The first half of the MLB season saw many early flourishes and some teams emerge late. So far, the American League has been dominated by the Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, and New York Yankees, as those three juggernauts seem to be heading into a postseason collision course. However, teams like the Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics are making a spirited push for playoff contention.
In the National League, there has been back-and-forth divisional movement that has resulted in chaos early on. Opposite to the AL, the NL’s divisions have been unpredictable. Yet, certain deadline deals have already begun to take shape for teams like the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers to propel them to World Series contention once again.
With the second half already upon us, and some moves have already been made, here are five of the most intriguing storylines to keep an eye on heading into latter part of the season:
1. Mannywood 2.0
Manny Machado had been the talk of baseball trade rumors for several years now. One of the most complete players in the league, with a golden glove and a quick bat, Machado has long been coveted by other teams. Disgruntled as a deserved All-Star on a terrible Baltimore Orioles team, the Dodgers pounced on the opportunity to land the best available and tradable player this year.
With his arrival, the Dodgers now have renewed championship expectations, which is a role Machado will relish in, as he heads into free agency after this season. As a newly-converted shortstop, Machado can now fill the void left by the season-ending injury to Corey Seager and provide even more protection for a Dodgers lineup that is one of the best in the league. If Machado can have a smooth transition from playing for a fledging team to an immediate contender and other stars like Clayton Kershaw and Cody Bellinger can get stay healthy through the playoffs, the Dodgers should be heavy favorites to repeat as NL champions.
2. The All-Important Battle for the AL East
As previously mentioned, the Red Sox and Yankees are two of the three American League teams that dominated the first half of the season. They’ve run away from the rest of the AL East, using power-hitting and great pitching. Both teams are on pace to win over 100 games, and both are legitimate World Series contenders.
Unfortunately, only one of them can win the division, leaving the second-place finisher in the Wild Card game. Therefore, winning the division should be the biggest priority for both of these teams. While playing in the Wild Card game certainly isn’t a death sentence in terms of World Series hopes, it is certainly more beneficial to not have your 162-game season come down to one Wild Card, and instead play in the five-game Divisional Series. Expect the best rivalry in baseball to be at a fever pitch for the rest of the year, considering the circumstances.
3. Selling deGrom?
There have been conflicting reports over whether the Mets will sell Jacob deGrom, who is their undisputed ace and most valuable asset. Although the Mets started the season optimistically, they’ve plummeted down the NL East, sitting at 40-56 heading into the second half. Hence, there has been a calling for the Mets to embrace the rebuild and sell deGrom and/or Noah Syndergaard. The Mets’ front office has been bullish on the idea of trading either pitcher, however the truth of where the team current is may ultimately force the Mets to make a move.
If the Mets do decide to sell deGrom, whoever lands him will immediately bolster their World Series chances. The crosstown-rival Yankees and the Cubs have both been heavily linked to him. If one of the those teams added him to their pitching roster, they’d be much heavier favorites to win their respective league. In return, the Mets can get a haul in return for deGrom, as any team would have to give up four-to-five quality players in return for one of the best pitchers in the MLB.
Regardless, a deGrom trade would shake up the league and immensely help whichever team he went to.
4. Cleveland’s World Series Push
Cleveland has truly been through a lot since the departure of LeBron James. In his wake, many people now pin high expectations on the Cleveland Browns. Much to the chagrin of the Indians, (who made the World Series just two years ago,) they have to feel disrespected, as they sit well in first place in their division, seeking a third straight division crown. Although the public may not believe in them, the Indians feel that they are one of best teams and can still make a push to win it all.
They took a step towards that direction, as they acquired lefty reliever Brad Hand from the San Diego Padres. The trade is similar to when they traded for Andrew Miller in 2016 during that World Series push, the Indians got another solid reliever that can compliment the rest of the roster. If they pull together some magic like they did during their last run, which included a staggering 22-game win streak, the Indians could become the new champs of Cleveland.
5. The Wild, Wild, Wild Card Races
The introduction of the second Wild Card in 2012 has provided extra excitement for fans and for teams that would have normally been out of postseason contention. In the AL, the Yankees look to hold firm on the first spot, while the Mariners and A’s fight for the second. The Mariners and A’s have been surprisingly competitive this season, but they are in the same division as the defending champion Astros, leaving them both in a spot for a Wild Card berth. The A’s have been resurgent as of late, thrusting themselves unexpectedly into postseason contention. They already had one of the best bullpens in the majors, with Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino both having magnificent years–now that they added Mets closer Jeurys Familia into the mix, their postseason aspirations just got even higher.
Meanwhile, the Mariners have shocked many in baseball by continuing to win, despite the 80-game P.E.D. suspension of Robinson Cano. It will be interesting to see which team wins the second Wild Card spot, and it will certainly be heartbreaking for the loser.
In the NL, the Wild Card has been as wide-open as the divisional races. The Milwaukee Brewers have stumbled lately, leaving the Cubs to seize control of the Central division. The Brewers currently hold the first Wild Card spot by one game over the Atlanta Braves who are locked in arms with the Philadelphia Phillies for the Eastern crown. Trailing right behind the Braves are the Arizona Diamondbacks, the red-hot Colorado Rockies, the San Francisco Giants, the embattled St. Louis Cardinals, the even-more red-hot Pittsburg Pirates, and the Washington Nationals. The Nationals are just six games behind though, leaving eight teams vying for two Wild Card spots. This ultra-tight playoff race should be cause for some late madness, as teams continue to grind for a chance to win it all.
With the second half kicking into gear, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the summer plays out as playoff basbeall looms large in the fall.