Well, it's the Wednesday after the All-Star Game, perhaps the worst day of the year for a baseball fan. There are no games to distract you from the pundits acting like they know what's going to happen in the second half. Yeah, those guys suck. Oh, and here's what's going to happen in the second half.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers, 56-32 (Last month: 1)
They just keep chugging along at a .600-plus clip, Manny or no Manny. They're doing it without any really fluke-y performances, either, unless you count Juan Pierre's .328/.387/.417 line. With Ramirez's return, there's no reason to believe L.A. will give any ground after the break.
2. Boston Red Sox, 54-34 (2)
Despite three fairly gaping holes in their everyday lineup (shortstop, center field, and the ghost of Big Papi at DH), the Sawx are third in the AL in runs scored. And they've been able to weather the implosion of Daisuke Matsuzaka to place third in the league in runs allowed, which all adds up to a pretty good record. So, I guess that's a testament to Boston's depth, or something.
3. New York Yankees, 51-37 (3)
Ah, yes, the Yankees, the team whose shortcomings are detailed nightly, yet they always seem to put it together just when you hope that they're sunk for good. There are some holes here, but we've seen this enough times to know that they're going to make a push for the playoffs, no matter how terrible Chien-Ming Wang is, and regardless of what distractions A-Rod can dream up. Such is life with a $200 million payroll.
4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 49-37 (14)
It took a couple of months, but the Angels finally ascended to their rightful place as the class of a deeply flawed division. They're not firing on all cylinders, but with John Lackey healthy (even if Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar aren't) that rotation can hang with most in the game. They'll be tough to dislodge from the top of the West, as the Rangers appear to be a year away from having a pitching staff to compare.
5. Tampa Bay Rays, 48-41 (10)
Having recovered from their World Series hangover, the Rays are gaining on the big boys in the AL East. Aside from Ben Zobrist, none of their players are really building on their 2008 performances, but they have so much young talent that they're still second in the league in runs scored. The rotation (featuring big flops from Andy Sonnanstine and Scott Kazmir) is middle of the pack, but there's reason to expect improvement.
6. Philadelphia Phillies, 48-38 (5)
Considering their whole outfield and their first baseman made the trip to St. Louis for the All-Star Game, it's no surprise that the Phillies are leading the league in runs scored. Which is good, because their pitching staff is a hot mess on which Chan Ho Park could be considered a steadying influence. That rotation could really use some Halladayin'.
7. St. Louis Cardinals, 49-42 (12)
That Pujols guy (right) sure is good. Oh, and there are a bunch of other guys on this team who aren't. We'll see how that works out long-term. At least Ryan Franklin has assumed Scott Spiezio's ridiculous facial hair mantle. Here, I'll let him tell it:
8. Texas Rangers, 48-39 (6)
Usually a lock for a great offense and a terrible pitching staff, the Rangers have confounded expectations by being middle-of-the-pack in both categories. Some guy named Scott Feldman has joined Kevin Millwood as the rotation's anchors, and Andruw Jones has decided to only look fat this year, while hitting like he's in shape. And, ladies and gentlemen: meet Nelson Cruz. You'll be hearing more from him in the months and years to come.
9. Detroit Tigers, 48-39 (9)
Brandon Inge is playing well enough that he's having lazy steroid accusations lobbed his way, which is an honor for any player of his modest pedigree. And, of course Edwin Jackson has an ERA under 2.60 and is striking out almost three times as many batters as he's walked. Just like every other year here in Bizarro World.
10. San Francisco Giants, 49-39 (18)
When you have a lineup that's scoring less than four runs per game, it's nice to send Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain to the mound on a regular basis. I'll make a controversial statement: Barry Zito is not very good, and is possibly overpaid. Discuss.
11. Florida Marlins, 46-44 (21)
It's been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for these Marlins, who jumped out of the gate in April, cooled in May, and rebounded in June and July. It must kill Mets fans to look up in the standings at a team that features one, and possibly two players that a casual fan would have heard of. Somebody should really write a Moneyball-style book about Florida's front office. Those guys are magicians.
12. Seattle Mariners, 46-42 (15)
Russell Branyan could be for real, and I'm as shocked as anyone. He's hitting .280 with a .380 OBP and 22 homers in a half-season. Plus, three-fifths of Seattle's rotation have ERAs under 3.00 and David Aardsma has been the best closer in the AL. With just league-average production from the non-Branyan, non-Ichiro branches of their position players, these guys could make a run.
13. Colorado Rockies, 47-41 (26)
Man, if only firing the manager worked that well for every team! Some guy named Seth Smith is playing left field and slugging .510 for the Rockies, and every regular besides Smith and center fielder Dexter Fowler have at least ten homers. These guys look poised for a Wild Card run, but I'd sell that Jason Marquis stock now if I were you.
14. Milwaukee Brewers, 45-43 (7)
The Brew Crew have faded a little in the last month, but it's no fault of Home Run Derby champ Prince Fielder, who's also a leading candidate for MVP if Albert Pujols happens to find himself trapped under something heavy. Stop me if you've heard this one: this National League team struggled in interleague play, going 5-10. They probably don't have enough chips or cash to trade for Roy Halladay, but their rotation would benefit hugely from the addition.
