All-Star Weekend is officially in the rearview mirror, and while it gave us plenty of memorable moments, we don’t have time to dwell — because MLB’s stretch run is right around the corner. All 30 teams are taking one more day off, but when they return on Friday, they’ll kick off a mad, 2.5-month sprint to the finish, as each game could decide a division title or a Wild Card spot (or the most momentous free-agent decision in recent baseball history).
Before all that gets underway, let’s take a moment to recap where things stand. We’ll start in the National League, where the Braves are running roughshod over everyone, the Dodgers and D-backs are battling it out atop the West, the Mets and Padres are trying desperately to get out of neutral, the defending-champion Phillies are showing signs of life and the Reds are trying to complete a Cinderella run to a Central title. The full NL playoff picture is below, complete with the outlook for each team in what should be a wild second half.
National League playoff picture
No. 1 seed, NL East leader — Atlanta Braves (60-29)
No. 2 seed, NL West leader — Los Angeles Dodgers (51-38)
No. 3 seed, NL Central leader — Cincinnati Reds (50-41)
At this point, the only suspense surrounding the Braves is whether Ronald Acuna Jr. will complete his run at baseball’s first-ever 40/70 season. (Okay, and whether Max Fried and/or Kyle Wright will be back and healthy come the postseason.) The Phillies and Mets started perking up before the break, and they both could make a lot of noise in the Wild Card race down the stretch, but we need to see a bit more consistency — both on offense and in the rotation — before we fully buy in.
Arizona sat atop the NL West for much of the last two months, but a recent swoon (and a Dodgers hot streak) has L.A. ahead on winning percentage as we start the second half. Arizona remains a team to watch at the trade deadline, with impact talent in the Minors and a gaping hole in their rotation if they hope to contend for a pennant. It’s unclear whether they’d be willing to part with Jordan Lawlar or Druw Jones, but they could fetch a lot on the market.
The Central seemed moribund about a month ago, and then Elly De La Cruz happened. Okay, the Brewers deserve some credit here too, but Cincy and Milwaukee figure to be battling it out through September for a division crown. The high-flying Reds have been making it work with a rotation held together with duct tape, and they have the prospects to swing a deal for someone like Lucas Giolito, Shane Bieber, Eduardo Rodriguez or Jordan Montgomery before the deadline — they’ll need at least one (if not more) if they want to avoid a second-half swoon, because Luke Weaver, Ben Lively and Brandon Williamson aren’t cutting it.