Grading the first half: A's flying

The A's have had a fun first half, haven't they?
The A's have had a fun first half, haven't they? (USATSI)

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Though we're technically past the literal halfway point (81 games) of the season, the All-Star break is now upon us, which means the "first half" of the MLB season is now in the books. So let's dole out some first-half grades for all 30 teams.

Something to keep in mind: Expectations matter. If a good team was supposed to be better than they actually are, they might have a lower grade than a bad team that is playing better than expected. Let's not be simple-minded enough to think we should just copy the standings with an A for first place, B for second, C for third and so on. Got it? Good, let's have at it.

A An off year for Chris Davis , a season-ending injury for Matt Wieters , an injury and a slow start for Manny Machado , a change at closer due to underperformance and overall not very good pitching ... and they're in first place. That's pretty impressive. Yes, a few things have obviously gone well, too, but to survive all the bad listed above is pretty amazing.
B- Coming into the season, if you told Toronto Blue Jays fans their team would be over .500 heading into the All-Star break, surely they would have been happy, but after winning 20 of 24 at one stretch only to fall apart like they have merits a downgrade.
C+ The injury to Masahiro Tanaka is worthy of a pass, but the rest of the roster was fragile heading into the season and there hasn't been enough depth to compensate. They are just an old, fragile team. Also, they are mediocre.
F They aren't quite as talented as last season, but they still have too much talent to be this far below .500. Lots of underperforming here, teamed with a pretty bad offseason by general manager Ben Cherington.
D A recent hot streak saves them from an F, but this team had playoff aspirations (as usual) and at one point was 18 games below .500 and now they could be parting with David Price .
A- A great team destroying the rest of its division, looking a cinch to cruise into the playoffs again. Why the minus? Well, they had that terrible stretch from mid-May to mid-June and there's at least some cause for concern with Justin Verlander .
C At one point, they would have had an A, but they've been completely buried by the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central and will have to again focus on the wild card to break their MLB-long playoff drought. Mike Moustakas and to a lesser extent Eric Hosmer still not being quality middle-of-the-order types hurts them, too.
C The very definition of a C is this Cleveland Indians team. They haven't been able to get more than two games over .500, but have never dropped below six under .500. They are just treading water right in the middle of the curve.
B Though not a good team, there are moments when it's among the most exciting in the league, especially when Chris Sale is pitching or Jose Abreu is batting. Coming off a brutal 2013 season, this campaign has been a pleasant surprise in many ways.
D+ The Minnesota Twins were on the fringe of contention for a while, but have fallen a bit back. The Ricky Nolasco signing thus far is a disaster and Joe Mauer is underperforming to the point that he said he doesn't blame the fans for booing him and his Grandpa said he needs to play better.
A+ They lost Bartolo Colon from the rotation in free agency before also losing Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin to Tommy John surgery. No matter, the A's have been the best team throughout most of the season and recently upgraded their rotation. Easy A+.
A After an 0-3 start caused many fans and local media to overreact, the Los Angeles Angels have been one of the best teams in baseball throughout the first half. The only thing keeping them from first place is being in the wrong division.
A- Though the offense needs to be a lot better, the Seattle Mariners surely would have taken their standing heading into the All-Star break if offered as much during the spring. The Robinson Cano addition has helped greatly, but Felix Hernandez is having perhaps his best season ever and helped weather an early storm of rotation injuries.
B Similar to the Chicago Cubs (see below), there are many reasons to call the Houston Astros season a success. Jose Altuve is amazing. To different degrees, Dallas Keuchel and Jarred Cosart have proven they can stick in the rotation long-term while Brad Peacock has a chance to do the same. George Springer and Jon Singleton have shown they can anchor the lineup in the future, too. It's a rebuilding project, so ignore the W-L total and realize 2014 has been a good year for Houston.
F Injuries, underperformance and a lack of big-league depth have made the 2014 season an absolute disaster. Just two years ago at this time they were one of the best teams in baseball, too. Easy F here.
B Being nine games over .500 and tied for first place after losing 40 percent of its rotation in the spring due to Tommy John surgery is pretty good. The offensive inconsistencies are too troubling to merit an A, though. They need to be able to count on more than three hitters.
B Injuries hurt for sure, as much of the offense was on the shelf in the first half. So in light of that, being tied for first place definitely warrants a good grade. Still, an argument could be made they didn't do enough to take advantage of the Atlanta Braves  struggles before the recent red-hot surges by both teams.
C Giancarlo Stanton has been outstanding, Henderson Alvarez is a deserved All-Star and there has been plenty from Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna to excite. Before his crushing injury, Jose Fernandez looked like one of baseball's best pitchers. Overall, though, it has been a subpar season and until there's talk of a contract extension with a no-trade clause, there's little reason to believe Stanton's first true pennant race will be with this team. Specifically, the difference in the Miami Marlins compared to the Houston Astros and the Cubs is we don't know if the development of youngsters will actually benefit the Marlins in the future.
C+ It has been a roller-coaster of a first half in Queens. I would like to see better development from Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud , but there have been some positive signs from each. I thought heading into the season that a 2015 breakout (with Matt Harvey back and a few of the prospects more established) was likely and while that's still possible, I feel like we need to see a bit more to believe that at this point.
D Lots of disappointing seasons here, notably Domonic Brown and this relatively old and overpriced roster continues to flounder. General manager Ruben Amaro has his work cut out for him in reshaping the roster, unless he's fired before the offseason.
A The sequencing of how their first half went was far from ideal, but put it this way: If, before the season, someone told you the Milwaukee Brewers would be 10 games over .500 and in first place, you would say they deserve an A, right? Absolutely. They weathered some injury adversity, too.
B- The defending NL champs and consensus NL Central favorites head into the break one game back of Milwaukee, which definitely isn't bad, but it's not where they intended to be. The power outage on offense and rotation injuries are a concern moving forward, but not nearly as much as missing Yadier Molina for at least two months.
B+ The Cincinnati Reds went through some rough patches this season, but considering all their injury woes -- pretty much to every aspect of the club -- it's remarkable they are right in the contending mix. I think the fans should be ecstatic with the current record considering what the team has gone through.
B They were eight games below .500 on May 20, so heading into the break three games over is definitely a good thing for Pittsburgh. The offense has been good and the addition of Gregory Polanco gives the Pittsburgh Pirates an unbelievable outfield that is under team control for years. The pitching, though, has been disappointing.
B They can't get an A due to being in last place, but when judged against the expectations for the season, the 2014 campaign has been a good one for the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are both All-Stars, the farm system might be the best in baseball -- with several at the upper levels in the minors and soon to help in the bigs much like Arismendy Alcantara already is -- and they got a great return for Jeff Samardzija and one-year flier Jason Hammel .
B They played very poorly for a while and much of their record came from beating up on the hapless Arizona Diamondbacks , however, they head into the break in first place. They were expected to be better than this, so the A eludes them for now.
B+ Much like I said with the Brewers, the sequencing isn't ideal, but overall the San Francisco Giants  record in totality shows a successful first half. Coughing up a 9½-game lead and heading into the break in second place, however, warrants a bit of a dock, though.
D Very good pitching and an abominable offense. This was expected to be the case, but the continued lack of development from so many of the position players is troubling.
D After a very good start, they've completely fallen apart. Injuries definitely played a role, which is why they're spared an F. Still, things have gotten bad enough that the owner told a fan to stop coming to the games. On the bright side: Troy Tulowitzki !
F After going 81-81 two straight seasons, they are one of baseball's worst teams. There have been a few good stretches, but none good enough to negate how much of a colossal failure this season has been.
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