Forecasting the second half for the American League

Mike Trout's return could be the shot in the arm the Angels need in the second half. Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports

The American League continued its dominance of late in the All-Star Game Tuesday night, and its member teams now look to get back to the business of attempting to regain October superiority. The road ahead in the AL stands to have some of the most widespread, comprehensive pennant chases in many years.

With the noticeable exception of the canyon-wide lead the Houston Astros have opened, the entirety of the AL is up for grabs over the next few months. All but three teams are within five games of the AL Wild Card race, while the Red Sox and Indians maintain leads of 3.5 and 2.5 games, respectively, over the AL East and Central.

The fight stands to run the distance in the American League, and here’s where each team stands on the card as the second half of the fight begins.

Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez has taken his game to another level this season. Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles (42-46, 4th AL East) 

Pitching has been the Achilles heel for the O’s this year, and they open the second half dead last in baseball in team ERA at 5.07. It is a plague that caused the team to plummet down the standings over the last two months and has not shown any signs of letting up soon. It is tough to envision the Orioles making up the 7.5-game difference in the standings over the next two months without a substantial overhaul of their starting rotation — the type that does not likely occur in-season.

Boston Red Sox (50-39, 1st AL East) 

The BoSox are clicking on all cylinders and stand to get closer to full strength in the upcoming weeks with Eduardo Rodriguez returning to the rotation soon and David Price looking to round back into form as well. With Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel dueling within the Cy Young chase and a lineup that can strike at any point up and down, the Sox have a great chance to complete a second straight AL East championship.

However, with the persistent threat of the Yankees breathing down their backs, along with the growing presence of the Rays as well, the standard issue gauntlet from the game’s top division remains. Thus, do not be surprised to see the Red Sox go shopping over the next few weeks with the goal of both third base and bullpen upgrades.

Chicago White Sox (38-49, 5th AL Central) 

The rest of the summer in Chicago will be dedicated to trading off the remaining veteran assets and then turning the keys over to the substantial youth that the organization has gathered in the last year. With Jose Quintana and David Robertson available, the Sox could be in line to grab yet another haul of prospects to play with. After that, awaiting the arrival of Yoan Moncada should pass the time as the rest of the year ticks down.

Cleveland Indians (47-40, 1st AL Central) 

The Tribe is looking more and more like the team that streaked through the postseason last year. Jose Ramirez is playing like an MVP candidate, while Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Brantley are having great campaigns as well. Armed with a rejuvenated Corey Kluber and the AL’s top pitching staff yet again, Cleveland looks the part of (finally) being ready to live up expectations this season.

Detroit Tigers (39-48, 4th AL Central) 

The end of days is here for the current orientation of the Tigers, as they are ready to listen to offers on any and all of their vital parts, including J.D. Martinez, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. While it remains to be seen if they find a buyer willing to pay the sum in both prospects and dollars to take on any of their high-priced talents, the Tigers are stuck in a downward spiral that could force them to take less than they are looking for. Otherwise, there will be little to take away from this loss of a season for the aging club.

George Springer played in his first All-Star Game for the AL-leading Houston Astros. Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Houston Astros (60-29, 1st AL West) 

Not many teams can look at an entire half of a regular season as being a formality, but that is the substantial vantage point that the Astros are experiencing. Owner of a gargantuan 16.5-game lead and a 10-game cushion for best record, the Astros’ footing as the best team in the American League is secured.

Jose Altuve is locked in on landing a third batting title in four years, Carlos Correa is realizing the superstardom his potential showed from the beginning and George Springer is following along with him. With the first leg of their work all but done, the real challenge still awaits come October.

The biggest question that remains is where they can get better and how. Fortifying the starting pitching staff would be the most obvious approach, as the team still awaits the return of Dallas Keuchel from his most recent bout with neck troubles. This is the type of season where making an aggressive acquisition is completely worth most any prospect cost required, and adding another front-line starter should be a priority.

The World Series is easily within grasp for the young Astros; maintaining momentum through September is their most imminent challenge.

Kansas City Royals (44-43, 3rd AL Central) 

No team has played at a more relentless pace running up theAll-Star break than the Royals, who have completely salvaged a once lost season. Now they enter what could be the final second half of this former championship core playing together with a legitimate chance at pushing for another postseason run, whether it be as AL Central champions (three games back) or via the Wild Card (1.5 games back). No other team has gone through — and emerged from — the trials of the dog days of summer together as these Royals have, and they have an undeniable edge in the intangibles department as the season wears on.

