When we're talking about stats or the standings in baseball, the "first half" are the games played before the All-Star break -- regardless of whether a team has played 81 of its first 162 scheduled games. Most teams will reach that mark the the end of the holiday weekend, yet there's still two more weeks of play before we get to the break.
As such, being only halfway through the season even though it's been such a grind to get to this point, let's take a look at each playoff race and predict how fun (read: close) it'll be.
AL East -- Snoozefest. It's over.
AL Central -- We discussed this last week and the conclusion is the same. Though it might not be the best baseball, there's a great shot it'll be incredibly fun. The White Sox are in third place, but within striking range and have a boatload of head-to-heads remaining against both the Guardians and Twins.
AL West -- The Astros can yawn their way to another title here, so we'll yawn along with them. The fact that two division leaders have a lead of 13 1/2 games at the Fourth of July is ridiculous.
AL wild cards -- AL East teams hold all three spots right now, but the Guardians are only 1 1/2 games out. The White Sox are four out and, get this, the Rangers and Mariners are only five out. With the AL East being so tough -- even the Orioles aren't that far behind here at 7 1/2 back -- there could well be an opening for a lesser-looking roster. There's potential for major chaos here and that's fun.
NL East -- I'm counting the Phillies out now, but a Mets-Braves race is intriguing. It's currently a 3 1/2 game lead for the Mets, though it was once 10 1/2, which means the conventional wisdom here is "the Braves have all the momentum and are going to catch them." For me, what matters most is that the Mets have the lead. Those early-season wins count just as much as the Braves' June wins. It's going to be a fight, but the Mets have the advantage. Best of all, there are 15 games left between the two teams(!), starting a week from Monday. 👀
NL Central -- It's a two-team race, just as most assumed it would be from early on. Unfortunately, there are only seven games left between the Brewers and Cardinals. Fortunately, they will be very competitive. They are each 6-6 against one another so far, with three four-game splits.
NL West -- The Dodgers did a little separating here this past weekend, though the Padres salvaging Sunday made it workable. Still, the smart money is on the Dodgers. In fact, a Dodgers win by at least 10 games here seems more likely than another team winning it.
NL wild cards -- Whichever contenders don't win the Central and East will be major players here, as will the Padres. Those would be the chalk picks at this point (giving us the Mets, Braves, Cardinals, Brewers, Dodgers and Padres in the playoffs), but the Giants and Phillies are in the ballpark and even the Marlins are within striking range. The potential for chaos here is far lower than the AL, but it's possible. We'll go with a medium-level-of-fun prediction. Beats those AL East and AL West races, right?
1st in The Official Power Rankings -- The Yankees have held down the top spot for the last several weeks with ease, but I think the Astros and Dodgers are going to make this a fun three-team race the rest of the way.
|Here's our extreme stat for the day: The Reds lost 22 games in their first 25 games. The Yankees lost their 22nd game on Sunday, which was their 80th game.||--||72-45|
|Remember when their rotation in the World Series last year was on fumes? The rest of Major League Baseball won't be so fortunate this time around. This bunch is ridiculous and is only getting better.||1||75-43|
|Surely they aren't looking to head to the playoffs with Craig Kimbrel as their closer, right?||1||80-35|
|Max Scherzer returns Tuesday, Jacob deGrom took a rehab start Sunday (striking out five in 1 2/3 innings). Ownership and the front office will be very aggressive in acquisitions in July. There are plenty of tools here for a late surge.||--||75-42|
|Spencer Strider has been one of the better pitchers in baseball four of his last five starts. That June 21 clunker appears to be an outlier, because I think he's legit.||2||72-46|
|If the Padres do end up winning the West and proving me wrong, Sunday's ninth-inning comeback will end up being one game they could look back on.||--||65-54|
|They've won six of eight and Brandon Woodruff is back.||1||62-53|
|Seven of their next 10 games are against the Red Sox with the Reds in between. Perhaps they will see red. Sorry, that was bad. It's a big opportunity.||3||62-53|
|On balance, a 4-4 week against the Red Sox and Rays isn't all that bad but they won four of the first five before dropping the final three. It was such a good start to the week that provided them an opportunity, and they fell apart.||--||61-54|
|Sometimes I don't realize the power I have. I never know when it's going to happen like this, but the Red Sox were a victim. I thought they merited an aggressive promotion up to number five last week. They then lost two of three in a big series in Toronto and were nearly swept in Wrigley. It seems too obvious to point out they saw their lofty ranking by yours truly and were too proud of themselves.||5||58-59|
