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Do-or-die games already? For these MLB teams, that may be the case

July 19,2016 07:13

Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals, three games: The defending World Series champs have lost eight of their last 11 and sit four games back of the second wild-card spot. Their rotation has been shaky, ranking 12th in the AL with a 4.93 ERA, and ...and more »

The last two weeks before the trade deadline represent the unofficial start of the rumor season, with talk of deals intensifying as clubs get a clearer idea of their realistic chances of contending.There are still plenty of teams on the fence, though, with the second wild card making that determination harder and perhaps emboldening some clubs to make moves that may thrust them back in the in race.Those decisions may come down to the outcome of some series that open this week. Here’s a look at four of them:Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals, three games: The defending World Series champs have lost eight of their last 11 and sit four games back of the second wild-card spot. Their rotation has been shaky, ranking 12th in the AL with a 4.93 ERA, and the hunt-and-peck offense has been spotty. Lorenzo Cain’s return in about a week could provide a boost, but the Royals desperately need for Alex Gordon (.207) to return to norm.The home series against the AL Central-leading Indians should help Kansas City ascertain its status. Sweeping Cleveland would move the Royals to within five games of Cleveland and perhaps prompt them to trade for another starter and/or a hitter to make up for the absence of third baseman Mike Moustakas, who is out for the season after knee surgery.Losing all three may push them in the opposite direction, perhaps shedding some salary from the franchise-high $130 million payroll. In that case, designated hitter Kendrys Morales – who can become a free agent after the season – looks like a logical player to move.The Royals and Indians have nine games left against each other, starting with Monday’s clash at Kauffman Stadium, which may impact Kansas City’s decision-making.Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees, four games: With some of the game’s most coveted relievers in Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, and about a 5% chance to make the playoffs – according to Fangraphs.com projections – the Yankees are widely regarded as sellers at the deadline. They may not wait that long, especially if things don’t go well this week against the AL-leading Orioles, who have beaten them four out of six times.Miller and Chapman rank 2-3 among AL relievers in strikeouts per nine innings – a category led by teammate Dellin Betances, who is likely untouchable – and could provide contenders like the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers the shut-down closer they’re missing.The Yankees, who are languishing in fourth place and have not been above .500 since June 25, have other valuable commodities to offer. Outfielder/DH Carlos Beltran is enjoying a renaissance season at 39 and could help a contender seeking extra punch in the lineup – the Toronto Blue Jays or Chicago White Sox? – and hard-throwing right-hander Nathan Eovaldi has been linked to the Pittsburgh Pirates.Whether packaged together or dealt individually, Miller and Chapman could fetch a number of high-level prospects the Yankees could use for their long-overdue rejuvenation.Chicago White Sox at Seattle Mariners, three games: Both clubs are hovering around the break-even mark, with at least two teams between them and the second wild card, and both have been trending in the wrong direction. But a sweep could jump-start either one into the race.Of the two, the White Sox seem in most need of help, as an offense that ranks in the league’s bottom three in runs, batting average and on-base plus slugging percentage got shut out three times in a row before finally mustering a single run Sunday as the Los Angeles Angels completed a sweep.General manager Rick Hahn said over the weekend the White Sox would remain in buy mode even after adding pitcher James Shields and first baseman Justin Morneau. The latter played his first major league game of the season Friday and doesn’t figure to make a major impact.The Mariners are hoping Felix Hernandez’s return to the mound, scheduled for Wednesday after he missed more than seven weeks with a strained calf, will help propel them back into contention. They’ve gone 16-25 during his absence.Seattle’s rotation, which won’t get Taijuan Walker back for a few more weeks, turned in 22 starts of five innings or less in the 43 games before the All-Star break and could use more than just Hernandez’s return.Milwaukee Brewers at Pittsburgh Pirates, three games: Three consecutive years of playoff appearances have raised the bar in Pittsburgh, and the Pirates are trying to live up to those heightened expectations while blending in pitching prospects like Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault.In addition to the reported trade talks for the Yankees’ Eovaldi, the Pirates have scouted several Tampa Bay Rays pitchers, an indication they still consider themselves viable contenders. This week may confirm that notion – or cause them to reassess.GALLERY: Photo of the dayReplayAutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow Captions

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