As the halfway point in the MLB season approaches, some teams have separated themselves from the pack and others are already looking forward to next year. The NL and AL could not have more different storylines so far. First, let's take a look at the NL.
The Nationals are clearly running away with this division and it doesn't seem like anybody else is trying to stop them. The Nationals lost Trea Turner this week for an undisclosed amount of time but they don't need to worry. Harper and Murphy have been hitting like they had hoped and Zimmerman has been rejuvenated, hitting like he did back in 2009 and 2010. On top of their hitting they have the human no-hit alert (Max Scherzer) on the mound every 5 days. Atlanta has surprised many people this year. They have 4 starters hitting above .300 but no pitcher in their rotation with an ERA below 3.8. Former 1st overall pick Dansby Swanson has struggled with the bat this year but is developing into the player they believed he would be. He is arguably the best defensive shortstop in baseball and will most likely take over that title in the coming years. The Mets have been ravaged by injuries and have unexpectedly been let down by their pitching. They have a team ERA of 4.84 and the only real bright spots are deGrom and Blevins. They refuse to call up Rosario and the fans are getting restless. Miami fans had the Volquez no-hitter to smile about, but that's about it. The fans are already looking forward to Stanton's performance at home in this year's HR Derby instead of their upcoming schedule. Ozuna and Stanton have combined for 41 HR and Dee Gordon has 29 stolen bases already. The Phillies have the worst record in baseball and well...sorry Phillies fans there is always next year.
If somebody told me 3 months ago that the Brewers would be leading this division halfway through the year I would've told them they were on crack. Thames started the year in highlight reel fashion with his ridiculous amount of HR in the first month and Shaw has proven his worth since being traded to the Brewers from the Red Sox. Knebel has locked down the back end of the bullpen, posting a 1.13 ERA and recording a strikeout in 40 straight appearances. Don't sleep on the Cubs. They are only 2 games back and are the most talented team in this division by far. The slow start is likely due to the World Series hangover. They are only .500 and you would have to assume they will start playing like the Cubs of last year sometime soon. They are 18-24 on the road, but 22-16 at home. Keep winning at Wrigley and bring that road winning percentage back to .500 and they should fin themselves atop this division by the season's end. The Cardinals, the Cardinals, the Cardinals. I can't remember the last time they looked this bad, and yet they are still right in the thick of things in the Central. Most recently they have tried sending Diaz down to the minors as a scare tactic, hoping to wake him up for the second half of the year. They are led on the mound by Carlos Martinez and Mike Leake, who have ERAs of 2.88 and 2.97, respectively. Don't be surprised if they make a run for the division. They have been here before and know how to win late in the season. The Pirates may have struck lightning in a bottle when they moved McCutchen down to 6th in the order. He has responded phenomenally. His WAR is already a full point higher than his season total for last year. The Pirates aren't hard to figure out. As McCutchen goes, the Pirates go. The Reds started off the year hot but could not sustain that type of winning for very long. They have 4 legit bats in their lineup with Cozart, Votto, Gennett and Duvall, but have had abysmal starting pitching. The Reds only have 2 qualified starting pitchers with an ERA below 7.00. At least Billy Hamilton and his 33 stolen bases are always fun to watch. They are definitely looking forward to next season with all of the young talent they have started to develop this year.
THE BEST DIVISION IN BASEBALL. When you have essentially the top 3 teams in the NL all in one division I think it is fair to say they are the best. Most teams are more games out of a wild card spot than they are their division thanks to the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Rockies. The Dodgers are just super talented and still haven't had production from Adrian Gonzalez. They have last year's NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager and this year's probable NL ROY Cody Bellinger in the same infield (Bellinger also plays outfield). Bellinger already has 24 HR and 56 RBI halfway through his rookie campaign. Oh yeah, and they have this pitcher that goes by the name of Clayton Kershaw. He's pretty good. Kenley Jansen is also the best closer in baseball in my eyes, with a sub-2 ERA and an unheard of K:BB ratio of 53. The Dbacks are no slouch this year either. They are 20 games over .500 and have 4 starting pitchers with ERAs of 3.50 or lower. Offensively they are still led by Goldschmidt who deserves to play on a great team like this more than anybody in baseball (besides Mike Trout). Goldy has been the backbone of this team for years and plays the game with the utmost respect. The Rockies baby! The batting averages are high and the ERAs are high, but do you expect anything else at Coors Field? The difference is that it's working this year. Arguably the best 3rd baseman in baseball (Nolan Arenado) has only the 4th highest average on the team amongst starters. A popular trend in winning teams appears again for the Rockies with Greg Holland locking down the 9th inning with a 1.53 ERA and only 1 blown save in 26 opportunities. To the Padres and Giants: I'm sorry you have to be in a division with these 3 teams this year. Sell at the deadline and get ready for next year.
Now let's venture over to the AL.
Before we even get into the division standing it is important to note that no team is out of contention in the AL. The furthest any team back of the second wild card spot is 5.5 games. I repeat: THE WILD CARD SPOTS ARE WIDE OPEN.
