The reigning World Series champion Cubs and rival Cardinals both finished the first half seven games out in the National League Wild Card standings.
The All-Star break couldn’t have come at a better time.
With their ace, Jon Lester, on the mound, the Chicago Cubs allowed 10 runs in the top of the first inning Sunday. The Pirates coasted to a 14-3 win at Wrigley Field, securing a series victory in the rubber game of a weekend set.
Back-to-back losses to Pittsburgh in the final two games before the All-Star break meant Chicago limped through the first half of its World Series title defense with a 43-45 record. The Cubs haven’t won a series since taking two games out of three from the lowly San Diego Padres June 19-21. Therefore, it should come as no shock that Chicago sits 5.5 games out of first place in the NL Central and 7.5 games back in the NL Wild Card standings.
The St. Louis Cardinals also finished 43-45 and in the exact same position in the division and Wild Card races. However, St. Louis finished the first half strong. The Cardinals shut out the Mets 6-0 Sunday to capture a series victory, and haven’t lost a series since June 23-25. In the final 15 games before the All-Star break, St. Louis won 10.
With four days to rest after an ugly first half, the Cubs have an opportunity to hit the reset button. The Cardinals hope to carry their momentum into the second half. Both clubs have spent the majority of the 2017 season looking up at the Brewers in the Central standings, and at the Rockies and Diamondbacks in the Wild Card, but as we prepare for the second half, the Cubs and Cardinals are still alive in both.
American League Division Leaders
Boston Red Sox (50-39, .562)
Thanks in large part to a pair of Cy Young Award candidates, the Red Sox weathered an early season storm to finish with a 3.5-game lead in the AL East.
Chris Sale has been arguably the best offseason acquisition in the majors in the first half of the season, posting a 2.75 ERA in 127.2 innings across 18 starts. Sale leads the major leagues with 178 strikeouts. Closer Craig Kimbrel has been just as dominant, posting a 1.19 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 37.2 innings. Kimbrel also has 25 saves, has held opponents to a .110 batting average with a tiny 0.50 WHIP.
The Red Sox haven’t shown much power in the first half. In fact, the club ranks last in the American League in home runs. Nevertheless, the Boston lineup is stacked. Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts are both hitting over .300, and five players have homered 12 times or more, including team leader and leadoff hitter Mookie Betts.
Cleveland Indians (47-39, .547)
The defending American League champions spent a large portion of the first half looking up at the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central standings, but before the All-Star break, the Indians established themselves as the best team in the division.
Led by Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, no team in the American League has posted a better ERA than Cleveland, which ranks third in the majors at 3.78 – just ahead of the Red Sox (3.82) and Astros (3.93).
Though the Tribe sits in the middle of the pack in runs scored, several Cleveland hitters finished the first half strong. All-Star Jose Ramirez hit .332/.388/.601 with 17 home runs and 48 RBI, Edwin Encarnacion led the club with 18 homers and Lonnie Chisenhall drove in a team best 51 runs during the first half.
Houston Astros (60-29, .674)
The Astros had the best record in baseball for the majority of the first half, but finished mere percentage points behind the Dodgers at the All-Star break. Regardless, Houston has been a dominant force in the American League with a lineup that scored a major league best 527 runs in the first half. No other big league club came within 50 runs.
Of course, the Astros are a well-rounded club thanks in large part to the good work of starting pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers in the first half, as well as swingman Brad Peacock and All-Star Chris Devenski, among others.