Sometimes, the season just doesn't go your way.
All 30 teams enter Spring Training thinking that they have a shot at experiencing playoff baseball, but that reality is realized by only 12 of the 30. It's an extended winter for everyone else. Some have known for weeks that their 2022 playing days will end when the curtain drops on the regular season. But those teams can still make an impact on the postseason picture and would love nothing more than to send those October hopefuls home on the same date.
Here are five clubs that could cause some heartache for contending teams as they play the part of "spoiler" over the final month of the season.
All stats are updated through Monday's games.
Washington Nationals (48-88)
Let's begin with the team with the worst record in baseball, because the Nationals have played nothing like that mark recently. Coming off of a series victory over the Mets at Citi Field and Monday's triumph against the Cardinals, the Nats had won seven of their past 12 games against playoff contenders until losing to St. Louis Tuesday night. That win in St. Louis featured five shutout frames from 38-year-old Aníbal Sánchez, a midseason pickup who has logged an 0.84 ERA and 30.9 hard-hit rate across his past four starts.
But Washington's uprising is largely due to contributions from myriad hitters. Shortstop CJ Abrams, one of the key pieces in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade, had four hits Monday. Catcher Keibert Ruiz and outfielder Lane Thomas, acquired via trades last summer, each have an OPS better than .850 over the past few weeks.
And then there's Joey Meneses. The 30-year-old first baseman made his MLB debut on Aug. 2 and has done nothing but rake since, putting together a .339/.371/.568 slash line with seven home runs in 29 games. Meneses' .408 wOBA ranks seventh in the Majors among batters with at least 90 balls in play this season. Here are the six names in front of him: Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Yordan Alvarez, Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Judge and Matt Carpenter.
After Tuesday night, 20 of Washington's 26 remaining games will come against playoff contenders; no National League squad has more such matchups. After they wrap their four-game set in St. Louis, the Nationals will look forward to home-and-home series against the Braves and Phillies over the next couple of weeks. Their regular season will end with three games back at Citi Field that may decide the NL East.
Texas Rangers (59-76)
The Rangers broke a nine-game losing streak, which was tied for their third-longest skid in more than 25 years. Poor pitching has been the main culprit as opposing hitters have posted a .318 average against Texas' arms, leading to a 6.37 ERA. The bats have to come through for the Rangers to win, but they have plenty of potent lumber to cause problems for teams in the thick of a playoff race.
Corey Seager has already set a career high with 29 homers, and with his next dinger he'll join Alex Rodriguez as the only primary shortstops in franchise history with a 30-home run campaign. Adolis García had a 23-game hitting streak that spanned most of August. Nathaniel Lowe has been an elite offensive player since the All-Star break; his 206 wRC+ over his previous 32 games trails only Judge among qualified hitters. And Marcus Semien's prolonged slump to begin this season is now a relic. Consider this:
Semien's first 42 games: 181/.236/.241, 0 HR, 10 RBI, 14 runs scored, 36 wRC+
Semien's next 91 games: .270/.331/.495, 21 HR, 57 RBI, 67 runs scored, 134 wRC+
Left-handed starter Martín Pérez has been one obvious bright spot on the mound all year long, and he was stellar in a tough-luck loss Monday in Houston. The good news for him and the Rangers is that after Wednesday, they won't see the Astros again this season. Texas is 4-13 against its in-state rival, and Pérez has a 2.57 ERA in 22 starts versus all other teams this year.
The Rangers will have their hands in each of the American League's three current playoff races. They will host the Central-leading Guardians for three games. They will face two Wild Card hopefuls, the Blue Jays and Mariners, for the same number of games. Texas could also play a big role in deciding the AL East as it will visit the Rays later this month before concluding the regular season with a four-game home series against the Yankees.
Los Angeles Angels (60-76)
The Angels have proven they can compete with the big boys as they recently went 6-3 while facing the Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros. They will embark on a similar 10-game stretch later this month, with visits to Houston and Cleveland followed by a four-game series in Anaheim against the Mariners. They will also give the Twins their best shot for three games before the start of October.
