card push this season.

To its credit, Brian Snitker’s club has played some inspired baseball without Freddie Freeman, despite no one giving them a chance after Freeman fractured his wrist. Ultimately, however, there are a too many other red flags that overshadow Freeman’s looming return to the lineup in the second half.

From time to time, surprise teams find ways to prolong their success for 162 games and squeak into the postseason. The Braves have a nice collection of young rotation assets. with Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, and Sean Newcomb already at the big league level, but they don’t have enough to beat out other NL Wild Card hopefuls down the stretch.

Contender: Seattle Mariners

41-44, 2nd AL West, 6th AL Wild Card (3.0 GB)

According to ManGamesLost.com, the Mariners lead the Major Leagues with the highest total WAR lost from their injured players this season. Needless to say, the injury bug has played a major role in dampening much of the Opening Day hype surrounding the ballclub.

While the M’s have been riddled by injuries across the diamond over the first three months, the starting rotation has been the area most impacted. At one point in May, four of their five starters (Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Drew Smyly, and Hisashi Iwakuma) sat on the disabled list, leaving manager Scott Servais with a rotation consisting almost entirely of Triple-A arms. Meanwhile, in the field, early-season breakout Mitch Haniger and AL batting title contender Jean Segura have missed 46 and 33 days, respectively, on DL stints.

Yet, the Mariners sit just three games under .500 and are only three out of the second Wild Card. The M’s have managed to stay afloat in the AL Wild Card picture throughout all of the injuries, and with Hernandez, Paxton, Haniger, and Segura all finally healthy, things are trending upwards in Seattle. The Mariners have a great chance entering the second half to answer the preseason hype and grab hold of their first postseason berth since 2001.

Pretender: Colorado Rockies

49-37, 3rd NL West, 2nd NL Wild Card (+4.0 GB)

Everyone knows how potent the Rockies lineup is, and the combination of those bats with the hitter’s paradise that is Coors Field has resulted in a lot of crooked numbers on the board in 2017. Recently, however, the Rockies have shown signs of the same issues that have plagued them in years past. Instability in both the starting rotation and the bullpen has haunted Colorado at inopportune times.

The Rockies have always been able to hit, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. The question is whether their pitching will hold up as the games become bigger and the situations become increasingly high-leverage.

Over the past couple seasons, the Rockies haven’t been able to field a staff that’s engendered a whole lot of confidence in its ability to get the job done. After making minimal improvements over the offseason, there isn’t much evidence of a different story unfolding the rest of the way. The Rockies have built a nice cushion and have some time to figure things out, but if the recent slide continues much longer, it’ll be time to start ringing the alarm bells in the Mile High City.

Contender: Arizona Diamondbacks

52-32, 2nd NL West, 1st NL Wild Card (+10.0 GB)

The Diamondbacks are in a similar boat as the Rockies in terms of the composition of their roster (and ballpark), but a couple of key differences give them a much better chance of sustaining their first half success. First and foremost, the Dbacks feature a very strong top three in their starting rotation; Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, and Taijuan Walker all possess sub-3.50 ERAs. That trio should continue to go deep into games and give the Dbacks plenty of quality outings, which pairs nicely with the excellent job first-year manager Torey Lovullo has done managing the back end of his bullpen.

Second, Paul Goldschmidt finally has some help. You can put together a very strong argument that “Goldy” has been the most complete hitter in the National League over the past several seasons, but the Dbacks have finally been able to insulate him with a number of other dangerous bats. The result has been evident in the form of 428 runs scored at the midway point of the season, good for fifth in the Majors. This Dbacks team is for real, and should be hosting the NL Wild Card game in the desert come October, if they can’t overtake the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL West division crown.

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