It's the Fourth of July, and that means you are probably getting ready for a full day of parades, grilling out and fireworks. But before you head outdoors, it's time for another annual holiday tradition -- checking the baseball standings, of course!
With the season just past the halfway mark and not quite at the All-Star break, it's a perfect time to check in and see where things stand, so we asked ESPN's Bradford Doolittle, Buster Olney, Jeff Passan and David Schoenfield to break down the state of the standings.
What's the first thing that jumps out at you when you look at the standings right now?
David Schoenfield: The Red Sox sitting 11 games behind the Yankees -- especially knowing all the injuries the Yankees have played through while the Red Sox have been relatively healthy. Heck, Marcus Walden and Brandon Workman are a combined 13-2 ... which means the rest of the team is well under .500.
Bradford Doolittle: The Orioles. I mean, my gosh, that's a bad team. We knew they'd be bad, perhaps unusually bad. But they are 1898 Cleveland Spiders bad. Well, almost. They are on pace to give up more than 1,000 runs even though they have a Rookie of the Year candidate in starter John Means, who has kind of been like Dickie Kerr in the 1919 World Series except all of Means' teammates are actually trying. And the O's are also on pace to record the worst run differential of all time. How is it possible that a team that lost 115 games last season has not yet bottomed out?
Jeff Passan: The festering cauldron of mediocrity that is the National League. There are the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Atlanta Braves, the Miami Marlins and a dozen other teams doing their best imitations of someone who has been overserved trying to walk the line. Just when you're going in one direction, suddenly you happen to go in the other. The fourth- and fifth-best run differentials belong to the teams with the 10th- and 12th-best records. That dirty dozen are within seven games of one another, which is bound to lead to an opaque trade market until the last 10 days of July, by which time teams will have made their buy-or-sell decisions.
Buster Olney: Half of the schedule is off the board, and the National League Central has almost no definition to it. All five teams are in play; all five teams seem to be in this perpetual search for an identity. The Cardinals are waiting for Paul Goldschmidt, the Brewers need more rotation consistency, and the Cubs might not even be sure what they need, at this point. Strange, and kind of fun.
Of the American League teams currently holding playoff spots, how many will make the postseason?
Passan: Four. New York, Minnesota, Houston, Tampa Bay.
Doolittle: Four. Mostly the standings are reflecting our preseason expectations, and even though Tampa Bay has hit a rough stretch, I still see three AL East teams getting into October. This also means that I've bought in on the Twins. Minnesota is going to win the Central even if the Indians continue to play better.
Olney: Now that the Indians lead the race for the second wild card, I think it's 5-for-5. Cleveland has 10 games against the Tigers and 10 games against Kansas City in the second half, and that's a scheduling advantage that Oakland and other wild-card contenders won't enjoy.
Schoenfield: It's going to be a mad scramble for the wild-card spots, but it still feels like the Red Sox have too much talent to miss the playoffs. I'll say four of the five make it, with the Rays and Red Sox winning the wild cards and the A's and Indians falling just short.
Can the Twins win the World Series this season?
Tim Kurkjian and Eduardo Perez break down the Twins' success this season and their chances of winning the World Series.
Of the National League teams currently holding playoff spots, how many will make the postseason?
Passan: Three. Dodgers, Braves, Cubs.
Doolittle: Four. The Dodgers are a lock and the Braves are pretty close to it. Even though the Cubs haven't gotten any separation and have some rotation injuries, there's no obvious reason to think they won't win the Central. And I still like the Brewers as a wild card along with the Phillies. For the last spot, it's a potential quagmire. This could be a season in which a true upstart, like the Padres or Reds, squeezes into October.
Schoenfield: This feels impossible to predict with any certainty as only the Dodgers are a lock. I'm not even willing to hand the NL East to the Braves just yet -- although they should at least make it as a wild card. Let's go three of the five, with the Cubs and Rockies making it instead of the Brewers and Phillies.
Olney: What, are you kidding? It might be easier to learn three new languages than figure out the NL playoff field. I'll say the Dodgers (brave, eh?) and Atlanta win in the West and East, and I'll guess the Nationals will be a wild-card team because they're playing well and have the most rotation talent. But beyond that, it's absurdly wide-open.
Which team is the biggest disappointment of the first half (and will it turn things around)?
Doolittle: The Mets and no. I love pulling out the old Micheal Ray Richardson quote: The ship be sinking.
