When the NFL season passes the halfway point, it is often not hard to tell who the competitors are going to be. But it is too soon to tell who’s going to win anything. In the NBA, when teams are 50 games in, the contenders become clear, but the seeding is far from decided.
With baseball and its 162-game season, the same should be true. This season it is— in the National League, but not so much in the American. You could almost say that if you want competitive, exciting baseball, you might as well focus on the NL.
At least for the next couple of months that appears to be the case.
This season has seen the Dodgers struggle with injuries and lack of production for most of the year. They are still favored to win their division (61.73 percent chance), but the Diamondbacks are not out of it yet (33.33 percent).
The Cubs haven’t looked great at times but appear to be poised to take over (66.67 percent) the NL Central from the struggling Brewers (38.46 percent). But the NL East is almost up for grabs with the Nationals (33.3 percent), Phillies (40.0 percent), and Braves (38.46 percent) in the hunt.
A case could easily be made for seven of the NL’s 15 teams earning a playoff spot as either a division winner or as a wild card. Two of the usual suspects (Cubs and Dodgers) may finally be getting their acts together as the all-star break approaches. But things could easily slip for either. Neither has room to spare.
Over in the American League, it is an entirely different picture. All six playoff spots are practically locked down.
The Cleveland Indians took their time waking up, but as of July 15, they are considered pretty much a lock to win the AL Central (99.9 percent). Houston isn’t as much of a lock to win the AL West again (93.46 percent), but they are close. Seattle isn’t making it easy this season, but the Mariners aren’t expected to win the division (14.29 percent).
Seattle may not win the West but, according to some numbers crunched by FanGraphs, they are more likely than not to make the playoffs (76.1 percent)
The AL East is the only division still in doubt in the AL. Both the Yankees and the Red Sox are projected to win over 100 games this season. As the All-Star break nears, the Red Sox hold the advantage in the division (55.56 percent), but the Yankees are in pretty good shape as well (52.63 percent).
Fans need not worry. Whichever AL East juggernaut doesn’t win the division is still considered a lock to make the playoffs. It would not be ideal for a 100-win season to hang on a single wild-card game. But for one team, that will be the case.
To be fair, the Athletics still have an outside shot at making the playoffs (19.7). But they are going to be hard-pressed to make it. Mathematically, the Angels (2.3 percent), Twins (2.2 percent), Rays (1.2 percent), and Blue Jays (.3 percent) have a shot. But would you want to put money down on any of them?
Probably not– although you’d win big if something crazy happened.
The outcome of the regular season appears set in the AL, but the postseason should be exciting. Now that Cleveland’s offense has woken up (fourth overall in runs), they could give Houston’s ace pitching staff a run for its money (2.94 ERA; first overall). The Mariners could steal the wild card from either the Yankees or Red Sox. But the other ALDS will likely be the Yankees and Red Sox.
Houston is considered the favorite to win the AL (35.71 percent). But the Yankees (30.77 percent) and Red Sox (31.75 percent) will not make it easy for them.
While it is good that the playoffs (or at least the ALCS) will be competitive, is the lack of a competitive regular season something that should concern baseball? In a word—no. It’s not like the Astros bought their way to the World Series last year.
All three teams are in the top 15 in team salaries. But it isn’t like the team with the biggest payroll (Boston) is expected to win. The team with the 12th highest is (Houston; Yankees are seventh).
There really isn’t anything the league can do to restore more of a competitive balance in the AL. The Astros, Red Sox, and Yankees are on top of the game right now because they are the best. They’ve made the right trades and developed guys in their respective farm systems.
Barring anything crazy happening or a rash or injuries, the AL playoff picture appears set in stone. Of course, the second you try to do so, the whole world will turn upside down just because you did.