Los Angeles Angels (45-47, 2nd AL West) 

Kudos to the Angels, who weathered the storm of Mike Trout's absence for over a month successfully. Anaheim enters the second half only three games out of the Wild Card race and will return from the break with Trout back at the heart of the lineup.

While the cliché of saying that a returning player is "like making a trade from within" gets played out, if Trout shows few ill effects from his surgically repaired left hand, even at 75 percent of his usual self he could make up that three-game difference singlehandedly.

Minnesota Twins (45-43, 2nd AL Central) 

To their credit, the Twins have dug down and gutted their way throughout the summer to stay in the race as the second half dawns. However, they have a tough decision ahead: become buyers or stay the current course and see where the chips fall. The Twins' success has been somewhat of a surprise, but being able to compete year in and year out is not a given, so making the most of this year could be the most prudent way to go.

With a stockpile of young talents and clear needs to address in the pitching department, a few tweaks to the pitching staff could prop the Twins up in the airtight AL Central race that lays ahead.

New York Yankees (45-41, 2nd AL East) 

The Yankees' first half was defined by the stunning breakout of Aaron Judge, as well as the surprisingly strong proficiency of the team developing around him. Somehow, the Yankees have reinvented themselves on the fly as one of the most exciting and dangerous young teams in the game and stand to go the distance in the fight to win the AL East.

While Judge’s meteoric MVP run continues to take off, the fight could go much smoother if the Yanks are able to go out and add to an oft-shaky starting staff, as well as be able to lean on upswings in the health and consistency of Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Aroldis Chapman.

If the Texas Rangers decide to become sellers, Yu Darvish could become the most coveted trade deadline pitching target. Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Athletics (39-50, 5th AL West) 

Trading Sonny Gray should be the top priority for what is left in the remnants of this season for the A’s. He has proved that he is rehabbed from the issues that ended his 2016 season prematurely and subsequently torpedoed his trade value over the last year.

With so many competitors in an arms race for rotational upgrades, the A’s could name their price if they absolutely go all in on making their ace available. It is the best that can be hoped for in an otherwise lost season in the Bay.

Seattle Mariners (43-47, 4th AL West) 

It could be a make-or-break season for this current alignment of the Mariners, who have had much invested in them over the past three years only to play under .500 baseball over the same period. The second half should be more consistent than the first with Felix Hernandez and James Paxton back in the rotation, but the return of Jean Segura to accompany Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz could best help the Mariners take advantage of a pedestrian AL West lower class.

Cano’s game-winning All-Star Game homer propped up the AL on Tuesday, but it remains to be seen if he can inspire his everyday ball club the same way.

Tampa Bay Rays (47-43, 3rd AL East) 

The Rays have quietly become the breakthrough team of the year in the AL and enter a pivotal second half in which they have a very good shot at crashing the postseason party. They enter the second half in control of the second Wild Card slot and have already begun the process of ensuring they stand pat down the stretch, adding defensive wiz Adeiny Hechavarria to the mix.

If Kevin Kiermaier can make a healthy return, Wilson Ramos can begin to make contributions, and the breakout campaigns of Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison continue, the Rays could become the team nobody wants to play by September.

Texas Rangers (43-45, 3rd AL West) 

Of the possible highlights to come in Arlington over the next few months, Adrian Beltre’s forthcoming 3,000th hit stands as the most certain thrill. However, where the club goes from there is anyone’s guess. On one hand, the Rangers could look to pull back into the AL Wild Card picture, which is very possible with both Beltre and Cole Hamels healthy again.

On the other hand, they could put two of the biggest names of all into the trade market in pending free agents Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy. Trading Darvish could inject a massive booster shot into one of the game’s weakest minor league systems, whereas Lucroy could net a return from what is fair to assess as a busted deadline trade from a year ago. Either way, it should be an interesting second half for the disappointing-to-date Rangers.

Toronto Blue Jays (41-47, 5th AL East) 

It has been a nightmare campaign for the Blue Jays so far, who have been unable to stay healthy as a unit long enough to reamin in the fight for long. The AL East is not a division that is hospitable to those that stumble for long, making a Toronto comeback increasingly unlikely.

As a result, the Jays are in line to become one of the most game-changing sellers in baseball over the next few weeks. The likes of Josh Donaldson, Justin Smoak, Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ could all be available from the team’s ranks.

Matt Whitener is St. Louis-based writer, radio host and 12-6 curveball enthusiast. He has been covering Major League Baseball since 2010, and dabbles in WWE, NBA and other odd jobs as well. Follow Matt on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.


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