Summer is in full swing and we have reached the halfway point in the 2017 MLB season. With the All Star Game to be played this week and the trade deadline sneaking up, it is time for the contenders to seperate themselves for the rest.
There have been plenty of surprising headlines in the first half of the season: the Dodgers and Astros never want to lose a game, the Diamondbacks have the third best record in the Majors, the Mets, Giants and Blue Jays have had extremely dissapointing seasons, while individuals by the name of Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger, Alex Wood, Jacob Faria, Sean Manaea and Jose Berrios have burst on to the scene and are some of the games most talented youngsters.
The AL East and AL Central races are really tight which should make for a good race for the two wild card spots. In the NL, can anyone close the gap on the Nationals, Dodgers or Brewers who all hold 5 game leads or more in their respective divisions?
With temperatures and playoff races heating up, here are my latest MLB power rankings and updated playoff predictions.
1. Houston Astros (60-29, 1st place in AL West)
Going into this season, the Astros had large expectations and they sure have lived up to them. They might be the most complete team in the MLB, unless the Dodgers have something to say about it. And the scariest part is, they have been without ace Dallas Keuchel for the past month and still have been dominant. Power, contact, speed, defense, starting pitching and relief are all superb this year which makes them a strong candidate to represent the AL in the World Series this year. They could win as many as 110 games this year in the process too.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (61-29, 1st place in the NL West)
No, that is not a typo. I was torn between who should be first so lets leave it at a tie. The Dodgers and the Astros are very identical in the sense that they are very complete teams. Los Angeles probably edges Houston in starting and relief pitching thanks to Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Alex Wood. Another edge the Dodgers have over every other MLB team is depth. Guys like Chris Taylor, Enrique Hernandez, Cody Bellinger, and the pitching staff have stepped up in the abscence of a lot of guys due to injuries. The Dodgers have been so good lately that they have only lost four games in their last 30 played.
3. Boston Red Sox (50-39, 1st place in AL East)
Boston has been playing some fantastic baseball down the stretch going into the All-Star break. The majority of the first half they were chasing the Yankees but New York’s bats and pitching have cooled down while the Red Sox are finding their strides. This is another very complete team led by a lot of youngsters like Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Christian Vasquez. Do not forget that starter Eduardo Rodriguez and third baseman Pablo Sandoval will be returning from the DL soon as well.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks (53-36, 2nd place in NL West)
If it were not for the Dodgers scorching play the last two months, the Diamondbacks might be in the conversation for best team in the National League. Zack Grienke and the pitching staff have taken a large step forward after a dissapointing season last year. Robbie Ray has to be the biggest surprise for this team as he currently sits third in the National League in strikeouts and has a sub-3.00 ERA. Jake Lamb and Paul Goldschmidt have carried the team offesnsively and with A.J. Pollock coming back from the DL, that will only help the cause. The catcher by commitee strategy has panned out thus far, but the Dbacks one big weakness that needs to be adressed going forward is their bullpen. Closer Fernando Rodney is second in the National League with 22 saves but has an ERA over 5.50 and WHIP over 1.30.
5. Washington Nationals (52-36, 1st place in NL East)
The Nationals are very fortunate to play in a very weak division because they have dealt with a plethora of injuries and some very subpar play from their bullpen. Similiar to Arizona, Washington struggles to close out games but their among the worst in the majors. They are tied for second in the NL with 14 blown saves and have five releivers that have two or more blown saves each. Injury-wise, the team was hit early on when they lost Adam Eaton for the season, then injuries to Jayson Werth, Trea Turner and Michael Taylor soon followed. They may go on and win their division easily, but to be a legit contender they are going to have to add some pieces at the trade deadline.
6. Milwuakee Brewers (50-41, 1st place in NL Central)
Milwuakee should be a finalist for biggest surprise of the season. Manager Craig Counsell and the Brewers did not have any playoff expectations going into this season but halfway through the year, they have a legitimate shot to win their division. Sure, they have benefitted from the fact the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates are all having very poor years, but do not take away credit from this team. They have the fourth best run differential in the National League and have six players with 10 or more home runs. Their pitching staff composed of young arms have outperformed much higher payrolls and if Ryan Braun can ever stay healthy, this team will be a legitimate threat come October.
7. Cleveland Indians (47-40, 1st place in AL Central)
The Indians did not get off to one of the hottest starts this year but they have clawed their way back to the top of their division. Their offense is well-rounded and led by Jose Ramirez who might be the game’s best switch hitter right now. Corey Kluber has returned to ace form but the back end of their rotation has seen their share of struggles this season. If they add a starter at the trade deadline and pair it with one of the best bullpens in baseball, they will have a chance to take down the Red Sox and the Astros.
8. New York Yankees (45-41, 2nd place in AL East)
The Yankees have been slumping as of late due to their inconsistent bullpen, but their offense still puts them among the most dangerous teams this year. Players like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Starlin Castro, Brett Gardner and Didi Gregorious are carrying this team. If the Yankees front office is all in on trying to win a pennant this year, I believe they will make a couple blockbuster trades at the deadline to boost their rotation and bullpen.
9. Colorado Rockies (52-39, 3rd place in the NL West)
The Rockies had the best record in the national league a little under a month ago, but ended the first half of the season on a tough stretch. Outside of Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado, the bats have gone cold in Colorado. Mark Reynolds who got off to a hot start has struggled lately, Trevor Story and DJ LeMahieu who had great years last year have not found their strides this season and Ian Desmond has struggled to stay healthy. Their starting pitching has cooled off from their hot start as well. And in the bullpen, if it weren’t for closer Greg Holland leading the majors in saves (28), this would be considered a below average bullpen. The Rockies are still in a good position to compete for a wild card spot but will need to add some arms come trade deadline.
10. Tampa Bay Rays (47-43, 3rd place in AL East)
The Rays are another finalist for biggest surprise teams this year. The Rays have found ways to win with a solid starting rotation, very reliable bullpen and an offense composed of a bunch of non-household names. Corey Dickerson leads the team in hits, Logan Morrison leads the team in home runs and RBIs and Steve Souza Jr. leads the team in OBP…I told you a bunch of no-names. They made some nice moves and brought in Trevor Plouffe and Adeiny Hechavarria via trades, but because they are a small market team I do not see them making any more big moves before the trade deadline. Nonetheless, this a team that can compete for a wild card spot.
11. Kansas City Royals (44-43, 3rd place in AL Central)
Despite the record that is barely above .500, the Royals come in at No. 11 because they have the best record in the AL since June 1st. They recently added Danny Duffy back to the rotation from the DL, Jason Vargas has been among the best starters this year despite not throwing over 90mph, and the rest of the Kansas City pitching staff has held their own. Their offense is starting to click as well and the only bats keeping this team from firing on all cylinders are Brandon Moss and Alex Gordon. If the Royals can add another DH or OF to help the cause, they will be in good shape to compete for a wild card spot.
12. Texas Rangers (43-45, 3rd place in AL West)
The good news for the Rangers is they have a very talented offense that has been hot of late, averaging just over 5 runs per game since the beginnig of June. The bad news is their bullpen leads the Majors in blown saves this season. It is a fixable problem that Texas can address at the trade deadline, but with Houston running away with the AL West, the Rangers are going to need to act fast so they do not lose to much ground in the wild card race.
13. Minnesota Twins (45-43, 2nd place in AL Central)
The Twins sat in first place for a good majority of the first half of the season thanks to a really good road record of 25-15. Very similiar to the Rays, they have done it with a bunch of no-names on their roster. No position player is hitting above .290 and no one outside of Miguel Sano has more than 14 home runs. The rotation is led by Earvin Santana and Jose Berrios who have been lights out on the mound, but no starter outside those two have an ERA below 4.00. It is honestly quite puzzling when looking at their stats and their record this year to see how they have won games but they get it done. They might come down to earth in the second half of the season and it would not surprise me if they are sellers at the trade deadline.