|On Saturday, the Cardinals became the 11th team in MLB history to hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs. There were only three instances before 2006 and they all happened from 1961-64. How weird and cool is that?||1||64-51|
|The highlight of the week was Josh Naylor's post-walk-off celebration when he head-butted manager Terry Francona (who was armed and ready with a helmet).||1||62-55|
|All five of their losses to the Guardians in the last two weeks were blown by the bullpen. Had they held onto each of those games, they'd have a 12-game lead. Instead, it's two. I was going to say that "might" matter, but I actually feel like it should, you know?||1||60-55|
|Darick Hall is 26 years old and had spent six seasons in the minors (remember, that doesn't include the lost minor-league year of 2020). He was promoted on the heels of the Bryce Harper injury and homered three times in his first three MLB games. That's pretty damn cool. Good for him.||1||65-51|
|They have seven games against the Twins, starting Monday, and four against the Guardians before the All-Star break. After that impressive sweep in San Francisco, it's time to fully engage.||3||61-56|
|The Giants went 14-7 in April, 13-14 in May, 13-13 in June and have lost all three July games so far. At this point, counting on the 2021 magic to return doesn't seem like the smart play.||2||59-57|
|Robbie Ray now has five straight starts in which he's allowed no more than one run. He's struck out 40 in 33 2/3 innings in that span.||3||64-54|
|Jonah Heim was drafted and signed out of high school in 2013. He has over 2,000 plate appearances in the minors. It looks like he has a good shot to make the All-Star team this season. That's pretty damn cool. Good for him.||2||52-64|
|Last week I mentioned Sandy Alcantara's huge workload and how fun it has been to watch. In his next start, he convinced his manager, Don Mattingly, to leave him in a one-run game with two runners on in the ninth and he induced a double play for the complete-game victory. What a run he is on.||2||52-65|
|If a player is having such a terrible season that the Cubs cut him and you immediately plug him into a middle-infield spot AND lead him off, your roster might have issues. I speak of Jonathan Villar and the Angels.||1||51-66|
|Right-hander Tyler Wells allowed four runs in just 1 2/3 innings his first start of the year. In 15 starts since then, he hasn't allowed more than three runs. In all, he has a 2.68 ERA if we lop off that opener.||4||61-55|
|Can we soon add C.J. Cron to the Blake Street Bombers and other Rockies legends? He's nearly on a pace of 40 homers and 120-plus RBI. Rockies players who have done that before: Dante Bichette, Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga, Larry Walker, Vinny Castilla, Todd Helton and Nolan Arenado.||1||51-67|
|Possibly interesting nugget: The Diamondbacks last six weeks are almost all games against contenders, so they'll have their thumbprints on the playoff races. They play the Rockies Aug. 12-14 and after that it's the Giants, Cardinals, Royals, White Sox, Phillies, Brewers, Padres, Rockies, Dodgers, Padres, Dodgers, Giants, Astros, Giants and Brewers. It's possible only the Royals and Rockies series don't have major implications on the playoffs.||1||53-63|
|Are you ready for this week's "Baseball!" entry? You know you are. There have been 11 three-homer games from individual players this season in all of baseball. The Pirates had three from June 19-30 (Jack Suwinski, Bryan Reynolds, Michael Perez). Baseball!||--||45-71|
|Patrick Wisdom has 17 home runs right now. I don't think he can get to 40, but did you know the last Cubs player to hit 40 in a season was Derrek Lee in 2005? Kris Bryant topped out at 39, Kyle Schwarber 38, Aramis Ramirez 38, Javier Baez 34 and Anthony Rizzo's high was 32.||--||48-67|
|Look, I like Amir Garrett and I've long enjoyed the feud between him and Javier Báez, but when it's two of the worst teams in the league facing off and you start screaming at the on-deck circle when the umpire gifts you a called strike three, you're just making a fool of yourself. Clean it up.||3||48-70|
|Spencer Torkelson homered Sunday for the first time since May 18. There's always the hope any home run is the start of a barrage, so Tigers fans can cling to that.||1||45-74|
|Both Tyler Mahle and Luis Castillo are throwing the ball really well and don't hit free agency until after the 2023 season. There are plenty of teams who could use starting pitching of this caliber, so it'll be fun to watch the rumors in the next month.||1||45-70|
|After a double and home run on Sunday, Josh Bell is now hitting .319/.401/.517 this season. He's a switch hitter and is a free agent after the season. Every contender should have some level of interest.||1||39-79|
|The A's haven't lost 100-plus games in a season since 1979. Halfway through this season, they've lost 55. We can probably do the math. Can A's ownership? Do they care?||--||42-75|