The next few days could go a long way in shaping Major League Baseball’s playoff races.
MLB’s non-waiver trade deadline is next Monday at 4 p.m. ET, which means teams across the league have precious hours left to make any last deals before the stretch run.
The National League currently features three clear division leaders in the Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants. But a few teams are nipping at their heels, including the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West and the surprising Miami Marlins in the NL East.
In short, the NL crown is fully up for grabs, and eight teams have a legitimate shot at making some noise in the playoffs. Let’s break down what each contender needs to address ahead of the deadline to improve its postseason chances.
Washington Nationals: Closer
The stats suggest the Nationals are in a solid place, as they boast the NL’s best team ERA (3.30) and are fourth in runs scored entering Wednesday. But closer Jonathan Papelbon has been a disaster in his last two outings, and Washington needs a more stable option at the back end if it’s serious about contending. New York Yankees reliever Andrew Miller is a prime candidate.
Chicago Cubs: Back-end starter
After shoring up his bullpen with flamethrower Aroldis Chapman, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein should turn his attention to the rotation. Chicago currently has five solid starters, but there are some concerns about Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks holding up down the stretch. Acquiring a third high-end starter alongside Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester could be what the Cubs need to finally end their 98-year title drought.
San Francisco Giants: Outfielder, closer
With uncertainty surrounding Hunter Pence’s return and Denard Span and Angel Pagan both on the wrong side of 30, the Giants should go after an upgrade in the outfield. Jay Bruce, Josh Reddick and Brett Gardner all are potential options. San Francisco also could pursue help in the bullpen, as closer Santiago Casilla already has blown five saves this season.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Starting pitcher, outfielder
Clayton Kershaw’s nagging back injury throws a serious wrench in L.A.’s plans, so expect the Dodgers to aggressively pursue the best starters on the market — we’re looking at you, Chris Sale — in an attempt to keep pace with the Giants in the West. The Dodgers also have been thin in left field with Andre Ethier on the shelf.
Miami Marlins: Starting pitcher
The Marlins have been one of baseball’s most pleasant surprises, but they’ll need more than Jose Fernandez if they want to secure their first playoff berth since 2003. Miami doesn’t quite have the assets to land a player like Sale or Sonny Gray, but a mid-tier starter like Ivan Nova or Jeremy Hellickson could help the cause.
New York Mets: Catcher, starting pitcher
The Mets need a better catcher than Travis D’Arnaud if they want to make another deep postseason run, and someone like Jonathan Lucroy could help fill that need. With Matt Harvey done for the season and Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz both dealing with injuries, New York also would benefit from adding another starter to bolster its rotation depth.
St. Louis Cardinals: Outfielder
It’d be foolish to sleep on the Cardinals, who still are in the NL wild card hunt and are about to get Matt Carpenter back from the disabled list. But St. Louis could use an upgrade in the outfield, particularly in center, where Randal Grichuk is batting a woeful .221 entering Wednesday. Targets like Gardner or Adam Eaton both would be much-needed upgrades.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Starting pitcher
Gerritt Cole and rookie Jameson Taillon have pitched well, but Francisco Liriano has been struggling, and neither Jon Neise nor Jeff Locke inspire much confidence. The Pirates face an uphill climb toward capturing a wild card spot, and that journey should begin with acquiring at least one proven starter.
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