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#pounditSunday, March 3, 2024

8 MLB teams potentially poised to break out in the second half

Kris Bryant

The All-Star break is a good time to step back and assess where the 30 teams across Major League Baseball stand. Some teams comfortably occupy first place, some are facing a second half of playing out a string of meaningless games, and then there is the group caught in the middle.

In the past, second half runs have been a big part of baseball. Teams that hadn’t really made an impression by mid-July can catch fire and change the scope of the division and playoff picture in a hurry in the second half. After all, there’s a long way to go, and there’s no guarantee that the first place teams now will win the division.

Here are eight teams that had decent first halves, but have the capability to make some real noise in the second half of the MLB season.

8. Arizona Diamondbacks

There’s a lot to like about the Diamondbacks, which rank in the top six in the NL in both OPS and ERA. In other words, they’re a well-balanced team that can both hit and pitch rather effectively. Despite their 46-45 record, they’ve scored 64 more runs than they’ve allowed, indicating a team that should be performing significantly better. They have two good power hitters in Ketel Marte and Eduardo Escobar, an ace in Zack Grienke, and solid pieces in the bullpen. Don’t be surprised to see them play to a higher level after the All-Star break.

7. St. Louis Cardinals

The question for the Cardinals is whether they can hit enough. Their bullpen has been good, and starting pitchers like Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty have room to grow. On offense, though, Matt Carpenter is hitting just .216 while Paul Goldschmidt is at .254. St. Louis would have expected more from both of them. If just a few Cardinals hitters could perform a bit more like they have in the past, they could go on a real run.

6. Milwaukee Brewers

The reigning NL Central champions won 96 games last season but are hovering just around .500 in 2019. That’s happening despite Christian Yelich having another MVP-caliber season. His teammates just haven’t picked him up, with only two other Brewer regulars hitting over .260. Pitching must improve too, but with Yelich in the lineup, this team always has a chance to take off. They need just a few more guys to get on base around him.

5. Oakland Athletics

Oakland won nine of 12 going into the All-Star break, which could be a sign of things to come in the second half. They can pitch, and their bullpen has the potential to reach an elite level if closer Blake Treinen can recapture some of the magic that made him one of the sport’s most dominant pitchers a year ago. Their lineup can be reliant on home runs, but they have six players in double figures. The A’s always manage to be competitive. They also have a favorable September schedule and only face the Astros four times that month, leaving them to feast on inferior division rivals. Their biggest issue is dealing with the void left by the suspended Frankie Montas.

4. Washington Nationals

The Nationals caught fire before the All-Star break, and there’s no reason to believe they’re about to slow down. Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto are mashing. Max Scherzer is arguably the best pitcher in baseball and fronting a loaded rotation. The shortcoming, as it has always been, is a bullpen that can’t seem to get the ball from the starter to Sean Doolittle. If someone can step up and fulfill that role, there’s a chance that the Nationals could close a six-game deficit and make the Atlanta Braves sweat in the NL East.

3. Cleveland Indians

Cleveland is an interesting case. They were the division favorite before the season, looked out of it by mid-June, and pulled back to within 5.5 games of the Minnesota Twins by the All-Star break. There is no disputing that Cleveland has the talent — Francisco Lindor is a star, and if they can get Corey Kluber back on the mound by September, it might change things as well. The big issue is the team’s financial future. Will they be able to hold onto some key players in the midst of a pennant race or be tempted into making a more long-term move?

2. Boston Red Sox

It’s hard to imagine that the reigning World Series winners who won 108 games a year ago spent most of the first half floundering. They recovered to get to 49-41, but even that is underwhelming. The talent is undeniable, but hitters like Mookie Betts have gone from MVP-caliber to merely good. The real issue is pitching, where Chris Sale and Rick Porcello have been underwhelming to downright poor, and the bullpen has been leaky. A lot of this would be fixed if established players start to perform. If that happens, Boston could immediately go out and win a lot of games in a row.

1. Chicago Cubs

The Cubs’ first half was so frustrating that Theo Epstein was publicly threatening major changes before the team even made it to the All-Star break. The Cubs are in first place but only 47-43, and it feels like they should be far ahead of their NL Central rivals by now. Despite the presence of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, they lack a .300 hitter. Jose Quintana’s ERA has risen above 4, and Yu Darvish needs to turn things around quickly to avoid being labeled a free agent bust. They ultimately moved to add Craig Kimbrel, which should help, but the Cubs need their talented players — especially in the rotation — to step things up. If that happens, they could still run away with the division.


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