Sometimes, by the All-Star break, MLB’s 30 teams have divided themselves evenly into classes of contenders and rebuilders, or in terms of the trade deadline, buyers and sellers. This is not exactly the case in 2019, as preseason AL favorites like the Red Sox and Indians have failed to separate themselves from the pack, opening the door for clubs like the Rangers to hang in the playoff race well into July. The National League is even more wide open, as the senior circuit has one and a half good teams, only one really bad team, and a middle class so robust it can only be the dream of a campaigning politician. Only 4.5 games separate first place from fifth in the NL Central.
This is a particularly tough league to power-rank at the moment, but let’s give it a shot anyway.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Despite heading into the break on a three-game losing streak, the Dodgers ended the first half with baseball’s best record (60-32) and best run differential (plus-129) and the highest playoff odds on Baseball Prospectus (100 percent). They lead all teams in total wins above average on Baseball-Reference, thanks in large part to Cody Bellinger, who leads all players in bWAR. The Dodgers lead second-place Arizona by 13.5 games, almost twice as big as the next-largest gap between first- and second-place teams. If the Dodgers keep up this pace, they’ll post their best record since moving to Los Angeles in 1958, and either tie or break the franchise record for wins in a season, which currently sits at 105.
2. New York Yankees
The Yankees have the second-best record and third-best run differential in baseball, despite unprecedented bad injury luck. They’re a near lock to make the playoffs, and once they get there, the Bronx Bombers will have an incredibly deep bench and lineup and an unhittable back end of the bullpen led by Aroldis Chapman and Adam Ottavino. The Yankees could stand to add one more starting pitcher for the postseason rotation, but in order to upgrade over J.A. Happ or CC Sabathia, they’ll need to shop at the top of the market and shell out for someone like Marcus Stroman or Zack Greinke.
3. Houston Astros
This March, I wrote that the Astros had more starting pitchers than they could use, which turned out not to be strictly accurate. Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh have both missed time with minor injuries, Josh James has struggled to find the strike zone out of the bullpen, youngster Corbin Martin will miss the rest of this season and most of next with Tommy John surgery, and first-rounders Forrest Whitley and J.B. Bukauskas have both struggled in the high minors.
Not that any of that matters: Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole have been as good as anyone in the American League, the bullpen has been excellent overall, and the Astros head into the break with a 7.5-game lead over second-place Oakland.
4. Minnesota Twins
The Twins are baseball’s most pleasant surprise, a team that suffered a lost 2018 before re-emerging in 2019 as the best power-hitting club in MLB history. Minnesota is on pace to set the single-season team record for slugging percentage, besting all the great slugging teams of previous live-ball eras. And with 166 home runs in 89 games, Minnesota is on pace to become the first team to hit 300 home runs in a season, all this despite playing in a park that suppresses home runs. The Twins could stand to add another pitcher or two at the trade deadline, but so could just about everyone.
5. Atlanta Braves
Atlanta has emerged as the class of the National League East, which has been even weirder and more chaotic than it looked on Opening Day. The Braves are still figuring out how the puzzle pieces of their pitching staff fit together, though midseason signing Dallas Keuchel helps a great deal in this regard, but the most impressive thing about their team is how well the lineup fits together top to bottom. The top eight Braves in plate appearances all have an OPS+ of 100 or better, and they’ve got contact hitters, sluggers, lefties, righties, veterans, youngsters, base stealers, and Brian McCann, who is literally the slowest player in baseball. This lineup is like a well-composed lasagna, with complementary layers of delicious ingredients that come together to make an even more delicious whole.
6. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays have had a tough go of it the past month or so. Since June 10, Tampa Bay has dropped from a 61 percent favorite to win the AL East to a 14.2 percent underdog, thanks to an 11-15 run that counts as a swoon for a team that’s trying to chase down the Yankees. Tampa Bay still holds the top AL wild-card spot and a two-game cushion over the first team off the bubble, the Athletics. If Tampa Bay’s dip leading into the break is the worst of it, the Rays will probably be fine. But sitting in first place in the AL wild-card race is like dangling over a pit of spikes, and the Rays have used up most of their margin for error in the past four weeks. Getting second baseman Brandon Lowe back from injury out of the break will help, as would an extended run in the majors for two-way man Brendan McKay.