Olney: The Mets, based on their own standard. They viewed themselves as serious contenders, and now logic screams for them to execute a sell-off and prepare for 2020 and -- more importantly -- 2021.
Schoenfield: The Red Sox and Nationals fit here, but at least they're still close. The Mets not only have been a disappointment, but they continue to do LOL Mets things, especially with the bullpen blues and the Robinson Cano trade that looks like it could haunt the franchise for years. Where would they be without Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil -- two guys whom the new front office clearly didn't even completely believe in given the offseason moves to bring in Cano and Jed Lowrie.
Passan: Clearly the Boston Red Sox. It's the Fourth of July. They're 45-41. On this day last year, they were 59-29. They didn't lose their 41st game until Aug. 25. There's time to get right. There's also a lot of righting to do.
Which division race will be the most interesting the rest of the way?
Passan: There's a reasonable amount of intrigue in both leagues' East and Central divisions. The AL East has three extreme haves and two tailor-made have-nots. The AL Central comes down to: Does Cleveland sell or take another crack? The NL East is juicy, with the Braves and Phillies and Nats and whatever comes of the Mets. But the NL Central, with the Cubs' inconsistency and the Brewers needing another Christian Yelich MVP grab and the Reds' upside-down run differential, is intriguing enough for a realistic shot at another Game 163.
Olney: NL Central. Five teams enter, one team prevails, and the rest will be left to wonder what the heck went wrong.
Schoenfield: The NL Central. Every team is going to end up 82-80, giving us a five-way tie. How do you break that tie? I don't know! MLB's tiebreaker scenarios don't yet include that one. Better put somebody on it.
Doolittle: Like Buster and Dave said, the NL Central is a true five-team race that could be tilted in any direction by key injuries or trade acquisitions. The Pirates have to be considered the long shots because of their antipathy toward aggressive acquisitions, but they've also hung in there with a largely underachieving starting staff. If that group gets going, and the Bucs don't trade Felipe Vazquez at the deadline, anything could happen. The Cardinals are another team with a lot of positive regression lying ahead of them.
Which contender most needs to do something big before the trade deadline?
Olney: The Dodgers, which might seem counterintuitive, because they're completely dominating their division and will coast to another NL West title. But the standard for that seething clubhouse is World Series or bust. The players doubled down on their individual efforts this season, and presumably the front office will as well and get at least one and perhaps two high-end relievers before July 31.
Doolittle: The Dodgers need to lock in an October-worthy bullpen. This is yet another powerhouse L.A. team, but it doesn't have the kind of starting pitchers who can become viable October bullpen solutions. They need at least two or three more arms for the relief staff. If that happens, it's almost a perfect roster.
Passan: In June, the Phillies went 11-16 with a 5.63 ERA. They don't have the lineup to counteract such a miserable pitching month -- which was nearly equaled by the Yankees' pitching staff, only they went 17-9 because they've apparently got nine Babe Ruths. In the close NL, the Phillies need to do something -- preferably with pitching, probably in the bullpen, where the Phillies' 6.62 ERA in June was better than just one team: the Mets, of course.
Schoenfield: The Nationals have one of the worst bullpens of all time and that's even with a good closer. They need to add a reliever or four to have a chance at chasing down the Braves. (To be fair, just about every contender will be looking for bullpen help. The busiest man in July might be Giants general manager Farhan Zaidi, who has several relievers to deal, plus Madison Bumgarner).
How many teams will win 100 games this season?
Doolittle: Four. Astros, Yankees, Twins and Dodgers. The Twins are the toughest call there, but given their AL Central-heavy schedule and strong run differential, I think they'll do it.
Olney: Four. Dodgers, Yankees, Astros, Twins. The top-heavy (and bottom-heavy) nature of Major League Baseball continues.
Passan: Three. Dodgers, Yankees, Astros.
Schoenfield: I agree with Jeff here, three. Dodgers, Yankees, Astros.
How many teams will lose 100 games this season?
Passan: Five. Orioles, Royals, Tigers, Marlins, Blue Jays.
Schoenfield: Four. Blue Jays, Orioles, Tigers, Royals.
Olney: Five -- and all in the American League, remarkably. Somehow, the Orioles are on pace to win fewer games this year (45) than last year (47).
Doolittle: Two. The Orioles might lose 200. And while the Royals and Tigers are both on pace to fly past 100, I think Kansas City will move toward its 95-loss run differential and avoid triple digits.