Obviously, every Angels scouting report begins with two names: Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. Despite missing more than a month due to a back injury, Trout returned in August and didn't miss a beat. He has recorded a .302/.353/.619 slash line with six home runs in 16 games since his activation.
The Angels' bugaboo for years has been a lack of quality pitching, but Los Angeles has more in the cupboard beyond Ohtani this season. Since late July, left-handers José Suarez (seven starts) and Patrick Sandoval (six starts) have each registered a sub-2.00 ERA and a sub-.600 opponents' OPS. Rookie southpaw Reid Detmers, who authored a no-hitter in April, has served up only two homers and struck out 61 batters in 50 innings since being recalled from the Minors in July.
Lastly, the Angels' starters have been backed up by a relief corps that has allowed just five earned runs over its previous 34 innings, giving L.A. the second best bullpen ERA since Aug. 26.
Arizona D-backs (65-70)
The D-backs have won nine of their past 12 games -- all against contending teams. They outscored the White Sox, Phillies, Brewers and Padres 65-53 during that stretch. The rest of their schedule features five more versus the Padres, eight games against the Dodgers, two in Houston, and three in Milwaukee to cap the year.
If any of those teams has to face Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly in the same series, wish them good luck. The top of Arizona's rotation has been dominating the opposition throughout the season's second half. Gallen is currently riding a 41 1/3 scoreless inning streak, the second longest in franchise history. With seven shutout frames versus Milwaukee on Sunday, Gallen became the fourth AL/NL pitcher in the Modern Era (since 1900) to throw six or more scoreless innings in six straight starts.
Gallen, the NL Pitcher of the Month for August, has been pristine, but Kelly has been brilliant in his own right since July 1. Through 12 starts from that date, Kelly owns a 2.01 ERA and has limited hitters to a .193 average with a 34.1 percent hard-hit rate. He's gone at least seven innings in five of his past six turns, and only three hurlers have more outings of seven-plus innings this year: Sandy Alcantara, Aaron Nola and Yu Darvish.
Those aces have been supported by a handful of productive bats, including veteran Christian Walker, who has bashed a career-best 31 homers and ranks ninth in the Majors with a 1.006 OPS since Aug. 1.
But the top story for Arizona's offense over the past month has been the emergence of several rookies who look comfortable at the highest level. Outfielder Jake McCarthy has put together a .349/.415/.578 slash line over his past 95 plate appearances and is tied for the second best FanGraphs WAR of any NL rookie position player this season. Fellow outfielder Alek Thomas boasts a .342 average over his previous 13 games. Stone Garrett has seven extra-base hits through his first 10 MLB contests. And Corbin Carroll, the No. 3 prospect in baseball, has tallied five runs and six RBIs through six games. He's also one of the fastest players in the sport.
The future looks bright in the desert, and postseason contenders are getting a good look at it right now.
Boston Red Sox (67-70)
Although Boston's lineup has been inconsistent this season, Xander Bogaerts has been a rock all year long. And right now, he is the hottest hitter in the Majors. The American League batting leader had a streak of nine consecutive multihit efforts that ended Tuesday, tying a Red Sox franchise record. The 29-year-old also paces all shortstops in OPS (.853), wRC+ (140) and FanGraphs WAR (5.7).
Now he's being joined by a host of teammates as the Red Sox's offense has been clicking over the past few weeks, recording a .307 average and 5.2 runs per game since Aug. 17. Rafael Devers, rebounding from a quiet August, has gone 7-for-17 with four doubles and seven RBIs in his past five games. Trevor Story has 14 hits and a .688 slugging percentage in eight games following his injured list stint. Alex Verdugo, J.D. Martinez and Tommy Pham, one of the better additions at this year's Trade Deadline, have also done considerable damage of late.
This is not a lineup any contender should want to face right now.
Other than a couple of spare meetings against the Reds and Royals, Boston's starting nine will take their hacks against nothing but teams with October dreams the rest of the way. Their final 14 games will include one series each versus the four AL East squads that are vying for either a division crown or a Wild Card spot. The Blue Jays are the only member of that quartet that Boston won't have multiple series against over the regular season's closing month.