7. Chicago Cubs
The 2019 Cubs are a fascinating study in expectation management. Coming off four playoff appearances in a row, Chicago heads into the break in first place in an extremely tough division, yet the mood around the North Side appears to be ambivalent at best. But this team should have high expectations: The 2016 World Series victory seemed like the start of a dynasty, but the Cubs haven’t made it back to the World Series since, and now find themselves with an aging pitching staff and manager Joe Maddon in the last year of his contract, with his status for next year up in the air. Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo will all be free agents after the 2021 season, which is still a ways off, but the end of the road is in sight now.
That’s not a reason to panic, however. The Cubs still sit in first place, thanks to slightly disappointing first halves from St. Louis and Milwaukee, and nothing about the composition of the club points to an immediate collapse down the stretch. The big question for Chicago in the second half is not whether the roster is good enough to make the playoffs, but whether the club, from the front office on down, responds to the pressure of expectations by rising to the occasion or panicking.
8. Boston Red Sox
Boston’s disastrous stumble out of the gate turned out to be a pretty good indicator of what a slow start can do to a good team: It doesn’t necessarily mean the team is bad, but it does present a significant obstacle to overcome in the standings. When the Red Sox opened the season 2-8 and Chris Sale lost his first four starts while throwing in the upper 80s, it didn’t portend the end of the road for last year’s champions. Since that start, the Red Sox are 47-33, the fourth-best record in the AL. Since the start of May, Sale has a 3.16 ERA with 121 strikeouts in 77 innings, and has climbed up into the top 10 in AL pitcher WAR, according to both FanGraphs and BP.
What that start did do, however, was put Boston three games behind the Yankees in the East and up to four games behind other wild-card contenders like Cleveland. That deficit will hang around Boston’s collective neck like a millstone all year. Are the Red Sox one of the five most-talented teams in the AL? Absolutely. But right now, the standings don’t reflect that.
9. Washington Nationals
Also back in the hunt after a disastrous start to the season: the Nationals, who got to two games over .500 for the first time all year on July 2. Since returning from a 10-game absence with back spasms, Juan Soto is hitting .330/.429/.577. After going 2-10 in Max Scherzer’s starts through the end of May, the Nats have won seven straight behind the three-time Cy Young winner. In those games, Scherzer has struck out 79, walked six, and allowed just five runs in 52 innings, while holding opponents to a slash line of just .157/.196/.249. Since June 1, Scherzer has also broken his own nose during batting practice and celebrated the birth of his second child.
Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin haven’t had quite as eventful a five-week run, but Strasburg is second to Scherzer in NL pitcher WARP, while Corbin’s 11th. This is the Nationals team that was supposed to appear on Opening Day, and thanks to the Phillies, Mets, and the entire NL Central falling into a pool of quicksand, the Nats have been able to climb back into the pennant race.
10. Oakland Athletics
On May 14, Oakland was six games under .500 and in last place in the AL West, and it looked like last year’s miraculous 97-win team wouldn’t be able to cobble together a similar run of success in 2019. The next day, the A’s kicked off a 10-game winning streak, and since then Oakland has posted the second-best record in the American League. The A’s are currently the first team out of an AL playoff spot, 1.5 games behind Cleveland for the second wild card, and half a game ahead of Boston. The names on the roster aren’t as scary as the other AL wild-card contenders’, but the A’s have a habit of punching above their weight.
