We have reached the 60-game point of the season. And if this were truly the end of the year like it was last season (and thank heavens it isn’t, for every possible reason), for some teams it would mark 2021 as a true disaster. Can you imagine the reckoning that would be coming for the Yankees if they finished in fourth place? Or the Cardinals for finishing in third? For the Dodgers for finishing in third? The Twins for finishing in last?
Fortunately, we all get to keep playing for 100 more games or so. And so there’s plenty of time, if you’ve gotten off to a slow start, to turn it back around. Remember: The Washington Nationals were 19-31 two years ago and ended up winning the World Series. If you’re under .500 right now, there is hope for you yet. (Though this year, uh, maybe not for the Washington Nationals.)
So at this point that was so recently an endpoint, here’s a look at five teams under .500 that we shouldn’t be counting out just yet. (Listed in alphabetical order.)
Current record: 29-32 (6 1/2 GB)
All right, so yes: It is not ideal that Mike Trout is going to be out beyond the All-Star break. That’s a full two months without Mike Trout. That’s very bad. But! But! Is it OK to point out that the Angels are hanging in, at least slightly, without him? The Angels’ record when Trout went down on May 17? 18-22. Their record today? 29-32. That’s right: They have a better winning percentage without Trout than they did with him. (Albeit still, overall, with a losing record.)
The best case you can make for the Angels is that the rest of the American League West, outside of maybe Houston, seems primed for some regression. Even as currently constructed, the Angels seem to have more than the Mariners, and the Rangers may be selling off soon. If the A’s falter, and the Astros’ pitching takes a step back (which certainly seems possible; have you seen the numbers that Luis Garcia is suddenly putting up?), there could be an opening for the Angels. They are, after all, only 5 1/2 games out of the AL Wild Card. If they’re still floating around that spot when Trout returns, look out.
Current record: 26-34 (6 1/2 GB)
For a good stretch of this season, the Marlins were the only team in the National League East with a positive run differential. That’s not the case anymore -- now it’s the Mets and the Braves (barely) -- but Miami is close, at -1, and remains that team with definite “better-than-their-record-shows” vibes. The young pitchers haven’t entirely held up, but the triumvirate of Trevor Rogers, Pablo López and Sandy Alcantara certainly has, and the Marlins' hitting has actually been a little better than anyone anticipated, led by Jesús Aguilar, a resurgent Starling Marte and, of course, Jazz Chisholm Jr., who is a dark-horse All-Star pick.
The main reason to be excited about the Marlins is that they are young, and the rest of the teams in this division are old. That could mean their players could burn out or fade as the season goes along. Or it could mean they’ll be the only team with the energy left to stand.
Current record: 28-31 (4 GB)
Well, if we’re going to include the Marlins, we certainly have to include the Phillies, who, after all, are ahead of them. What makes you most hopeful about the Phillies is their offense, which, now that Bryce Harper is back, basically has above-average hitters all the way up and down the lineup. (Particularly when Brad Miller starts for Alec Bohm. It’d be nice to get Bohm going, by the way.) The bullpen hasn’t been great, but it hasn’t been historically awful, either, which is to say that it’s improved. It’s the starting pitching that has to get it figured out for the Phillies to make a run. After Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, it has been a bit of a slog.
Every team is going to be looking for starting pitching on the trade market, complicating matters, but the Phillies have every incentive to be aggressive. This franchise has used up a lot of money and time on this current incarnation, and this division can be had. The Phillies need to make their move; they might not have a better chance than this one.
Current record: 28-30 (5 GB)
Cincinnati sure looked to be in trouble last week -- six games under .500 heading into a four-game set with St. Louis, a team that it is always having some sort of knockdown drag-out fight with. But four games later, the Reds had their first four-game sweep at Busch Stadium in more than 20 years, and they were right back in the thick of the race. Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos were as terrific as you’d expect, but the key to Cincinnati's sweep was its starting pitching, which vexed the Cardinals all series.
The bullpen is still struggling, which may put a ceiling on the Reds' potential. But the NL Central, like the NL East, isn’t going to feature anyone who runs away from everyone else. If Cincinnati can hang around .500, it will be in this race until the very end.
Current record: 24-36 (13 GB)
All right, so here’s the toughest sell here. The Twins have looked a little better lately, but just a little, and they’re still 13 games out of first place and 10 games out of the AL Wild Card. That’s quite a lift! But there remains so much talent here, starting, of course, with Byron Buxton, who should be back from injury very soon. “Back from injury” is always a bit of a temporary condition for Buxton, which is obviously a problem; if he can’t stick, you probably can’t keep Minnesota on this list. But the Twins are still loaded and motivated, and they’re in a division (the AL Central) that has a lot of wins in it, if they’re standing upright enough to claim them.
The Twins are teetering close to falling off the edge; one more month like the one they just had will push them over it. But there’s still time left. They best get going right now.