I’m not sure how so much time has flown by since the start of the 2019 baseball season, but here we are at the All Star Break and there’s a lot to talk about. Somehow the offseason drags on and on but as soon as spring training starts it seems to zip by. But I can’t complain, each division has its own story lines and surprises and has shaped up to be a very exciting season. From tight division races to an overwhelming number of young talent, there is a lot to enjoy about what we’ve seen so far. Let’s dive into each division and who’s been hot and who hasn’t and what we can expect heading into the postseason.
The AL East looked like it was shaping up to be a rather comical race in a lot of ways. First, the Red Sox aren’t the same team as they were last year after winning 108 games and winning the World Series. While the offense has stepped it more recently, they got off to a sluggish start. Same could be said for the pitching, especially the bullpen. In other words, they’re not the team to beat this year. They had a lot go right last year and only makes sense for them to regress which gives the Yankees plenty of opportunity to take the division. But the Yankees seemed destined for a sub-par year when they caught the injury bug and it seemed every other day a new injury popped up. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, and Dellin Betances have all spent significant amount of time on the injured list, and that’s not counting another five or six guys who have missed time. But somehow they are leading the division by 6.5 games. D.J. LeMahieu, Gio Urshela, and Cameron Maybin have all filled in nicely. It doesn’t matter who goes down, someone else will come up and magically put up big numbers despite the odds.
The Tampa Bay Rays are currently occupying second place in the East and I certainly wouldn’t count them out of the division title, even if it’s the Yankees ahead of them. Their young core is starting to come through in big ways such as Brandon Lowe and Austin Meadows while getting good numbers from veteran players Charlie Morton, Tommy Pham, and Avisail Garcia. I think the Rays are the best bet for the Wild Card game, but it’s far too close to be certain. They could use some help pitching wise, particularly the bullpen. And of course we have our supreme tanks at the bottom of the AL East. The Baltimore Orioles are shaping up to be just as awful as last year but hey, tanking tends to lend itself to that. But they just signed the overall first pick, Adley Rutschman, from this past draft so that’s something to get excited about. The Toronto Blue Jays are a smidge better and are possibly in a position to compete faster than the Orioles. Several young stars have made their debuts this season with Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio with a loaded farm system waiting for the call up.
Most people would have assumed that the Cleveland Indians would have stumbled into the playoffs like they did last year due to the amount of teams tanking in AL Central and the underwhelming Minnesota Twins of 2018. But when the Indians failed to make any major moves last season it looks to come back to bite them. The Twins have taken a huge step forward and are currently sitting atop the division with a 5.5 game lead. The Twins made some small but significant signings last year in Marwin Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz and the return of Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco. But I wouldn’t sleep on the Indians just yet, they seemed to have fought back a bit and if they heat up at all after the All Star Break I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a closer race than expected. The Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals are about the same as last year, tanking and sucking. They’re currently battling it out for the top draft pick next year. The Chicago White Sox, while probably not playoff contenders this year, are slowly but surely be turning the corner from rebuilding to actually be serious playoff threats in the next year especially with a whacky division like the AL Central. A lot of their young position players are making the majors and already making big impressions. Don’t be surprised to see them fighting for a Wild Card spot if not the division very soon.
Rounding out the AL, we now come to the AL West where the Houston Astros are looking to take the division again with a seven game lead. Despite dealing with injuries to some key players, they’ve managed to still be one of the best teams in baseball. I expect a strong second half from them now that Jose Altuve and George Springer are healthy and were provided with another boom to the offense with rookie Yordan Alvarez. The Oakland Athletics aren’t too far behind but might have to settle for a Wild Card spot like last year should they make the playoffs. But losing Frankie Montas to a PED suspension and Sean Manaea to injury isn’t helping but they should have enough talent to overcome those issues. Reminder that this team won 97 games last year when no one expected them too so maybe they’ll surprise us again in the second half.
As for the Texas Rangers, they might be the most surprising team this year for me. They’re in third place and don’t realistically have a chance at the division, but this team only won 67 games this year and could very well finish within reach of the Wild Card spot. I’m not sure if this team is really turning the corner to compete very soon or if they’re running into some dumb luck, but nonetheless they’ve been fun to watch. And at the very bottom we have the Los Angeles Angels in fourth place and the Seattle Mariners in fifth. The Angels continue to hover around .500, not being super terrible but not super great either. But they have Mike Trout, who looks to be heading for his third MVP. And the Mariners… oh the Mariners. They started out 13-2 despite being in a rebuilding year. It was all fluff and they are currently 39-55, twenty games out of first. So it goes.
