This season has been anything but predictable. Sure, there are teams that you expect to contend every season, such as the Braves, Yankees, Dodgers and Astros. But the first half of the 2023 season was also full of surprises.
The Rangers shot up the standings with a sky-high run differential thanks to a powerhouse offense. The Reds called up phenom Elly De La Cruz, went on a run and entered the All-Star break atop the division. The Mets and Padres, who had World Series aspirations entering the season, both sit next-to-last in their respective divisions. And the Marlins have the second-best record in the National League at the break.
How will these teams perform in the second half? Who will dominate in the homestretch? And what does your club have to play for?
We’ve broken down all 30 squads into seven tiers based on playoff potential and asked ESPN MLB experts Bradford Doolittle, Alden Gonzalez, Jesse Rogers and David Schoenfield to provide a rundown of what the rest of the season looks like for each team. We’ve also included Doolittle’s final win-loss projections and calculated division title, playoff and championship odds for all 30 teams. If a team doesn’t have division title or championship odds listed, its odds were <0.1%.
Rest-of-season projections are based on 10,000 Monte Carlo-style simulations of the remaining schedule using Doolittle’s power ratings for each team as the basis for the simulated outcomes. The power ratings are determined by season-to-date results and forecast-based estimates of roster strength.
To better put into perspective the unexpected nature of this season, we’re including a category called the unexpected score: a measure of how far each team has deviated from its final preseason forecast, based on changes in win projection, playoff chances and title odds. The average score is 100 — the farther a team is from 100, the more its outlook has changed. A score better than 100 means a team’s outlook has improved, while under 100 is bad news.
Note: Teams are in order of best-to-worst playoff odds within their respective tiers.
TIER 1: THE TEAMS TO BEAT
Record: 60-29 | Projected final record: 107-55
Division title odds: 100% | Playoff odds: 100% | Championship odds: 26%
Unexpected score: 116.7 (3rd)
What nobody saw coming: That they’d be 8.5 games up on the Marlins, 12 on the Phillies and a whopping 18.5 on the Mets. They’re on pace for 109 wins, which would beat the franchise record of 106 set in 1998. They’re also doing this even though Max Fried and Kyle Wright, who combined for 35 wins last season, have made just five starts apiece and won just two games.
That they’re doing it with power isn’t a surprise, although maybe we didn’t expect them to challenge the single-season home run record that the Twins set in 2019. Matt Olson leads the NL with 29 home runs and 72 RBIs and isn’t even the MVP of his own team, as Ronald Acuna Jr. is having a historic power/speed season with 21 home runs and a league-leading 41 stolen bases.
What to expect from here: A lot more home runs. It will also be interesting to see how much rest manager Brian Snitker gives his position players with such a big lead in the division and an equally comfortable margin for best record and top seed. Olson, Acuna, Austin Riley and Ozzie Albies played every game in the first half. Getting Fried back will be key, and that should happen soon, as he made his first minor league rehab start Sunday and threw 30 pitches. — Schoenfield
Record: 58-35 | Projected final record: 100-62
Division title odds: 83% | Playoff odds: 99% | Championship odds: 19%
Unexpected score: 116.9 (2nd)
What nobody saw coming: That start. You can’t ever see a start like that coming. Thirteen games into the season, the Rays were perfect and on pace to outscore their opponents by 885 runs this season. No one can maintain that pace and, indeed, the Rays have not.
The Rays finished the first half with a win over the team that has supplanted them as title favorites, Atlanta, to snap a seven-game skid. They are tied with the Orioles in the loss column atop the AL East. They’ve lost seven of 10, 13 of 20 and 16 of 30. Panic? No. Although, while it was never going to be a breeze to the title for the Rays, we might not have predicted things would get this tight, this fast.
What to expect from here: The Rays are a fantastic team, one that rates in the top five in the majors in hitting, pitching and fielding, a balance no one else can strike. The recent struggles matter but the schedule before the break was rugged. The one lingering concern is a rotation that has been thinned by injury. The Rays could target a starter as the trade deadline approaches but, then again, so too will most every contender. Either way, if you don’t think the Rays are the team to beat once we get into the American League playoff bracket, you haven’t been paying attention. — Doolittle
TIER 2: THE EXPECTED THREATS
Record: 51-38 | Projected final record: 93-69
Division title odds: 68% | Playoff odds: 94% | Championship odds: 11%
Unexpected score: 105.4 (8th)
What nobody saw coming: There were a lot of unknowns about these Dodgers when the season began — perhaps more than there had been since Andrew Friedman took over baseball operations nine years ago — but most of them resided on the offensive side. The Dodgers, many believed, would be elite at run prevention. They always are. But the team with the lowest ERA in the NL each of the previous six years has been getting by mostly through offense. Pitching, actually, has been a bit of a mess. The Dodgers’ bullpen has a 4.43 ERA. Their rotation, meanwhile, has been bludgeoned by injury, with every member of their starting rotation spending time on the shelf.
