For some of you, the All-Star festivities were fun and exciting and had a lot of takeaways. For me, the week is and has been for a while, batting and pitching practice. If you enjoyed it, good for you! But you were watching practice.
So, we’re back for a week off. The second half of the season is underway and teams are preparing for the home stretch. So, let’s look at some big-picture things that will be interesting to follow as the second half of the season get underway.
This Week in Baseball
Are the Orioles The New Team to Beat?
The Baltimore Orioles swept the Miami Marlins this weekend and extended their winning streak to eight games. They now sit at 57-35 and only one game back of first place in the American League East Division and the best record in the American League altogether.
The more the Orioles improve, the more they look like the best team in baseball. The question is what is preventing them from falling off or stumbling this year? It would be pitching but specifically, starting pitching, and for them, it hasn’t been a weakness as much as it hasn’t been a strength. That position, oddly enough, is the one they can also pursue at the deadline. One more note on the starting pitching is that it gets covered up easily by a dominant bullpen with Yennier Cano and Felix Bautista being two of the best relievers in baseball.
What makes the Orioles great is their lineup. Specifically, they have a batting order where nobody is an easy out and anyone can beat you. Like the Atlanta Braves in the National League, the Orioles have a surplus of hitters with an OPS+ over 100 (seven to be exact) and it prevents pitchers from building strong innings. They don’t have that one batter that stands out but they keep rallies going and slowly pile up the runs.
They average 4.98 runs per game and this weekend, they scored 16 to sweep the Marlins. They can win the division and secure the top record in the American League and with their batting order, they can beat any pitching staff in the game. To be fair, they are riding a hot streak but at this point, is there anything that can cause a decline? Maybe injuries but they have more depth to compensate for the loss of one player.
The West Division Chases Will Be Fun
Looking ahead to the second half of the season, what are the playoff chases that will be exciting? The American League East just became a race with the Orioles’ surge, the central divisions have teams hovering around .500 at best, and the Braves all but locked up the best record in the National League East. The west divisions however are not only close but have exciting storylines that will only become more intriguing in the late summer months.
The American League West Division features the team to beat not just in the division but in baseball, the Houston Astros. They have stumbled early on but are starting to field a healthy roster and are only a few games back of the Texas Rangers, the new and exciting team. The Rangers not only rebuilt their team, they spent wisely in free agency. They went out and got Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob deGrom, and last year signed both Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. They are the new flashy team and remain on course to win the division but the Astros, remain the steady force and it’s their division until it’s not, making this race all the more exciting.
In the National League, it’s a three-team race led by an old-guard favorite, the Los Angeles Dodgers. They’ve been the class of the division since 2013 and they continue to field the most talented team in the division. Their problem is that they have to fend off the young upstart Arizona Diamondbacks and the deep and pesky San Francisco Giants. It’s still the Dodgers division to lose but they’ll have two teams nipping at their heels in the upcoming months and it would be no surprise if the Giants, who won the division in 2021, or the Diamondbacks, took the title by season’s end.
The Yankees Have a Lower Ceiling Than Expected
Let’s take a step back and ask ourselves, what is this New York Yankees team ceiling? I say THIS Yankees team because it’s this team and not the one that started this season that has been stumbling for the past few weeks, and will continue to do so without Aaron Judge. Sure, they can get Judge back soon but we’re missing the point. There’s been a lot of benefit of the doubt given to this team. If Judge returns, they’ll be great. If the rotation is healthy, they’ll be dominant. If the roster in its entirety is healthy, they’ll be a World Series team.
The problem is that none of that has happened this season. They have been riddled with injuries and aren’t built to withstand a loss. Instead, they unravel. They just lost two of three to the lowly Colorado Rockies including Sunday’s loss where ace Gerrit Cole pitched six innings and allowed only one run while tossing 11 strikeouts, in Coors Field nonetheless (they lost 8-7 by the way). This team even when Judge gets back isn’t good enough to compete and that’s the stark reality, as this weekend reminded us.
So, back to the question, what is this Yankees team ceiling? They can slide into a wild card spot. Once they get there, they’ll face a team that unlikely them, will have the depth to win a series. The best-case scenario for this team is to make the postseason but not a postseason run, which is what this team was expected to do at the start of the season.
An Ohtani Trade Feels Necessary Now
Mike Trout‘s injury before the All-Star break essentially put a dagger into the hearts of the Los Angeles Angels. They were a borderline wild card team before the injury but now they are without one of the game’s best and it looks like another season will go by where this team misses the postseason.
With Shohei Ohtani heading to free agency after this season, the front office has to move him and find the biggest return possible to help this team rebound. Sure, they don’t want to be the team to trade the greatest player in the game, look what happened to the team that traded Babe Ruth (it’s the same team that traded Mookie Betts by the way, look at how that turned out). That said, the other option is to keep him on the roster for the rest of the season, barely miss the postseason, and have to bid with all the teams in baseball in the winter to keep him.
A trade, while brutal at the moment, leaves the Angels in the best long-term shape. They can get a lot for Ohtani. By a lot, the haul could give refuel their farm system and make them a team to beat down the road. Ideally, they build around a player like Ohtani but if they can’t (and it’s looking like they can’t) they should build around Trout and the pieces they receive in a big trade. The clock is ticking and the move is starting to feel more urgent with each passing day.
Cardinals, Padres & White Sox: Who Will Admit It’s Time
It’s hard to pick, between the three teams above, the most disappointing team. All three have not only been bad but have made fans question whether these teams must clean house in the offseason, if not sooner. The question is which team will admit that they must start selling at the deadline and trading as many veteran players as possible. One of these teams will have a front office willing to hit the reset button on their roster and make a few trades and that team will ultimately be better off for doing so.
Other Notes From This Week in Baseball
- The Milwaukee Brewers made a statement this weekend with their sweep of the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds are the upstart, new, and fun team to watch and by all means, will compete for the division but the Brewers are reminding them who the team to beat in the Central Division is.
- The Toronto Blue Jays swept the Diamondbacks and are back in the wild card discussion. They have been a fascinating team this year as they have the potent lineup to make a postseason run but a rotation that makes it difficult for them to build hot streaks. The Blue Jays are going to compete for a wild card spot and with a big deadline, they can be a sneaky team once October begins.
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