15. Minnesota Twins, 45-44 (17)
Since the start of the season, the Twins haven't been more than three games under or two games over .500. That's either steady or hopelessly mediocre, and I'm afraid it's the latter. Joe Mauer's started to look human the last couple of weeks, which is a bad sign for the offense.
16. Chicago White Sox, 45-43 (19)
They're coming on strong after a weak start, as their old war horses (Konerko, Dye, Thome, Buerhle, Contreras, and Pierzynski) continue to carry the load. Gordon Beckham (right) has held his own since being called up to man the hot corner, and when Carlos Quentin returns from injury the lineup should get another boost.
17. Houston Astros, 44-44 (25)
It sure seems like they're doing it with mirrors, but the Astros have managed to claw their way into contention in the NL Central. Miguel Tejada is playing like it's 2003 all over again, Hunter Pence is coming into his own, and Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee are doing what they always do: hit. Did you know Wandy Rodriguez is 30? Me either.
18. Toronto Blue Jays, 44-46 (4)
The Jays have to have one of the whiniest, most put-upon front offices in the game. Once again, they're on the verge of falling out of contention, and instead of acknowledging that they're hamstrung because of B.J. Ryan, Alex Rios and Vernon Wells' terrible contracts, GM J.P. Ricciardi starts the violins about how tough it is to compete in the AL East and cranks up the trade rumors about Roy Halladay. This is a likeable team with some exciting young players (Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, Travis Snider), but I just can't bring myself to root for them.
19. Chicago Cubs, 43-43 (11)
It's a season like this that helps separate the bandwagon-jumping fans from the true believers. In the NL Central, it only takes a good two-week stretch to go from disappointment to contender, though, so there's a strong possibility that C-U could be ugly with Cubbie blue again by Quad Day. This calls for a random Harry Caray video!
20. Atlanta Braves, 43-45 (16)
Shortstop Yunel Escobar has been their third-best offensive player so far this season, and while he's having a surprisingly good year with the bat (.293/.355/.435), when a shortstop known for his glove is outhitting your first baseman and all three outfielders (including the dearly departed Jeff Francoeur), you shouldn't be surprised when you're 11th in the league in runs. A side effect of that is you will have three starting pitchers with ERA's under 3.00 and only one of them will have a winning record (rookie Tommy Hanson).
21. Cincinnati Reds, 42-45 (13)
For a while in May and June, the Reds were making some noise. Now, after Jay Bruce's possibly season-ending wrist injury, things are looking pretty bleak.
22. New York Mets, 42-45 (8)
These guys are like the Cubs of the East, pouting their way through the season under the glare of a major media market's lights. Read this blog entry and try to guess which manager doesn't have a job anymore (hint: trick question!).
23. Baltimore Orioles, 40-48 (29)
The young pitching is coming, but for the time being some guy named Brad Bergesen is the rock of their rotation. Matt Wieters has arrived, but he's struggling like many rookies have a tendency to. Their young outfield is exciting and productive, but the infield has been less so. Lots of but's in Ballmer these days, it seems.
24. Oakland Athletics, 37-49 (22)
First the Moneyball movie got the axe, now A's fans are faced with the reality that the rest of the league has caught up to Billy Beane. Fun fact: Adam Kennedy has been every bit as productive as Matt Holliday this season. Quick! Name the A's representative for the All-Star Game! Well, of course it's Andrew Bailey. Good job!
25. Pittsburgh Pirates, 38-50 (24)
While they've shown signs of life, a fifth straight 90-loss season is still well within the Pirates' grasp.
26. Arizona Diamondbacks, 38-51 (28)
Brandon Webb's injury woes have crushed the pitching staff, as their rotation goes four-deep and then falls off a cliff onto Billy Buckner. The lineup isn't deep either, and the bullpen's been a disaster.
27. Kansas City Royals, 37-51 (23)
The Royals are back on the bullet train to Laughingstockland. They desperately needed a shortstop before they traded for Yuniesky Betancourt, and they "still desperately need a shortstop." Their shaky decisions on injured players have threatened the long-term health of Coco Crisp, Mike Aviles, Gil Meche, and Joakim Soria. Their front office is spending valuable time banning vocal bloggers from the stadium, and they're being mocked by even the most patient, rational columnists. Train wreck doesn't begin to describe it.
28. Cleveland Indians, 35-54 (20)
I can't explain it, but basically this same team, with C.C. Sabathia and an ineffective Cliff Lee, came within a game of the 2007 World Series. Now they seem completely rudderless. I can't explain it.
29. San Diego Padres, 36-52 (27)
They had two players (Heath Bell and Adrian Gonzalez) on the NL All-Star team, so there's that. Now, about the other 23 on that roster...
30. Washington Nationals, 26-61 (30)
Maybe they'll go on a Rockies-style run now that they're free from the tyranny of the reasonable, patient Manny Acta.