In the spring and early summer the sports world explodes with meaningful activity (here comes a list): NCAA’s March Madness and College World Series, MLB’s Opening Day, PGA’s The Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship, NBA and Stanley Cup Finals, NBA and NFL Drafts, NBA Free-Agency, Horse-racing’s Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, Tennis’s Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Auto-racing’s Indianapolis 500, and this year even the World Cup.
At the end of July, the dust settles and one remains. That one is baseball, and all eyes turn now to the second half of the MLB season and upcoming pennant races.
In a twist, the Red Sox are proving to actually be better than the Yankees, and though both teams will make the playoffs, the AL East pennant will be highly sought after by rookie managers Alex Cora and Aaron Boone thanks to the Wild Card Game, which will place the loser one game from elimination.
Key aside–Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash turning to his bullpen to begin the game, making Sergio Romo the game’s first ever opening pitcher. Romo opened two consecutive games.
The Indians are certainly the best team and will win the Central easily. Cleveland is the only team in the Central that’s above .500, and though they still only lead by 7.5 games, there is no reason to think they’ll be challenged. With the ability to coast and with two of the best hitters in baseball in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, Cleveland could be a problem in a short series.
Key aside–Minnesota Twins SS Eduardo Escobar will represent a pivotal piece for someone at the deadline. Escobar leads the league with 36 doubles.
The expected meets the unexpected. The Houston Astros lead the pack with 64 wins, however, the Seattle Mariners, not the Los Angeles Angels, are the ones right behind them, and in an even bigger surprise the Oakland A’s are 13 games over .500 and just 3 games behind Seattle.
Doesn’t it seem like the Oakland A’s have overachieved in every single season under Billy Beane?
Houston is head and shoulders above, but whoever can finish second in the West will be in the playoffs.
Key aside–Robinson Cano returns from an 80 game suspension on August 14th. Seattle has gone 35-22 since Cano was suspended on May 15th.
MLB’s one-game playoff will face more criticism than ever, as the AL Wild Card game will feature at least one team with 100 wins. It may even feature two.
The last key race in the American League will be for the league’s best record. The winner, either the Astros, Boston Red Sox, or New York Yankees, will not have to face the one of the three that will likely emerge fresh off a victory in the wild-card game.
Boston and Houston are the frontrunners, with 68 and 64 wins respectively, and each team has the same record at home as on the road.
The winner will have to face the Cleveland Indians, though, so call it a victory if you want but every win will be earned in the American League pennant race.
The NL has good stories, like the unlikely battle brewing in the East between the Phillies and the Braves, and the overall state of the wild card race, which is still casting a wide net.
Other good National League storylines include the Cincinnati Reds, Jacob deGrom’s ERA, and Madison Bumgarner trade talk.
And now, it has Manny Machado and the Dodgers awakening.
Instead of the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets, the East will come down to either the Philadelphia Phillies or the Atlanta Braves. Each team is realizing themselves ahead of the curve, and now both will benefit from a hotly contested pennant race. Given the youth on each team, its a win-win for both. And while the buzz in the East is all focused on Philadelphia and Atlanta, but the Washington Nationals are still just 5.5 games out.
Key aside–Jacob deGrom has an ERA of 1.68. He has 5 wins and the Mets are 8-11 in games started by deGrom.
Everything here is exactly what we thought it would be. The Chicago Cubs lead, with the Milwaukee Brewers close behind. The Cubs are likely to get better and it will be up to Milwaukee to keep pace.
Key aside–The St. Louis Cardinals parted ways with manager Mike Matheny prior to the All-Star break. Bench coach Mike Shildt has assumed the role under an interim tag, however, there is already talk of Yadier Molina taking over in 2019 as a player-manager. Molina has played his entire 14+ seasons with the Cardinals and would be MLB’s first player-manager since Pete Rose for the Reds from 1984-86.
With the Dodgers still in hibernation to start the season, the West was open for the taking for several months. Like its AL counterpart, the NL West is the deepest division in the National League, with 4 teams over .500. The San Diego Padres remain the only team who’s out of contention, however, the Dodgers have returned to form in June and July and recently emerged victorious in the Manny Machado sweepstakes, which means L.A. is likely to win the West going away.
Key aside–With a loyal fan base and some dark days approaching, the Giants must consider what to do with Madison Bumgarner. He is the personification of the Bruce Bochy Giants, and his performance in the 2014 postseason will live forever in Bay Area and baseball lore. Will they let some bonafide prospects sway them from holding on too hard to the memories?
Prognosticating the NL Wild Card matchup remains impossible. Close to ten teams are still in contention, and the final pieces will likely not come into view until late September.
There has been lots of pleasant surprise in the National League in 2018, but at the end of the day, the NL pennant race seems destined to follow the same path as 2017 and finish either at Wrigley Field or Dodger Stadium.
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