As the second half gets underway -- and we use the term "half" lightly, considering teams have already played around 95 games -- interesting storylines surrounding the 15 or 16 teams that are realistically in contention are everywhere.In the National League East, three clubs have taken turns with occupying the
As the second half gets underway -- and we use the term "half" lightly, considering teams have already played around 95 games -- interesting storylines surrounding the 15 or 16 teams that are realistically in contention are everywhere.
In the National League East, three clubs have taken turns with occupying the top spot in the division, including the upstart Braves, who, with off-days, have spent 66 days in first place. Today, the Phillies, who haven't had a winning season or made a postseason appearance since 2011, are in first place, one-half game ahead of Atlanta. So far, it's looking like stunning turnaround for the Phils, who finished 66-96 last season.
The Nationals woefully underachieved in the first half, ending at .500 (48-48) and 5 1/2 games behind the Phillies. But it would be premature to write them off, regardless of how uninspired their season has been so far. Veteran teams often have the advantage when it comes to maneuvering through August, which most players agree is the toughest month of the long baseball season to get through. The Nats have enough players who have been around a while, and they've been part of Washington's strong regular-season finishes. They may have a run in them.
On to the post All-Star Power Rankings...
Biggest jump: The Dodgers jumped six spots, from No. 11 to No. 5. They're 10-4 in July, won five of their past seven heading into the break, and they acquired Manny Machado in a trade with the Orioles on Wednesday to help them hang on to first place in a still-tight NL West.
Biggest drop: The Brewers dropped five spots, from No. 4 to No. 9. Perhaps no team was happier to see the All-Star break arrive than the Brew Crew, which lost six straight to close the first "half." Milwaukee went 2-8 in its past 10 games, allowing the Cubs to create some space in the NL Central, though Chicago's lead is still a small margin -- 2 1/2 games.
Power Rankings Top 5
1. Red Sox (2 last week)
All-Star designated hitter J.D. Martinez had 29 home runs at the All-Star break, tied with Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski (1969) for the second most by a Red Sox player. David Ortiz had 31 in 2006. Also, Mookie Betts was the first Boston outfielder to start three straight All-Star Games since Fred Lynn, who did so from 1978-80. Betts leads the Majors in batting average (.359), slugging (.691) and OPS (1.139).
2. Astros (1)
If All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Alex Bregman's past month is any indication of what's to come for the 24-year-old third baseman, the juggernaut that is the Astros' offense should have no issue coasting to the postseason. Bregman has 20 homers on the year, a career high. He also has 12 homers in his past 29 games, and seven in his past 14 home games.
3. Yankees (3)
With 161 home runs in 95 games, the Yankees are on pace to set the all-time single-season home run record. They're on pace for 274 and the record is held by the 1997 Mariners, who hit 264.
4. Cubs (5)
The Cubs ended the first half leading the NL in runs (476), team batting average (.265), on-base percentage (.345) and OPS (.771). Chicago is the second team in a row to lead the NL in those four categories at the break, after Washington did it last season.
5. Dodgers (11)
Many players have contributed to the Dodgers' resurgence that lifted them from last place to first, and among the most impactful is Matt Kemp, whose presence on the NL All-Star team is one of the best stories of the season. Kemp was traded last December from the Braves to the Dodgers, with neither team believing he would make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training. He was not only voted in by the fans as one of the NL's starting outfielders, he also has made a case to finish high in NL MVP Award voting. Kemp ranks seventh in the NL with a .310 batting average, 10th with a .522 slugging percentage and 12th with an .874 OPS.
The rest of the Top 20
- Indians (6 last week)
- Braves (9)
- Phillies (8)
- Brewers (4)
- Dbacks (10)
- Mariners (7)
- A's (14)
- Nats (13)
- Rays (15)
- Cardinals (12)
- Rockies (18)
- Giants (16)
- Angels (17)
- Reds (19)
- Pirates (NR)
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.