When Major League Baseball action resumes Friday, here are five storylines we’ll be following closely:
Who will win the AL East?
Six-and-a-half games separate all of the teams in the American League East, the fewest at the All-Star break during the wild-card era (when baseball split into six divisions). The next-closest the teams have been is 9½ games, which has occurred three times, including last year.
From 1994 to 2004, the 11 teams that won the AL East had at least a share of the division lead at the All-Star break. In the 10 most recent seasons, though, four teams that led at the break held on to the lead. (The leader at the All-Star break has won the division the past three seasons, however.)
Is the Triple Crown within reach?
No player has won the National League Triple Crown since Joe Medwick in 1937, but Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt have a legitimate shot at winning it this season, especially considering home run machine Giancarlo Stanton will be out at least a few more weeks with a wrist injury.
It’s worth noting that every NL player who has won the Triple Crown -- Chuck Klein (1933) and Rogers Hornsby (1922 and 1925) in addition to Medwick -- is in the Hall of Fame.
Can surprise teams hold on?
Although a few experts picked the Cubs and/or Mets as dark-horse candidates to compete for a wild-card spot, few were known to have given the Astros and Twins a chance.
In February, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook gave the Cubs and Mets the third-best odds to win their respective divisions, and the Astros (20-1) and Twins (25-1) were the biggest long shots to win theirs.
As is typically the case with surprise teams, analysts will look to the luck factor to determine whether they believe a team can continue its success.
For example, the Mets are 47-42 but have allowed two runs more than they’ve scored. Based on their run differential, they should be around a .500 team -- meaning they’ve been a little lucky.
The Toronto Blue Jays have the best run differential in the American League (plus-82) but are a game under .500; this can be largely attributed to their 10-18 record in one-run games, second-worst in baseball. A team’s win-loss record in one-run games is generally regarded as attributable more to randomness than repeatable skill.
Based on run differential and success (or lack thereof) in one-run games, the Astros (plus-50 run differential) and Twins (plus-23) seem to be the likelier teams to continue their success, whereas the Mets (minus-2) and Cubs (plus-16) seem more likely to fall out of the race.
The American League has never been more wide-open
The Oakland Athletics (41-50), who have the worst record in the American League, are eight games behind the second wild-card spot (the Astros, who are 49-42). The Elias Sports Bureau says this is the second season in major league history when every team in either league has been within eight games of a playoff spot at the All-Star break.
In 1958, the Dodgers (in their first season in Los Angeles) were in last place in the National League at the All-Star break, eight games behind the Milwaukee Braves, who held on to the National League lead and lost the World Series in seven games to the New York Yankees.
Milestones within reach
With a strong second half, a few notable players could make major league history. David Ortiz (481) is closing in on 500 home runs, and Mark Teixeira (385), Carlos Beltran (380) and Aramis Ramirez (379) are nearing 400 home runs.
Albert Pujols is on pace to hit 48 home runs this season, a pace that would give him 568 -- one behind Rafael Palmeiro, who is 12th on the all-time list.
If Chris Sale stays healthy and makes 15 more starts this season, he would need to strike out approximately 9.5 batters per start to become the first pitcher to record 300 strikeouts in one season since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling did it in 2002. At Sale’s current pace (if he starts 15 more games), the White Sox left-hander would finish the year with 296 strikeouts.