11. Cleveland Indians
After three months of “Are the Indians cooked?” discourse, Cleveland is right back in a playoff spot. Nothing about this season has been easy or simple for the Indians, who go into the break on a six-game winning streak but lost the two games before that to Baltimore by a combined score of 26-0. That’s a pretty good microcosm for this season. And even as the Indians are lined up to make the playoffs—and once there, unleash a scary playoff rotation of Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, and a healthy Corey Kluber—the front office is still dangling Bauer going into the trade deadline. I have no idea what this club is going to do in the second half.
12. Milwaukee Brewers
Christian Yelich missed the Home Run Derby with back tightness, but played in the All-Star Game itself and is expected to return when regular-season action resumes on Friday. The Brewers had better hope this injury doesn’t linger, because there probably isn’t a more important player to any team with playoff aspirations. Yelich is leading the Brewers in hits, home runs, runs scored, stolen bases, batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage, and while he’s been worth 3.9 wins above average according to Baseball-Reference, the rest of the team has come together to produce 4.4 wins below average. Yelich’s season-long WPA is 4.19, while the rest of his teammates, pitchers and position players put together, have a combined WPA of minus-2.96.
13. St. Louis Cardinals
Whenever I look at the Cardinals I’m surprised their record isn’t better, and unlike last year, when Dexter Fowler forgot how to hit, Greg Holland and Adam Wainwright looked washed, and Mike Matheny lost the clubhouse, there aren’t that many gaping holes in the roster this season. It’s just that everyone on the team, from top to bottom, is playing 10 percent worse than they’re supposed to be, like the entire organization didn’t have time to eat breakfast for three months in a row. And yet, the Cardinals remain in the thick of the hunt for both the NL Central and NL wild card, so if they do wake up, they could make the playoffs.
14. Philadelphia Phillies
Since June 16, the Phillies are 6-1 against the Mets and 2-11 against everyone else. The Phillies are also the only team in the NL East with a losing record (6-7) against the Marlins. The Braves are 10-2 against Miami and the Nationals are 10-3. The Phillies are clinging to the ragged edge of the last NL wild-card spot, and they’re running out of games against the Mets.
15. Arizona Diamondbacks
After losing Corbin, Paul Goldschmidt, and A.J. Pollock this past offseason, the Diamondbacks are still hanging in the pennant race. While their odds of catching the Dodgers are practically nil at this point, the Diamondbacks have about a 1-in-3 chance of grabbing one of the two NL wild-card spots, according to BP. But that might not last long; as teams like the Nationals climb back into a playoff position, someone has to fall out, and Arizona is headed in the wrong direction. After a 20-13 start, the Diamondbacks have gone just 26-32.
If Arizona does fall out of the gate slow in the second half, GM Mike Hazen would find himself in a seller’s market for ace Zack Greinke, and set the team up well for 2020 and 2021. The Diamondbacks don’t have the Padres’ wealth of young talent or the Dodgers’ wealth of … umm … wealth, but they’ve quietly assembled a pretty solid team, even if most of the big names have gone or could move soon. The Goldschmidt trade alone brought back catcher Carson Kelly (.276/.355/.534) and pitcher Luke Weaver (3.03 ERA in 11 starts before landing on the IL in May). Rookie right-hander Merrill Kelly, who signed a team-friendly deal after returning from the KBO this offseason, has been solid, if not this year’s Miles Mikolas. Whatever happens down the stretch, the Diamondbacks are set up to compete in 2020 if they so choose.
16. Texas Rangers
Against all odds, the rebuilding Rangers are three games out of the second AL wild card, right at the very outside edge of the pennant race. If the Rangers do fall farther behind by the end of the month, it’ll be interesting to see what happens to left-hander Mike Minor, a 31-year-old signed to a cheap deal through 2020 who leads all AL pitchers in bWAR. Minor could become an incredibly valuable trade chip in a world where cost matters almost as much as performance and just about everyone could use another starting pitcher.
