For the sake of convenience, we usually consider the first half of the season as everything that comes before the All-Star Game. But of course the All-Star Game actually comes well after the first half of the regular season, mathematically speaking. Mathematically speaking, the first half of the regular season ends ... actually, the first half ended Sunday afternoon, roughly halfway through the day's slate.
Last year, the season reached its halfway point three games into the slate on the 4th of July, so we might say the halfway point, standings-wise, was the end of July 3. Which makes me wonder if we can learn anything from what happened after July 3 last year.
After half the schedule just one year ago:
- the White Sox owned the best record in the American League Central;
- the Angels owned the third-best record in the American League;
- the A's and Tigers both had losing records.
What happened next?
The White Sox and Angels both played decently in the second half, but fell behind their competition and wound up watching the playoffs on television. The A's somehow went 54-26 in the second half of the season, tops in the majors. The Tigers played quite well, too, going 49-32 and finishing with a three-game lead over the second-place ChiSox.
The National League's second half wasn't quite as dramatic ... but just like the American League, the National League saw two teams in line for the playoffs fall out, replaced by two teams that got hot in the second half ...
- the Pirates were tied for first place in the Central;
- the Dodgers were just a half-game out of first place in the West, and had the fifth-best record in the league;
- also, the Mets were just a half-game behind the Dodgers, and squarely in the wild-card hunt;
- while the Braves and Cardinals were just four games and three games over .500, respectively, behind the Mets.
Of course all that changed in the second half, when the Pirates went 35-47, the Dodgers 41-39, and the Mets crumbled to 30-51 (the fourth-worst second-half record in the majors). Meanwhile, the Reds played brilliantly in the second half to win the Central going away, while the Cardinals and Braves did well enough in the second half to nab wild cards.
Last season, four of the 10 teams in line for playoff spots at the halfway point did not, in the event, wind up in the playoffs. Will that necessarily happen again? No, not necessarily. But enough divisions are bunched up enough that it shouldn't be a huge surprise. Here are the 10 teams right now:
Which of those teams is least likely to actually be in the playoffs? That one's easy: the Diamondbacks are one of five National League West teams with a legitimate shot at the division title, and they're probably not winning a wild card. But the second-least likely? That's a tricky one, but I'm going with the Orioles, because they too must deal with four other contending teams in their own division. And one does wonder if Chris Davis can really hit 55 or 60 home runs, and where the O's will be if he can't.
As for who takes advantage, I'd keep an eye on the Nationals, the Dodgers, the Rays, and perhaps even the losing Jays.