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5 teams that could play spoiler down stretch

August 20, 2018

Even teams that have fallen out of the postseason race have plenty to play for down the stretch.Professional pride is at stake. So are jobs, both for young players looking to prove themselves and veterans facing free agency. And then there is the opportunity to play spoiler.Nothing beats getting to

Even teams that have fallen out of the postseason race have plenty to play for down the stretch.
Professional pride is at stake. So are jobs, both for young players looking to prove themselves and veterans facing free agency. And then there is the opportunity to play spoiler.
Nothing beats getting to the playoffs yourself, but making life difficult for contending clubs can be satisfying in its own right. And if that contender is a division rival, all the better.
Here is a look at five teams in position to fill that spoiler role and make their presence felt over the final six weeks of the regular season.
Cincinnati Reds (55-70)
Over the past two weekends, the Reds took two out of three from the D-backs and then swept three from the Giants -- a blow that might have buried San Francisco in the poseason chase. And despite a sweep at the hands of the Indians in between, Cincinnati actually is 52-55 since Jim Riggleman took the helm from Bryan Price, including 47-43 since May 8. While the Reds are less formidable with Joey Votto on the disabled list, Scooter Gennett and Eugenio Suarez still anchor the lineup, Billy Hamilton is a game-changer in center field and on the basepaths, and right-hander Luis Castillo has a 2.83 ERA over his past six starts (all against contenders).
Opportunities will be bountiful. Monday's game in Milwaukee began a stretch in which the Reds play 13 straight against the Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals. Overall, beginning Tuesday, Cincinnati has 18 games remaining against those National League Central foes -- plus six against the Pirates -- as well as a three-game set with the Dodgers at Great American Ball Park.
Los Angeles Angels (63-63)
It's been another frustrating season in Anaheim, one that began with significant hype and hope but faltered after a promising 23-14 start. Beset by yet another wave of injuries, the Halos find themselves far behind not only the Astros, but also the Athletics and Mariners in the American League West.
But thanks to the schedule, those three division opponents are still going to have to go through the Angels as they try to make it to October. Of Los Angeles' final 36 games, more than half (20) are against that trio. That includes a whopping 10 matchups with Houston, the first of which comes Friday at Angel Stadium. The Halos also can have a hand in the NL race, thanks to two-game sets against the D-backs and Rockies over the next week.
If AL MVP Award candidate Michael Trout returns soon to a lineup that also features Shohei Ohtani, Justin Upton, Jose Pujols and the resurgent Kole Calhoun, it could give those contending pitching staffs loads of trouble.
Minnesota Twins (59-65)
An AL Wild Card club last year, the Twins got off to a rough start in 2018 and couldn't recover in the top-heavy AL, where they now sit 13 games behind the first-place Indians in the AL Central. Despite some trades, there is still talent in both the lineup (Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano) and rotation (Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson), and the club is 24-17 since July 5.
Minnesota is especially dangerous at Target Field (38-26), where the surging Athletics will open a four-game series on Thursday as they battle for the AL West title. In all, the Twins play seven more games against the A's, as well as three apiece against the Astros, Indians and Yankees. But in order to make a major mark the rest of the way, they will need to improve upon their 27-40 record against clubs with .500 or better records.
New York Mets (54-70)
Just about everything other than Jacob deGrom's run at an NL Cy Young Award has gone wrong for the Mets since they raised hopes with an 11-1 start. But as last week showed, they still can present problems for contenders. The Mets took down the Yankees in a makeup game last Monday in the Bronx, then ended the week by winning three of five from the Phillies (while posting a 43-20 run differential).
With the NL East up for grabs between the Phillies and Braves, the Mets still have six more games against the former and three against the latter. New York also is scheduled for series with the Cubs, Dodgers and Red Sox, plus two more with the Nationals, who could wind up playing the spoiler role themselves, as their postseason hopes hang by a thread.
Any of those teams might face Noah Syndergaard and deGrom in back-to-back games, which could be an easy recipe for a series loss. And with Zack Wheeler also on a roll, the Mets have the starting pitching to shut down good lineups.
San Diego Padres (49-78)
Stuck in last place with the worst record in the NL, San Diego isn't a club that's likely to scare anyone on paper. But the Padres also have some young talent already on the roster, plus a rich farm system that could send reinforcements in September. In other words, it's the type of team, with nothing to lose, that should play loose and make some contenders sweat in the final weeks.
San Diego will go head-to-head with Seattle in a pair of two-game sets, but those competing contenders primarily will come from the NL West. The D-backs, Rockies and Dodgers, all within 2 1/2 games of each other and all in the postseason mix, play the Padres a combined 18 times the rest of the way. That begins with the Friars' road trip through Colorado and Los Angeles that begins Tuesday night.
With Cory Spangenberg, Hunter Renfroe and Christian Villanueva all swinging hot bats this month, the Padres already have split 14 games with the Brewers, Cubs, D-backs and Phillies. More chances to make pests of themselves await.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.