That's a complete game shutout for @MikeMinor36 and a @Rangers 5-0 win!— FOX Sports Southwest (@FOXSportsSW) April 17, 2019
This is the first shutout in Minor's career and the first Rangers complete game shutout since May 2017.#TogetherWe pic.twitter.com/J816DT146t
17. Pittsburgh Pirates
In the past few years, the Pirates have done a lot of stuff wrong. They cut bait too early on Charlie Morton and Cole, only to watch them make huge leaps after leaving Pittsburgh; they took a bath on the Chris Archer–for–Austin Meadows–and–Tyler Glasnow trade; they traded Andrew McCutchen, probably the most popular Pirate of the 21st century; they infuriated fans further by running bottom-dollar payrolls year after year … and at the All-Star break they’re 2.5 games out of first place.
On a personal note, I’d like to take a moment to gloat about how right I was about Bryan Reynolds. The 24-year-old outfielder, who was half of Pittsburgh’s trade return for McCutchen 18 months ago, is hitting .342/.414/.536 in the first 67 games of his big league career. On draft night in 2016, he fell all the way to no. 59 after doing nothing but kick ass in three years at Vanderbilt, and I was tearing my hair out trying to understand why. Draft analysis is a long game, but at this moment, none of the 58 players selected before Reynolds has produced more bWAR than he has.
18. Colorado Rockies
Last year, Kyle Freeland posted the second-best ERA ever by a Rockies starter and finished fourth in one of the strongest NL Cy Young fields of the decade. This year, Freeland got sent to Triple-A on May 31 after his ERA popped up north of 7.00. If this year’s Freeland were last year’s Freeland, the Rockies would probably be in line for a wild-card spot, even though they’re 12th in the NL in wRC+ and eighth in ERA-. Things haven’t gone much better for Freeland since his demotion: He’s 0-4 with an 8.80 ERA and an opponent batting line of .328/.403/.557 in six starts with Triple-A Albuquerque. Whatever that means for Freeland’s long-term prospects—his teammate Jon Gray is back to normal after suffering a similar collapse in 2018—Freeland is unlikely to return to form this year.
19. Los Angeles Angels
Fans who followed the entire week’s worth of festivities in Cleveland might have noticed top Angels prospect Jo Adell, who took part in Sunday’s Futures Game. Adell walked twice, singled, and made a diving catch in right field in his second appearance at the event.
The Futures Game is just a showcase, but it’s good to see Adell performing at a high level again; the 20-year-old former first-rounder missed most of the first half after injuring both legs on one trip around the bases in spring training. In 24 games at Double-A, Adell is hitting .360/.430/.607 with four home runs and 10 doubles, and is perfect in four stolen base attempts. In terms of athleticism and all-around skill, Adell would look like Superman in an organization that didn’t already feature both Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, and he should be in the majors sometime next year.
20. San Diego Padres
If everything had gone right for the Padres this year, they could have made a run for the division title. And while not everything has gone right, Fernando Tatís Jr. is hitting .327/.393/.620 through the first 55 games of his career, fellow rookie Chris Paddack has been one of the best pitchers in the NL when healthy, outfielder Hunter Renfroe (27 HR, .613 SLG) has become one of baseball’s best power hitters, and Kirby Yates (1.15 ERA, 30 saves in 31 chances) has been the best closer in baseball. They’re only 45-45, but in a crowded NL wild-card chase they’re only two games out of a playoff spot, and set up to mature into a contender in 2020 at the latest. Even if the Padres only end up with a record around .500, this is a huge step forward for the franchise.
21. Cincinnati Reds
Here’s a team that needs a do-over. The Reds lost their last two games before the break by a combined score of 18-3, but despite that, their plus-27 run differential is sixth-best in the National League. The Reds, however, find themselves 12th in the NL overall and dead last in the Central. Only the Royals have a greater difference between their Pythagorean record and their actual record. With so many teams to climb over in the standings, even BP’s 10.5 percent playoff odds seem optimistic, but the Reds will probably end up ruining someone else’s season with a sweep in September.