14. St. Louis Cardinals (43-45, tied for 2nd place in NL Central)
Although they have a record below .500, the Cardinals have looked promising from time to time this year. Jedd Gyorko has become a star out of nowhere and is leading a younger offense than St. Louis has had in the past. Young players like Paul DeJong and Luke Voit have stepped up and have given this roster a boost since joining the squad. Their pitchers have been extremely sharp as well bouncing back nicely from a very poor start to the season. If the Cardinals keep playing the way they are now, the Cubs keep struggling and the Brewers start to slide, I think this division is for the Cardinals taking.
15. Los Angeles Angels (45-47, 2nd place in AL West)
It is actually quite amazing that the Angels are this close to .500 with their current roster and the amount of injuries they have had to deal with. Everyone including myself thought the Angels would be 10 or more games below .500 after losing superstar Mike Trout for a couple months. But guys like Andrelton Simmons, Yunel Escobar and Eric Young Jr. have really stepped up in Trout’s abscence. Somehow the pitching staff has been able to hold their own as well despite being without their three best starters. Who knows, maybe when Trout, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs and Garrett Richards return to full health the Angels might be able to put a little playoff push together and sneak into a wild card spot.
16. Chicago Cubs (43-45, tied for 2nd place in NL Central)
To say things have not been pretty for the reigning champs this year would be an understatement. I don’t think many baseball fans predicted Chicago’s World Series hangover to be this bad. Starting pitching has been extremely inconsistent, tensions have been high amonst teammates and Wade Davis was the only player selected to the All-Star game. The good thing is, they are not too far our in the division race. It is an almost identical roster to last year’s championship team so I am sure they will find a way to bounce back.
17. Atlanta Braves (42-45, 2nd in NL East)
The Braves are another team that has foud some success despite not having the best of talent. Players like Matt Adams and Matt Kemp have been nice surprises this year and with Freddie Freeman back from the DL, this offense should be firing on all cylinders soon. Bigget concern is their pitching however. Only one starter in their rotation has an ERA under 4.00 and their closer Jim Johnson leads the National League in blown saves (7).
18. Seattle Mariners (43-47, 4th in AL West)
The offense has been really good in Seattle this year. Ben Gamel and Mitch Haniger are having nice breakout seasons, while veterans such as Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano are continuing to do what they do best. But their is concern with the starting rotation. Almost their entire rotation has spent time on the DL this year, but on the bright side, youngster Ariel Miranda has stepped up nicely. If Felix Hernandez can find his groove, James Paxton can stay healthy and Hisashi Iwakuma returns from the DL at full strength, Seattle is my dark horse to win that second AL Wild Card spot.
19. Miami Marlins (41-46, 3rd in NL East)
The Marlins have had a number of players like pitchers Dan Straily, Jose Urena and first baseman Justin Bour step up in big ways and have boosted this team to just below .500. Giancarlo Stanton keeps mashing balls at a ridiculous rate, Dee Gordon is wreaking havoc on the basepaths while Marcell Ozuna is having a breakout year. If they were closer to the Nationals or the two wild card spots, I’d believe they would make a move for starting pitcher at the trade deadline, but I think they sit tight where they are at instead.
20. Pittsburgh Pirates (42-47, 4th in NL Central)
To trade or to not trade Andrew McCutchen? The Pirates have seen their share of struggles this year with little success mixed in. If you trade McCutchen, you can get a load of top-prospects in return and hope that in two to three years Pittsburgh will have a solid core to put around Gerrit Cole, James Taillon and Josh Harrison.
21. Baltimore Orioles (42-46, 4th in AL East)
Baltimore might be in a similar situation as the Pirates and will ponder the idea of trading some of their stars. Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo and J.J. Hardy have struggled at the plate this year. Manny Machado’s numbers have risen in the power categories, but he also has one of the lowest batting averages of his career at .230 right now. The starting rotation has been atrocious allowing 10 or more runs to the opposing team on 12 different occasions this season. I would not be surprised if they decide to move Davis or Trumbo for some pitching prospects.