What to expect from here: This was supposed to be something of a gap year for the Dodgers, but they’ll probably be one of the most aggressive buyers before the trade deadline. They have to be. They need starting pitching, especially with Dustin May out for the year. They need relief pitching, especially with Daniel Hudson suffering another knee injury. And they need offense — anywhere they can get it. Shortstop is a need, Chris Taylor is having another down year and rookies such as James Outman and Miguel Vargas are taking their lumps. The Dodgers will continue to be good, but the emergence of the Diamondbacks and Giants, not to mention the very real possibility that the Padres will turn things around, have made this the deepest NL West in quite a while. — Gonzalez
Record: 50-41 | Projected final record: 91-71
Division title odds: 26% | Playoff odds: 77% | Championship odds: 5%
Unexpected score: 97.0 (20th)
What nobody saw coming: Second place in the division! The Astros remain a strong contender even in a season that has involved areas of transition. Still, the Rangers have strong enough metrics underlying their All-Star break lead to make them fairly strong favorites in the AL West. Houston, if you’ve forgotten, has reached the ALCS in each of the past six seasons, winning four pennants in that span and two titles. To see them anywhere but first is a surprise. While you wouldn’t blame Jose Abreu for this rarity, he does at least typify the Astros’ uneven half. With a .344 slugging percentage at the break, Abreu has so far made his signing look like a rare misstep for an organization that hasn’t made many when it comes to winning games.
What to expect from here: A spirited division race. The Rangers are for real, but so too are the Astros. As Houston gets healthier — Yordan Alvarez should be back soon — there is every reason to think the champs will keep asserting themselves. The Astros might need to be active around the deadline to add lineup depth, unless Abreu can revert to form on a consistent basis. They might also need to bring in some veterans to a rotation that’s been terrific but is also very young. Whatever happens, Houston will once again be in the running for another deep playoff run, even if its margin for error seems a little smaller than seasons past. — Doolittle
Record: 50-41 | Projected final record: 88-74
Division title odds: 3% | Playoff odds: 58% | Championship odds: 2%
Unexpected score: 91.9 (25th)
What nobody saw coming: The fall — and rise? — of Alek Manoah. An All-Star last season when he finished third in the Cy Young voting, Manoah was one of the sport’s emerging stars with a personality to match. He had two scoreless outings in April, but then came a string of bad games in May, and he got knocked out in the first inning on June 5. It was bizarre; it wasn’t a case of the yips where a pitcher just can’t throw the ball over the plate. He was just getting hammered. They sent him down for a start in rookie ball — and he gave up 11 runs. It looked like a lost season. Then he reappeared right before the All-Star break and allowed one run in six innings to beat the Tigers.
What to expect from here: If Manoah is back, the Jays are back to their ideal co-aces’ scenario of Kevin Gausman and Manoah. But can the offense deliver more? Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s OPS+ has gone from 167 in 2021 to 134 in 2022 to 120 this season. That’s a big drop. In 2021, he produced 56 runs more than the average hitter; this year, he’s on pace for just plus-18. It’s not all on his shoulders — Alejandro Kirk and Daulton Varsho can do better — but with the Jays right in the middle of a crowded wild-card race and still hoping to chase down the Rays and Orioles, Manoah and Guerrero look like two of the most vital players to watch in the second half. — Schoenfield
Record: 48-41 | Projected final record: 86-76
Division title odds: 0% | Playoff odds: 58% | Championship odds: 2%
Unexpected score: 96.5 (21st)
What nobody saw coming: Trea Turner tied for 141st among all position players in bWAR. When the Phillies signed him to an 11-year, $300 million contract, it looked like the perfect fit, adding a speedy, multidimensional athlete to the lineup. They thought they were getting one of the best all-around players in the game — he was tied for seventh in bWAR from 2020 to ’22, after all — but Turner has scuffled with a .247/.299/.389 line at the break. Throw in Rhys Hoskins’ season-ending torn ACL suffered at the end of spring training and Bryce Harper’s power outage (three home runs in 56 games) as he returned earlier than expected from Tommy John surgery, and the Phillies’ offense has been a disappointing ninth in the NL in runs scored despite a bounce-back season from Nick Castellanos and solid first halves from Brandon Marsh and Bryson Stott.
What to expect from here: The Phillies are just half a game out of a wild-card spot, so they probably feel a little fortunate to be that close — especially factoring in that Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola have combined for a 4.23 ERA after combining for a 3.07 mark last season. Toss in J.T. Realmuto, who is also below his career norms, and the Phillies’ five best players have all underperformed from last season. Chasing down the Braves will be next to impossible, but that doesn’t mean president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski won’t be aggressive as usual at the trade deadline. — Schoenfield
Record: 49-42 | Projected final record: 84-78
Division title odds: 36% | Playoff odds: 43% | Championship odds: 1%
Unexpected score: 97.9 (18th)
What nobody saw coming: That the Brewers would still be in the hunt despite Brandon Woodruff making just two starts, Corbin Burnes being ranked 17th in ERA in the NL and Freddy Peralta giving up home runs (16) in the first half. And they aren’t exactly the ’27 Yankees at the plate. But they do have Craig Counsell at manager — one of the best in the game at what he does.
