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Keep tabs on all the biggest trades in baseball as the MLB trade deadline approaches.
USA TODAY Sports

A flurry of last-minute deals spiced up what had been a fairly bland stretch before Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline, but it didn’t change the reality that about seven of the 10 playoff spots have essentially been claimed. For the most part, the top contenders got stronger and the marginal ones stayed on the fringes.

With that in mind, here’s a ranking of the top eight challengers for October glory after the dust of Monday’s activity settles down:

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

What they did: Not content with their standing as the majors’ only team playing .700 ball, the Dodgers added a co-ace in Yu Darvish and valuable bullpen help in lefties Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani.

What they didn’t do: L.A. did not relinquish its top prospects among pitchers (Walker Buehler) or position players (Alex Verdugo), instead surrendering infielder Willie Calhoun as the main bait to nab Darvish.

Why they could win it all: The Dodgers have a combination of depth and star power in the lineup and pitching staff, and their 31 come-from-behind victories point to a team with plenty of grit as well.

Why they could fall short: If Clayton Kershaw can’t bounce back strong from his back injury or improve on his postseason track record, L.A.’s chances could be compromised.

Consensus: The acquisition of Darvish gives them extra wiggle room if Kershaw fails to perform like his regular-season self.

2. Washington Nationals

What they did: Two weeks after finally addressing the bullpen by trading for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, the Nationals doubled up with their acquisition of closer Brandon Kintzler from the Minnesota Twins.

What they didn’t do: Washington did not deal for a starter to fill the void left by injuries to Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross, knowing Strasburg will be back this week and the club won’t need a reliable fifth starter.

Why they could win it all: A rotation headed by Max Scherzer, Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez should be sturdy enough for the playoffs, and it gets plenty of backing from the league’s most prolific offense.

Why they could fall short: Kintzler is a nice addition, having converted 45 of 52 save chances in the last two years, but he’s not the dominant closer teams prefer in the postseason.

Consensus: Provided Strasburg is in top shape for the playoffs, the Nationals should prove a formidable foe. Nobody can match their middle of the order.

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3. Houston Astros

What they did: Traded for veteran Francisco Liriano, who could add a much-needed lefty to the bullpen or an experienced starter to the rotation.

What they didn’t do: Deal for Sonny Gray, Darvish or another top-shelf pitcher to boost a starting corps that may be lacking behind Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, who went on the disabled list with a back injury Monday.

Why they could win it all: Houston’s dynamic offense and athleticism will present a problem for any postseason opponent.

Why they could fall short: Keuchel has been on the DL twice this season, and his absence would leave Houston without an ace. The failure to deal for Darvish or Gray could haunt them.

Consensus: The Astros have a decent chance to prove Sports Illustrated’s forecast of a 2017 championship accurate, but one more front-line starter would have significantly strengthened their case.

4. Chicago Cubs

What they did: Building on their second-half surge, the Cubs acquired lefty reliever Justin Wilson and Alex Avila late Sunday. Chicago had previously made a big splash by acquiring Jose Quintana to fortify a disappointing rotation.

What they didn’t do: The Cubs didn’t sacrifice any major league talent in upgrading.

Why they could win it all: Most of the key pieces of last year’s championship run are still in place, even if they haven’t performed at the same level. The Cubs’ 13-3 record since the All-Star break seems like a more accurate indication of their capability than their sub-.500 first half.

Why they could fall short: Every single starting pitcher has a worse ERA this year than in 2016, by plenty, and that includes Quintana.

Consensus: The Cubs are finally clicking, and it’s not hard to envision their talent and the experience gained from last year combining to make them an October force again.

5. Cleveland Indians

What they did: The Indians plugged in another weapon in a bullpen that leads the league with a 2.78 ERA by dealing for sidearmer Joe Smith, who’s especially tough on right-handed hitters.

What they didn’t do: Cleveland was one of the teams supposedly in Gray’s pursuit, but didn’t improve its rotation. The club also left intact the catching tandem of Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez (combined .639 OPS).

Why they could win it all: The Indians can overwhelm opponents with their bullpen, part of the formula they used to make it all the way to Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, and Smith makes the relief corps even better. Also, the emergence of Mike Clevinger has added depth to their rotation.

Why they could fall short: Top-line starters Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar spent around a month or more each on the disabled list. A recurrence of their injuries could seriously hamper the Indians’ chances.

Consensus: The Indians have awoken, on a 26-15 run and looking primed for another AL Central title and October run.

 

6. New York Yankees

What they did: Obtained the hottest starter on the market in Gray, who put up a 1.37 ERA while holding hitters to a .164 batting average in his last six starts. The Yankees had earlier solidified third base by acquiring Todd Frazier in the same deal that brought them relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle. They also picked up veteran left-hander Jaime Garcia.

What they didn’t do: Bring in a big bopper to improve production at first base, which has been a wasteland. Yankees first basemen have produced a .706 OPS, third-lowest in the league.

Why they could win it all: A monster bullpen featuring Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Robertson and Kahnle can shorten games, and a rotation that now includes Gray, Luis Severino, CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka suddenly looks postseason-capable. The Yankees also have plenty of pop, with rookie sensation Aaron Judge among six hitters who have belted 12 homers or more.

Why they could fall short: Tanaka is coming off one of his best starts of the season but yielded a 6.00 ERA in the previous three and remains vulnerable to the home run.

Consensus: In what figured to be a transition season, the Yankees have become legitimate contenders to win the division and make some noise in October. How far they go may depend on Tanaka and Gray.

7. Colorado Rockies

What they did: Added much-needed experience behind the plate by trading for catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who’s having a down year but still upgrades the position. Colorado also brought in a solid setup man in All-Star Pat Neshek.

What they didn’t do: Acquire a veteran starter to help settle down a rotation that includes up to four rookies in German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Jeff Hoffman and, at times, Antonio Senzatela.

Why they could win it all: MVP candidate Nolan Arenado not only leads a potent offense, but also a stellar defensive team that’s tied for the league’s best fielding percentage. The Rockies don’t beat themselves.

Why they could fall short: The lack of experience in the rotation has shown as the innings have piled up, and the Rockies lack the pitching depth to make up for the rookies wearing down.

Consensus: The Rockies have served notice they’re for real, but this doesn’t figure to be their year just yet.

8. Arizona Diamondbacks

What they did: After obtaining J.D. Martinez and his powerful bat, the Diamondbacks made minor deals for utility infielder Adam Rosales – who bolsters a depleted infield – and veteran reliever David Hernandez.

What they didn’t do: Bring in a legitimate option to closer Fernando Rodney, or at least someone to share the load. Rodney has pitched better since his brutal start to the season, but he has blown five saves and, at 40, doesn’t inspire great confidence.

Why they could win it all: The Diamondbacks have the second-best ERA in the league, with Zack Greinke slowly nudging his way into Cy Young consideration and Zack Godley (3.06 ERA in 14 starts) providing an unexpected shot in the arm to the rotation.

Why they could fall short: Injuries are taking a toll, with shortstops Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed sidelined and left-hander Robbie Ray joining them on the DL after being hit in the head by a line drive.

Consensus: Arizona (7-9 since the break) may run out of gas, but a playoff spot after last year’s 93-loss season represents a remarkable turnaround