Probably the best division in the American League here. As of now the Red Sox are in first place, but only by a game over the evil empire; the Yankees. The division has not played out nearly like I had expected. If you check out my preseason predictions for the AL East here, you will see my only partially correct pick so far is the Red Sox leading the division. The Red Sox have yet to play up to their expectations this year and still find themselves in first place in the division. The acquisition of Chris Sale has yet to disappoint as he has struck out 155 batters thus far and is on pace for over 300 strikeouts for the year. Despite the issues at 3rd base, Bogaerts, Pedroia, and Moreland have solidified the infield. The outfield seems on lockdown with the 3 Bs out there in Betts, Bradley Jr, and Benintendi. Another 1st place team with a shutdown closer! Kimbrel has a 1.01 ERA this year and is averaging close to 2 strikeouts per inning! However, the Red Sox will have to pick up their game because the second place Yankees have shown signs of just how special they can be. Aaron Judge. Need I say more? The man can't be human. The Yankees have continued to bring up more and more youth, especially in the absence of Holliday and the future seems very bright for them. This year they have played like the best team in baseball and gone on a 7 game losing streak all in the same month. I'm excited to see if this team can sustain this winning for the entire season and maybe reheat what was the greatest rivalry in sports with the Red Sox. Miraculously the Rays are third in the division and currently hold the second wild card spot in the AL. They have 4 starters with an ERA of 4.00 or lower but I still don't understand how they are above .500. Sorry Rays fans but give it time, they will fall in the standings. The Orioles have been absolutely ruined by their starting pitching. They have 3 starters with an ERA above 6.00 including Gausman and Tillman, who have been staples at the top of their rotation for years. It's either back to the drawing board or pray your pitchers figure it out for the Orioles. The Blue Jays are lingering in last place in the division with a little bit of hope. They do not have a starting player batting .300 or better and have yet to find consistency in their rotation with only 3 pitchers having more than 10 starts on the year.
The Twins hung around for a while and might be 1 or 2 players away from a chance at the playoffs this year but the Indians are going to be too much to handle. Cleveland is the only team in the division with a positive run differential this year. They are bound to run away with this division. They have 3.5 starters (Austin Jackson has played 37 games) hitting over .300 this year and none of them are named Encarnacion or Lindor. The Indians also have arguably the best 8th-9th inning bullpen combo in baseball with Miller and Allen closing the door. It also doesn't hurt when you have Kluber and Carrasco pitching 7 innings and getting the ball to these two studs in the bullpen. The Twins will obviously play for the division but their run differential of-55 would expect them to be 10 games below .500 right now. Instead they are 2 games over .500. Does this mean they are just winners and find a way or their luck is going to run out? I would say they trade for a player at the deadline that came avoid having their luck run out. Ervin Sanatana has pitched to a 3.07 ERA and Joe Mauer leads the team in batting average at .286. Buy at the trade deadline!The Royals are eerily similar to the Twins in that they are .500 but their run differential says they should be 6 games under .500. Vargas is 12-3 and has been an absolute stud. His ERA is 2.22 and he is the main reason they have the record they do. Hosmer, Cain and Salvador Perez are holding down the fort on the position player side of things, posting the top 3 batting averages of the starters. Not to mention Perez is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. The next month will be very telling of what the Royals will do on July 31st. At this point the Tigers and the White Sox are in the same boat: play the next couple weeks hoping to make a push for the wild card, if you don't then sell at the deadline. (Hint: Justin Verlander)
The Houston Astros are the best team in baseball thus far and show no signs of slowing down. They have scored the most runs in baseball and have a run differential of +116. Altuve is hitting .330 and is one of 4 starters hitting over .300. They also have a leadoff hitter with 24 HR and 52 RBIs. Keuchel has returned to form and is 9-0 this season. Lance McCullers Jr. is 7-1 with a 2.69 ERA and the Astros are sitting pretty atop the MLB. Barring something catastrophic the Astros are going to win the division. The 2nd place Angels are 13 games behind the Astros but only half a game back of the wild card. They get the best player in baseball (Mike Trout) back either right before the All-Star break or directly after. This could be the year they finally put it together and make a run with Trout and Pujols. If Andrelton Simmons can maintain his .280 average on top of his stellar defense the Angels definitely have a shot at reaching the playoffs for only the 2nd time since 2009. The next month will really decide what the Mariners and Rangers do at the trade deadline. Both teams sit around 2 games out of the last wild card spot with at least 4 teams ahead of them for that spot. The Mariners have 2 players inGamel and Segura hitting over .330 this year and 3 starting pitchers with sub-4 ERAs. Can King Felix return to form and start racking up those wins? If he can, the Mariners will be making a push for that wild card spot come September. The Rangers have been quietly playing close to .500 baseball with Yu Darvish only 6-6 on the hill. Nothing special here other than Elvis Andrus is batting over .300 and Beltre hit his 450th HR. If Beltre can start playing more games and providing that dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup the Rangers may still be in it come September. If I had to pick one of these two teams to have a better second half it would have to be the Mariners. Last but not least...ok maybe least in the AL we have the Athletics. The As will be in sell mode at the deadline with Sonny Gray probably being the player in the headlines. Alonso had a solid first half of the year, batting .281 with 17 HR as he has been declining lately. Kris Davis has 21 HR to go along with 107 strikeouts. Sell at the deadline and prepare for next year!
Projected Playoff Field:
NL: 1) Dodgers 2) Nationals 3) Cubs
WC1) Diamondbacks WC2) Rockies
AL: 1) Astros 2) Indians 3) Red Sox
WC1) Yankees WC2) Angels
*All records and stats are through June 30th