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Five struggling MLB players who need to step up for the stretch run

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 8/14/2018 Jesse Yomtov

Nearing the latter half of August, there's far less clarity in Major League Baseball's postseason picture than there was even a month ago.

While surprising teams such as the Athletics and Cardinals have entered the picture, a few teams thought to be locks have struggled, making their respective races interesting.

A number of contenders have, of course, been affected by injuries. But many have also seen key players struggle this summer.

For the Dodgers – who currently find themselves on the outside looking in – it's been Manny Machado, thought to be an addition that would put the team over the top. For the Yankees, ace Luis Severino has been crushed in recent starts as the team has seen the division slip away entirely.

Here's a look at a few players who need to step up as the pennant races heat up:

Manny Machado, Dodgers – The biggest prize of the trade deadline, Machado has disappointed in 24 games with his new team, batting .250 with a .733 OPS and just five RBI. Machado will get hot, but it needs to be sooner rather than later as the team deals with bullpen issues and the struggles of All-Star outfielder Matt Kemp, who is 3-for-51 since July 24.

Marcell Ozuna, Cardinals – St. Louis' big offseason acquisition has failed to deliver in his first season, looking nothing like the two-time All-Star he was in Miami. The red-hot Cardinals are only two games back in the wild card, and with a bit of help from Ozuna, could really be a team that nobody wants to face. He has a .273 average with 13 home runs and 63 RBI.

Luis Severino, Yankees – A Cy Young frontrunner a month ago, Severino has given up 30 earned runs in 36 innings over his past seven starts, pitching more than five innings only once. The Yankees have a comfortable six-game cushion as the leader in the wild-card race, but need their ace to rediscover his form as teams such as the Athletics and Mariners come on strong.

Yuli Gurriel, Astros – The 34-year-old has been a steady presence in Houston's lineup for the past two seasons and batted .310 in the first half this year, but he's hitting .165 since the break and has just one extra-base hit. That's a big reason that the Astros have had one of baseball's worst offenses in the second half. Carlos Correa's and Jose Altuve's returns will certainly help, but Gurriel needs to get it together as the team finds itself facing some pressure in the division.

Seranthony Dominguez, Phillies – The rookie's emergence as a dominant high-leverage reliever has been an enormous key to the team's success this year. In his last eight games, however, Dominguez has given up five runs and walked seven batters with two blown saves. There's not much room for error down the stretch with so many games against the Braves and Nationals.


Related slideshow: 2018 MLB season (Provided by photo services) 


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