22. New York Mets
It’s kind of weird that Pete Alonso is the only person left in the Mets organization. Coaches, front office, ownership, all 24 other players on the big league roster—all gone. Vanished in a big flash, as if by magic. The only thing that’s left is one beefy Floridian with 30 home runs and one hand on the NL Rookie of the Year plaque.
23. Chicago White Sox
This might feel like just another year on the Treadmill of Mediocrity, but the White Sox are actually making progress. Yoán Moncada is hitting .308/.364/.544, Lucas Giolito made the All-Star team, and the Sox are 42-44 at the break. Is that a winning record? No. But it does put the White Sox on pace for their best season since 2012, which is so long ago that Paul Konerko, Kevin Youkilis, Dewayne Wise, and Kosuke Fukudome (!) were all on that team.
24. San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey has an OPS+ of 85 and Madison Bumgarner is almost certainly in his last season—if not last few weeks—with the Giants. Manager Bruce Bochy will retire at the end of the year, closing the door on a remarkable era. But Pablo Sandoval is the best hitter on the team again, so maybe we’re headed for a hard reset and in six months everyone will wake up in April 2010.
25. Seattle Mariners
Y’all aren’t going to believe this, but the Mariners won 13 of their first 15 games in 2019. I don’t bring that up in order to mention that they’ve gone 26-53 since, which is a 53-win pace (though they have, and it is) so much as to marvel at how long ago that 13-2 start feels. Remember Ichiro’s emotional farewell to Major League Baseball in Japan? That happened this season! That winning streak ended after Chuck Rhoades told the New York electorate that he was into BDSM on Billions! On the other hand, that winning streak ended before Joe Biden made his official presidential campaign announcement. If you own a clock or a calendar, throw it out, because time doesn’t make sense anymore.
26. Toronto Blue Jays
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio, both sons of Hall of Famers, have made their big league debuts this season. They’ll soon be joined on the Toronto infield by top prospect Bo Bichette, son of Dante Bichette, who isn’t a Hall of Famer, but made four All-Star teams for the Rockies before we learned how to measure park effects and outfield defense properly.
Vladito’s Home Run Derby explosion notwithstanding, Toronto’s greatest Baseball Son has been Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who has hit .303/.355/.626 in 214 plate appearances. Gurriel—the son of Cuban national team stalwart Lourdes Gurriel Sr. and brother of Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel—has spent most of this season in left field, after the infield spots he played last year have been taken up by veterans Eric Sogard and Freddy Galvis, as well as various other Baseball Sons. Gurriel’s torrid season is even more remarkable because the Blue Jays sent him down to Triple-A for a month after he got off to a slow start. In 40 games since his return, Gurriel has hit .335/.382/.716, with 16 home runs, a number that leads all Blue Jays players for the entire season.
27. Kansas City Royals
The Royals have what might be described as a top-heavy roster if the top were a little heavier. Of the 22 players who have taken at least one plate appearance for Kansas City this year, only five have an OPS+ of 100 or better, and one of those, outfielder Jorge Bonifacio, appeared in only five games. Of the 21 players who have thrown at least one pitch for Kansas City, only four have an ERA of 4.00 or better. One of those, Chris Ellis, was a Rule 5 pick whom the Royals returned to the Cardinals on April 9. Another is closer Ian Kennedy. Closer Ian Kennedy! The Royals’ second-best player, shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, has many virtues, but his OBP is below .300.
28. Miami Marlins
The New York Mets, the 14th-best team in the National League by record, are seven games out of a playoff spot. The Marlins are six games behind the Mets. Their All-Star Game representative, Sandy Alcantara, has a 107 ERA+ and a 6.2 K/9 ratio.
29. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers got swept by the Marlins at home back in May.
30. Baltimore Orioles
The best thing about this Orioles season is that Baltimore landed the best prospect in this draft—or indeed any draft in the past decade—in Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman. They also have a promising pitching prospect named Michael Baumann, who started the Carolina League All-Star Game in his home ballpark last month, and threw a scoreless inning. One or both may still be in the organization when the Orioles make their next playoff appearance.