We've arrived at the All-Star break of the 2018 MLB season, which means we're now just two short weeks away from the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
For teams on the fringe of contention, the next 15 or so games could mean the difference between buying and selling this summer. But first, the baseball world will turn its attention to the Midsummer Classic at Nationals Park.
At the All-Star break last year, the Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays were both staked to a postseason position, while the Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins were on the outside looking in. The point being, there's still a lot that can change between now and the end of the season.
For now, these rankings remain a fluid process. Teams rise and fall based on where they were ranked the previous week. If a team keeps winning, it will keep climbing—it's as simple as that.
Here's an updated look at where all 30 teams stand heading into this week's action.
Teams That Impressed
No team was a bigger surprise during the first half of the season than the Oakland Athletics.
A 17-7 finish to a 75-87 season last year has proved to be a sign of things to come, as the young club enters the All-Star break 13 games over .500 and squarely in the postseason hunt.
Second baseman Jed Lowrie (.849 OPS, 25 2B, 16 HR, 62 RBI) and closer Blake Treinen (24/27 SV, 0.94 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 11.4 K/9) will represent them in the All-Star Game.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have also authored an impressive turnaround to close out the first half in the No. 6 spot in these rankings.
The reigning NL pennant winners stumbled out of the gates to a 16-26 record, but they've posted an NL-best 37-17 record since, despite a plethora of injuries to key players.
Ross Stripling (8-2, 2.08 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 108 K, 95.1 IP), Max Muncy (1.013 OPS, 22 HR, 41 RBI) and Matt Kemp (.874 OPS, 15 HR, 60 RBI) have all been unexpected standouts to help counter the injury bug.
As far as last week's action, the Colorado Rockies (5-1) and Pittsburgh Pirates (7-1) both made significant moves up the rankings as they look to stay in the NL wild-card hunt.
The Rockies are now 13-3 in their last 16 games, while the Pirates have won six in a row—including a five-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers.
In an odd final week of the first half, the Cincinnati Reds (4-2), Minnesota Twins (5-2) and Miami Marlins (4-2) each secured a pair of series wins to climb to the top of the heap among the league's bottom third.
No one from that group will be contending for a playoff spot, but all three have shown the ability to make life difficult on playoff-bound teams.
Teams That Disappointed
The Washington Nationals are an easy choice for the most disappointing team of the first half.
They enter the All-Star break with a .500 record, which puts them 5.5 games back in the NL East and five games out for the second wild-card spot.
There's still time to bridge that gap, but significantly more was expected from a team that won 97 games a year ago and was clearly in win-now mode with Bryce Harper and several other key players entering contract years.
On the American League side of things, the Minnesota Twins (44-50), Toronto Blue Jays (43-52) and Texas Rangers (41-56) all entered the season looking like fringe contenders, but they'll instead be sellers at the deadline. Texas and Minnesota are at least retooling, if not heading for a rebuild.
The Seattle Mariners (1-5) and Milwaukee Brewers (1-7) both scuffled last week to lose several spots in the rankings heading into the break, but both are still top-10 teams and threats to secure a wild-card spot.
It will be interesting to see how aggressive both clubs are ahead of the trade deadline.
The Rangers (1-5), San Diego Padres (1-6) and Detroit Tigers (1-5) joined them in winning just one game last week, and all three teams have some intriguing trade chips.
Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Shin-Soo Choo, Jake Diekman and Keone Kela (TEX); Brad Hand, Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen (SD); Michael Fulmer, Nick Castellanos, Leonys Martin and Shane Greene (DET) are names that could surface on the rumor mill in the days and weeks to come.
MVPs of the Week
Hitter: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
Stats: 11-for-24, 1 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 11 RBI, 8 R
Jose Ramirez is not just the MVP of the week.
He might be the AL MVP over the first half of the season.
Fresh off a third-place finish in last year's voting, the 25-year-old sports a .302/.401/.628 line and is tied with J.D. Martinez for the MLB lead with 29 home runs.
Five of those long balls came last week, and he enters the break swinging as hot a bat as anyone in baseball with a 1.187 OPS in the month of July.