What to expect from here: For Milwaukee to be even better on the mound. Woodruff (shoulder) is due back soon and Peralta is getting better — he averaged eight strikeouts over his past four starts before the break. Expect the Brewers to also be quietly active before the trade deadline. How about a reunion with free agent-to-be Josh Hader? If the Padres sell, Milwaukee should call. Weirder things have happened. — Rogers
Record: 49-42 | Projected final record: 87-75
Division title odds: 1% | Playoff odds: 41% | Championship odds: 1%
Unexpected score: 85.1 (29th)
What nobody saw coming: Domingo German’s perfect game. It was sandwiched between outings that lasted 2 innings, 3⅓ and 4⅓. It came six days after he gave up 10 runs (8 ER) to the Mariners and it happened while his ERA sat at 5.10. Baseball creates moments that come out of nowhere all the time but even knowing that, this has to be up there considering how rare throwing a perfect game is. It truly was a moment nobody saw coming.
What to expect from here: Manager Brian Cashman’s half-decade-long obsession with left-handed hitting should continue this month as, once again, the Yankees need to find some balance. Even when Aaron Judge returns, they’re vulnerable when a good right-hander starts against them, ranking 22nd in OPS against that side of the mound in the first half. This isn’t new. Joey Gallo, Matt Carpenter and others have made their way through the Bronx only to move on for various reasons. Cashman just got an up-close look at Cubs center fielder Cody Bellinger, who homered at Yankee Stadium before the break. He’d be the best fit of all of the left-handed hitters over the years. — Rogers
TIER 3: THE UNEXPECTED THREATS
Record: 52-39 | Projected final record: 95-67
Division title odds: 71% | Playoff odds: 94% | Championship odds: 15%
Unexpected score: 118.4 (1st)
What nobody saw coming: Um, first place in the AL West at the break? After six straight losing seasons, Texas was primed to make a leap after spending big money the past two winters, but a 52-37 record was hard to envision back in March. And remember, the Rangers are doing it without Jacob deGrom, who made six starts for them before another injury ended his season. Nathan Eovaldi’s emergence as an ace and Cy Young candidate is also a surprise.
What to expect from here: The Rangers are no sure thing to win the division. They’re just 13-17 over their past 30 games and the Astros are closing in on them. Houston manager Dusty Baker understood the early-season challenges of navigating a team that won the World Series and will push his team in the second half. Both teams’ first-year general managers, Dana Brown and Chris Young, will face the heat of the trade deadline soon enough. Perhaps that winner will be the winner of the division. — Rogers
Record: 54-35 | Projected final record: 92-70
Division title odds: 12% | Playoff odds: 84% | Championship odds: 3%
Unexpected score: 112.8 (4th)
What nobody saw coming: No player is more the living embodiment of the “nobody saw this coming” concept than rookie reliever Yennier Cano. Thanks to him and closer Felix Bautista, the Orioles have enjoyed lock-down, high-leverage relief all season. Still, perhaps more essential than that has been the Orioles’ ability to contend in a rugged division while continuing to put the finishing touches on what is turning out to be a model rebuild. The offense has been very good, but it has the potential to be even better as Baltimore keeps folding in top prospects. The success of the hitters has been a mix of experience (Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Cedric Mullins II) and youth (Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson). But the Orioles keep adding from within, with Jordan Westburg and Colton Cowser among those joining the fray.
What to expect from here: The sore spot on the roster has been starting pitching, which has been more middling than good. That can work when you have a good and still-improving position group and a top bullpen, which Baltimore does. Still, it feels like the Orioles, more than most, are positioned to get a major in-season boost in the weeks to come. If something like that doesn’t happen, it could result in a second-half letdown — but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Things are good for the O’s, and their right-now opportunity is an exciting one that they’ve spent years creating, with countless losses in the process. — Doolittle
Record: 52-39 | Projected final record: 87-75
Division title odds: 16% | Playoff odds: 68% | Championship odds: 3%
Unexpected score: 108.3 (5th)
What nobody saw coming: We knew Corbin Carroll was good, but perhaps we didn’t think the lineup was deep enough to actually enter the All-Star break ranked third in the majors in stolen bases, seventh in OPS and eighth in runs per game. Ketel Marte (133 adjusted OPS), Christian Walker (129), Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (119), Geraldo Perdomo (117) and even the 37-year-old Evan Longoria (122) have all had highly productive seasons, giving this lineup plenty of depth. But Carroll has undoubtedly led the way, slashing .289/.366/.549 with 18 homers and 26 steals. He was looked at as a favorite for the NL Rookie of the Year Award heading into the season. Instead, he’s a prime contender for the MVP. His extreme rise personifies that of this entire team.
