Ranking Chances of Hot 2nd-Half MLB Teams Continuing Their Torrid Play
The Atlanta Braves have won 13 games in a row. The Detroit Tigers have now won 11 consecutive games. The Los Angeles Dodgers had a 15-game road winning streak snapped on Tuesday.
This trio of teams have clearly been the hottest clubs of late in the second half. But there are also two other teams that can lay claim to outstanding play over the past several weeks as well.
The Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals both merit consideration for the hottest team in the majors. Great pitching has led Tampa Bay into a fight with the Boston Red Sox at the top of the AL East, while the Royals have vaulted themselves into the playoff discussion with their fine play of late as well.
But which team actually has the best chance of sustaining its torrid play throughout the second half?
Let's take a look.
5. Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals were chugging along at a sub-.500 clip for the entire first half. The additions of James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis over the winter unfortunately didn't do much to raise the hopes of fans who haven't seen a postseason since 1985.
It wasn't their fault, however. Much of the Royals' mediocrity in the first three months of the season can be blamed on a punchless offense that was last in home runs, second-to-last in slugging and third-to-last in OPS in the American League.
However, the second half has been a different story altogether.
The Royals are now 15-4 following the All-Star break to pull within five games of a wild-card spot. While the offense has only marginally improved, the pitching staff has posted a stellar 2.38 ERA, and starters have excelled in providing quality starts to take pressure off a bullpen that logged a lot of innings in the first half.
Mike Moustakas has rebounded to hit .306 in the second half after hitting just .215 before the All-Star break, and Eric Hosmer has responded by hitting .342 in the second half as well.
But the Royals simply don't have the offensive might to continue playing at their current pace. Good pitching is certainly a great sign, but at some point, the team will lean on its offense for support, and the Royals just can't deliver the goods as currently constituted.
4. Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays have also been outstanding in the second half. It actually started before the All-Star break—the Rays are 23-7 since July 1.
However, recent injuries are going to slow them down eventually.
Matt Moore, arguably a contender for the AL Cy Young Award, was placed on the disabled list at the end of July with left elbow soreness. The injury was termed minor at the time, but any elbow injury to a star pitcher has to elicit a certain level of concern.
On Tuesday, outfielder Desmond Jennings was placed on the disabled list by a fractured finger suffered last Saturday. Jennings was hitting .258 with 11 home runs and a team-leading 17 stolen bases.
And on Wednesday, starter Chris Archer, who was named the American League Pitcher of the Month for his terrific work last month, exited the game in the second with what was being termed as "forearm tightness," per The Associated Press (via MLB.com). He'll likely be further evaluated on Thursday.
The Rays can overcome a lot of things, but injuries to two key starting pitchers along with a fast improving Jennings will, without a doubt, take some wind out of their sails.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers were 30-42 on the morning of June 22, and manager Don Mattingly was likely just days from being fired, per Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles.
But considering the stunning turnaround in the team's fortunes over the past several weeks, his job is likely safe for a little while longer.
The Dodgers are 33-8 since June 22, including a franchise-record 15-game winning streak that was snapped on Tuesday in St. Louis.
Now with what could be a six-game lead at the end of play on Wednesday, the Dodgers will enter the final seven weeks of the regular season with a chance to win the NL West in convincing fashion.
But based on strength of schedule, it won't be easy.
Starting on Aug. 30, with the exception of a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds, the Dodgers face nothing but NL West rivals for the final month of the regular season. If they're going to win the West, they'll have to conquer their rivals in order to do so.
Not as easy as it looks.
2. Detroit Tigers
The way the Detroit Tigers have been playing lately, they're threatening to run away and hide in the American League Central.
After a 6-5 win in extra innings over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday, the Tigers are now six games up on the Tribe and 8.5 games ahead of the streaking Kansas City Royals.
The signs are certainly there for the Tigers to continue their winning ways. A sub-2.00 ERA since the All-Star break, timely hitting from the offense and a bullpen that's settled down considerably since Joaquin Benoit took over closing duties give the Tigers an outstanding chance to continue their winning ways.
But there is one other team that might just be a bit more equipped to continue its hot play of late.
1. Atlanta Braves
After sweeping the Washington Nationals on Wednesday, the Atlanta Braves are riding high with a 13-game winning streak.
They've also opened up a 15.5-game lead over the Nationals in the NL East.
According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the Braves' lead in the division is more than the combined total of every other division leader.
There are several reasons why the Braves are well-positioned to continue their torrid pace.
First, the Upton brothers are heating up. Brother Justin has blasted five home runs in the past seven games, and B.J. is showing signs of life, hitting .476 since returning from the disabled list. Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman are providing plenty of support as well.
In addition, the Braves have only two series in which they face a team with a winning record. Considering they have 15 series left to play, that qualifies as a soft schedule.
All the signs are there for the Braves to finish strong. Their schedule, their outstanding combination of hitting and pitching and avoiding any further injuries should help in locking down their first NL East title since 2005.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
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