With the first half of the 2019 MLB season in the books, the contenders have been emphatically separated from the pretenders, as half of the league gears up for a run at October. Before play resumes Thursday night when the Astros take on the Rangers, it's time to take stock of the league and decide which 10 teams are the best in baseball heading into the second half.
10. Chicago Cubs
They may be in the middle of a rough patch right about now, and closer Craig Kimbrel is still a little rusty by virtue of missing two months of the season, but the Cubs are still neck-and-neck with the Brewers for first place in the NL Central. With plenty of offensive firepower and enough starting pitching get by, the Cubs still have a good shot at a division that is still wide open, as the last place Reds are just 4.5 games out of first.
9. Cleveland Indians
It looked like the Twins were set to run away with the AL Central by the end of May, but Terry Francona and the Indiana managed to tread water without Corey Kluber and have hit their stride on the back of some unlikely saviors. Brad Hand has remained an elite closer, while Shane Bieber showed his worth to a rotation in the All-Star Game. Even without Kluber and with Jose Ramirez a shell of the player who almost won the MVP last year, the Indians could still conceivably ride Francisco Lindor and a lights-out bullpen (Nick Wittgren!) to October.
8. Milwaukee Brewers
When you've got an MVP candidate and the most unhittable closer in the game on your roster, you can't be counted out. Christian Yelich and the rest of a powerful Brewers lineup that also features Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal have flourished, while Josh Hader remains the most lethal part of a solid Brewers bullpen. They will need to add a starter before they can be considered a championship contender, but Milwaukee has enough solid pieces in their foundation to make another long run in the playoffs.
7. Oakland Athletics
It's the same story year after year with the Oakland A's. They may not wow you on paper, but Bob Melvin's team always ends up in the playoff picture by the end of the season. With Matt Chapman officially christened as a star and sluggers Matt Olson and Khris Davis continuing to mash, Oakland has overcome some poor starting pitching to end up in second place in the AL West. That lack of depth in their rotation could come back to bite them, but there is no reason why the A's couldn't sneak into the Wild Card Game for the second year in a row.
6. Tampa Bay Rays
Even with Blake Snell taking a step back this season, Charlie Morton has picked up the slackm as the Rays remain firmly in the Wild Card lead thanks to their rotation and lineup that goes seven or eight batters deep on any given night, led by stalwarts like Kevin Kiermaier and All-Star Austin Meadows. If Tyler Glasnow can return and be as effective as he was early in this season, the Rays, who have built a team that bears a striking resemblance to those championship Royals teams, could make a run in October.
5. Atlanta Braves
While their pitching staff as a whole outside of Mike Soroka won't have anyone quaking in their cleats, the Braves can put up some crooked numbers on the scoreboard thanks to their stacked lineup of Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman, Austin Riley, and Ozzie Albies. They will need to add a starter at the deadline (and a 'pen arm would do wonders), but their lineup alone should make them the favorites to take the NL East crown and could potentially allow them to mash their way deep into October.
4. Minnesota Twins
Rocco Baldelli must be some king of power hitting Svengali, because as soon as he touched down in Minneapolis, the Twins have become the most powerful team in baseball. On pace for a record amount of home runs thanks to the likes of Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Nelson Cruz, and Max Kepler, just to name a few, the Twins' two-closer system of Blake Parker and Taylor Rogers, along with a solid rotation led by Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi, should be a tough out when the postseason rolls around, no matter who they face.
3. Houston Astros
The injury bug might have gotten to Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, but Alex Bregman has more than picked up the slack as the Astros have a firm hold on first place in the AL West. With one of the deepest lineups in baseball and a rotation led by two All-Stars in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, AJ Hinch and Houston should be in line for a home playoff series and a shot at their second World Series title in three seasons. However, adding another bullpen arm couldn't hurt. They certainly have the prospects to get a deal done.
2. New York Yankees
After weathering a storm of almost unbeliable bad luck early in the season in which half of the entire organization was at New York-Presbyterian getting an MRI, the Yankees have used All-Star level first half performances from DJ LeMahieu, Gary Sanchez, and Gleyber Torres to earn the best record in the American League. With Giancarlo Stanton, Luis Severino, and Dellin Betances slated to come back from injuries in August or September, and rotation help undoubtedly on the way via trade, the Yankees could get even stronger as the quest for title No. 28 gets kicked into high gear.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw is Clayton Kershaw again, Cody Bellinger is the frontrunner for NL MVP, and the loss of Yasiel Puig has been offset by the performances of Max Muncy and Alex Verdugo. Dave Roberts can seemingly do no wrong at this moment in time, but we've seen this movie before. With the Dodgers on their way to another successful season, they need to finally exorcise their October demons. If they fail to win a World Series for the third straight year, some heads might roll as the team plateaus.