The Cleveland Indians' franchise record for home runs belongs to Jim Thome, who slugged 52 during the 2002 season, while Albert Belle also reached the 50-homer mark back in 1995.
Ramirez is well on his way to joining that group as he continues his rapid ascent to superstardom.
Pitcher: Danny Duffy, Kansas City Royals
Stats: 2 GS, 1-0, 13.0 IP, 10 H, 0 ER, 5 BB, 17 K
Danny Duffy entered last week with a 5.19 ERA after getting shelled for eight hits and six earned runs against the Indians on July 3.
With 13 scoreless innings over two starts last week, that mark now stands at a respectable 4.59.
That will make the 29-year-old an interesting trade candidate for the rebuilding Kansas City Royals.
Duffy signed a five-year, $65 million extension prior to the 2017 season after going 12-3 with a 3.51 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 179.2 innings during a breakout 2016 campaign.
He's capable of providing frontline production when everything is clicking, and increased usage of his curveball had him once again looking like a top-tier starter.
"The curveball has been a godsend," Duffy told reporters. "What I was doing wasn't working. So I tried to figure something new out. This isn't so new as it is just trying to rekindle what I had when I first came up."
His home (7 GS, 0-4, 6.75 ERA) and road (13 GS, 5-4, 3.54 ERA) splits this year also lend some credence to the idea that a change of scenery could prove beneficial.
Video Highlights of the Week
Longest Home Run: Ian Desmond, Colorado Rockies (472 feet)
Ian Desmond kicked off a five-year, $70 million deal with a disastrous first season in Colorado. Injuries limited him to 95 games, and he posted a 72 OPS+ and minus-1.1 WAR.
While the 32-year-old is providing below-average overall offensive production with a .235/.308/.455 line, he has slugged 18 home runs while ranking third on the team with 56 RBI.
His latest home run was this 472-foot bomb off Shelby Miller.
That was part of an 11-for-23 week that provides some hope he could be in for bigger and better things after the All-Star break.
Best Defensive Play: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
Speed on the bases and standout defense in center field.
That continues to be the driving force behind Billy Hamilton keeping an everyday spot in the Cincinnati Reds lineup, as he boasts a 1.3 WAR, despite a 73 OPS+.
While the 27-year-old has yet to win a Gold Glove Award, he's racked up 52 DRS since the start of the 2014 season when he first became an everyday player.
That trails only Kevin Kiermaier (101), Jason Heyward (91), Mookie Betts (83), Ender Inciarte (76), Lorenzo Cain (71), Jarrod Dyson (67), Kevin Pillar (62), Alex Gordon (61), Juan Lagares (57), Jake Marisnick (55) and Starling Marte (52) among all outfielders during that span.
His lack of on-base skills might keep him from ever becoming an All-Star-caliber player, but his elite speed and athleticism make him one of the most exciting players to watch in today's game.
Both of those attributes were on full display with this robbery of Matt Carpenter, and it's not the first time he's brought one back against the St. Louis slugger.
"Any time I hit a ball in his direction, I don't feel good about it," Carpenter told reporters. "This is the third time in my career—there were two 'for sure' homers and one that I thought was going to be a homer. The ball I hit in the gap in the first inning [Friday] is a double 90 percent of the time."
Must-See Upcoming Matchup
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs (Thursday-Sunday)
The St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs will be the only ticket in town Thursday, as the two NL Central rivals will play the lone game on the schedule immediately following the All-Star break.
That kicks off a five-game series at Wrigley Field that includes a Saturday doubleheader, thanks to a postponed game earlier in the season.
The Cardinals currently lead the season series, 5-3, despite the Cubs holding a 41-38 advantage in runs scored.
For the Cardinals, it's a chance to start the second half on a high note as they settle into the post-Mike Matheny era.
For the Cubs, it will be an opportunity to build on a 2.5-game lead in the NL Central standings and solidify their standing as the top team in the National League.
Both teams will have a chance to reset their starting rotations, so there should be some well-balanced matchups on the mound.
Nothing beats summer baseball at Wrigley Field, and this matchup is the perfect way to get the second half started.