**(Division winner), *(Wild-card berth)
Predicted Year-End Finish (Current Record)
1. Boston Red Sox (71-49)
One of four teams in baseball with a triple-digit run differential, Boston continues to win despite the second-half struggles of Dustin Pedroia, who has hit .185 with a .555 OPS since the All-Star break.
Stephen Drew has been on fire since returning from the disabled list on July 20, hitting .324 with a .961 OPS in 21 games, while David Ortiz continues to put up MVP-caliber numbers, though he has no chance of winning the award.
If Will Middlebrooks has rediscovered his swing while banished to the minor leagues (it looks like he may have), his recent promotion might be the move that puts Boston over the top in the division.
The team's starting rotation could really use a healthy Clay Buchholz, who hasn't pitched since June 8 due to a sore shoulder. While he remains optimistic about returning to action, telling The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham "I'm on my way," there is no timetable for his return.
2. Tampa Bay Rays (66-50)
After going 21-5 in July, the best single-month record of any team in baseball this season, Tampa Bay is sliding fast, losing five straight games and seven of its last 10.
Much of the blame can be placed on the shoulders of Evan Longoria and the injured Desmond Jennings, who are hitting a combined .204 with 11 extra-base hits (four home runs) and 12 RBI since the Midsummer Classic.
The rest of that blame can be placed on the bullpen, which has only two pitchers—Joel Peralta (2.84) and Alex Torres (3.97)—with second-half ERAs below 4.00.
Despite those ugly numbers, if we've learned anything, it's that you can never count a Joe Maddon-led team out of anything. Tampa Bay will do just enough down the stretch to clinch one of the two AL Wild Card berths.
3. Baltimore Orioles (65-53)
Baltimore's playoff fate likely lies in a stretch of 15 consecutive games against contenders that begins Aug. 19 against Tampa Bay. Oakland follows the Rays to Camden Yards before the Orioles hit the road for three-game sets in Boston, New York and Cleveland.
While Chris Davis and Adam Jones continue to rake at the plate, Manny Machado has struggled badly since making the first All-Star Game appearance of his young career, hitting only .228 with a .627 OPS.
The team's efforts to bolster its starting rotation have delivered mixed results, with Bud Norris (2-0, 2.65 ERA, 1.24 WHIP) looking great and Scott Feldman (2-3, 5.18 ERA, 1.30 WHIP) having great difficulty in getting batters out, though the latter is coming off of his best outing in an Orioles uniform.
4. New York Yankees (60-57)
The magic that Joe Girardi was able to weave over the season's first half has worn off, and a harsh reality has set in for the Yankees: This year's team just isn't all that good.
Injuries are a part of the game, and while most teams would be ill-equipped to overcome the amount of talent that the Yankees lineup has lost to injury, that fact does nothing to help the team this season.
Despite the returns of Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez from injury, the Yankees just don't have the firepower needed to catch up to the pack—or to overcome their issues in the starting rotation.
After Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova, the Yankees don't have a starting pitcher that they can count on to give their beleaguered offense a fighting chance. Just check out the second-half stats:
|Rest of Rotation
With three teams to jump over in the AL East and four teams to get past in the race for a wild-card spot, the Yankees need a miraculous finish to the season to have any chance of making the playoffs.
At a minimum, the team would likely need to win 30 of its next 41 games to give itself a reasonable shot—and make its season-ending series against the Astros mean something other than what it represents: the end of an era, with Mariano Rivera's retirement and Andy Pettitte likely to follow his lead.
I just don't see it happening.
5. Toronto Blue Jays (54-64)
While the team's offense has been playing very well in the second half of the season, ranking fourth in runs scored (115) and third in team OPS (.715), it's simply not enough to overcome their terrible start to the season and get out of the deep hole in which they currently reside.
The culprit is the pitching staff, which has posted an MLB-worst 5.41 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP that trails only Philadelphia in ineffectiveness since the All-Star break.
Two of the team's biggest scapegoats in the season's first half, Mark Buehrle (5 GS, 2.88 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) and R.A. Dickey (5 GS, 3.68 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) have been substantially better as of late, but their efforts aren't enough to salvage what has been a lost, disappointing season for the Blue Jays.