After an exciting three months of baseball, the All Star Break is upon us. At the unofficial halfway mark of the season some teams have been able to separate themselves from the pack, while other teams have left so much more to be desired. Now the question is which teams can truly contend for a championship and which ones are just fooling themselves.
Contender: Boston Red Sox
After an uninspiring start to the 2017 season, the Red Sox lead by their pitching staff have been able to gain momentum and seize a 3.5 game lead in the A.L East. The Red Sox have been able to play their way to a 50-39 record mainly due to the play of their pitching staff.
Currently the Red Sox rank second in team ERA holding a 3.82 (only trailing the Indians 3.78) and have been able to shut teams down in the late innings with the strong play of their bullpen. Chris Sale (who will start back to back All Star Games for the A.L) has carried this team in the first half of the season along with Kimbrel, which has allowed other pitchers to settle in after rough patches.
The young offense of the Red Sox headlined by their excellent outfielders Betts, Bradley, and Benintendi, has been inconsistent all year long and this could certainly plague them once October hits and only the pitching gets better. This team wasn’t built to win on offense as everyone knew heading into the season but there have been many games this season where the offense hasn’t provided the necessary run support to back a solid outing from a starter.
If the Red Sox can add a solid veteran relief pitcher for the 7-8 inning to go along with Kelly, and also a veteran bench player to provide depth this team should be in the ALCS at least. This pitching staff was built to win a title and Sale seems determined to ensure that. So the Red Sox winning their 4th World Title since 2004 seems like more than just a possibility.
Pretender: New York Yankees
Staying in the A.L East the Yankees had the exact opposite start as the Red sox did. They came flying out of the gate turning heads all around baseball making headlines left and right. Lead by the Phenom rookie Aaron Judge who has already mashed 30 home runs (its the All Star Break and this kid has 30 bombs!) the Yankees were starting to make people wonder if they could make a push.
But just as everyone thought, this Yankee team has all but fell of a cliff going 7-19 in their past 26 games and is showing that they have already reached their ceiling, but maybe not their floor. The age of the Yankees pitching staff and their inability to perform at a decent level has been a consistent problem. Tanaka has posted a retched 5.47 ERA allowing opposing players to hit .276 off of him with 27 bombs. Pineda has been bad in his own way as well sporting a 4.39 ERA with opponents hitting .269 with 20 homers. Even Betances who has been a great weapon out of the bullpen the past couple seasons has been awful lately his inability to control and throw his vaunted breaking ball for strikes have been a problem all year and has allowed hitters to sit on his fastball making both his best pitches ineffective.
The Yankees have great young talent in Judge, Sanchez, and Severino who will make them a team to be feared. However they aren’t quite there yet so this Yankees team will most likely end up around .500 and show their true colors as a mediocre baseball team, at least for this season.
Contender: Arizona Diamondbacks
The recent success of the Diamondbacks came as a mild shock considering the questions that surrounded this team heading into the new season. But that doesn’t mean its not here to stay. This team lead by its three quality pitchers at the front of their rotation in Greinke, Ray, and Walker have been able to go deep into games all season long and provide quality starts, which has also set up Lovullo to properly use the back-end of his bullpen in key moments in games. As long as Lovullo properly manages the inning count of these three starters and doesn’t overuse them they should be able to provide good starts every time they take the mound.
The most important factor for this new version of the Diamondbacks is without a doubt their offense. After Paul Goldschmidt has done everything he can to lead this offense in the process turning into arguably the most well rounded offensive players, the D-Backs have finally been able to provide him some support. The D-Backs currently rank 7th in the majors scoring 5.01 runs per game (via Baseball Reference) and have consistently been able to score key runs which has propelled them to a 53-36 record thus far.
Taking this team lightly would be a mistake. This Arizona team is definitely for real and should be hosting a wild card game this fall mainly because catching the dominant Dodgers seems very unlikely. However, don’t be surprised if the D-Backs not only make the race for the N.L West but also earn the right to go to the World Series.
Pretender: Chicago Cubs
Yes, you read that right. It’s not a typo. This year’s Chicago Cubs are pretenders. This may seem like an outrageous statement considering they just won a title and their is still an entire half a season of baseball to go, however don’t let looks deceive you. This Cubs team has many flaws and they shouldn’t be glossed over. They have lacked consistent pitching all year and have failed to provide quality starts when needed the most. As a result, they continue to wear down their bullpen way to often.
As we head into the All-Star Break the Cubs are two games under .500 and currently have a dead even run differential. Old school or new school, the stats show this Cubs team is the embodiment of a mediocre baseball team. Even the Cubs offense that was thought to be great once again has been very lackluster. From Schwarber who is hitting only .178 to the regression of Addison Russell, that is not only hurting this years Cubs but is also something that should make Cubs fan worried about the future. Last year the Cubs ranked third in the majors scoring 4.93 runs per game, this year through 88 games they rank twenty first in the majors only scoring 4.53 runs per game.
This drop-off is emphasized because of the ineffectiveness of the pitching staff and the continuous defensive problems that have occurred in the field throughout the Cubs lackluster start. Things can’t possibly be as bad for the Cubs in the second half of the season… or maybe they can. This Cubs team has received the benefit of doubt mainly because of their past success but holding onto the past can be a costly mistake.