We use the term “first half” loosely, because, obviously, all 30 teams passed the 81-game mark more than a week ago. But the All-Star break — and the days immediately following, before play ramps up again — provide the perfect time to gauge where teams are and what they have to do to let the good times roll (Giants) or turn things around quickly (Cubs).
Some division races are turning out as predicted. The American League West, for example, will probably come down to the Astros and A’s, as expected — though the Mariners are making a push. The White Sox are in control in the AL Central, and the NL West is still tight, with the Giants, Dodgers and Padres all in good position to make a run.
The most surprising race might be in the NL Central, where the Brewers and Reds, not the Cubs and Cardinals, are in first and second place, respectively. The Reds ended the first half on an 8-2 run and are four games behind Milwaukee entering play Friday. And as luck would have it, they play each other this weekend, in Cincinnati.
Biggest jump: The Phillies jumped five spots, from 21 to 16, and three teams jumped three spots — the White Sox (7 to 4), Rays (9 to 6) and Yankees (16 to 13). The Yankees had a nice run to end the first half, taking series from the Mariners and Astros, both on the road.
Biggest drop: The Cubs dropped six spots, from 15 to 21. At 3-13 since June 24, it’s not hard to figure out why they’re not in the top 20 anymore. Now it’s just a matter of what they decide to do at the Trade Deadline — and it appears they’re ready to sell.
1) Giants (last week 2)
With a win over the Nationals in their final game before the break, the Giants clinched the Major League’s best record at the All-Star break for the third time (also in 1993 and 2016) since the move to San Francisco in 1958. The Giants are 30-13 at home this season, good for the best home winning percentage in baseball at .698. They also lead the Majors with 132 homers, a franchise record for long balls before the break.
2) Dodgers (1)
We’re not quite sure what to make of the Dodgers’ July so far. They started with a four-game road sweep over the Nationals, then lost three of four to the Marlins in Miami, and ended the first half with a series win over the D-backs that included a 22-1 thrashing in the middle. What we are certain of, though: next week should provide great theater. The first-place Giants visit Chavez Ravine for a four-gamer, starting Monday.
3) Astros (3)
What a first-half finish for Houston. A dramatic, emotional, heart-tugging, jersey-tugging series ended with the Astros mounting a ridiculous comeback against the Yankees, scoring six runs in the ninth inning that included a walk-off three-run homer from — who else? — Jose Altuve. That went a long way in erasing any bitterness from the prior two losses to the Yanks, and added fuel to a still-developing rivalry that has become one of the most interesting of the past few years.
4) White Sox (7)
The White Sox sweeping the season series over the Orioles in the first-half finale was an indication of how this season has gone for them so far — Chicago has won 26 of 31 games against the four teams with the worst records in the AL: the Orioles, Rangers, Royals and Twins. Against everyone else, they’re 28-30. And the second-half schedule is favorable for the South Siders: they have the fifth-easiest remaining schedule in the AL, behind only the Rays, Tigers, Royals and Astros.
5) Red Sox (4)
The Red Sox didn’t have a great finish to the first half, ending with series losses to the Angels and Phillies. The upcoming 2 1/2 weeks will be telling for the Sox — they play only division rivals (Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays, in that order). The Rays, who have a better run differential than the Sox (+85, compared to Boston’s +57) appear to be the lone real threat in the AL East standings, just a game and a half back. The Blue Jays and Yankees are each eight back.
The rest of the field of 30: