a) Pittsburgh Pirates (56-37 .602 second place NL Central) Will the third straight season be a charm after a stellar first half for the Buccos? I'm sure I don't have to remind you since 2011 when the Pirates got off to a flying start only to fall victim to injuries and inefficiency that unfortunately saw Pittsburgh miss the postseason. Last season took a turn for the even worse going 16-40 during the better part of the second half. However things seem a bit more promising in 2013 given the fact that Pedro Alvarez (.250 24 62) is hitting tape measure shots at PNC and away. Andrew McCutchen (.302 10 49) may not be having the same year as previous, but is capable of going on a second half tear, and Starling Marte (.291 9 28) in just his second season is living up to his potential. The Bucs may need another bat in the lineup, but their pitching has been beyond solid thanks to Francisco Liriano (9-3 2.00) and Jeff Locke (8-2 2.15) who far and away are the aces of the starting rotation. Pittsburgh still has 14 games remaining with first place St. Louis and 9 with Cincinnati, so things will certainly be interesting down the stretch.
b) Philadelphia (48-48 .500 third place NL East) Not so fast Charlie! The Phillies are still trying to decide if they are going to be trade deadline sellers considering most didn't even expect them to still be in the race. But here they are sitting just 6.5 games back of Atlanta and have won 7 of their last 10 games. Domonic Brown (.273 23 67) has been hitting tape measure shots to all fields and is putting plenty of fear in opposing pitching. Ben Revere (.305 22 SB) is proving to be every bit of the speedster and hitter he is, putting new life in the term of small-ball. The veterans in Howard, Utley and Rollins are having otherwise subpar seasons, but Cliff Lee (10-3 2.86) is looking every bit like the 2008 Cy Young form shown with Cleveland. Kyle Kendrick (8-6 3.68) has silenced his own critics by having a solid season, and think how much better the Phillies would be if they actually scored some runs for Cole Hamels (4-11 4.05) who has pitched much better than his record otherwise indicates.
c) Boston (58-39 .598 first place AL East) The expensive flops are gone. So is the misfit manager. Last season's worst record in 52 years has since been overshadowed on a 2013 pace to win 97 and perhaps a lot more when the postseason begins. When third baseman Will Middlebrooks was sent to the minors after struggling and shortstop Stephen Drew was injured, there were solid reinforcements. Slick-fielding Jose Iglesias is batting .367 as Drew's replacement, and Brock Holt and Brandon Snyder have combined for 14 RBIs in 19 games at third. Dustin Pedroia has been outstanding all season. He's hitting .317 and has been spectacular on defense at second base. David Ortiz missed the early part of the season with a heel problem. Since returning, he's been a dangerous slugger with a .316 batting average and leads the team with 19 homers and 65 RBIs. Jacoby Ellsbury (.305 3 33) is a bonafied table setter at the top of the lineup, while Daniel Nava (.288 10 52) and Mike Napoli (.259 11 58) have had numerous clutch hits with RISP. Jon Lester (8-6 4.58) hopes to rebound from a somewhat inconsistent first half and Boston needs Clay Buchhholz (9-0 1.71) back since experiencing shoulder problems earlier this season. With Feliz Doubront (6-3 3.91) and John Lackey (7-6 2.78) rounding out the rotation, this could be the team with the most depth come postseason time.
d) Oakland (56-39 .589 first place AL West) Josh Donaldson (.310 16 61) is having a career season at the hot corner and is among the league leaders in hitting. If he stays hot and called upon to drive in runs with his productive bat, the Athletics will be in great shape considering they have protection in their lineup. However while Yoenis Cespedes (.225 15 43) may have won the HR derby, he needs to get hot in the second half as does Brandon Moss (.228 16 44). Jed Lowrie (.295 7 37) and Coco Crisp (.263 9 35) have done their part, and most fans are wondering when Josh Reddick (.218 4 32) will turn things around. Bartolo Colon (12-3 2.70) is having another Cy Young type season and Dan Straily (6-2 4.28) has made the most of his opportunities in key starts called on as a utility pitcher. Grant Balfour is a perfect 25/25 in save opportunities. They have what it takes to beat out Texas, but must get some more production from the middle of the lineup supporting cast.
a) Toronto (45-49 .479 5th place AL East) While most thought for sure due to several offseason key acquisitions that the Blue Jays would run away with the AL East, it has not nearly worked out that way. Edwin Encarnarcion (.264 25 72) is having another stellar season and will likely eclipse 2012's power numbers, but he has slowed down in July. Jose Bautista (.254 20 55) has hit .483 over his last 8 games and will need a strong second half if the Jays are to make a push for the postseason. Colby Rasmus (.263 16 48) and Adam Lind (.306 11 37) are capable of doing even more, as is a struggling JP Arencibia (.221 16 42) who needs to cut down on his 98 K's in just 308 AB's. Injuries to Jose Reyes (.322 4 12) and Bautista slowed down Toronto in the early going, while Melky Cabrera (.278 3 29) hasn't been anywhere near the same since his suspension. It's clear that hitters aren't intimidated by RA Dickey's knuckleball. He's given up 20 HR in just 128 innings registering an 8-10 record with a 4.70 ERA. Mark Buherle (5-6 4.89) and Josh Johnson (1-5 5.16) are light years from their once superstar status. No light to be seen from the end of this tunnel.