What to expect from here: The D-backs’ window might have arrived a little earlier than expected, but make no mistake: They are legitimate contenders in the NL West. Look for them to be aggressive in trades this month, though perhaps not with the type of trade that would mortgage what looks like such a promising future. In order to keep contending within one of the most competitive divisions in the sport, the D-backs will need more depth in their starting rotation. Zac Gallen, 11-3 with a 3.04 ERA in 118⅓ innings, is among the favorites for the NL Cy Young Award while Merrill Kelly, 9-4 with a 3.22 ERA in 95 innings, was looking like an elite No. 2 before being sidelined by a blood clot. But the D-backs need more here — and the trade market won’t be ripe. — Gonzalez
Record: 49-41 | Projected final record: 87-75
Division title odds: 13% | Playoff odds: 62% | Championship odds: 3%
Unexpected score: 105.8 (7th)
What nobody saw coming: The root of their production. The Giants, propelled by a 35-20 record in May and June, have received substantial contributions from several unlikely places: LaMonte Wade Jr., a platoon bat for most of his career, is OPS’ing .842 as a fixture in the leadoff spot; Austin Slater, another platoon bat, is OPS’ing .386/.471/.546 against lefties; J.D. Davis, discarded by the Mets, added 11 home runs and 46 RBIs; and Patrick Bailey, their first-round pick in 2020, came up and became a two-way force behind the plate. The Giants have surrounded Joc Pederson and Mike Yastrzemski with enough help to make them look like a legitimate contender.
What to expect from here: The Giants’ matchup-heavy approach has their pitching in pretty decent shape heading into the second half. Logan Webb and Alex Cobb have combined for a 3.05 ERA in 35 starts. But aside from them and Anthony DeSclafani, no Giants starter has reached 60 innings. And aside from Camilo Doval and the Rogers twins, a trio that has combined for a 2.62 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP late in games, no Giants reliever has reached 30 appearances. If the likes of Ross Stripling, Alex Wood, Sean Manaea, Jakob Junis and Ryan Walker can step up in the second half, and Michael Conforto finds a consistent offensive groove, the NL West could get really interesting. — Gonzalez
Record: 53-39 | Projected final record: 87-75
Division title odds: 0% | Playoff odds: 62% | Championship odds: 1%
Unexpected score: 104.2 (9th)
What nobody saw coming: The second-best record in the NL is wild enough, but surely nobody saw the Marlins doing it while being outscored and with 2022 Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara owning the fifth-best ERA in the starting rotation. While early on it was a mix of one-run victories (they won 12 in a row to start the season) and blowout losses, the Marlins have gone 28-13 with an impressive plus-45 run differential since May 26. Rookie starter Eury Perez provided a huge lift, allowing one run or zero runs in eight of his 11 starts and living up to his billing as perhaps the top pitching prospect in the game heading into the season. He’s temporarily back in the minors to conserve his innings, but he’ll be back at some point.
What to expect from here: Can the offense keep going like it has since May 26? Through May 25, they ranked 27th in the majors in runs; since then, they’re eighth. They’ve relied heavily on Luis Arraez, who hit .383 in the first half, and Jorge Soler, who clubbed 23 home runs, but if you build in some regression from those two, others will have to step it up. As good as Perez, Jesus Luzardo and Braxton Garrett have been, Alcantara might be the key to the Marlins making the playoffs in a full season for the first time since 2003. He needs to rediscover the feel for his changeup. In 2022, batters hit .146 against it; in 2023, they’re hitting .318. — Schoenfield
Record: 50-41 | Projected final record: 84-78
Division title odds: 43% | Playoff odds: 50% | Championship odds: 1%
Unexpected score: 107.8 (6th)
What nobody saw coming: Where do we start? The most surprising first-place team in baseball — yes, that includes the Diamondbacks — is finding success with a roster full of young players save Joey Votto. And as much as Elly De La Cruz has lit up the box score since coming up, what fellow rookies Spencer Steer and Matt McLain are doing is just as shocking. Simply put, no one saw three first-year players leading the team with the fourth lowest payroll to any kind of success this year. But the Reds are having plenty of it.
What to expect from here: A fierce battle with the Brewers for NL Central supremacy. Milwaukee does it with pitching, while the Reds are an offensive juggernaut. Usually, the former wins out over the course of 162 games. Expectations are that the Reds will hit the trade market for a starter. Lucas Giolito would be a nice fit. So would many others. — Rogers
TIER 4: SOMEBODY’S GOTTA WIN THE AL CENTRAL
Record: 45-46 | Projected final record: 84-78
Division title odds: 69% | Playoff odds: 70% | Championship odds: 2%
Unexpected score: 101.4 (12th)
What nobody saw coming: In terms of bWAR, the Twins’ rotation tops the majors by a healthy margin over the second-place Yankees. The relievers rank third. Add it up and you can make an objective argument that the Twins have pitched better than any team in the majors. And yet Minnesota enters the break under .500 after squandering 56% of the season in baseball’s worst division, having failed to put the kibosh on a group of competitors who were barely putting up a struggle. The offense has been the source of the disappointment, with Carlos Correa playing a major role in that. After his unprecedented free agent tour landed him back in Minneapolis, his .225/.299/.401 first half has moved from the realm of a mere slow start into a real concern. There are 200 million reasons why that is the case.
What to expect from here: It’s hard to say. The Twins really don’t make much sense. Some offensive balance is desperately needed — hitters who do more than swing for the fences in the real-life video game that is the stacked decks of Target Field. Someone needs to get hits and reach base. Of the top 11 Twins hitters with the most plate appearances, seven of them are hitting under .230. The Twins’ two best hitters, Correa and Byron Buxton, are hitting a combined .217. Yes, they do other things very well, but can we expect this to be addressed? Well, the Twins have been built this way for some time, so who knows. — Doolittle
Record: 45-45 | Projected final record: 81-81
Division title odds: 29% | Playoff odds: 30% | Championship odds: 1%
Unexpected score: 89.1 (26th)
What nobody saw coming: This is kind of awkward. After the Guardians won the division last year as baseball’s youngest club and gave the Yankees a tough battle in the ALDS, what would you say if we told you Cleveland entered the break in first place? Shrug? But what if we told you that this was the case even though a team that won 92 games last year was playing .500 ball and had been outscored by seven runs? It’s weird. The offense has been the primary source of the shortfall. While the contact-oriented attack has similar top-line percentages as 2022, Cleveland has been less consistent with runners in scoring position.
What to expect from here: Everything mentioned in the previous section could be construed as good news for the fans in Cleveland. Yes, the .500 mark is disappointing but if preseason forecasts mean anything, the Guardians can look forward to better play during the second half. And if that happens, they do so as a first-place club thanks to the generous environment of the Central. Even that situational hitting issue we mentioned tends to regress to the mean. Cleveland very much needs to add punch to its lineup. But after some iffy moments during the season’s opening months, the Guardians have emerged as a very similar-looking club to the one we saw go toe-to-toe with the Yankees last October. — Doolittle
TIER 5: STILL IN THE RACE
Record: 48-43 | Projected final record: 84-78
Division title odds: 0% | Playoff odds: 22% | Championship odds: 1%
Unexpected score: 101.6 (11th)
What nobody saw coming: Jarren Duran’s breakout. Duran looked overmatched during his major league stints in 2021 and 2022 (.219 average, 18 walks, 103 strikeouts in 331 PAs) and even began the season in Triple-A — so it’s not like the Red Sox saw this coming, either. He’s hitting .320/.367/.519 with 27 doubles, five home runs and is 17-for-18 stealing bases, giving the Boston lineup a dynamic presence. With Duran, Alex Verdugo and Masataka Yoshida, Red Sox outfielders are hitting .293/.360/.465, the second-highest OPS behind only Atlanta. That’s keyed one of the best offenses in the league — and helps explain why Boston is just two games out of a wild-card slot despite a bad rotation.
What to expect from here: The Red Sox are maybe a little better than preseason expectations, yet they remain the fifth-best team in the AL East. They also possess one of the biggest potential trade chips out there in James Paxton, who is healthy, averaging 95.7 mph with his fastball (his hardest since 2016) and won AL Pitcher of the Month in June. If they climb over the Blue Jays and Yankees in the next two weeks, they probably keep him; if they fall back, look for him to get traded. Or maybe a realistic appraisal of the pitching staff says they’re not going anywhere, even if they hold on to him. — Schoenfield
Record: 45-44 | Projected final record: 83-79
Division title odds: 2% | Playoff odds: 17% | Championship odds: 1%
Unexpected score: 95.0 (23rd)
What nobody saw coming: Jarred Kelenic out-hitting Julio Rodriguez. Kelenic is hitting .245/.317/.438, although most of that damage came during a hot April; he hit .173 in June. The bigger surprise is Rodriguez’s mediocrity, as he’s hitting .249/.310/.411. Those are OK numbers but given his scorching final four months last season and seventh-place finish in the MVP voting, the Mariners — and their fans — expected superstar numbers. He just hasn’t made the proper adjustments, especially in laying off sliders low and away, and — like teammates Kelenic, Eugenio Suarez and Teoscar Hernandez — has struck out more than 100 times. All four players are on pace for 180-plus K’s; only one team has ever had even two such players.
What to expect from here: The Mariners did win seven of nine heading into the break, so they’ll need that momentum to carry through. They’re down starters Robbie Ray (Tommy John surgery) and Marco Gonzales (forearm) but rookies Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo stepped in and pitched well — except Miller is now on the IL with a blister problem and might not pitch for a while. Kolten Wong (.458 OPS) and AJ Pollock (.535 OPS) look like lost causes, so there’s room to upgrade the offense. The Mariners are hardly out of it despite an underwhelming first half — four games out of the wild card, six games behind the Rangers — but don’t expect them to make any big moves. — Schoenfield
Record: 45-46 | Projected final record: 80-82
Division title odds: 1% | Playoff odds: 6% | Championship odds: 0%
Unexpected score: 98.6 (17th)
What nobody saw coming: Every team has to deal with injuries, of course, but the Angels were hit with a deluge of them as they approached the All-Star Game — a series of events that could significantly compromise not just their chance at the playoffs this year, but, given Shohei Ohtani’s free agent status, the course of their franchise for the next decade. The Angels entered the break without two of their catchers (Logan O’Hoppe and Max Stassi), their third baseman (Anthony Rendon), their shortstop (Zach Neto), another one of their middle-of-the-order bats (Brandon Drury) and, of course, their franchise player, Mike Trout, who will miss the rest of July and perhaps all of August with a fracture in his left hand.
What to expect from here: When the second half begins, the Angels will sit five games back of the final wild-card spot in the AL. At least three of their next five series will come against legitimate contenders (the Astros, Yankees and Blue Jays). It’s no stretch to say those five series might be one of the most important stretches of games in the franchise’s history. The Angels have put everything into this season, and they need to remain afloat while their stars recover. If they don’t, it might be time to consider trading Ohtani. And if that happens, it might be time to consider the type of rebuild their owner never wants to partake in. — Gonzalez
TIER 6: WE THOUGHT THEY’D BE BETTER
Record: 43-47 | Projected final record: 82-80
Division title odds: 3% | Playoff odds: 28% | Championship odds: 1%
Unexpected score: 87.2 (28th)
What nobody saw coming: The Padres were expected to field one of the most dynamic lineups in baseball history. It’s hard not to think that considering the presence of Manny Machado, Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Xander Bogaerts. So far, though, the offense has been their undoing. The Padres somehow rank 18th in the majors in slugging percentage, right between the Marlins and Rockies, and are slashing just .223/.314/.382 with runners in scoring position, producing a .696 OPS that’s lower than that of all but three teams in the majors. And while the foursome of Machado, Tatis, Soto and Bogaerts is bound to produce at high levels, the lineup has been exposed for its lack of depth around them. The only other regular who has produced an above-average adjusted OPS has been Ha-Seong Kim.
What to expect from here: The Padres’ great leap of faith — investing heavily in a roster with the hopes that it will create enough interest within a small market to maintain sustainability — works only if the team actually wins. Fans continue to show up, but the Padres sit six games out of the final wild-card spot in the NL. A full-on rebuild won’t take place, of course; there are too many long-term investments for that to even be a possibility. But GM A.J. Preller might soon become convinced to trade away pending free agents like Blake Snell and Josh Hader (and potentially shopping Soto, who will be a free agent at the end of next season). It would essentially constitute a reset for 2024, one that would help make the Padres younger and balance out a bloated payroll. If San Diego doesn’t get hot right away, that might be the most pragmatic approach. — Gonzalez
Record: 42-47 | Projected final record: 81-81
Division title odds: 20% | Playoff odds: 25% | Championship odds: 1%
Unexpected score: 102.7 (10th)
What nobody saw coming: That a team with a positive run differential for most of the season would also be under .500 for most of the season. The Cubs just can’t perform in high-leverage moments — both on the mound and especially at the plate. They’re by far the worst offense in MLB when it counts the most. But most surprising is who was on the mound for Chicago at the All-Star Game. Justin Steele would not have been anyone’s pick back in March. The way the lefty works reminds many of Jon Lester.
What to expect from here: The Cubs have one shot not to be subtractors at the deadline: a 10-game homestand to begin the second half followed by two more games across town followed by four more in St. Louis. Travel or sleep — see London for evidence — won’t be an issue. If they don’t make a run toward .500 during that stretch, then Marcus Stroman and Bellinger will likely be traded. — Rogers
Record: 42-48 | Projected final record: 78-84
Division title odds: 0% | Playoff odds: 7% | Championship odds: 0%
Unexpected score: 87.9 (27th)
What nobody saw coming: THIS. ALL OF THIS. Even diehard, been-through-the-ringer, yelling-on-sports-radio Mets fans were optimistic heading into the season. The roster had stars and was deep, the team was coming off a 101-win season and the payroll climbed to record-setting heights as owner Steve Cohen went all-out to build a World Series winner. We had preseason playoff odds at 71% for the Mets — although 21 of our 28 voters did pick the Braves to win the division. Still, nobody expected the Mets to be stumbling and bumbling to a 42-48 record.
It began with Edwin Diaz’s injury in the World Baseball Classic and then Justin Verlander missed April. Jose Quintana still hasn’t made a start. Mostly, though, the Mets have just been bad. “It’s terrible,” Cohen said at a recent news conference.
What to expect from here: The Mets will have to get hot right out of the break and get back into wild-card contention — otherwise, as Cohen said, “I’m preparing my management team for all possibilities.” That could include trading Max Scherzer, who is reportedly open to waiving his no-trade clause, and maybe Verlander, although the Mets would likely have to eat salary in trades for those two. Their schedule isn’t easy before the trade deadline, either: three against the Dodgers, three at Boston and two at Yankee Stadium in their first 11 games. — Schoenfield
Record: 38-52 | Projected final record: 74-88
Division title odds: 1% | Playoff odds: 2% | Championship odds: 0%
Unexpected score: 83.1 (30th)
What nobody saw coming: Sitting in last place in the NL Central and near the bottom of the NL overall is about the last thing anyone thought would happen to the Cardinals — though some of the cracks were there back in March. The team had very little time to bond during spring training because of the multitude of players participating in the WBC. Plus, St. Louis was breaking in a new catcher after Yadier Molina retired. On top of it, the front office didn’t do enough to fortify starting pitching. But last place? That was hard to envision.
What to expect from here: A rare Cardinals sell-off at the trade deadline. St. Louis doesn’t rebuild so don’t expect Paul Goldschmidt to go anywhere but Jordan Montgomery should be on the block — unless the Cardinals re-sign him before the deadline. They need pitching, in any form they can find it, so if not him, they need to trade someone for a couple of young arms. The Cardinals can dangle an outfielder as part of their retool but the headline here is simple: St. Louis will play out the string for the first time in many years. — Rogers
Record: 38-54 | Projected final record: 71-91
Division title odds: 1% | Playoff odds: 1% | Championship odds: 0%
Unexpected score: 93.9 (24th)
What nobody saw coming: You could go two ways here. You could go with an open umbrella perspective and point out that the White Sox, a nominal contender entering the season, have been bad at all the big stuff — hitting, pitching, fielding. Bad. If you zoom in closer, you do see some strengths — decent starting pitching, Luis Robert Jr. — but you also see an avatar for Chicago’s lackluster play: Tim Anderson.
Anderson has struggled to stay healthy and when he has been on the field, he hasn’t played well. After four seasons of hitting .300 or better, Anderson has sunk to .223 this season with paltry supporting percentages (.259 OBP, .263 SLG) and has yet to hit a homer. The top-heavy White Sox roster needed all of its stalwarts to produce. It hasn’t happened.
What to expect from here: There’s no indication that the White Sox are going to get off of the mat. They enter the break as losers of seven of 10, 13 of 20 and 19 of 30. The run differential is that of an eventual 69-win team. The AL Central is bad and oh-so-winnable, but it’s not that freaking bad.
With the trade deadline coming hard and fast, Chicago needs to shuffle the deck, at the very least. That starts by dealing impending free agents like Giolito, Yasmani Grandal and Lance Lynn, who has a club option for 2024. Then, since Chicago seems to have gotten so little from such an extensive rebuilding process, some sort of internal evaluation needs to take place. Alas, these are the White Sox and that’s not really the kind of thing the franchise is known for. — Doolittle
TIER 7: PLAYING FOR NEXT SEASON
Record: 41-49 | Projected final record: 73-89
Division title odds: 1% | Playoff odds: 1% | Championship odds: 0%
Unexpected score: 100.1 (15th)
What nobody saw coming: Mitch Keller being the Pirates’ lone rep at the All-Star Game. He started the season on fire but has cooled off — just like his team. However, his first six weeks were among the best of any starter, highlighted by back-to-back shutout performances of nine and seven innings, the latter one against the ultratough Orioles. He struck out 13 that day.
What to expect from here: The Pirates don’t have a ton to offer at the trade deadline — perhaps Carlos Santana will have some suitors — so it’s more about growth for them in the second half. They’ll get Oneil Cruz back from an injury, as well as Ke’Bryan Hayes, and perhaps a push back toward .500 isn’t out of the question. Finding more pitching should be a priority — at the deadline and beyond. — Rogers
Record: 39-50 | Projected final record: 70-92
Division title odds: 1% | Playoff odds: 1% | Championship odds: 0%
Unexpected score: 100.8 (13th)
What nobody saw coming: Insofar as a team that is 39-50 and has outplayed its run profile by more than all but one other AL team is a contender … the Tigers are the 2023 AL Central version of a fringe contender. If the words stick in your throat as you try to say them out loud, that’s understandable. But the Tigers enter the break only 5½ games out of first place. In some ways, the best thing that could happen to GM Scott Harris would be a fat losing streak coming out of the break, one that might fend off any suggestions that his roster deserves to add at the trade deadline.
What to expect from here: A fat losing streak? The Twins and Guardians are both better teams than Detroit. The Tigers have shown a penchant for hanging around, so perhaps a collapse won’t happen. At the same time, given the team’s run differential and a lack of many obvious positive regression candidates, Detroit will most likely end up tussling with the White Sox for third place. Still, with the Tigers posting a no-hitter before the break and getting healthier than they’ve been, there is at least a two-week window after the break for Tigers fans to root for a storybook finale for Miguel Cabrera. Then we can return to our previously scheduled programming. — Doolittle
Record: 36-54 | Projected final record: 65-97
Division title odds: 0% | Playoff odds: 0% | Championship odds: 0%
Unexpected score: 100.2 (14th)
What nobody saw coming: Lane Thomas hitting .302/.347/.497 with 14 home runs and 23 doubles — after going without a homer in April. He and Jeimer Candelario have been the bright spots in an offense that nonetheless ranks last in the NL in runs. Unfortunately, the Nationals haven’t seen much improvement from their young hitters: Keibert Ruiz (78 OPS+), CJ Abrams (91 OPS+) and Luis Garcia (92 OPS+) haven’t been terrible, but Washington would like to see progress in the second half. All three have walk rates below 6%, so better selectivity would be welcome.
