RED SOX RUSH
After a busy and expensive off-season, Boston was expected to win the AL East—despite a shaky rotation. Instead, the Sox allowed the third-most runs in the league in the first half, 376, as their weak pitching was "backed" by even weaker defense. Also, not a single hitter significantly exceeded expectations, and a number of them—Mike Napoli, Pablo Sandoval, David Ortiz, every one of the team's catchers and rightfielders—slumped badly. The development of homegrown stars Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts was undercut by the failure of the team's veterans.
The Red Sox opened the second half in last place in the AL East, but eight games out of first—after being as far back as 10 games in June. They closed the first half by winning 14 of 22 as the offense averaged 5.3 runs per game, with Betts, Bogaerts, Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez putting up big numbers. A healthy Dustin Pedroia—returning from a hamstring injury—means Boston will be at full strength kicking off the second half. There's a big run coming for this team—it could score six runs a game for three weeks and go 15--4, upending the AL East.
Can the Sox pitch well enough? Well, they're already making some changes. Eduardo Rodriguez is in the rotation, and Brian Johnson just got called up, as the team taps its deep well of young arms. A front-of-the-rotation starter, the team's biggest need, might be found on the farm, but the Reds' Johnny Cueto or the Phillies' Cole Hamels would go a long way toward making the Sox the favorites again in a division in which no team will win 90 games.
YANKEES OLD-TIMERS' DAYS
Despite a lineup with just one every-day player under 31 (Didi Gregorius, who was hitting .236 through Sunday), the Yankees stayed surprisingly healthy in the first half to lead the AL East by four games. Alex Rodriguez's comeback got most of the attention, and rightly so, but the key was durability: Of the team's aging offensive core, only Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran missed time to injury. That helped the Yankees to 409 first-half runs, second in the league to the Blue Jays' 486.
It's not impossible for the Yanks to stay healthy, but they just don't have the depth to survive a potential wave of injuries. There are prospects on the way, including rightfielder Aaron Judge, but none are ready. This season Yankees under the age of 30 have combined to hit .241 with eight home runs in 501 at bats. Look for this team to slip toward .500 in the second half.
As we get closer to the July 31 trade deadline, there is likely to be just enough separation among teams in the standings to create a good mix of buyers and sellers. The Padres dropped nine of 13 heading into the break. The Rangers lost eight of their last 10 to fall six out in the AL West as their makeshift pitching staff got exposed. There figures to be both a lot of talent available, and a lot of teams looking to make that one acquisition to turn a tight divisional race: No division leader had more than a 4½-game lead at the break.
The Reds could be the kings of the deadline. They held off on making big changes until after their All-Star celebration, but at 40--49 and 16½ games out in the NL Central, their 2015 season is over. In a division with some of the best-run organizations in the game, their short-term future is bleak. Cincinnati has plenty to move: No. 1 starter Johnny Cueto; the most dominant reliever in baseball, Aroldis Chapman; and Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Mike Leake all figure to be available. GM Walt Jocketty can even look at dealing Home Run Derby hero Todd Frazier, who at 29 is having the best year of his career (hitting .285 with 25 home runs). The trade deadline will be a big one, and the Reds will be at the center of the action.
The sad story in Queens may reach its denouement, as the Wilpon family refuses or is unable to run the Mets as a large-market franchise and that approach finally causes real damage to the team's playoff hopes. New York's player-development staff has built the most exciting young rotation in baseball, one that has pitched the team to within two games of the NL East lead. The Mets' Opening Day payroll, however, was just $101 million—21st of the 30 teams in MLB—and they are the only large-market team in the bottom half. The money they have spent has largely been wasted—the six highest-paid Mets are earning a total of $70 million and have produced a combined 2.6 Wins Above Replacement. The team, 14th in the NL in runs, desperately needs a big bat. Will the Wilpons break from recent form to add one, such as the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki, even if it means taking on an onerous contract? A playoff trip, as well as the credibility of their ownership, could hinge on the answer to that question.
There's a big run coming for the Red Sox. They could score six runs a game and go 15--4, upending the AL East.
MICHAEL IVINS/BOSTON RED SOX/GETTY IMAGES
SOX IT TO ME? For all their struggles and poor pitching, Boston is still not out of reach of a wild-card spot.