Entering the second half of the MLB season, the list of possible contenders for a championship run is shortening every week. Halfway through the season, the list now includes only half the teams in the majors. These fifteen teams have a chance, from likely to remotely, of reaching the World Series. Note: any team that reaches the playoffs is a threat to win the World Series, so all teams that are in playoff contention are included.
- Texas Rangers- After the phenomenal first half, the main concern is the return of Yu Darvish to full health. The Texas ace, who fired nine strikeouts in his return from the DL, joins a pitching staff that ranks 20th in the majors in team ERA and is the weakness of the team.
- Houston Astros
The Astros had a poor start to the season, but they climbed out of the hole and are positioned to make a late season run. Jose Altuve is having an MVP season at second base, and if Dallas Keuchel can rebound from a disappointing first half, this will be a team nobody wants to face.
- Cleveland Indians
Right after the hometown Cavaliers won Cleveland’s first sports title in 52 years, the Indians responded with a season-high 14-game winning streak. While the streak is over, it showed the Indians’ potential as a true contender and positions them for their first AL Central title in almost ten years.
- Boston Red Sox
Behind the Killer B’s (Bradley, Betts, and Bogaerts) and slugger David Ortiz, the Red Sox are coming together as one of the best teams in baseball. But the pitching staff is a major issue, with disappointing seasons from starter David Price and closer Craig Kimbrel, and starter Steven Wright can’t do it alone. Look for a big trade or acquisition in the upcoming weeks.
- Kansas City Royals
The winner of the last two American League pennants, the Royals have had a bit of an off year, but if they sneak into the postseason they are a threat to be reckoned with. Their success, however, depends on a rotation that has no established stars and is in dire need of improvement.
- Toronto Blue Jays
As the third place team in the American League, the Blue Jays are fighting an uphill battle to reach the playoffs. An improved pitching staff and strong seasons from third baseman Josh Donaldson, All Star outfielder Michael Saunders, and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki are reasons for optimism.
- Seattle Mariners
The Mariners are also in third place in their division and have the loaded Astros and Rangers ahead, so they’ll be aiming for a wild card spot. The pitching staff is tenth in the majors in ERA and the lineup is ninth in runs scored, so unless one of the players goes down with a major injury, the M’s don’t have glaring holes. If one of the aforementioned teams falters down the stretch, Seattle could snare its first playoff berth since 2001.
- Baltimore Orioles
The O’s are standing atop the American League East, but unless they make drastic changes at the trade deadline, they’re not built to last. Manny Machado played like an MVP in the first half and the bullpen is a definite strength, but the rotation needs a lot of help for the team to keep hold of the division.
- Chicago Cubs
The Cubs played absolutely terrible before the All Star break, but before their slump the North Siders looked like far and away the best team in the major leagues. The rotation is second to none, and the selection of the entire Chicago infield to the All Star Game speaks for itself. Trial and tribulation is necessary for a championship run, and there is no doubt that the Cubs can turn it around in time for the playoffs.
- San Francisco Giants
Chicago is the favorite to come out of the National League, but the Giants are currently the class of the NL. Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner form one of the best one-two punches in baseball and Brandon Belt is having a breakout year. Nobody knows postseason success like the Giants, so don’t count them out.
- Washington Nationals
With new manager Dusty Baker, the Nationals are also in the World Series conversation. Washington’s rotation is nothing short of phenomenal (best ERA in baseball), with starter Stephen Strasburg owning an astounding 13-0 record. The Nats are the dark horse to come out of the National League and own a six game lead over the Mets and Marlins.
- St. Louis Cardinals
As the Cubs garner all the attention in the NL Central, the Cardinals are quietly sneaking up. Offense is usually a problem, but currently the Cards are fourth in the majors in runs scored. The number to watch is eight, which is the Cubs’ lead over St. Louis in the division. But even if Chicago takes the division, St. Louis is a threat as a wild card (pun intended).
- Pittsburgh Pirates
Pittsburgh is going through a disappointing year and right now the Bucs are on the outside looking in. But the pieces are in place for a turnaround, and if the Pirates get in for the fourth straight year, they’ll have a chance. Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco make up one of the majors’ best outfields and Mark Melancon heads a stellar bullpen. The questions come from the rotation. Ace Gerrit Cole must get back on the mound and avoid the injury bug and Pittsburgh needs depth behind him, either from the farm system or in the trade market.
- New York Mets
With one of the best young rotations in the game, the Mets have a chance to defend their NL pennant. But right now, their offense is sputtering, ranking 28th out of 30 teams in runs scored. With ex-Met Daniel Murphy raking in Washington and JOSE REYES (you read that right) starting at third base, the offense is in clear disarray and could use some help at the deadline.
- Miami Marlins
At the start of the year, the Marlins were hardly viewed as a World Series contender. Don’t look now, but they’re in line for the second Wild Card spot. Jose Fernandez is a bona fide ace and the outfield is the best in baseball, especially if Giancarlo Stanton can return to form. They also have a proven manager in Don Mattingly. Miami also has a history of shocking postseason runs (see 1997 and 2003).