Stop the presses. Bryce Harper and his dad hit too many home runs, too fast. Stop. Just stop conspiracy theorist Cubs fans. It’s the Home Run Derby. A game played almost exclusively by children, elevated to the All-Star stage. It’s not real baseball, and if Bryce’s dad can send easy cheese down the pipe that fast, that easily, we should probably be giving the guy his props, not complaining that he released the ball before his son’s moon launches dented the bleachers. Mystifyingly, there are actually rules for the Home Run Derby. That’s baffling enough. That someone figured out how to look up the rules in an attempt to discredit Bryce Harper’s laser show is just a sign of our cynical, jaded times. Have fun people. Don’t take it too seriously. With a long spring in the rearview mirror, it’s time to take a quick look at the divisional races as we enter the home stretch. Who’s in, who’s out and who’s headed for a wildcard showdown.
We knew going into the season that this was very likely a two team race, and wow, it has NOT disappointed. Boston looks like the beast of the east right now, with a downright impressive 68- 30 record coming into the break. They’ve been effective away from Fenway, too, recording half of their wins on the road. The rotation is strong, led by All Star Game starter Chris Sale, but four Boston starters have at least ten wins. I predicted that the Yankees murderer’s row of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton would edge out Boston, and they look good, with baseball’s third-best record (62-33), but Boston’s offense just looks more dangerous, led by Mookie Betts (.359, 51 RBI, 25HR), and J.D. Martinez (.328, 80RBI, 29HR). The Red Sox lead the league in hits, runs, RBI and batting average. In fact, the only major offensive stat they don’t lead baseball in is home runs. They’re second in that race. Behind the Yankees. The Orioles trading of Manny Machado is a rough ending to a bad season, but they needed to get some value back before he went into free agency next year. It’s just as well for Baltimore. This is not a good year to be a little bit above average in the AL East.
The AL Central might be a little clearer, with only Cleveland above .500 at this point. The offense, led by Jose Ramirez (.302, 70 RBI, 29 HR) and Francisco Lindor (.291, 62 RBI, 25 HR) is potent, but the pitching has been less dominant. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco have delivered, but they’ll need more consistency through the rest of the rotation. They’re almost certainly going to walk to the division title, but they’ve got some serious weaknesses. Specifically, they can’t win on the road. They’re 21-24 away from Ohio. That does not bode well for a deep playoff run. The Tigers and Royals are both deeply disappointing, but Minnesota is hanging in, only a few games below .500. They’ll need to go on a tear to challenge the Indians in the division, as a wild-card berth is probably out of the question.
World Series Champion Houston (64-35) is the class of the AL West, but they’ve got some company at the top, and it’s not who we expected. The Mariners are hanging in, and at 58-29, don’t seem to be going anywhere. Oakland is playing tough, too, at 55-42, and playing the AL’s top teams with no fear. The Angels, however, are doing their absolute best to waste Mike Trout’s prime years. Seriously Angels brass. Get this guy some help. It’s embarrassing that a guy this good is playing on a team this profoundly mediocre. The Astros should continue to pull away with the best rotation in the division and a balanced offense that trails only Boston in runs and RBI. They’re in the top five of almost every other offensive stat.
This division promises some fireworks down the stretch, with Philadelphia (53-42) and Atlanta (52-42) knotted at the top. The Nationals aren’t far off either, lurking at 48-48. It’s an interesting case in baseball parity, as the Braves score plenty, but don’t really hit the long ball, while the Phillies are, at best, mediocre on offense, but are one of the ten best rotations in baseball. Despite that, only Phillies hurler Aaron Nola has more than seven wins. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but whoever comes out of this division is likely to be a long shot to advance in the playoffs.
The NL Central is up for grabs, too, with only Cincinnati more than one game under .500. The Cubs (56-38) look great at the top with a balanced, powerful offense and a solid rotation, but the Brewers (55-43) are breathing down their necks. Milwaukee has been exceptional at home thus far this season, and if they can keep up the pace, they’ll be well on their way to meaningful games in late September. The Brewers boast a top ten rotation, and opponents are hitting a paltry .229 against them. St. Louis and Pittsburgh have been steady and both hover right around .500, about eight games off the pace. Congrats to the Cardinals Matt Carpenter, who just tied the legendary Lou Brock’s team record for leadoff home runs with twenty-one shots to get the game started right. That’s some rarified air.
Honestly, this division is way tighter than it probably should be. The Dodgers are looking to correct that with the acquisition of shortstop Manny Machado via trade with Baltimore. Machado will don a new number in Dodger blue, switching from 13 to 8 as he changes coasts. He’ll start tonight against the Brewers, and rumors are that he’ll bat in the meat of the order for the Dodgers. Arizona, Colorado and San Francisco are all within four games of LA as of tonight, so it’s anyone’s guess who’ll win the West if Machado (.315, 65 RBI, 24HR) can’t bring his big bat with him from Baltimore.
Image Source: USA Today