But maybe the biggest surprise came in the draft when the Pirates passed on LSU outfielder Dylan Crews, the consensus top player, and rolled the dice on LSU pitcher Paul Skenes with the top pick. The Nationals now have arguably the two best outfield prospects in the game in Crews and James Wood.
What to expect from here: Candelario is a free agent, so he’s almost certainly going to be available. Thomas is under team control through 2025, but realistically, the Nationals’ window for contention isn’t any time soon, so maybe they look to cash in on his hot two months — and there are certainly contending teams that could use an outfielder. Otherwise, hope that the young hitters and starters show some improvement in the second half. — Schoenfield
Record: 34-57 | Projected final record: 59-103
Division title odds: 0% | Playoff odds: 0% | Championship odds: 0%
Unexpected score: 99.9 (16th)
What nobody saw coming: We all know it’s hard to pitch in Colorado, but nobody thought the Rockies’ rotation would be this bad. Their 6.47 ERA isn’t just the worst in the majors; it’s on pace to be the second-highest since 1990, topped only by a 1996 Tigers team that lost 109 games. German Marquez (Tommy John surgery) is out for the year, Antonio Senzatela (elbow sprain) has made only two starts, Ryan Feltner has been out since suffering a skull fracture on a comebacker in the middle of May, and Austin Gomber and Connor Seabold have combined for a 6.51 ERA in 160⅓ innings. It’s a disaster.
What to expect from here: The Rockies have never lost 100 games in a season. But they’ll do so this season if they can’t do better than 28-43 the rest of the way. Given the depth of the NL West — with four legitimate contenders heading down the stretch — and the likelihood that veterans such as C.J. Cron, Randal Grichuk, Brad Hand and Brent Suter are dealt later this month, triple-digit losses could prove difficult to avoid. The offense will have to do much better than a .728 OPS, a partially inflated number to begin with given the nature of their home environment. — Gonzalez
Record: 26-65 | Projected final record: 52-110
Division title odds: 0% | Playoff odds: 0% | Championship odds: 0%
Unexpected score: 96.3 (22nd)
What nobody saw coming: Utter calamity. Look, virtually no one expected the Royals to make the 2023 postseason. More realistic was an expectation of progress. It’s been over five years since the team pivoted into a rebuild and at this point, it needs to start showing some forward momentum.
Instead, the Royals just missed posting the worst prebreak winning percentage in franchise history (.286, as opposed to the .284 mark in 2018). It has been a matter of all systems failure — hitting, pitching, you name it. Hailed prospects have glaring weaknesses. Offseason signings have mostly not panned out, except in the case of Aroldis Chapman who, at least, became attractive in the trade market, only to bring back a so-so return. Even the spending, if you focus on measures of the marginal cost of a win, has been askew. Think of it like this: In terms of total payroll, per Spotrac, only six teams are on track to spend less than Kansas City. Four of those teams — Cincinnati, Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Baltimore — are central figures in the second-half postseason chase. In Kansas City, the postseason feels very far away.
What to expect from here: Hot, humid weather and small crowds at Kauffman Stadium. On the field, you can expect some signs of progress from the club’s younger players, but what you expect and what you get are not concepts that always fall into alignment. — Doolittle
Record: 25-67 | Projected final record: 47-115
Division title odds: 0% | Playoff odds: 0% | Championship odds: 0%
Unexpected score: 97.2 (19th)
What nobody saw coming: Nothing. We all saw this coming. Every last bit of it. An embarrassingly low payroll. A roster torn down to the studs. A decrepit home venue that continues to be ignored. An owner, John Fisher, with an eye toward Las Vegas, a city that does not care the slightest for his team. An ardent, Oakland-based fan base left to suffer in the midst of it. The A’s have been terrible in every aspect this season, save for that thrilling seven-game winning streak that culminated in the “Reverse Boycott” of June 13. But it’s not the players’ fault. This, unfortunately, is way above them.
What to expect from here: A sad, slow next 2½ months, and perhaps an awkward next year or two. The A’s received the public funding they needed to build a retractable-roof stadium on the Tropicana hotel site on the Vegas strip, but that won’t be ready until 2028. The Oakland Coliseum lease expires after the 2024 season. The A’s haven’t figured out where they’ll play in the meantime. But that will get sorted out one way or another. MLB’s relocation committee will study the A’s situation once their application is complete and submit it to the eight-person executive council, which will then take it to the 30 owners for a vote. The A’s eventual move to Las Vegas feels like a fait accompli. New Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao met with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred in Seattle to present documented evidence of her city’s plans for a new ballpark, but it’s probably all too late. — Gonzalez