Three and a half months of baseball are in the books, the All-Star break is finally here. The break, for some, is a time to rest and recharge. For others, not so much; but I am sure those players and coaches are not complaining, as they get to be a part of the festivities. The All-Star break also means the hunt for October is taking shape, so let’s look at the races right now, as well as who has the best chance at winning the World Series.
(As a disclaimer: if you don’t see your team in the standings, it is because they are out the race or have only a minimal shot at October baseball.)
|AL East||Record||Games Behind|
|New York Yankees||57-31||–|
|Tampa Bay Rays||52-39||6.5|
|Boston Red Sox||49-41||9|
|AL Central||Record||Games Behind|
|AL West||Record||Games Behind|
|AL Wild Card||Record||Games Behind|
|Tampa Bay Rays||52-39||+0.5|
|Boston Red Sox||49-41||2|
|Los Angeles Angels||45-46||6.5|
|NL East||Record||Games Behind|
|NL Central||Record||Games Behind|
|St. Louis Cardinals||44-44||2|
|NL Wild Card||Record||Games Behind|
|San Diego Padres||45-45||2|
|St. Louis Cardinals||44-44||2|
|San Francisco Giants||41-48||5.5|
Let’s be honest here: unless the 60–32 Los Angeles Dodgers, who lead their division by 13.5 games, suddenly forget how to play baseball or suffer catastrophic injuries, they are not losing their grip on that division. In fact, if they were better than 23–20 on the road, they probably would be leading this division by a billion games.
Real World Series Contenders
Before the season, I believed we would get a rematch of last year’s ALCS between the Astros and Red Sox. Fast forward to now, and I am singing a much different tune. Boston has struggled to find consistency so far. There are games when their pitching is good but their bats are quiet, and nights when it is the other way round. The Red Sox currently aren’t a playoff team, but should they get healthy and begin to click, they are too talented to not play in October for a chance to defend their crown.
New York and Houston have had their fair share of injuries, but they have nevertheless found ways to show that they are the two best teams in baseball. They both bring depth and lineups capable of scoring runs in bunches. The edge in pitching would have to go to the Yankees, at least for now. Brad Peacock and Wade Miley have been pretty good at the back end of the Astros’ rotation; however, they don’t eat a lot of innings as both have pitched 7+ innings only twice combined.
The inability to go deep in their games causes the bullpen usage to go up, which leads to tired arms in September. Aside from pitching concerns, the weaknesses the Yankees and the Astros have are minimal.
Which brings me to the Rays, Indians, and Twins. Tampa Bay is the biggest challenger, but make no mistake, all three are very good teams. The Rays have a deadly 1–2 combination of Snell and Morton; will that be enough to help pull off an upset? As good as Minnesota and Cleveland both are, the banged-up Astros obliterated the Indians in last year’s ALDS. Houston did not break a sweat in that series, and if they or even the Yankees are healthy entering the playoffs this year; it is going to be a long three games.
For Minnesota and Cleveland, the odds will not be in their favor; however, if they can compete hard and make the Astros or Yankees sweat a little, then that is a win itself.
The Yankees and Astros appear on a collision course, to once again face each other in the ALCS. The reality is that whichever two teams are at their best and healthiest come playoff time, those are going to be the two to play for a trip to the World Series. Home-field advantage was a non-factor in last year’s ALCS, and may not matter against the Dodgers; however, having the run to the World Series come through Houston, Yankee stadium, or even Minnesota is something each team has in their minds.
On the National League side, there isn’t much to say other than that the Dodgers are in a class of their own. All you have to do is look at the National League standings: aside from the Marlins and Mets, everyone has a pulse for a playoff spot. The Braves right now are the only team in the National League who appear able to challenge the Dodgers.
Another challenger to Los Angeles, quite frankly, is themselves. How is LA going to be mentally, knowing they’re likely reach a third consecutive World Series, but again likely come up empty-handed?
With the All-Star break here, that also signifies the July 31 trade deadline is nearing. Since the creation of the second wild card team, there has not been as much significant buzz as there was in years past. That’s mostly because that final wild card spot has given more teams hope of reaching the playoffs.
Fortunes can change quickly in baseball, so as the deadline draws even closer, it will be interesting to wonder who the buyers and sellers will be. While the other 28 teams don’t resume regular-season play until Friday, July 12, the Astros and Rangers will take action on Thursday, July 11, in Arlington. So enjoy the break, ladies and gentleman: The hunt for October is set to begin.