22. Toronto Blue Jays (41-47, last in AL East)
The Blue Jays had gotten off to a real slow start this season and things are looking better, but certainly not where they want to be. For a team built around its offense and is designed to score a lot of runs, they have scored the third fewest runs in the MLB since June 1st. That trend needs to change because Toronto’s pitching staff is not built to carry the team to the postseason.
23. Detroit Tigers (39-48, 4th in AL Central)
The Tigers have been on a skid since early June and I believe it is time to rebolster that pitching staff. Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmerman and Daniel Norris certainly do not have their A games this season and it might be time to part ways with the three. Position players like Justin Upton, Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez should be for sale as well which should draw some attraction from playoff contending teams.
24. Cincinnati Reds (39-49, last place in NL Central)
The offense is their for the Reds, but their pitching rotatin sure isn’t. Cincinnati has one of the worst rotations in baseball and it does not help that they have been hit by the injury bug. But the Reds do have a lot of young talent on the roster and drafted phenom Hunter Greene in the draft, so Cincy is executing their rebuilding plans pretty gracefully.
25. New York Mets (39-47, 4th in NL East)
Arguably the biggest dissapointment of the 2017 season. It is hard to believe this team is two years removed from going to a World Series, but the injury bug certainly has taken its toll on the pitching staff. Experts always talk about the Mets having the best rotation in baseball which might be true, but the problem is they are never healthy at the same time. I expect the Mets to clean house and trade guys like Jay Bruce, Addison Reed, Neil Walker and others before the trade deadline.
26. Oakland Athletics (39-50, last in AL West)
The Athletics never had high expectations for this season so this was kind of expected. Nonetheless, Sonny Gray looks like he has returned to form while Sean Manaea has developed into one of the American League’s best southpaw starters this year. Some of the younger bats like Ryon Healy, Chad Pinder, Bruce Maxwell and Matt Olson are making the most of their opportunity and are giving A’s fans something to watch.
27. Chicago White Sox (38-49, last in AL Central)
The Sox have plenty of pieces they could sell before the trade deadline to add to an already impressive farmm system. Expect guys like Jose Quintana, James Shields, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera to be on the move. Also expect top prospect Yoan Moncada to maybe get some playing time in the majors this second half of the season.
28. San Diego Padres (38-50, 4th in NL West)
Losing has become a normal thing to the Padres and it does not seem like the front office has done much to change that. Their offense has been the worst in the MLB this year but they have a handful of pitchers they could swap for prospects. Pithers like Brad Hand and Jhoulys Chacin should be on the move to a contender the week of the trade deadline.
29. San Fransisco Giants (34-56, last in NL West)
The Giants struggled in the second half of last season after trading away Matt Duffy and it carried over to the first half of this season. The injury to Madison Bumgarner only made things worse this season. Giants will clean house at the trade deadline as well and try to revamp their farm system.
30. Philadelphia Phillies (29-58, last in NL East)
Hard to say anything positive about the Phillies season this year other than Aaron Nola is finally settling in while outfielder Aaron Altherr is putting together a nice campaign. Now lets get to the updated playoff predictions.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Washington Nationals
3. St. Louis Cardinals
Wild Card: Arizona Diamonbacks vs Milwuakee Brewers
I don’t think anyone will catch the Dodgers, the Nationals will benefit from playing in a weak division, the Brewers might slide while the Cardinals end the year with a strong playoff push and the Diamondbacks will end the season with a better record than both the Nationals and Cardinals but end up hosting the Wild Card.
1. Houston Astros
2. Boston Red Sox
3. Cleveland Indians
Wild Card: New York Yankees vs Kansas City Royals
Not too much movement from the current standings. They Yankees will add pitching but won’t have enough to catch Boston, the Astros and Indians will begin to run away with their division and the Royals will continue their hot play of late and just edge out the Rangers and the Rays for the final playoff spot.