As we approach the halfway point of the regular season, division leaders continue to keep second-place teams at bay. Except in the National League Central.
As we rapidly approach the halfway point of the regular season, it seems as if the teams that currently lead their divisions will maintain their leads into the All-Star break. Every first-place team in baseball has at least a four-and-a-half game lead entering play on Monday. That is, every team except for whichever happens to be in first place on any given day in the NL Central.
We’ll get to that division, but first we begin as usual with the American League East, which has been controlled by the New York Yankees for a couple of weeks. After a week that included sweeping a three-game set against the second-place Tampa Bay Rays and taking three of four from the Houston Astros, the suddenly healthy Yankees are looking to run away with the division before the end of July.
The Minnesota Twins hold an eight-game lead in the AL Central, but right now that seems a little dicey. The Cleveland Indians have won eight of their last 10 games heading into Monday while the Twins are 5-5 in their last 10. The Twins starting pitching was always the question mark: Could their guys continue their hot start they had throughout the season? Presently, they’ve hit a rough patch. The Indians, even with all the injuries they’ve had to their starting staff are starting to hit, and are pitching well enough to possibly put some pressure on the Twins before the break.
In the AL West, the Houston Astros’ injuries are starting to catch up with them. The good news is that George Springer and Collin McHugh are expected back this week and Carlos Correa is expected back after the break. Their lead has dwindled down to six-and-a-half games thanks to a seven-game losing streak. The Texas Rangers have also shrunk their deficit without Joey Gallo, who’s still on the shelf with an oblique strain. It’ll be interesting to see what this division lead looks like once we get to the break.
Over in the National League East, the Atlanta Braves have pushed their lead to six-and-a-half games after the Phillies lost nine of 10 games and the Nationals and Mets still haven’t come close to figuring out their bullpen struggles. The Braves have a plus-49 run differential, and the next-closest team is the Nationals, who sit at plus-six heading into Monday. If the Phillies don’t figure it out quickly they’ll miss out on another chance to win the division.
Now to the NL Central where the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals are all trading days spent in first place. Entering Monday, the Cubs lead the division by a half game. Everyone should be on the lookout for the Cincinnati Reds. They’re now five-and-a-half out, and are still pitching well. If they ever figure out how to string multiple games and then series together with their capable offensive output they can put real pressure on everyone else, because their pitching is that good.
We finish up in the NL West, where the Rockies had a real chance to cut into the Dodgers’ division lead this past weekend, and giving the Dodgers everything they had. Unfortunately the Dodgers finished every game with a walk-off home run from a different rookie in all three games. That’s a gut punch to a team that got good pitching from a struggling staff. This division seems all but wrapped up barring a monumental collapse.
We’ll be at the halfway point by the end of the week, but as we approach the All-Star break and the trade deadline that’s where the real fun will begin.