Moving over to the National League, let’s talk about the NL West. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to see the Dodgers up at the very top with a robust 13.5 lead in the division, aided by Cody Bellinger’s MVP like season and Hyun-Jin Ryu with an ERA of 1.73. As always, they’re the team to beat and they just might make their third straight World Series unless another NL team can heat up at the end of the season. The Arizona Diamondbacks currently hold second place with 46 wins, even though this was a year in which they wanted to re-tool after trading Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals. They have been surprising the same way the Rangers have and played better than we all expected. I expect them to possibly trade some players by the trade deadline so perhaps their performance will decline in the second half. The Colorado Rockies are probably the only other team in the division that is seriously gunning for the playoffs and after getting off to a slow start, the Rockies managed to improve and win more consistently. Although as crowded as the Wild Card race is, I have to say there are probably several teams ahead of them who will take that throne before them.
Outside of the Dodgers, the San Diego Padres are probably the most intriguing in the division. One of the best farm systems in baseball is really starting to blossom with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack making their debut this year as well Manny Machado’s arrival. They are another team that looks like they could compete for Wild Card spot, but next year might be a safer bet. Who knows if it will be enough to dethrone the Dodgers in the long run, but Manny Machado bet that the Padres would win the World Series before the Dodgers and Manny Machado doesn’t lie, so it must be true. At the very bottom we have the San Francisco Giants keeping fifth place warm. The only recurring theme for this team has been the never ending trade talks regarding Madison Bumgarner. He very well could be the 2019 version of Justin Verlander who got traded to the Astros to help push for the World Series, but we’ll see.
The NL East is shaping up to be an interesting division race with the Atlanta Braves sitting on top with a six game lead but I wouldn’t get too comfortable if I were them. The Philadelphia Phillies have managed to stay not too far behind them and the Washington Nationals have really surged in recent weeks after a very sluggish start. Lately, the Nationals have been playing some of the best baseball in the NL. If anyone is going to dethrone the Braves, watch out for them. Of course there is the tanking Marlins who are having a historically bad season much like the Orioles, but they do have a bright spot in some of their young pitching prospects have begun to blossom. Perhaps we’ll see some better things from them next year. The Mets might be having the strangest season since well, last year. They put their best foot forward in building a solid team by trading for Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano which hasn’t worked out at all. Not to mention the never ending shenanigans of the Mets front office and coaching staff who are distracting from the best part of the Mets such as Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil who are having great offensive seasons.
The NL Central is a whole lot of bonkers, that’s all I can say. The last place team, the Reds, are only 4.5 games out of first place. It’s anyone’s division at this point. No one is really sure who wants to win the division and before the season began most assumed it would be another race between the Cubs and Brewers. But both teams have been inconsistent and the Cardinals are no different, who got hot early in the season but have since been underwhelming. The Red and Pirates, who were expected to be fighting for fourth place this year, certainly aren’t going down without a fight. The Reds retooled this past offseason and some of them have paid off and the Pirates have Josh Bell carrying this team with 27 home runs by the All Star Break. My prediction of the Cubs taking the division still holds true today, but I’m not going to be surprised if they don’t. This division race has been the most exciting of the season in my opinion because if one team gets hot at the right time, they could really put some distance between everyone else. Or who knows, maybe another game 163 will have to settle it all.
I am weary of making any sort of predictions for the end of the year, especially the NL East, NL Central, and both leagues’ Wild Card games. But someone has to come out on top so if I had to guess, these teams will make the playoffs this year:
AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Twins
AL West: Astros
AL Wild Card: Rays and Oakland
NL West: Dodgers
NL East: Braves
NL Central: Cubs
NL Wild Card: Nationals and Brewers
I have very little confidence in some of those picks because anything can happen in this crazy game. I’m keeping an eye on the Nationals to maybe take over the NL East and the NL Wild Card game could very well have two teams from the NL Central. The AL Wild Card could be just as unpredictable. Maybe we’ll get some down to the wire division races in the last week of the season because that’s how crazy some of these division races have been. But we’ll just have to wait and see as the final part of the season commences. Hopefully the second half is just as fun as the first half and I can’t wait for the playoffs to get started.