With the MLB season set to resume on Friday, the playoff races will start to heat up in what should be another exciting finish to the regular season. Three of the six division leaders are holding on to a lead of fewer than six games. In the American League, there are eight teams in the Wild Card race separated by four games or less. Aside from the annual playoff races, there are a handful of storylines that will fun to watch throughout the rest of the season.
Can the Cubs shake off their World Series hangover?
As expected, the Cubs have experienced quite the hangover after ending a historic championship drought last October when they defeated the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series. Despite returning basically the entire championship team, the squad has been far from dominant. In fact, they’ve been average. Chicago sits 5.5 games being the Milwaukee Brewers with a record of 43-45. For reference, the Cubs were 53-35 at the break a year ago before going on to win 103 games.
Following the 2012 World Series, the champs have averaged 78 wins the following season. The last team to make it back to the World Series after winning it was the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies. The last team to repeat was the 2000 New York Yankees. While recent history may not be on the Cubs’ side, they still have one of the most dangerous lineups in all of baseball. Can they get it together? With a terrific manager like Joe Maddon and a roster as talented as the Cubs, I’d bet on a big second half run and a return to the postseason.
Will any stars be traded?
Much has been made about the speculated, historic free agent class of 2018. The list includes Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel, Daniel Murphy, David Price and Andrew McCutchen. If any of these players hit the open market, it’s reasonable to expect a significant bidding war for each player. While the 2018 offseason is still 16 months away, we have to wonder if any teams fearful of their players leaving in free agency will attempt to cash in on their value.
Teams across all sports hate to lose star players. The only thing they hate more than losing star players is losing them without getting anything in return. Each of the aforementioned players should yield a return of multiple high-rated prospects that could accelerate a rebuild or retool, depending on the team’s situation. Like all sports, the closer a player gets to becoming a free agent, the more their trade value plummets. I’m not guaranteeing or even predicting one of these high profile players gets moved within the next few weeks, but I won’t rule it out and it’s something to watch all the way up to the July 31st deadline.
Phillies chasing the 1962 Mets
The Phillies are bad. That might be an understatement. Vegas pinned a 73.5 over/under win total before the season, which didn’t seem crazy at the time since Philadelphia won 71 games the previous year and added a handful of productive veterans in the offseason. At the All-Star Break, the Phillies sit at 29-58, the worst record in the MLB by nine games. To compound on their ineptitude, they’re also an MLB-worst 11-23 in one-run games.
They would need a miraculous 45-30 second half to hit the over and finish 74-88. That looks all but impossible. The Phillies are currently on pace to finish 54-108. As bad as they have been, there is plenty of reason to believe they’ll be even worse in the second half. Some of their best players such as Jeremy Hellickson, Maikel Franco, and Pat Neshek have reportedly already drawn trade interest. Assuming any are moved for young prospects, the Phillies will likely struggle even more down the stretch. Don’t rule out Philadelphia catching the 1962 Mets and their MLB-record 120 losses.
Aaron Judge’s pursuit of Mark McGwire
Aaron Judge has been the story of the 2017 MLB Season. He cruised into the break with a league-leading 30 home runs. He put his power on national display with an incredible Home Run Derby performance on Monday Night. Mark McGwire holds the rookie record for home runs with 49, which he accomplished back in 1987. During that season, McGwire entered the All-Star Break with 33 home runs, three ahead of Judge.
Judge is on pace for 56 home runs. If Judge can pick up where he left off, he should be able to break the 30-year old record by early September. McGwire tailed off in the second half back in 1987, only hitting 16 home runs. Aaron Judge hasn’t afforded himself the same flexibility to coast down the stretch. With as exciting a player as he is, most fans, myself included will be rooting hard for Judge to reach the big 5-0.