All the discussion over the next few weeks will focus on how teams still in contention can improve their lineups through trade, but all some of them need is for the players they already have on the roster to perform. A resurgence by any of these players would do more good for their teams than any realistic trade acquisition -- the question, of course, is whether or not these "missing" players will show up before year's end.
Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox: Crawford's Red Sox career kicked off in the most disappointing way possible, outside of a season-ending injury. The left fielder hit just .155/.204/.227 in April, guaranteeing that his season line would not look good until August or September. He was moved towards the bottom of the potent Red Sox lineup, and Crawford batted .295/.318/.476 from May 1 onward. Sure, that on-base percentage isn't impressive, but American League left fielders are hitting .246/.306/.374 this season, so it's more than good enough.
For the year, though, he is still hitting poorly, partially due to struggles against left-handers (his split-adjusted OPS is just 46 against them, where 100 is league average). Also, a mid-June hamstring injury put things on hold as well.
Crawford is rehabbing in Triple-A Pawtucket this weekend, so Boston will soon have the starting outfield back. It will be something of a fresh start for Crawford and the Sox, who, despite Crawford's absence, are in first place. Even withou the fact that his return might mean fewer at-bats from the struggling J.D. Drew (in favor of Josh Reddick and his 1101 OPS), Crawford could be Boston's most important "acquisition" in July.
Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals: Where do we get off complaining about a guy who is hitting .280/.342/.500 and bounced back from a broken wrist in just a couple of weeks? Pujols is a victim of his own success, and even in a year where offense is down, that production is a far cry from his .329/.422/.618 career slash line. Widely considered the most productive offensive force in the game, the Cardinals need the pre-2011 Pujols back in order to stay atop the NL Central.
The Cardinals and Brewers are tied for first at the moment, but if Pujols had not spent April and May hitting just .267/.336/.419, the Cards would be alone in first place. Throw in the games missed to injury, too, and it's even more obvious.
Pujols has been back up to his old tricks since June (.313/.408/.711 in his last 22 games), but St. Louis will need much more of that and far less of the early-2011 version of Pujols if they want to keep pace in the Central.
Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves: A few weeks back, I noted that Uggla was being too aggressive with his approach at the plate, as he was not working the count and waiting for something he could crush; instead, he was avoiding strikeouts by swinging at anything he could get his bat on. Since that time, he has turned things around by, you guessed it, striking out far more often. Baseball is weird.
Uggla has struck out 33 percent of the time in July, and is seeing 4.0 pitches per plate appearance in the month. Those are both increases from earlier in the year, as well as closer to his expected results, and he has hit .243/.333/.568 with three homers in that 42 plate appearance stretch.
Yes, it's just 42 plate appearances, and therefore we can't proclaim him cured. But if he's being a bit more patient and not just swinging early to avoid strikeouts, then he's at least attempting to be the old, productive Uggla. The Braves are the only real threat to the Phillies in the NL East, but it's been due to their pitching - their offense is in the middle of the league in runs scored, so a return to form by Uggla would have huge implications for them down the stretch.
Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox: If striking out more often was all it took, Dunn would be the Barry Bonds of his generation this year. He has punched out 117 times in 322 plate appearances -- that's 36.4 percent of the time for those keeping score at home. That is by far a career-worst for Dunn, an amazing feat considering he has led the league in whiffs three times before and has averaged 186 strikeouts per 162 games in his career.
Of course, in the past, the strikeouts were just part of a package that included an annual 40(ish) homers and a .381 career on-base percentage. In his first year in the American League, though, they are part of why he is hitting .160/.292/.305. Things aren't happening when he does make contact, either, as his batting average on balls in play is just .234.
That not really painting a picture of how bad he has been for you? How about this: Dunn has been worse in his half-season (-1.4 rWAR) than the man he replaced at DH, Mark Kotsay, (-1.1). Mark Kotsay. Mark. Kotsay.
Dunn was projected to be much better than this (how could he not have been?), with PECOTA putting him at .249/.371/.510 with 38 homers and a .302 True Average. Instead, his Tav is below replacement level at .224, though PECOTA hasn't given up just yet, as his rest of season projection has him at .298. ZiPS is optimistic as well, forecasting Dunn for .226/.360/.472 the rest of the way.
It's too late to repair his season's line, but Dunn can still hit well enough to stop dragging down the entire White Sox offense, potentially launching them back into the AL Central lead they are just five games back of. Besides Carlos Beltran, there may not be a bat of Dunn's caliber available, so the White Sox's season may depend on his bouncing back or not.