Can anyone stop Red Sox-Phils World Series? - NBC Sports

Can anyone stop Red Sox-Phils World Series?
Other contenders, including Yankees, will need help before trade deadline
The New York Yankees are the best-positioned team to break up a Red Sox-Phillies World Series, but they might not be able to do it with young pitcher Ivan Nova playing a prominent role in the rotation.
June 23, 2011, 7:06 pm

So it's time to ponder the question: Is there a team out there capable of derailing a World Series showdown of prohibitive pennant favorites?

Other than the Yankees - who certainly have easy-to-identify flaws - it's tough to build a strong case for anyone else as presently constituted.

So that makes the pre-July 31 deadline trading period that's just beginning to percolate all the more important. Here's how the market breaks down at this point:

American League playoff contenders/potential buyers: Boston, New York, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Texas, Seattle, Los Angeles

Sellers: Baltimore, Kansas City

Soon-to-be sellers: Toronto, Oakland

Team of intrigue: Minnesota

National League playoff contenders/buyers: Philadelphia, Atlanta, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Arizona, San Francisco, Colorado

Sellers: Chicago, Houston, San Diego

Soon-to-be sellers: Los Angeles, Florida

Teams of intrigue: New York, Pittsburgh, Washington

The Yankees continue to hit enough to cover up their weaknesses, and that has them right with the Red Sox in the AL East, and/or clear wild card leaders. When you're second in the majors in runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, that can mask a lot of deficiencies.

But they have to be questioning how long their bullpen can hold up without Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano, and how deep they can go in the postseason with A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia behind CC Sabathia. Phil Hughes may be able to help eventually, but that's far from certain at this point.

Image: Albert Pujols

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Heath Bell and Mike Adams in San Diego, Grant Balfour and Craig Breslow in Oakland and Kerry Wood in Chicago likely lead the market of available relievers.

The Yankees also have been very hesitant to subtract from their areas of prospect surplus - catching and starting pitching - but will have to back off that stance, whether they decide to add a starter, reliever or outfielder/DH type.

No team bears watching more in the days leading up to July 31 than the crosstown Mets. It's a slippery slope they're on these days, with the ownership in upheaval, an on-edge fan base, and Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez and possibly others on the block.

Only the Cubs - with Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena, Kosuke Fukudome and Wood - compare when it comes to contract-moving potential in this market.

With Reyes, the two-sided quandary for the Mets is can they literally afford to keep him, and can they afford not to keep him, given likely fan backlash if he's dealt.

Trading Reyes would mean losing the perfect offensive player for spacious Citi Field - not to mention the league leader in average and triples, and runner-up in stolen bases.

But truth is, there may never be a better time from the Mets' perspective to grab up to three top prospects for him, especially in a market where at least four contenders - the Giants, Reds, Brewers and Cardinals - need him.

Reyes is in a window of heightened, focused performance, hitting 40 or so points above his career batting average - and don't forget that he played only 169 games in the previous two seasons combined.

Beltran is simply a matter of finding the right combination of prospect and contract money to be swallowed, but he's most likely on the way out - probably to one of the AL contenders.

Rodriguez's case is trickier due to the $17.5 million option for 2012 that vests if he finishes 55 games this season.

The curious interleague scene unfolding at AT&T Park this week has the Giants trying to beat a team they could end up being a trade-match with in the next six weeks. The Giants - of course - need a bat. Pablo Sandoval is back, but there's still a need for a shortstop, an outfielder and at least a platoon catcher.

After bottoming out at 17-37 on June 1, the Twins have seen a handful of their regulars trickle back onto the roster, and have made a charge. But they still sit eight games under .500 through Wednesday, with the AL's worst run differential, and three teams to pass in their division.

Other than maybe Derrick Hall, Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson, who thought the D-backs would be in position to be buyers at this point? Shows you what a rebuilt bullpen, the emergence of a couple of young starting pitchers, and a culture change can do for a team.

But to stay in the playoff chase, the D-backs need to deepen their setup crew in front of David Hernandez and J.J. Putz, and increased production from left field or either corner-infield spot.

The Atlanta Braves are the closest team to the Phillies not just in the NL East, but the entire league. Martin Prado remains out, but Chipper Jones, Nate McLouth and Jason Heyward have returned from injuries. Still, scrounging enough runs to support one of the league's elite pitching staffs is a nightly issue.

Two ways the Braves can go for an outfielder: Deal one of a handful of young starters either in the big leagues now (Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor) or on the verge (Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado). Or open up another spot for one of the kids by dealing Derek Lowe.

The Phillies' primary need is a right-handed bat, which likely puts Cuddyer, Ryan Ludwick, Wilson Betemit and Josh Willingham (recently disabled) on their radar. They also could add a reliever with Jose Contreras going back on the disabled list, and who knows about Brad Lidge?

The Red Sox definitely will add depth to their bullpen, and that should put them in competition with the Rangers, whose closer - Neftali Feliz - is faltering along with some of the setup crew.

That said, the Rangers have a chance to put some space between themselves and two sub-.500 fringe contenders in the Mariners and Angels, as they won't leave the state of Texas until after the All-Star break (only road series in Houston), and won't play a team with a winning record in that span, either.


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