As we get set for the last two weeks before the trade deadline and then the stretch run for the postseason, many races have relatively big gaps. The NL Central is still a bit bunched up, but the Cubs' lead is to 2 1/2 games. The NL wild card, however, has the potential to get absolutely ridiculous.
Think about this: We've been talking about the Giants and how they are going to trade impending free agent Madison Bumgarner (Will Smith, among others, as well) all season, just assuming the Giants weren't in contention and would sell. They have strung together wins in eight of their past 10, though, and sit 4 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot. That's striking range, right? A 4 1/2-game deficit is workable.
We've spent lots of time talking about what an utter mess the Mets are -- and it is a mess -- and we've all wondered if this would be the day that we wake up and find out Mickey Callaway was given his walking papers. The Mets are actually six games out of the second wild-card spot. If they somehow made it there, Jacob deGrom taking the ball all of a sudden gives them a chance to get to the NLDS.
Far-fetched? Maybe, but almost anything is on the table in the NL. We know a few things, like the Dodgers are the obvious best team and have the NL West locked up again. We should probably feel comfortable with the Braves taking the NL East, though it's not a done deal or anything. The NL Central is tight nearly top to bottom, though not as tight after the Cubs' sweep and Brewers' series loss the first weekend out of the break.
Something else we know: The wild card is a glorious mess.
The Nationals -- yes, the team that was 19-31 at one point -- hold the top spot by 1 1/2 games. The Phillies -- who have gone 11-18 since June 8, which is tied for the worst record in the NL since then -- hold the second spot.
The Brewers are a half-game out and the Cardinals are only one game back. The Diamondbacks and Rockies are 1 1/2 games out. Five teams within 1 1/2 games of each other are fighting for one spot! That's amazing. It gets better, too.
That is eight teams not in playoff position with a less-than-five-game deficit in the wild-card race, which is just outrageous and, as noted, we normally wouldn't count out a team six back like the Mets.
The problem from the bottom part there with the Mets and trickling down the Giants and Reds is that it's tough to leapfrog so many teams in a short period of time. Being 4 1/2 games back with eight teams in the way heading to, say, September and it's tough to seriously call the team a contender.
On July 15, though? Bring it on. The Giants and Reds are absolutely contenders at this minute and you really can't yet discount the Mets.
I'm sure some front offices around the league would love lots of clarity before the end of this month because last year gave us a cautionary tale: The Pirates got ridiculously hot (winning 13 of 15 with an 11-game winning streak) and traded Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows for Chris Archer. Oops.
Then again, there were some arguing the 2014 Royals should have been sellers, but they stayed the course and won seven of their last nine in July before going 19-10 in August and ending up 90 feet away from tying Game 7 of the World Series in the ninth in Kauffman Stadium.
To reiterate, surely lots of front offices would love clarity in the next few weeks, making it easier to know which direction to take things.
From our perspective as fans? Bring maximum chaos. Let's hope the entire league, aside from the Marlins, who can't make up the ground, is within five games of a playoff spot heading into September. That would be something.
