Article Written by Hudson Stewart (@hudson_stewart6)
With the first half of the MLB season coming to an end, I thought I would look at how each division stacks up currently. Playoff spots will likely change from now to October, but right now we have a pretty good idea of who the teams in contention for the postseason are.
American League East
This division is playing out like most people expected it to. The Red Sox and Yankees are by far the best two teams in this division, and the only question remaining is which one will win it, and which team will have to play in the Wild Card Game. Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Toronto are all miles below Boston and New York in terms of talent, and it’s pretty clear that this narrative will stay the same for a while. All three of Tampa, Toronto and Baltimore will be sellers at the deadline this year, with the biggest fish being Manny Machado of the Orioles. Machado is going to be traded by July 31st, but to where? Boston and New York are both interested in Machado, but teams like Philadelphia and the Dodgers are in the mix as well. Boston currently holds a 4.5 game lead over New York for top stop in the division, thanks to a good starting rotation led by Chris Sale and a pair of unreal seasons being put together by Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. The Yankees, on the other hand, are dealing with some injuries in their rotation (Tanaka & Montgomery), and are relying on quality outings from guys like Domingo German and Luis Cessa at the back of rotation. They’ve also been putting up with a very inconsistent Sonny Gray. That along with the injuries means they’ll look to trade for a starter at the deadline in order to fill one of their only holes.
American League Central
The A.L. Central might be the most boring division in baseball right now. The Indians are pretty much a lock to win it, with the closest team being the Twins with a 44-50 record, who have had an extremely disappointing season after making the Wild Card game last year. The rest of the division is filled with three rebuilding teams; the Tigers, White Sox, and Royals. I could see the White Sox being decent in a few years because of their deep prospect pool. But other than that, I don’t see any real threat to Cleveland for the next few years. The Indians are cruising to a playoff spot thanks to the usual greatness from Corey Kluber and Francisco Lindor, but also because of another very productive season from Jose Ramirez. Ramirez finished the first half of the season with a .302 average to go along with 20 home runs, 79 RBI, and 20 stolen bases. Cleveland will definitely make the playoffs as the winner of the Central. But once they get there, I don’t think they will fair well against the other A.L. teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros.
American League West
The A.L. West is a division that is far more competitive than the East or the Central. This division features four teams with above .500 records, and two teams that are currently in playoff spots. The Astros are leading the division by 5 games over the Mariners - who are having a great season despite not having Robinson Cano due to a PED suspension. This division also has the A’s and the Angels, who are both good teams, but both currently sit out of the playoffs. With one of the Wild Card Spots going to the Yankees or Red Sox, the 2nd place team in the A.L. West will play one of those teams in the Wild Card Game. Right now, the Mariners occupy that spot, but the A’s are only 3 games back of them, thanks to good seasons from Matt Chapman, Khris Davis, Jed Lowrie, and Sean Manaea, who actually no-hit the Red Sox earlier this season. As for the Angels, they’re not having a bad year, but they just sit in a tough division. They’ve seen what a star Shohei Ohtani will be, and they’ve got Mike Trout as well, so I think they’ll be fine going forward. As for the Rangers, they’re pretty irrelevant right now, with the only interesting news around them being where they will trade Cole Hamels at the trade deadline. Like I said earlier, this is a very competitive division, but I still think there’s a team much better than the other ones. I expect Houston to pull away and win the West with ease. Their pitching staff, lead by Verlander and Cole, has been unreal, and they’re getting the normal production from the lineup. Maybe Houston adds a bullpen arm or two at the deadline, but other than that, I don’t really see any holes in their team.
