|The Giants' No. 1 second-half priority is getting Tim Lincecum back to right. (AP)|
With the All-Star Game festivities firmly in the rearview mirror -- as I return home reeking of wonderful BBQ (heart you, KC) -- it's time to shift our focus not on what has happened, but instead look ahead to the second half. What happens between now and July 31 -- that pesky trade deadline -- will go a long way in determining who makes the postseason, but we still basically have the landscape in place for an incredible second half.
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The AL Central has three teams within 3.5 games of first place. The NL East has three within 4.5, the NL West three within four. And the NL Central has three teams within 2.5 games of first place -- that first-place team being the Pittsburgh Pirates, who haven't had a winning season since George Bush (the elder) was POTUS.
And, of course, there is that second wild-card spot. It adds more teams to the race while also putting back that extra value on winning the division, since the wild cards used to enter postseason play on equal footing with division winners. Now, the two wild cards square off in one "play-in" game. More than anything, though, this extra wild card gives more fans hope that their team has a shot at the postseason.
In the American League, only three teams (the Royals, Twins and Mariners) are not within 2.5 games of the second wild-card spot. That's one series! Talk about parity.
In the National League, three teams are just a half-game out of the second wild card, with three more within six games of it. The Phillies are 10 games out, but finally getting healthy, and this is a team that won 102 games last season.
We'll leave the Phillies out of the conversation and let you decide on your own if there's a chance to make up that ground. Otherwise, there are 22 definitely legitimate playoff contenders.
As for the rankings, let me assign a goal for each team moving forward. Please feel free to contact me via email with comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.