The two #2s and 3 #4s are all separated by 1 point. The Indians and White Sox scored 18s, and the A's, Red Sox and Yankees scored 19s. So, essentially, there's very little difference between teams 2-6. The Cards are the consensus #1, leaps and bounds ahead of the 5 battling AL teams, one or more of which could miss the playoffs.
So, as the games get more critical, we start to see the separation, as the good teams distinguish themselves from the flukes.
Onward and upward:
- Cardinals (1) - Everybody's starting to come around on this one: the Cards, at this point, are the league's best team. We'll see how far that takes them come October.
- Indians (4) - The next 5 teams are incredibly close. And yet, as many as two of these teams'll miss the playoffs. I noted in the Roundtable that the Indians are probably the most balanced of the bunch, and I'll stick with that.
- White Sox (6) - These 5 teams are incredibly close. And yet, as many as two of these teams'll miss the playoffs. The White Sox are the closest of the bunch, now; so they're pretty much a lock. They're going to need some superb pitching in the playoffs to take them through.
- A's (2) - These 5 teams are incredibly close. And yet, as many as two of these teams'll miss the playoffs. The injury bug is back with a vengeance for the Green and Gold, so it'll be a challenge. They have to either jump past the Angels or hold off three of these 5.
- Red Sox (3) - These 5 teams are incredibly close. And yet, as many as two of these teams'll miss the playoffs. The Sox can rake, but their pitching is suspect. They're still the odds-on favorite to win the AL East, but there are a few head-to-head games left with their nemesis.
- Yankees (5) - These 5 teams are incredibly close. And yet, as many as two of these teams'll miss the playoffs. There are two ways to look at the Yankee season: wow, they've really overcome adversity with all the injuries and pitching problems and it's a real accomplishment that they're still in the race, OR wow, the Yankees spent $208 million on a team full of all-stars, and the best they could get for their rotation was a group of fragile and/or aging pitchers. If this were the business world, you wouldn't find too many smart investors willing to buy stock in a firm with such a horrendous strategy, history or no history.
- Braves (7) - Just swept the Mets to lock up the division... they're peaking at the right time. I don't know about his plate discipline, but Jeff Francoeur probably has the best outfield arm I've seen in my lifetime. The throws are strong and incredibly accurate.
- Angels (9) - The race stays tight on the left coast as LAA and OAK are separated by just a half game at the time of writing. The Angels have a problem, though; they have only one player with an OPS over .800. It seems very, very difficult to make the playoffs with such reliance on one offensive player.
- Mets (7) - A heartbreaking road trip, so far, has sent the Mets into a 2-9 tailspin. Time to start looking to 2006.
- Astros (10) - They still can't hit, but that pitching is good enough to carry them through September and into the playoffs. Much like the Angels, though, they're entirely too reliant on too few players. Losing any of the big 3 would cost them a game or two, easily. That could be the difference down the stretch.
- Rangers (14) - Remember how great a year Kenny Rogers was having? Well, our friend "regression to the mean" caught up to Kenny...
Second half: 4.92 ERA, .312 BABIP
It's not the whole story, but it does tell a good portion.
- Phillies (13) - A heartbreaking series with the Astros has made the Phils look to '06... but they're not quite out of it, yet.
- Marlins (11) - Dontrelle Willis is showing us the value of keeping the longball down and keeping good control. He's surrendered merely 8 homers and he's only walked 46 in over 200 innings. Seems like the league still hasn't figured out that funky delivery...
- Twins (12) - You know that you're having a good season when you've walked about as many batters as Willis has surrendered homers to. There's an interesting condition about FIP. If you don't walk anyone, don't strike anyone out, and don't give up any homers, your ERA is about 3.20. Carlos Silva's got one of those down pat. 9 walks. All season. (Opponents are hitting .287/.297/.431 against him.) It's too bad, too; if that offense were a bit better, there'd be yet another great team to worry about.
- Cubs (16) - Maybe Derrek Lee really is that good. He's hitting .291/.383/.571 in the second half with superb defense to boot. The Cubs, without him, are probably battling with the Pirates to stay out of last place.
- Blue Jays (14) - That run differential's still looking pretty good... 51 runs better than their opponents. I don't know why they're a game under. Your guess is as good as mine. Any other year, Gustavo Chacin and his 3.65 ERA would get a lot more ROY consideration. But it's not meant to be.
- Nationals (18) - Chad Cordero has a 3.44 FIP in a heavy pitcher's park. I hate to be an alarmist, but someone should mention that...
- Orioles (20) - For all the talk about Billy Wagner's impending free agency, the best closer on the market might be BJ Ryan, who has been racking up Ks at an astounding rate this season. He's still on the right side of 30 (for another few months, anyway), and that .360 K/PA looks awfully tough. Lefties tend to hate themselves when they face him, too; since 2002, they're hitting .156/.255/.238 off of him.
- Brewers (19) - You know what? I'd like to see a full season of Russell Branyan, v. lefties and righties.
Career vs. Righties: 1235 AB, .233/.332/.479
- Tigers (17) - Magglio's been good this year but not fantastic. His isolated power is down at .161, which is merely mortal. Some of that's on the park, but we'll see if this keeps up, but it's worth monitoring, especially off of the injuries.
- Padres (21) - Speaking of run differentials... the Pads are six up in their division with a -33 differential. I'd venture to say that that has NEVER happened this late in a season.
- Reds (22) - I had no idea, but Jason LaRue's developed into a pretty good hitter. His OPS has risen steadily for 5 years now, and he's putting up a nice line of .263/.355/.451 for the season. Coupled with a 37.5% CS%, they've got a pretty good ballplayer there.
- Mariners (23) - Felix Hernandez's G/F ratio is more than twice as high as his ERA. That really says it all, doesn't it? It's also higher than the sum of his BB/9 and ERA. That's unbelievable.
- Dodgers (23) - Somebody's gotta block for Kerry Collins... but I digress. The Dodgers, at 63-76, still have a 2.4329% chance of winning their division, according to Prospectus. If these quips about the lack of quality in the NL West bother you, I'm sorry, but it's too easy.
- Giants (28) - They're only 6 out... and with Bonds coming back... nah, it can't happen. Can it?
- Devil Rays (25) - The Devil Rays are 30-21 in the second half. I can't explain that. They're also 17-12 against the AL West. I can't explain that either.
- Pirates (26) - This week's Jason Bay stat: Pirates Offense minus Jason Bay? .253/.315/.377.
- Diamondbacks (26) - In 2004, the Diamondbacks were 51-111, which is good for a .315 winning percentage. Since May 31 of this year, the D'Backs are 33-56, for a .371 winning percentage. They're definitely better than last year, but regression to the mean caught up fast here. Real fast. (Kinda like Kenny Rogers, but worse.)
- Rockies (29) - So much for worrying about Todd Helton. Since July 1, he's hitting .377/.487/.673. FYI, on his career, he's a .296/.394/.510 hitter away from Coors Field. What will it take for him to get into the Hall?
- Royals (30) - Still the unanimous worst team in baseball. It's tough to find positives, but it's even tougher to imagine that this team was over .500 in 2003. What the hell happened?