We are quickly nearing the halfway point of the baseball season. The good teams have been really good while the bad teams have been, well, pretty bad.
If the season ended today, we’d have quite the interesting postseason. Some long-time regulars are at the forefront while some new faces are looking to rekindle the magic they had in the early to mid-2000s. The New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners would represent the American League, while the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, and Philadelphia Phillies would be playing into October in the National League.
But what about the teams outside the wild card race. Who is lined up for an exciting second half that we’ll talk about in years to come?
The Dodgers were arguably the biggest under performers of the first half. But they are 13-5 in June and the most valuable pitcher in the the NL West is ready to return in a Saturday night showdown with Jacob deGrom. This team is seeming to come together, and there is entirely too much talent for them not to threaten the Diamondbacks perch atop the division.
Matt Kemp was the hero of the first half, posting an almost unthinkable .901 OPS after what looked like his career was falling off the tracks. While his .320/.356/.545 slash line is likely unsustainable, it should be ok with a bevy of young power behind him trending in the right direction.
Cody Bellinger’s sophomore slump continues to confound people. He is striking out and walking at a nearly identical rate as last season, but suffering from an unfavorable .276 BABIP. If he can start hitting them where they ain’t, his second half surge can propel this team over the top. Max Muncy continues to be a pleasant surprise and seems to be only getting better with a 1.151 OPS in June and a 13-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Joc Pederson is looking like the prospect the Dodgers once thought they had, and is striking out just 14 percent of the time which has been his Achilles heel the past few seasons.
There are a lot of variables at stake for the Dodgers to do well, but the return of Kershaw is a step in the right direction. How will his back hold up? Can Hyun-Jin Ryu return in top shape on his expected timetable of July? Can Chris Taylor find that magic from his breakout 2017 to help lessen the blow of Corey Seager’s loss? Is Ross Stripling for real? Just how many blisters will Rich Hill have in the second half?
While the pipeline isn’t as deep as it has been with back-to-back rookie of the year campaigns, there is certainly enough enticing pieces to be active buyers in July. The Dodgers have enough talent to right the ship and make a run at their sixth-straight NL West title.
Before the season began, the Athletics were my team to watch in the American League. They are young and have some exciting pieces that just smelled like the recipe for feel-good story of 2018. Thus far, they have impressed, sitting at 39-37 and more than halfway to their win total of 73 last season.
The Athletics are powered by the fifth-best home run hitting squad in baseball, totaling 101 heading into Saturday’s action. Apparently, the days of Moneyball have fallen by the wayside, as their .312 OBP ranks in the bottom third of baseball. Still, several young sluggers make this team fun to watch.
Boom-or-bust Khris Davis is still the leader of this bunch, already with 20 home runs and two multi-homer games in June alone. While Matt Olson isn’t keeping up with his ludicrous home run rate from his rookie debut (24 in 59 games) he is looking like he is getting back into form amid his best month of the season. Jed Lowrie continues to defy age and he and Marcus Semien seem like the perfect combo to anchor the middle of this infield.
Pitching is the biggest question mark, as there is no verified ace on the team. Young Sean Manea has certainly put his stamp on claiming the role, his April 21 no-hitter of a Boston team that had the most wins in baseball heading into Saturday. Young Frankie Montas has looked very sharp, but he has faced some subpar competition, his lone loss coming against the Astros who rocked him for 11 hits and five runs. With a bevy of injuries to the rotation, if the place holding starters can hold off until the bullpen comes in, the Athletics are in good shape. While Blake Treinen is the topic of many a trade rumor, if the A’s are surging at the deadline, he likely won’t go anywhere as one of the best closers in the first half.
The A’s need a lot of things to fall there way to avoid an all-out fire sale, especially playing in a suddenly ultra-competitive AL West. But this team has the makings of one that can surprise.
Ok, so the Friars aren’t going to make some surprise run to the postseason, but I never said this was a list of playoff contenders. Think outside the box, a la the Yankees in 2016 and the Braves in 2017.
The Padres have arguably the best farm system in baseball. Much like the Yankees and Braves did the previous years, the Pads can and will likely make some call ups that make them one of the more exciting teams to watch. Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge debuted in a lost 2016 and Ozzie Albies took Atlanta by storm at the end of last year. The Padres have some pieces to do the same.
If we’re lucky we will get to see the highly-anticipated debut of Luis Urias. Franmil Reyes should be back. With a bevy of talent at San Antonio like Fernando Tatis, Jr., Josh Naylor, Logan Allen, Cal Quantrill and Michael Gettys it’s not out of the question one or two get a few looks late September. Combine that with an already youthful team that could be a lot worse than they currently are, the Padres should make it entertaining to watch regardless of what the scoreboard says.