We’re at the “traditional” midpoint of the baseball season. That week or so between July 4 and the All-Star Game, when there are more games that have been played than there are games left to play. What can we tell about the pennant races to come? Which teams get to coast? Which teams still have a fight on their hands? Which divisions still have some excitement to look forward to?
In the NL West, the Giants are doing great – maybe it’s that “even year” thing, but the Dodgers have been staying in the race despite a swarm of injuries. The Cubs are starting to stumble a little bit in the NL Central, but they have such a huge lead that they are basically uncatchable. Especially when they’ve got a well-stocked farm system to use in trades for any help they might need. The Nationals are healthy, and they have Daniel Murphy giving them an MVP-caliber season. The Mets may have to settle for a wild-card spot, especially if their offense doesn’t get going.
In the AL Central, Cleveland has picked up some of the Cavalier’s mojo and run away from the pack. But that’s been a wild division so far this season; if the Indians fade and someone else gets hot at the right time…. In the AL West, Texas has a lead that might just be enough to fend off the Astros. The AL East has the only real race right now, with the Orioles, Red Sox, and Blue Jays fighting for first. Any one of them can take it.
Gazing into the future, the wild-card races are where it’s at. The National League has the Mets, Cardinals, and Dodgers all in the mix, with the Marlins and Pirates staying close. There are even more teams involved in the AL Wild Card race. Aside from the teams in the AL East, the Tigers, Royals, Astros, Mariners, and White Sox have a good shot. Even the Yankees have a legitimate chance.
As far as the division leaders, history shows that teams in first place on July 4 will wind up in first place at the end of the season about 60% of the time. We can take a good guess at which teams are likely to fall off the pace. One of the best predictive stats is Run Differential, which is simply the difference between total runs scored and total runs allowed. Obviously, winning teams score more runs than they allow. As of today, the division leaders with a lower run differential than another team in their division are the Orioles and the Rangers. In the case of the former, they’ve got one of the best offenses in baseball – and one of the worst starting rotations. The Rangers have been really lucky – they have baseball’s best record in one-run games at 18-7. Expect to see things shake up in the American League.
In another sort of race that no one wants to “win”, the Twins, Reds, and Braves all have a good chance at *losing* 100 games this year. Ouch.
The most important thing to remember is that there’s still a lot of parity amongst the better teams. There’s no team that is so good that they cannot go cold for a brief stretch while another team gets hot and surpasses them. Injuries to key players is another issue, and then there’s the possibility of a pickup at the trade deadline…