|The bullpen is a real concern. This is not a time to mess around. They need to do whatever it takes to get multiple lockdown arms. This is a stellar team, but the regular season doesn't even matter any more.||1||37-15|
|I'm calling a huge second half for James Paxton.||1||30-21|
|That was a statement series win in Cleveland. The Twins were facing the possibility of their once double-digit lead in the division shrinking to 2 1/2 games if they were swept. Instead, they took the first two games and leave with a bigger lead than they arrived with.||1||31-22|
|In 20 games since his return from injury, Jose Altuve is hitting .326 with seven doubles and three homers.||1||25-26|
|The Braves have gone 9-0-1 in their last 10 series and the tie was splitting a four-game series in Wrigley Field. Impressive bunch.||--||30-21|
|HUGE week for the Rays with them heading to the Bronx for a four-game series. The deficit in the AL East could end up anywhere from two to 10 games.||--||34-18|
|The A's have gone 24-11 since a five-game losing streak ended on June 4.||1||32-19|
|Shane Bieber's inning in the All-Star Game was so fun.||1||28-23|
|Are they gonna do it again? Under Joe Maddon, the Cubs are now 192-103 after the All-Star break, which is a .651 clip (that's a 162-game pace of 105 wins).||3||31-20|
|Nomar Mazara (.261/.314/.439) is frustrating. There's too much physical talent here to justify posting mediocre numbers every season. He is only 24, so there's a chance it'll click soon.||--||18-33|
|What if Dave Martinez wins Manager of the Year? It's possible!||--||19-30|
|OK, so I don't really think losing a series to the Dodgers -- when the series-deciding game went 12 innings -- is that bad, but their hot streak before the break came against terrible teams. We just still can't be sure.||3||19-33|
|I really wonder about losing Andrew McCutchen, relating to how the Phillies have been bad since shortly after the injury.||1||26-25|
|The Angels have gone 6-3 since having lost Tyler Skaggs. What a great story it would be if they made a deep playoff run and rallied around doing so in his memory. Angel in the outfield!||5||22-30|
|Paul Goldschmidt can get really hot without notice. He homered on Sunday. Maybe it's the start. The offense would be rejuvenated if he became the best version of himself.||3||24-24|
|The Brewers have gone 9-17 since June 12. That's tied with the Mets for the worst record in the National League in this time period.||3||24-26|
|When I mentioned in the intro that front offices would surely like some clarity, the D-Backs are one of the teams that came to mind. They made moves in the offseason like a rebuilding team and on that front surely they'd love to get a good return and unload some of the Zack Greinke money. They can't justify selling at this deficit, though, and also don't want to do something like the Pirates did last year if they are buying. Tough spot.||2||20-32|
|Rough sweep at the hands of an excellent team and now the Padres get a nine-game road trip. Fortunately six of the games are against the Marlins and Mets.||2||33-19|
|Rough series, but if they can take something positive away, it would be how great Chris Archer looked for six innings before the wheels fell off for him in the seventh on Friday. It was encouraging.||2||15-36|
|Maybe they just needed the break to kind of reset things -- like restarting your electronic devices when they are acting wonky.||--||22-28|
|Buster Posey has had multiple hits in five of his last 10 games. Maybe there's something left!||2||25-25|
|Here's your chance to make a move, Reds: Three games at Cubs, four games vs. Cardinals and three games at Brewers are their next 10. Show us what you're made of.||1||26-26|
|What a bad series to open the second half, especially with how they lost Sunday (walk-off throwing error). Rough stretches will happen at this stage of the rebuild, though. Still plenty of positive to pass around.||1||33-18|
|I asked Pete Alonso if he knows what the Mets' franchise record for home runs is. He emphatically said "41" right away and that he's coming for it. I loved it.||--||23-28|
|Kyle Seager's drastic decline is kind of depressing. He was getting MVP votes in 2016 and he's still only 31.||--||22-29|
|In the last month, Starlin Castro has hit .311. He's a pretty empty batting average type and doesn't bring much value on defense, but if he stays this hot, there's a chance he'll get dealt. He only has a club option for next season, so he's gonna be a free agent after the year.||--||26-24|
|The performance by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the Home Run Derby was one of the most fun things we'll see this season. Who cares if it doesn't actually count and he didn't win?||--||26-25|
|The really don't understand the Royals' aversion to trading Whit Merrifield. He'll be 33 by the time the Royals are ready to contend again. Deal him while he's hot to restock the farm.||--||21-30|
|I was about to be all excited about Harold Castro, but I see 25 strikeouts against four walks in 117 plate appearances. Uh oh.||--||21-29|
|Last season, the Orioles set a franchise record with 115 losses. They are now on pace to lose 113 games. This could go down to the wire.||--||22-30|