The Braves were just swept at home in a two-game set by the Royals, a team that’s spent most of the season probing the depths of the AL Central, and they’ve lost six of their past eight games overall. Their NL East lead, which was 7.5 just a week ago, is down to four games.
So, yes, Braves fans might be a little worried right about now, especially with the state of the bullpen. But that kind of worry/urgency isn’t what we’re going to talk about today. Today, we’re going to look at five franchises/fan bases that are feeling a different sense of urgency.
Remember when the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series since Babe Ruth wore their uniform? Or when the Cubs’ World Series drought hit triple digits? Or when the Royals hadn’t even made the playoffs in nearly 30 years?
That’s the kind of urgency we’re talking about today, though admittedly no team on this list is facing anything quite as extreme as those three examples.
Urgency source: It’s all about getting a ring. They’ve won at least 91 games six years in a row and reached the World Series in each of the past two seasons. But they’ve fallen short of the title each time, and they haven’t won it all since 1988. The truth is, anything short of a championship will be disappointing for the franchise and its fan base.
How’s it looking? Looks great, honestly. They’re on pace to in 105 games and have had the best record in baseball most of the year. They have at least three starters – Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler – capable of winning World Series games pretty much by themselves. They have six guys in their lineup with at least a dozen home runs. And, oh yeah, they have Cody Bellinger turning in an MVP season. They have all the pieces. But, yeah, October can be cruel to even the best teams.
What they need: They could win the title with this roster, but in a perfect world they’d find an established closer to bring in and team with Kenley Jansen in the late innings.
Urgency source: This is a franchise that, during an incredible 16-year stretch, reached the postseason 12 times, reached the NLCS nine times, reached the World Series four times – and won it all twice – but has missed October three years in a row.
How’s it looking? Better now than a couple of weeks ago, when they lost their first game out of the All-Star break and were a game under .500, staring up at several teams in front of them in wild card and division races. But they’re 10-2 since that July 12 loss and have put themselves in much better playoff position – they own the second wild card spot and sit just a game behind the Cubs in the NL Central. It’s interesting that they’ve done all this with Marcel Ozuna, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina and Jordan Hicks on the IL. The starters have been better, and Paul Goldschmidt finally producing at the plate – 1.010 OPS, five homers and 15 RBIs in his past 11 games – has been a welcome change.
What they need: They could use a playoff-caliber lefty in the rotation, and a bullpen addition or two – with closing experience would be nice – couldn’t hurt.
Urgency source: Remember, this isn’t about urgency as in concern for a current year’s team. This is about urgency to get to/win in October. And the reality is, the Yankees have won just one full playoff series and two wild card games in the past six seasons. Ask any Yankees fan and they’ll tell you that’s not good enough – especially when the Red Sox have two World Series titles in that span.
How’s it looking? Looks amazing, honestly. The Yankees have the best winning percentage in baseball, which is kind of incredible when you consider how many injury issues they’ve had to deal with. They’ve gotten production from everywhere, at the biggest moments, to the point that this even kind of feels like a team of destiny, if that’s a thing.
What they need: Maybe an ace-type pitcher to make a handful of playoff starts?
Urgency source: When they signed Bryce Harper to that $330 million contract this spring, the Phillies didn’t talk about wild card berths or even division titles. They talked about World Series titles, plural. And when you add in the still-bitter taste of 2018’s second-half collapse, the Phillies and their fans are pretty thirsty right about now.
How’s it looking? Not great, Bob. The Phillies are 5.5 back of the Braves in the NL East (behind the Nationals, too) and a half-game out of the second wild card spot. They are 4-1 on their current road trip, which is a boost after opening the second half of the season going 3-4 at home against the Nationals and Dodgers. If they want to make up ground in the division, they have a chance starting Friday, with the Braves visiting Philly for a three-game set.
What they need: They’ve been connected, at least loosely, with most of the starting pitchers available on the trade market. And everyone can use more bullpen help.
Desperation source: The franchise’s time in D.C. has been marked by either spectacular collapses or heartbreaking disappointment. They’ve made the postseason four times in the past seven years – each time, winning 95 or more games and the NL East title – but they’ve yet to win a single playoff series. Three of the four times, they’ve lost a winner-take-all fifth game in the NLDS.
How’s it looking? Pretty good, actually, which is surprising considering that the first few months of the season, most of the talk was about when manager Davey Martinez would be fired. Since bottoming out at 19-31 – they were tied with the Marlins for the most losses in the NL – the Nats are 36-15, which is the best record in the majors in that stretch. They’re four games back of the Braves in the NL East and they own the first wild card spot. And you look at this team, with three No. 1-type pitchers – Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin – atop a rotation, and a healthy lineup that includes Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, Trea Turner and others, and an established closer in Sean Doolittle, and this is a team that has the pieces to be dangerous in October.
What they need: Bullpen help. Always, always bullpen help. And not just in an “every contender would like to add an arm” way, but in an “aside from Doolittle, the bullpen is a big problem” sort of way.
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