We’re in for the heck of a game of the second half

Katie Stratman, USA Today Sports

Time passes quickly. It seems that just weeks ago, Shohei Ohtani hit Mike Trout with a picture-perfect sweeper to end the World Baseball Classic, the Rays started the season with a 13-game winning record, and the Pirates shocked the baseball world with their April 20-9 win. But no — the calendar turns to July this weekend, and those Rays just played their 81st game on Sunday, becoming the first team to reach the halfway mark, and dropping Pittsburgh to fourth in the NL Central. The days are getting shorter now, and so is the remaining calendar—by the end of the week, most teams will have more regular season baseball behind them than before them.

If that’s the bad news, here’s the good news: We’re poised to have an exciting run over the next three months. Heading into July, 23 teams are in six postseason games, and 19 are in four. No division teams are greater than 6.5 matches. According to our qualifying chances, 21 out of 30 clubs – that’s the full 70% – have between a 10% and 90% chance of making the playoffs. At this point in the baseball calendar last year, only 12 teams signed into this range:

After playing on July 3, 2022, when the teams averaged the same number of games — just over 79 — as now, the Yankees and Astros had more than 13 games to spare, making them virtual locks to make the playoffs. The Dodgers, who led the National League with a . 628 winning percentage, and the Mets and Braves, who were battling in the NL East, had better than 90%, as did the Blue Jays. As of Tuesday, only the Rays and Braves, who lead their districts in wins, have lost 90% — both north of 98%. The Dodgers and Rangers are over 80%, Arizona is 75.9%, but none of the other 25 teams has a 3-in-4 or better:

The playoff odds for the top eight teams, 7/3/22 and 6/28/23

Team 2022 Playoff odds Team 2023 Playoff odds
Astros 100% Brave 99.9%
Yankees 100% rays 98.9%
Dodgers 98.3% Dodgers 89.7%
mets 97.1% notice 81.3%
Brave 93.3% diamondbacks 76.1%
blue jays 92.9% giants 75.2%
parents 87.5% Orioles 68.3%
righteousness 85.4% Marlins 63.3%

Things may be murkier among the bottom tier of postseason hopefuls. On July 3 of last season, 12 teams, or 40% of the league, had less than a 1 in 10 chance of extending their season to the playoffs. On Tuesday, only seven teams fit that bill — the White Sox, Pirates, Tigers, Royals, A’s, Rockies, and Nationals. Most other people will head into the second half of their schedule thinking they have at least a chance of getting a wild card. By that metric, we’re left with as much uncertainty to sort out in the back half as we did when the season started – our Opening Day game odds were also just shy of 7 teams at 10%. Only the Reds have played themselves above this threshold, and only the White Sox have played themselves below.

There are a few variances in the 10-20% range right now, but I’d say between less than 10% and 10-20% is a meaningful difference. in that 10-20% of the fund are the Reds, who lead their division and whose expectations may be underestimated; the Cubs, Mariners, and Red Sox, who are having a hot week or two out of a playoff spot (and who seem capable of stringing two hot weeks together if things go the right way to stretching); And the Mets and Cardinals, who, despite a bleak first half, are 8.5 and 8.0 games off the field, respectively, with enough talent on their rosters to make a big improvement in the second half possible:

The rest of the contenders

a team register gigabytes from the nearest cut-off point Playoff odds
twins 40-41 62.2%
Yankees 43-36 60.1%
blue jays 43-47 0.5 58.9%
Astros 43-37 1.0 51.1%
righteousness 41-38 0.5 50.1%
Angels 44-37 46.7%
Veles 41-37 3.0 45.0%
Guardians 38-40 0.5 33.6%
parents 37-42 7.5 32.1%
reds 42-38 19.0%
Cubs 37-40 3.5 18.6%
sailors 38-40 4.5 16.1%
red socks 40-40 3.5 15.9%
basics 33-45 8.0 14.1%
mets 36-43 8.5 13.5%

In terms of the ultimate end goal, this time last year our playoff odds were only 10 teams with a 2% chance of winning the World Series – with no eventual NL champion Phillies among them – with odds of about two-thirds. It would be the Dodgers, Braves, Astros, Yankees, or Mets. This year, even though we’re giving a 47% chance of being either the Braves, Rays, or Dodgers, half of the league has a better than 2% chance.

I’ve been very much against playoff expansion, and I still think it made the postseason tournament too big, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate what it does, which is that it can keep middle teams motivated to win through this point in the season and beyond. But some of the details of this competitive landscape owe more to the Dodgers in the division’s alignment—the same Dodgers that brought us the AL East with five teams better than any AL Central team. This season, those quirks mean that the Wild Card races are nearly populated by Eastern and Western teams in both leagues, but the Central races are tight enough that second- and third-place teams like Cleveland, Cincinnati, and the Cubs are still very much within reach of the playoffs.

This is not a good thing for the general fairness of the final qualifier. We could easily end up in a situation where the top Wild Card team in either league has a better record than the league’s Central Division champions – now in the AL, Houston (42-37) and Toronto (43-37) will do. Left in favor of Minnesota (40-41). But it is a great Something if you’re rooting for total mayhem in your second half. More teams in the catch and fewer teams running away with division titles means more meaningful games in late summer.

In other words, with 21 teams remaining with less-than-certain playoff prospects one way or the other, a 15-game day on the schedule should have an average of 13-14 games featuring at least one of these teams. With only 12 teams in that no-man region, as was the case last year, the 15-game schedule will feature an average of nine or 10 games with at least one of those contenders. That’s about four more matches with supplement effects each day for fans.

And as far as the extra Wild Cards and weird division alignments go, some of the credit seems to go to quicksand in the league as well. This year, we’ve seen the Orioles, Rangers, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Angels, and now the Reds emerge as hopefuls in the playoffs — or safe bets, as the case may be — and many seem poised to stick around for years to come. It’s an impressive flow for teams heading uphill, and quickly — while the Orioles’ comeback started early enough last year for the team to finish with 83 wins, the other five clubs average just 69.2 wins in 2022 and are expected to improve at a rate of amazing. From 17.1 wins this season:

Surprise playoff contenders

a team 2022 watts 2023 projected w He increases
notice 68 89.8 21.8
Marlins 69 87.6 18.6
reds 62 79.1 17.1
diamondbacks 74 89.4 15.4
Angels 73 85.5 12.5

On the flip side, most of the best dogs in 2022 haven’t quite ceded their spots — the Braves, Rays, Astros, Dodgers, Yankees, and Blue Jays aren’t quite ready to give way. In the middle of the pack, the Brewers, Phillies, Red Sox, Mariners, Padres, Twins, and Guardians are all hanging out as they try to find a hot stretch the way the Giants have. And while there’s a little bit of joy in St. Louis and Queens right now, given the talent in those clubs, the match prospects aren’t ready to be completely written off either.

The next few weeks will be crucial for some of these teams on the cusp of contention. With such a competitive field of the month approaching, we may soon be approaching the August 1st trading deadline which could feature far fewer sellers than buyers. Even teams with comfortable prospects in the playoffs will be looking to add, so asking prices will likely be high, and it will be interesting to see which teams bite into those higher prices knowing that their chances of a deep playoff run may be dented by those around them, let alone An extra round of random playoff.

Last September, I wrote about the lack of intensity in chasing playoff spots, much to the chagrin of anxious Mets and Braves fans who had endured a tough divisional race. So far this year, it looks like we’re in a better position to send a number of qualifying races into the deep summer and early fall, with some new faces to boot. There’s a lot to sort through between now and October, and sorting is the best part. We hope this season stays messy for as long as possible.

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