National League East
This division is the one that’s probably surprised the most people so far. A lot of people expected the Nationals to run away with the division again, but instead it’s been the Braves and Phillies battling for the top spot in the division. Right now, the Phillies hold a 0.5 game lead on the Braves, and 5.5 game lead on the Nationals for the top spot in the division. Philadelphia has found their ace this season in Aaron Nola, who has a 2.30 ERA going into the break. They’ve also gotten a pretty good season out of Jake Arrieta so far, who currently holds a 3.23 ERA. The team they’re battling with - the Braves - has also surprised some people this year, and that’s largely due to the breakout season Ozzie Albies is having, as well as some great production from Nick Markakis and Freddie Freeman. Like I said, the Nationals were expected to win their division this year, but so far, it hasn’t gone as planned. Max Scherzer has been himself, posting a 2.41 ERA, but the rest of the team hasn’t been doing their part. Bryce Harper is only hitting .214 on the season, and injuries have plagued Adam Eaton, Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg and Daniel Murphy. I think Washington will pick it up after the All-Star Break, but the question for me is whether or not they will be able to catch Philly and Atlanta in the standings. In the basement of the division, you have the Marlins and Mets, who are both having abysmal seasons. The Mets started the season 11-1, but then completely fell off, and the Marlins are playing about as well as people expected them to, since they had a fire-sale in the off-season. I don’t expect either of these teams to improve any time soon, especially with the way Atlanta and Philadelphia have improved.
National League Central
The N.L. Central is a very close division at the top of it, with the Cubs leading the Brewers by 2.5 games. Chicago has had to overcome injuries to Kris Bryant and Yu Darvish, but they’ve been just fine thanks to some great production from Javier Baez and Willson Contreras, as well as another solid year from Jon Lester. The team behind the Cubs is the Brewers, who made some big addition in the off-season, with Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. Both of those players have been great on their new team, and they’ve also been pleasantly surprised with 24 home runs from Jesus Aguilar. The weakness that the Brewers have is the starting rotation, so I expect them to be in the market for that at the trade deadline. At the 3 and 4 spots in the division, you have the Cardinals and Pirates. The Cardinals just fired Mike Matheny after a terrible weekend where the Reds destroyed them, so they’re looking to reset, and the Pirates weren’t expected to be good this year after they traded McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. So it’s a bit surprising that they’re only 9 games back. As for the last place team in the N.L. Central - the Cincinnati Reds - they’re having a very strange season. They sit at 43-53, but when you look at the leaders of the offensive categories in the National League, Reds players are all over it. Scooter Gennett leads the N.L. in batting average, with Eugenio Suarez 5th in that category. Suarez is also 2nd in the N.L. in RBI's behind Javier BAez of the Cubs. The fact that Cincinnati has these two players who are near the top of the league in these categories, to go along with another good season from Joey Votto makes it shocking that they’re last in the division, but their pitching has been pretty bad, so that’s what brings them down. In the end, I think this division will go down to the wire, but I think the Cubs will win it.
National League West
The N.L. West is the closest division in baseball; there are only 4 games separating the top four teams in it. The Dodgers lead the division, despite a season ending injury to Corey Seager, injuries to Clayton Kershaw, and an injury at the beginning of the season to Justin Turner. They’ve overcome those injuries thanks to a resurgence from Matt Kemp, as well as some unexpected production from Max Muncy. Only a half a game back of the Dodgers are the Diamondbacks, and then right behind them are the Rockies. Both the Diamondbacks and Rockies are within striking distance of the division, and I think a big deadline move is what could push one of these teams over the top. The Diamondbacks are another team tied to Manny Machado, and the Rockies could always use some more starting pitching. At the #4 spot in the division are the Giants, who are only 4 games back of the Dodgers. The Giants have gotten great years from Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, who are both hitting near .300. The problem for the Giants has been the health of their starting rotation, with both Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto on the DL a lot, so they’ll have to get that figured out in order to compete for a playoff spot. At the bottom of the division are the Padres, who despite signing Eric Hosmer in the off-season are still a rebuilding team, and shouldn’t be expected to win for a few more years. It’s really hard to predict what will happen, but if I had to choose, I’d expect the Dodgers to win this one.
Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter (@SouthOfThe6ix)