The Cardinals are really good, the Phillies are really bad, and then there’s everyone else.
Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Jacob deGrom and a bevy of stars bunched near the top. Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Cabrera and more big names coming back from injuries. Plus wily Joe Maddon and those Chicago Cubs poised to make a playoff run.
Sure is shaping up as a fun scramble in the second half of the season.
As the All-Star break ends and play resumes Friday, a whopping 22 teams find themselves within six games of a postseason spot.
And the clubs currently out of contention — the A’s, Padres and Phils, among them — could provide the most interesting pieces before the July 31 trading deadline.
A look at what to watch as baseball heads toward the stretch:
Somehow, St. Louis has figured out the formula. Despite losing ace Adam Wainwright to a season-ending left Achilles injury in April and counting on fill-ins, Carlos Martinez and the Cards own the best record in the majors. No wonder they’ve reached the NL Championship Series in each of the last four years.
Pitching often translates into pennants — no-hit man Max Scherzer and the Nationals hope so, as do Zack Greinke (with his shutout string intact at 35 2/3 innings) and the Dodgers. In a neat start to the second half, LA visits Washington in a matchup of NL division leaders.
The Yankees have moved on quite nicely minus Derek Jeter to top the AL East, and now need their starting pitching to hold up. A lights-out Royals bullpen has kept Kansas City ahead in the Central, and a front-office skirmish hasn’t deterred Trout, fresh off his second straight All-Star MVP award, Albert Pujols or the Angels out West.
A WILD TIME
Houston at Minnesota, Cubs at Pittsburgh. Would’ve been hard to imagine a year ago, but that’s how the wild-card playoff games would stack up today. A long way to go, of course. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and the Astros have been a feel-good story, and what rookie manager Paul Molitor has done with his hometown Twins has been downright incredible. Meanwhile, you can’t ever count out Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants, winners of three of the last five titles.
That said, all eyes will be on Wrigley Field if Chicago stays close. Rookie Kris Bryant has delivered and pricey free agent Jon Lester could dominate soon. At least there’s hope Maddon could someday soon manage the Cubs to their first World Series crown since 1908.
DEAL ‘EM UP!
Aroldis Chapman threw 103 mph heat in the All-Star Game — would pay for Washington, Toronto and other contenders to blaze their way into trade talks for the Cincinnati closer. Reds teammate Johnny Cueto could be available, too, and perhaps Houston will try to acquire the ace. The Phillies could deal Cole Hamels, and reliever Jonathan Papelbon certainly wants out of a crumbling situation.
Also swaying in the tradewinds: Milwaukee third baseman Aramis Ramirez and closer Francisco Rodriguez, A’s all-purpose player Ben Zobrist and reliever Tyler Clippard and San Diego slugger Justin Upton. Detroit ace David Price is a long shot to get dealt, if the Tigers rapidly fade in the next two weeks.
HEALING OR HURT?
Boosted by deGrom, Matt Harvey and their young pitching, the Mets are in the race. They desperately need a bat, and had hoped captain David Wright could provide it. Out since mid-April, no telling if his back problem will permit him to play again this season.
The Tigers will be without Cabrera for a while, Stanton will return to the Marlins sooner than that. Angels ace Jered Weaver, Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia and Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum also are on the mend, while Washington has filled up the disabled list with pitcher Stephen Strasburg, outfielders Denard Span and Jayson Werth, and infielders Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon.