We're at the point in the regular season in which the cream of the MLB crop is truly setting itself apart. Pretenders are falling by the wayside, while teams with sufficient depth and resilience just keep on winning.
Unfortunately, even a formidable team has its own personal kryptonite. Challenges are inventible over such a long campaign-- here are the biggest weaknesses for baseball's five most compelling title contenders.
5. Houston Astros - Injuries
Injuries haven't brought the defending champs down yet, but they will. The Astros are as injury-prone as they come at the moment, and it's slowly but surely starting to catch up with them. George Springer, Jose Altuve, Lance McCullers Jr., Brian McCann, and Chris Devenski are all on the disabled list right now, and the teams behind the Astros out in the AL West are only getting better. The Stros have never looked more vulnerable.
4. Boston Red Sox - Bullpen
Don't let Boston's insane 85-35 record fool you; their bullpen is not everything it's cracked up to be. Veteran Craig Kimbrel can't quite pull off the sheer dominance we had gotten used to seeing in the past, and Drew Pomeranz's demotion to the pen won't exactly inspire confidence in the later innings.
This Red Sox relief corps is on pace to put the team's championship hopes squarely in jeopardy. Given this historic regular season, that's an absolute shame.
3. Chicago Cubs - Starting Rotation
You can't rely on just one sure thing in your starting rotation to constantly clean up messes and lock down opponents, but that's where the Cubs at the moment. Cole Hamels threw fire Sunday night, but the rest of their rotation just looks burnt out (to say nothing of Yu Darvish's extended injury woes), The North Siders need to get more out of their starters down the stretch to keep the Brewers and red-hot Cardinals at bay.
2. Milwaukee Brewers - Relievers
The Brewers are just barely holding onto contender status, and they have some recent bullpen performances to thank for that. Following a dominant first half, the team is suddenly struggling in relief, most recently in Sunday's 8-7 letdown against Atlanta. They're far, far better than this. The Brew Crew needs to shake out of this current bullpen funk if they want to outrun the Cubs in the Central-- or keep hold of a Wild Card spot.
1. New York Yankees - Hitting When it Counts
The Yankees are beset by vulnerabilities right now, from starting rotation to relievers to injured players galore, but the one weakness that sticks out the most? The Yanks can't seem to hit the ball when it counts. When the bases are loaded with two outs, the Bronx Bombers basically refuse to live up to their name. They strike out. They pop out. They blow it.
If they want to have any chance of making it to the World Series for the first time since 2009, then they'll have to start hitting the ball when results are in the balance. There's just no way around it.