Now that the All-Star Game has been played and the season has passed it’s ceremonial midway point, it’s appropriate to look at the second half chances for teams in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Reminder: MLB is back to their ten-team postseason format, with six division winners and two wild cards in each league.
For whatever reason, call it poor conditioning, bad luck, or rustiness after a pandemic-shortened 2020 season, baseball players have been getting injured at an increasing rate in 2021. Some of these injuries will have an impact on the playoff race.
Most Important Injuries In MLB
Here’s a list of the injuries (or injured players) that could impact the playoff races the most:
- Yasmani Grandal, White Sox (knee injury, out until early August)
- Shane Bieber, Indians (out until mid-July, his health will be crucial for CLE pitching)
- Mike Trout, Angels (last played May 17, expected back in late July)
- Corey Kluber, Yankees (may be back for stretch drive to help NY rotation)
- Alex Bregman, Astros (quadriceps tear, out until at least July 23)
- Zack Greinke, Astros (shoulder strain, uncertain)
- George Springer, Blue Jays (missed nearly first three months of season, back but not effective)
- Bullpen, Rays (Chris Archer, Nick Anderson, Oliver Drake, Ryan Thompson all out at least until late July)
- Kyle Lewis, Mariners (knee, out until at least Aug 1)
AL Teams who could fade because of injuries:
AL Teams who could rebound when healthy players return:
Indians to chase the Sox in AL Central. Angels & Mariners for a wildcard hunt.
- Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves (out for season)
- Travis d’Arnaud, Braves (returning slowly from hand injury)
- Kyle Schwarber, Nationals (hamstring, due back possibly by Sep 1)
- Carlos Carrasco, Mets (SP expected back in August)
- Corey Seager, Dodgers (star SS will return in late July)
- Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (made last start June 1, return unknown)
- Brandon Belt, Giants (expected back late July)
- Evan Longoria, Giants (expected back late July)]
- Noah Syndergaard, Mets (hard-throwing pitcher might return for September)
NL Teams who could fade because of injuries:
NL Teams who could rebound when healthy players return:
Nationals, Padres, Mets
The Padres are going to make the playoffs, but if they get healthy, they could overtake the Giants and Dodgers for the NL West division title. The Giants, who have the NL’s best record, will benefit from getting healthy veterans Belt and Longoria back into their lineup.
If Syndergaard can return and be close to what he is when fully healthy in September, that would be a boon for the Mets as they seek to win their first NL East crown since 2015.
MLB Division Winner Odds
|Red Sox||AL East||-120||-140||-110|
|Blue Jays||AL East||+1100||+1100||+1000|
|White Sox||AL Central||-1400||-2500||-2000|
Notes On MLB Division Winner Odds
- Even though the Giants have the best record in baseball, the sportsbooks don’t think they can hold onto the NL West. The Dodgers have won the division for eight straight seasons, and oddsmakers have them the favorites to leapfrog their rivals.
- All three of the sports betting apps we list above rate the Nationals as longshots to take the NL East. But they sit only six games back, and have three of the best players in the league in Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, and Kyle Schwarber, who will soon return from an injury to bolster the lineup. I think the Nats are being disrespected, and odds like +1600 (from PointsBet) are very attractive.
- DraftKings has the NL Central pegged the right way: the Brewers are tenuous at their current #1 position. The Reds, Cardinals, and even the Cubs are capable of challenging in the second half. This division is wide open.
- As tempting as it may be to toss some money on the Yankees to grab the AL East (+1200 from both PointsBet and William Hill), I am more intrigued by the Blue Jays. Their lineup is dangerous, and at only six games back of the Red Sox in the loss column, Vlad Guerrero Jr. and company could easily inch to the top of this competitive race.
- The White Sox are unlikely to collapse, and the AL Central looks like the most ironclad division. But, that +100 from PointsBet to entice money on Cleveland is tempting.
- I don’t think the Houston Astros will stroll away with the AL West race. Yes, they are soon going to get Alex Bregman back into the lineup, but there are concerns about the starting pitching depth. That +550 from PointsBet on the A’s winning the division is really hard to pass up.
Injuries And Awards
One day prior to the All-Star break, the Braves revealed that Ronald Acuna Jr. had tore his ACL and would miss the rest of the season. Ouch, that hurts. As in, both physically for Acuna and figuratively for the Braves, who are chasing the Mets in the NL East.
On an individual basis, the Acuna injury seems to clear the way for Jacob deGrom to win the NL Most Valuable Player Award. As I’ve written here before, the national media has circles their wagons around deGrom as the de facto favorite, and no amount of logic will convince them or their sycophantic followers otherwise. The narrative has already been mythologized: deGrom is having a season for the ages, a season only approached most recently by Bob Gibson (way back in 1968) and otherwise only by baseball Mt. Rushmore legends like Walter Johnson. Innings and leverage be damned: sportswriters are deRooling over DeGrom.
With Acuna on crutches, deGrom’s only serious challenge for MVP hardware are Fernado Tatis Jr. and Max Muncy, and possibly Phillies’ pitcher Zack Wheeler. There’s an argument to be made that Wheeler has pitched better and is more valuable to his team than deGrom, but at this point no one will let anyone have that conversation because the Mets’ ace has been anointed.
Barring an injury or collapse in the second half, Jacob deGrom will win the NL MVP. He’s also a lock to win the Cy Young, as long as he gets to about 170 innings. He’s currently at just under 100.
In the American League, the MVP race is really down to two: Shohei Ohtani and Vlad Guerrero Jr. As absolutely amazing as Ohtani is, he could lose this award if Guerrero ends up with 150+ RBI and wins the batting title and home run title. That’s called a Triple Crown, and it’s not just for horses. Currently, Ohtani leads Vlad Jr. by five homers, but Guerrero is in good shape to win the other two categories. If he somehow wins the Triple Crown, I don’t see how voters can deny the MVP to Guerrero, who is still only 22 years old(!)