Just because one thinks a pennant chase has been wrapped up does not mean it actually has. The 1978 Yankees were 14 games out in mid-July and ended up winning the World Series. Wild comebacks are not common, but they do happen. Every division chase has a little life left in it.
But how much? As we head into the second half of the season, it’s time for a little ranking business. There are eight playoff races right now: The six divisions and the chases for the two Wild Cards. How exciting is each one? Here are the eight pennant chases of the second half, ranked.
1. National League West
Does this division have three of the best, oh, five teams in baseball? It’s possible, right? The Giants, stunningly, are holding down first place still. But the Dodgers and Padres, the two teams many considered the best in baseball before the season, are right behind them -- two juggernauts who very much would like to avoid a Wild Card to decide their whole seasons. The Dodgers still have to be considered the favorites here, but all three of these teams are fantastic … too fantastic to put their seasons on the line in one Wild Card Game. This is the best race in the game, and maybe the most important.
2. American League East
It’s a little too early to count out the Blue Jays and the Yankees, both eight games back, but only a little. The real race here is between Boston and Tampa Bay. Boston is currently a game-and-a-half up, but the Red Sox still seem a little light on pitching … something that might get somewhat fixed by an expected return from ace Chris Sale. But the Rays are deep as usual and eager to defend their American League title. You shouldn’t put a run by Toronto or New York past either of them, though. This is going to be quite a ride.
3. American League Wild Card
You can make an argument for seven teams still being in the chase here: Tampa Bay and Oakland are currently in the top two spots, followed by Seattle, Toronto, the Yankees, Cleveland and the Angels. Those happen to be the teams over .500 right now (Detroit is next up, if you’re wondering), and all of them are very much invested in competing the rest of the season. Seattle and Cleveland are the teams that look the most wobbly, and Tampa Bay and Oakland have to be considered the favorites, but the Blue Jays, Yankees and Angels are loaded with star power and desperate to make a charge. If that three-and-a-half-game deficit between the A’s and the rest of the teams chasing them tightens a bit, this chase could rocket to the top of this list.
4. National League East
Remember when the Mets looked to be so injured that they’d never recover? Well, here they are, still in first place, with reinforcements like Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard on the way. They also are highly motivated, with a new owner who appears to want a division title as much as anyone and a fanbase that seems particularly invested in this team. The only other team as motivated in the division is Philadelphia, still looking for its first postseason appearance since 2011. The Nationals will be a factor in this too, particularly if Juan Soto can get hot, but while the Braves are only four games out, it’s tough to see how they make much of a run without Ronald Acuña Jr. But still: Four teams are still in the mix here. And the last-place Marlins, for what it’s worth, have a better run differential than the first-place Mets.
5. American League West
The Astros looked to be headed into the All-Star break with an ugly, embarrassing home sweep at the hands of the Yankees until Jose Altuve hit a three-run, walk-off homer and then went shirtless. The joy at Minute Maid Park was another sign that this is shaping up to be a joyous, perhaps vindicating, season for the Astros, just a year-plus removed from their franchise-shaking scandal. (And they don’t even have Alex Bregman back yet.) The A’s sure aren’t making it easy on them, though, just three-and-a-half back. Don’t sleep on the rest of this division either. This is one of just two divisions in baseball with four teams with winning records, and the team in fourth place has the most exciting player in baseball and is about to get Mike Trout back.
6. National League Central
A week before the All-Star break, it looked like the Brewers might just run away with the division. A three-game sweep by the Reds right before the break tightened this division considerably, bringing the Reds within four and, helpfully, bringing them a little closer in the Wild Card race too. Both teams will absolutely be buyers at the deadline. The two teams below them are less certain. The Cubs are right at the .500 mark and the Cardinals and Cubs are two games under, but while the Cubs reportedly are ready to sell, the Cardinals, perhaps foolishly, think they’re still in this. Maybe one team can make an improbable run, but this looks like a two-team race.
7. National League Wild Card
This is the flip side of that fantastic NL West race: A Wild Card race that, as of now, looks a little anticlimactic. It’s going to take a huge run from the Reds, Phillies, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs or Nationals -- along with a collapse from the Giants, Dodgers or Padres -- to even make this any sort of race at all. That is possible, and one of those aforementioned teams will surely take advantage if one of the three NL West monsters falls off … but it doesn’t seem particularly likely, does it?
8. American League Central
Definitely cheer for Shane Bieber to come back from his injury soon, because otherwise, this race might just end up being a rout. The White Sox are already eight games up on Cleveland -- that’s by far the biggest lead in baseball -- and that’s before they get Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert back. The Tigers (who have been halfway decent lately, if you haven’t noticed), the Royals and the Twins are long gone at this point, and it’s tough to see how Cleveland makes much of a run either. Here’s a fun fact: The White Sox magic number is already 67. Get prepared to see Tony La Russa in the playoffs yet again.