b) Chicago White Sox (37-55 .402 5th place AL Central) At least they no longer have Ozzie to blame, but it would be an understatement to say it has been a long season for the south-siders. Ho Hum Adam Dunn (.213 24 60) hits a bunch of homers but can't match his weight. Battle of the extremes. 108 K's in 310 ABs. Underachieving Paul Konerko (.249 7 30) Jeff Keppinger (.246 2 25) and Alex Rios (.271 11 40). No protection whatsoever throughout the lineup. Injuries to Jake Peavy, John Danks (2-6 4.31) having a tough year, no run support for Chris Sale (6-8 2.85) and a nightmare for Dylan Axelrod (3-6 5.33). Could be enough for Ken the hawk Harrelson to go monotone, considering the only numbers these Sox have put up on the board lately are a bunch of zeroes.
c) Anaheim (44-49 .473 3rd place AL West) It's not like the lineup is missing any big names, however the hype hasn't been there to support huge expectations at the big A this season. Mike Trout (.322 15 59) is among the leaders in hitting and has shown his speed with 21 steals caught only 4 times having another solid season. Howie Kendrick (.310 11 40) has also collected timely hits while playing a solid second base to complement his numbers. Albert Pujols (.249 15 57) is accustomed to slow starts since joining the Angels, but somehow given where the halos stand it's going to take a much more concentrated and efficient second half to bust loose. Same holds true for Mark Trumbo (.245 21 57) and a struggling Josh Hamilton (.224 14 39) who despite their inconsistencies could get this team back into the Wildcard race if they take it one game at a time. CJ Wilson (9-6 3.30) has had a decent first half albeit not sure if it's acceptable given the huge contract. However what were the Angels thinking when they brought Joe Blanton (2-12 5.53) over? 23 home runs yielded, 149 hits in just 112 IP...these are batting practice numbers for Pete's sake! You're not in the NL Joe, and early struggles are only going to get you so far. Give the benefit of the doubt to Jered Weaver (3-5 3.63) bitten by the injury bug, but Jerome Williams (5-5 4.80) has been nothing short of unsatisfactory due to a string of bad outings.
d) Washington (48-47 .505 second place NL East) Atlanta could easily be running away with this division but somehow the Nats remain right in the middle of the thick of things. Ian Desmond (.281 15 49) has been carrying Washington on the heels of some timely hitting and superb defense. However, you had to wonder why they took a chance on Jayson Werth (.297 10 33) who somehow seems to fall victim to a major injury limiting his true ability and consistency. Bryce Harper (.264 13 29) fortunately has returned from his knee injury but Ryan Zimmerman (.270 11 51) and Adam LaRoche (.249 13 43) could certainly use stronger second halves if the Nats plan to cut Atlanta's deficit. Jordan Zimmerman (12-4 2.58) has been lights out all season and may very well also be in the Cy Young discussion at season's end. Gio Gonzalez (7-3 3.03) and Stephen Strasburg (5-7 2.99) could easily have more wins apiece had both not be battling injuries and losing hard luck low scoring contests. Tyler Clippard (6-1 1.99) has done a nice job setting up Rafael Soriano (25 saves), however Dan Haren (4-10 5.61) has been lit up like a pinball machine. Wouldn't hurt to add another bat as well before the trading deadline.
e) Milwaukee (38-56 .404 5th place NL Central) With the Brewers' playoff hopes all but dashed and Corey Hart (knee) out for the season, let's face it. The Brew Crew might just be making the Chicago Cubs look like world beaters out of the cellar. It has been a nightmare ride for Ron Roenicke. and unfortunately it starts with all of the controversy surrounding Ryan Braun (.304 9 36) and the steroids speculation. While MLB will likely not put suspensions into effect until 2014. Braun could miss nearly an entire season if he fails to cooperate. This team can hit, however they've squandered numerous opportunities in the middle and late innings with RISP. Jean Segura (.325 11 36) is among the league leaders in hitting and made his first All Star Game in his young career last night. Carlos Gomez (.295 14 45) and Jonathan Lucroy (.276 13 52) have carried the team offensively and Juan Francisco (.252 11 31) certainly made the most of his opportunities at 1B. However Rickie Weeks (.226 9 21) and Aramis Ramirez (.271 5 26) are having subpar years while battling injuries. Kyle Loshe (5-7 3.67) and Yovani Gallardo (7-8 4.93) are clearly unhappy furthest from their once dominating roles as starters. The middle part of the rotation and relief have been even more ineffective, and all that's left for the Brewers to play for is what little pride they have left as major changes are expected in the offseason.
d) San Francisco (43-51 .457 4th place NL West) Defending champions always go through tough seasons the year after all the fame and fortune is taken in. Bruce Bochy is doing his best keeping San Francisco in the mix for a postseason spot in an otherwise weak division. Buster Posey (.325 13 56) and Marco Scutaro (.316 2 22) have done their parts especially playing at AT&T Park favoring the pitchers. Hunter Pence (.262 14 48) loves to take his cuts as a free-swinger, but in the process is hurting hitters who table set. Pablo Sandoval (.266 9 42) is capable of doing more but doesn't have the protection in the lineup needed. Brandon Belt (.260 10 38) is as versatile as they come in the core part of the lineup but subpar seasons for Angel Pagan (.262 3 24) and Jeff Francoeur (.209 3 13) have taken it's toll. Pagan had hamstring surgery and is likely to miss the rest of the season. Outside of Madison Bumgarner (10-5 3.02) who has been nothing short of brilliant, Tim Lincecum (5-9 4.26) is far from his once dominating self several years ago even with a no-hitter to his credit this season right before the ASB. It's been even more of a nightmare for Matt Cain (5-6 5.06) whose variety of pitches poses no fear in opposing hitters. Couple that with Barry Zito's imminent struggles (4-7 4.98) and a fractured pinkie injury to Ryan Vogelsong (2-4 7.19), and you have a team desperate for starting pitching. Sergio Romo has converted 21/24 save opportunities, and the good news is that there's still plenty of time to turn things around for SF although several other teams eye to dislodge Arizona.
Let's hear some other thoughts!