As Major League Baseball's second half gets underway Friday, the Dodgers and Angels are in first place.
A front-line starter would help the Dodgers secure their lead in the National League West and provide their best chance at a deep playoff run. The Angels' recent hot streak propelled them past the Houston Astros and into the lead in the American League West, but the club still needs help on offense, and has a spot open for a starting outfielder.
But in the two weeks before the trade deadline, and the more than two months remaining in the regular season, the playoff scenarios can change significantly. Here's a look at some of the developing story lines:
Call to arms
It has been three months since the Dodgers lost Brandon McCarthy for the season, two months since they lost Hyun-Jin Ryu for the season. The Dodgers have used 12 starters, as many as they did all of last season.
With the fill-ins fading — since June 1, Mike Bolsinger has an earned-run average of 4.54 and Carlos Frias has an ERA of 4.50, with a combined two victories in 14 starts — this is the time for Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers president of baseball operations, to deliver an arm to complement Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke atop the rotation.
Jerry Dipoto treaded cautiously as the Angels slogged through the first half, not wanting to break up the minor league system he had slowly rebuilt for one bat that might make little difference this season. But, since Dipoto resigned as general manager two weeks ago, the Angels have made up five games in nine days and surged into first place in the AL West.
That one bat, preferably swung by someone who could play left field, might now make a huge difference. The farm system still is thin — there are no top prospects among position players, but a few decent pitchers — but maybe interim GM Bill Stoneman can trade an arm for a bat.
The Tampa Bay Rays got a back-end starter, a utility infielder and a Class A prospect for star left-hander David Price last summer. The Philadelphia Phillies are aiming for much more in exchange for Cole Hamels.
Price was traded one year and two months shy of free agency, at a cost of $24 million. Hamels could be bound to his new club through 2019, but at a cost of up to $95 million. That means the Phillies have to pay down the deal to get top prospects in return.
Hamels would love to join the Dodgers, but no one is sure whether the Phillies can or will pull the trigger until incoming team president Andy MacPhail takes charge after the season.
No words spook San Diego fans more than "fire sale."
The Padres went all-in last off-season, gutting their minor league system to acquire Matt Kemp, Craig Kimbrel, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Justin Upton, and spending $75 million on free agent James Shields.
Upton, who will become a free agent this fall, is all but gone this month — and he would be a perfect fit in Anaheim. The Padres could admit the makeover failed and trade Kimbrel and Shields to restock the farm system, but that would scream "fire sale" and trigger a fan exodus no matter how rationally the team could explain it.
They're damned if they sell, damned if they don't.
The Kansas City Royals captured America's hearts last fall with their charming run from the wild-card playoff game to Game 7 of the World Series. What teams could succeed the Royals as darlings of the postseason?
Over the last four years, the Astros averaged 104 losses and the Minnesota Twins 96, but those would be the teams in the AL wild-card game if the postseason opened today.