Four MLB Teams Primed for a Second-Half Surge

As the calendar turns to July, the intensity of the 2024 Major League Baseball season is about to ramp up as all 30 teams are officially past the halfway point of their 162-game campaigns. 

Still to Come This Season

Aside from a brief break next week for the annual Home Run Derby Contest and All-Star-Game, it will be pedal to the medal for every team until the regular season concludes at the end of September. While some teams like the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, and Los Angeles Dodgers appear to be soaring toward the postseason, the four teams listed below need second-half surges to get and stay in playoff contention down the stretch.

1)Houston Astros

Jul 3, 2024; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Houston Astros left fielder Jordan Alvarez (44) celebrates a sixth inning home run against the Toronto Blue Jays with designated hitter Yalner Diaz (21) at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Gerry Angus-USA TODAY Sports

So far, the Houston Astros have had a substandard season compared to their recent run of sustained success. The American League (AL) West champions six out of the past seven seasons enter their game on July 3rd with a 43-42 record that puts them in second place, three games behind the first-place Seattle Mariners (47-40) and four ahead of the reigning World Series champion Texas Rangers (39-46). Given the talented roster in place, many thought that the Astros’ success under now-retired Dusty Baker would carry over to his replacement, rookie manager Joe Espada. However, Espada’s team experienced a rough first couple of months of the season due to injuries and bad pitching.

Since then, Houston has gradually turned it around, going 8-2 in their past ten games to finally claim more wins than losses, a feat made even more impressive considering that the club is currently without injured ace starting pitcher Justin Verlander and superstar right fielder Kyle Tucker, both of whom should return soon. As in past years, sparkplug second baseman Jose Altuve and slugger Yordan Alvarez are leading the way on offense, while the team’s dependable co-ace Framber Valdez is getting much-needed support from breakout starting pitcher Ronel Blanco

The Astros must rely on their offensive firepower this second half to catch a strong Mariners team with one of the best pitching staffs in the league, but an offense that leads the Major Leagues in strikeouts. With the trade deadline nearing, expect these two division rivals to be actively attempting to address their needs. In contrast to the Mariners who have multiple highly-touted prospects they can dangle in trades to improve their offense, the Astros’ farm system is pretty barren as a result of years of sustained contention and last July’s trade to re-acquire Verlander from the New York Mets in exchange for two top prospects. Yet, with the club’s contention window still open, the Astros likely will attempt to acquire at least one pitcher and potentially a first baseman to plug a hole in their current lineup. After all, they may not only have to worry about Seattle, as the similarly slow-starting Rangers should not be counted out.

2) San Diego Padres

Jun 23, 2024; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres first baseman Luis Arraez (4) celebrates after hitting an RBI single against the Milwaukee Brewers during the fifth inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of aggressive teams in contention windows, the 46-43 San Diego Padres fit that description. Their general manager AJ Prellar loves to make blockbuster trades, a risk-taking strategy that has put the club in prime contention for a National League (NL) wildcard spot. As the Dodgers already have an eight-game lead in the NL West division, that likely leaves the Padres, reigning league champion Arizona Diamondbacks (41-44), and San Francisco Giants (42-44) vying for second-place and at least one postseason berth.

Of these three teams, the Padres are doing the best and have the requisite high-end talent to put themselves in contention for the playoffs. The team hopes injured pitchers Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove can return this season to join Dylan Cease atop their rotation. On the other side of the equation, a lineup featuring the likes of early-season trade acquisition Luis Arráez, along with Fernando Tatis Jr, Manny Machado, and rookie sensation Jackson Merrill has the potential to score boatloads of runs over the coming weeks. 

3) Minnesota Twins

Jun 28, 2024; Seattle, Washington, USA; Minnesota Twins shortstop Carlos Correa (4) hits a two-run home run during the sixth inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

The AL Central has been way more competitive this season than the past few years with the first-place Cleveland Guardians (53-30), Minnesota Twins (48-37), and Kansas City Royals (47-40) all holding winning records. The Guardians have been one of baseball’s surprises as first-year manager Stephen Vogt has coaxed great performances from everyone on the team’s young, lightly-paid roster.

In Kansas City, the Royals have put forth a positive first-half performance. Nevertheless, questions linger regarding whether the team is ready to compete down the stretch in the wake of multiple, miserable losing seasons. That leaves the Twins as the best bet to be Cleveland’s biggest competition for the Central crown. Their lineup led by the elite trio of Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton, and injured-again Royce Lewis can score with the best of them, and ace pitcher Pablo López appears to have regained his form following a rough few starts. Both of these Central powerhouses could use roster upgrades at the trade deadline, so it will be interesting to see which franchise makes the first move and how it impacts the division battle moving forward.

4) St. Louis Cardinals 

Jul 2, 2024; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Masyn Winn (0) greets right fielder Alec Burleson (41) crossing home plate on a two-run home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the third inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If the season ended today, the St. Louis Cardinals would make the playoffs as one of the NL’s three wildcard teams, all the more reason for them to focus on strengthening their roster for a playoff run instead of weakening it by trading players like veteran first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The Cardinals are only six games back of the first-place Milwaukee Brewers, not too big a number to overcome for one of the most historically successful franchises in MLB history. With Goldschmidt and third baseman Nolan Arenado not helping out as much this season, lesser-known players like outfielders Alec Burleson and Brendan Donovan have picked up the slack on offense along with fast-rising young shortstop Masyn Winn. The team could move for another starter and reliever at the deadline to support its top three starters–Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson, and elite closer Ryan Helsley.

These next couple weeks leading up to the end of the month’s trade deadline loom large for all 30 teams, especially for these four who have what it takes to start or continue their surge up the standings. Now is the time when the action on the diamond ramps up as the contenders and pretenders become increasingly apparent heading into the dog days of Summer. 

Main Image: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

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