This baseball season is roughly two weeks away from its halfway point, so the contending teams at this point are legitimate. Young players do sometimes hit a wall in the second half, which could impact the standings.But not always.Last season, every first-place team at the All-Star break made the postseason,
This baseball season is roughly two weeks away from its halfway point, so the contending teams at this point are legitimate. Young players do sometimes hit a wall in the second half, which could impact the standings.
But not always.
Last season, every first-place team at the All-Star break made the postseason, although the Giants and Orioles got in as Wild Card entrants.
Here's what we've learned so far:
They are the team to beat in October. They have a deep lineup and a deep bullpen, and they have withstood a rash of injuries to their starting rotation. If their top two pitchers, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, are healthy for the stretch run, the rest may prove to be beneficial in October.
They're legit. Their lineup is scary good. Their defense is spectacular. Closer Greg Holland (25-for-26 in save opportunities) may end up being the offseason's smartest signing. The Rockies are relying on young starting pitchers, who sometimes hit a wall in the second half of the season. But there will be enough depth when Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson return from the disabled list that manager Bud Black may be able to keep his guys fresh for the stretch run.
They've scored almost as many runs as the Rockies, and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt could add an National League MVP Award to his trophy case. Arizona's dazzling 3.45 staff ERA is the second-best mark in all of baseball. In Zack Greinke, the D-backs have a made-for-October ace as well as a bullpen that's one of the NL's best.
Ignore the strikeouts. Sure, they whiff a few times. They also hit home runs, 106 and counting, second only to the Nationals in the NL. Five Brewers are in double figures already, led by Eric Thames (20). In Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson and Junior Guerra, they've got a strong front three in the rotation. The bullpen has given Brewers fans some heartburn, but this team has spent 33 of the last 35 days atop the NL Central. On Opening Day, maybe they didn't know if they were legit. They surely do now.
Why not? Sure, their success isn't easy to explain. But the Twins play great defense. They win close games. They're 20-9 on the road. Their rotation rode Ervin Santana for a couple of months and then Jose Berrios. Third baseman Miguel Sano has had a tremendous first half. All in all, it works.
They've spent more days in third place than first. They've again been hit by a slew of injuries and are in a division that could produce three playoff teams. Having said all that, the Dodgers are probably right on schedule. They've got baseball's best pitching staff and one of its five best offenses. Shortstop Corey Seager, third baseman Justin Turner and rookie first baseman Cody Bellinger will all get NL MVP Award votes. They've got a superstar closer in Kenley Jansen. If they can just get to October with Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Brandon McCarthy and Alex Wood lined up, they've got a chance to make a deep run.
Is there enough pitching? Does general manager Brian Cashman trade some of that Minor League depth to acquire a starter? The 39-30 Yankees have been one of baseball's surprise teams led by two kids, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. Problem now is, they have no idea when Carsten Sabathia (hamstring) will pitch again, and Masahiro Tanaka has yet to get straightened out. Boston has some pitching issues as well, which could open the door for the Rays or Blue Jays.
8. Blue Jays
They haven't spent a single day at .500 this entire season, and they may just be the AL East favorite at this point, especially if Aaron Sanchez returns to the rotation and contributes down the stretch. This entire season has been a series of brushfires, but with third baseman Josh Donaldson and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki back, they've still got a chance.
Yes, the AL East is wide open. Thanks to Logan Morrison and Corey Dickerson, the Rays have what could turn out to be the club's best offense. The Rays probably have the AL East's deepest pitching staff, which should get even deeper when reliever Brad Boxberger returns.
So they are scuffling to stay above .500 and have spent most of the last six weeks in second place in the NL Central. Here's the good news: Jonathan Lester and John Lackey are beginning to pitch the way they were expected to pitch. Some of the young players are still struggling, and offense could be a problem until some of them get going. If Anthony Rizzo (who is hot) and Kristopher Bryant (who is not) get hot at the same time, it could impact everyone else in the lineup. Bottom line: The Cubs still have too much talent not to be playing in October, but it won't be like last season's magical waltz to a championship.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.