We have now reached the midway point of the 2016 MLB season. Actually, it’s well beyond the mid-point of 81 games as some teams have played more than 90 games.
Nevertheless, the All-Star Game will be played in San Diego tomorrow night and there will be an abundance of Chicago Cubs in the infield. In fact, it will be an all Cubs infield to start the game with Anthony Rizzo at first, Ben Zobrist at second, Addison Russell at short and Kris Bryant at third.
But are the Cubs showing cracks? Could we be seeing the beginning of a collapse? At the beginning of the month, the Cubs were leading the NL Central by 11 and 13½ games over the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates, respectively. But the Cubs have gone 2-8 in July and now lead the Cards and Bucs by 7 and 7½ games, respectively. While it still represents the biggest divisional lead in all of MLB, it just goes to show how quickly things can change. Much of the Cubs’ troubles came at the hands of the Pirates who have picked up six games in less than two weeks going 8-2 thus far in July. The Cardinals also picked up four games on their longtime rivals going 6-4 over this stretch. Still, it won’t easy to catch the Cubs much less gain a berth in a crowded NL Wild Card field. It will be interesting to see what the NL Central looks like at the end of the month although it won’t be so interesting for fans of the Milwaukee Brewers or Cincinnati Reds who may be soon selling off parts. Indeed, the Brewers just traded Aaron Hill to the Boston Red Sox over the weekend. Hill was with the Brew Crew less than half a season after being acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a trade for shortstop Jean Segura.
The only NL team that has been as hot as the Pirates are the San Francisco Giants who have also gone 8-2 this month. Their 57-33 record is now the best in MLB. The Giants lead the NL West by 6½ games over the Los Angeles Dodgers who have dibs on the first spot in the NL Wild Card. The Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks are well off the pace and are likely to be sellers before the trade deadline. I wonder if the Rockies will part with Carlos Gonzalez (who will be starting in the outfield for the NL All-Stars) the way they parted with Troy Tulowitzki a year ago.
Meanwhile in the NL East, the Washington Nationals have a six game lead over both the Miami Marlins and the New York Mets. Stephen Strasburg’s 12-0 record has sure made a big difference. I’m also sure the Mets are kicking themselves for not making more of an effort to re-sign Daniel Murphy who is having an MVP type season in D.C. While the Mets are tied with the second NL Wild Card spot with the Marlins their rotation is now full of question marks with Matt Harvey out for the season, Noah Syndergaard out with arm fatigue and Steven Matz pitching with a bone chip in his elbow. Who would have thought that 43-year old heavyweight Bartolo Colon would be the healthiest of that bunch? Needless to say, the Mets will be shopping for a starting pitcher before the trade deadline. I’ve a feeling the Mets could be very interested in Oakland’s Sonny Gray. At this point, the Marlins might have the better odds of reaching the second NL Wild Card berth. The Philadelphia Phillies have won 7 of 10 in July, but are 12 games back of the Nats. But at least they’re not the Atlanta Braves who still own the worst record in MLB and are 22½ games off the pace.
The tightest race in MLB is in the AL East where the Baltimore Orioles hold a two game lead over both the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays are 8-2 in July while the Sox have won 7 of their last 9 games after a mediocre 10-16 record in June. If the season ended today both Boston and Toronto would earn AL Wild Card berths. The New York Yankees remain a .500 club while the Tampa Bay Rays could soon supplant the Minnesota Twins as the team with the worst record in the AL. The Rays have lost six straight and 9 of their last 10 games.
For the first three months of the season, the AL Central was the most volatile in MLB. The Chicago White Sox were on top in April, the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals regained their form in May and a 14-game winning streak gave the Cleveland Indians top spot in June. The division has stabilized somewhat in July with the Tribe holding a 6½ game lead over the Detroit Tigers and a seven game lead over the Royals and Chisox. The Minnesota Twins are 20 games back of the Indians, but have won 7 of their last 10 games and as mentioned previously might end up only being the second worst team in the AL with the recent poor play of the Rays.
The Texas Rangers have scuffled thus far in July losing 7 of 10, but still have a 5½ game lead over the Houston Astros in the AL West. The Astros are just within spitting distance of a second consecutive AL Wild Card berth. After a terrible June, the Seattle Mariners are just treading water above .500 and are 8½ games back of the Rangers. Both the Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Angels are likely to be sellers at the trade deadline though I think the A’s will have an easier time moving people. I’m sure the Angels regret signing Albert Pujols to a 10-year deal. 2021 seems a very long way right now.
The MLB All-Star Game airs on FOX tomorrow night at 7:30 EST and the second half of the 2016 season will commence on Friday.