The Washington Nationals were supposed to be the best team in baseball, a team that could win 100 games and maybe blow out the rest of the National League. But, you know, that would have been kind of boring, just doing what everyone expected. The fact that the Nationals are now 39-39 after losing 3-2 to the Diamondbacks in 11 innings on Thursday night makes them a more fascinating team to watch the rest of the way. Can they go on a run? Will Bryce Harper have a monster second half once he returns? How good is Anthony Rendon? And so on.
Here is my ranking of all 30 teams. Call it the Fascination Factor. These are the teams that will be the most interesting to watch in the second half.
They have to be the story of the season so far, right? A once-proud franchise suffers through a couple of lean years. OK, it was a couple lean decades. They tease fans the past two seasons with exciting first-half runs only to collapse quicker than you can say “John Van Benschoten.” But here they are, tied for the best record in baseball at 48-30, riding a surprisingly strong rotation and deep bullpen. They don’t score many runs but Andrew McCutchen is one of the game’s best all-around players and Starling Marte is one of the game’s most exciting. They called up a rookie starter who just threw a pitch 101 mph.
Watching Manny Machado line doubles all over the ballpark and Chris Davis mashing monstrous home runs makes me happy. And then there’s Adam Jones, who is having one of the more ridiculous seasons I can remember. He has taken “plate discipline” to a whole new level with 65 strikeouts and only eight walks, yet is hitting .297 with 15 home runs. Plus, you know the ninth inning is going be interesting: After losing just one game last season in which they led going into the ninth inning, the Orioles have already lost six this year.
3. Washington Nationals
I still feel like they have a 20-5 run in them and will end up fighting the Braves for the NL East title.
If you don’t like Adam Wainwright's curveball then go back to watching “Wheel of Fortune.”
They get a lot more interesting the closer they fall to the Indians. The fascinating aspect of this team isn’t just Miguel Cabrera's bionic hitting or Max Scherzer's quest to remain unbeaten, but how the Tigers will fare if pushed again in September. On paper, they should blow away the division; but like last year, that might not happen.
They’re getting more and more alluring with every Yasiel Puig hit, home run and diving catch. You know, it could happen. And would you want to play a team that could start Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke three times in a five-game series?
7. Oakland A's
How do they do it? Their regular catcher is hitting under .200. Josh Reddick, their best player last year via Baseball-Reference WAR, is hitting .218 with three home runs. Yoenis Cespedes is hitting .225 with an OBP under .300. Chris Young is hitting .188. Brett Anderson has made just five starts. Jarrod Parker got off to a slow start. Their best pitcher is 82-year-old Bartolo Colon. Amazing.
Take away the pinstripes and imagine a team giving regular playing time to Jayson Nix, Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, past-their-primes Ichiro Suzuki and Travis Hafner, and other no-names like Zoilo Almonte and Alberto Gonzalez. Now imagine that team competing for a playoff berth. Your head just exploded.
Is this Dusty Baker’s last shot for a ring? He signed a two-year extension but if the Reds miss the playoffs or make it and get eliminated in the first round again, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Cincinnati make a move. A quick comment on Joey Votto: Walks are not boring. So there.
10. Atlanta Braves
So many questions: Will B.J. Upton ever hit? Will Justin Upton hit again? Can Evan Gattis do this over the second half? Can the bullpen hold up? Is Jason Heyward a superstar or not? Is Dan Uggla becoming the player most despised by the hometown fans (even though he isn’t as awful as Braves fans think he is)? But here’s the biggest question: Will the Braves finish in first place for the first time since 2005 or win their first playoff series since 2001? OK, maybe that’s two questions.
You know, 1948 was a very long time ago.
12. Boston Red Sox
I see the Red Sox as the best team in the AL East, not that they'll cruise to a division title. But things don't really get interesting in Boston until anxiety sets in for Red Sox Nation, so right now I can't rate them higher.
13. Tampa Bay Rays
The little engine that could. If David Price comes back showing his Cy Young form of 2012, Jeremy Hellickson gets turned around, Matt Moore starts throwing more strikes and Wil Myers slugs like a mad man, the Rays could have a fun second half.
They haven’t made the playoffs since 1993. The only teams with a longer drought: the Royals (1985) and Pirates (1992). They’re back to .500 after that awful start but they’re still in last place. Can they recover and make the playoffs? Mark DeRosa hit cleanup Thursday night, which maybe answers that question.
They got grit. And Paul Goldschmidt.
16. Texas Rangers
Don’t get me wrong, they’re a good team and it should be a good race down to the wire between them and the A’s. For the Rangers, however, the storyline doesn’t begin until October: Can they get back to another World Series and finally win the first one in franchise history?
Wait ... I thought the Giants just knew how to win.
Mike Trout, Mike Trout, Mike Trout. There. I feel better.
19. Colorado Rockies
They were fun for a while and then Troy Tulowitzki got injured and they've gone 4-9 since. Despite having three guys slugging .600 (Tulo, Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer) they're under .500. Which isn't so shocking when you realize they gave 23 starts to Jeff Francis and Jon Garland. By the way, reliever Rex Brothers has allowed one run in 33.1 innings.
20. New York Mets
22. San Diego Padres
Padres fans say the national media never gives them any respect. They’re probably right.
I guess I’m supposed to believe, but they’ve hit 43 home runs in 76 games. That might have worked back in the days of Amos Otis and Tom Poquette, but that doesn’t work in 2013.
24. Minnesota Twins
This team is going to be fun to watch ... in a couple years when Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton are anchoring the lineup.
The Brewers have three of the top 19 position players in the National League via Baseball-Reference WAR. And none of them are Ryan Braun. So that part of the team is exciting to watch. The part that includes Yuniesky Betancourt, not so much.
26. Seattle Mariners
There’s always King Felix and at least kids Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino are up and Raul Ibanez is going for the record for most home runs ever by a 41-year-old ... ahh, let's not fool ourselves. This team is awful. It’s slow, unathletic, is missing three-fifths of a rotation, the bullpen has flopped, and manager Eric Wedge keeps saying things like “the Pirates got two-out hits and we didn’t.” Eric, your team doesn’t get hits with no outs or one out, either.
27. Chicago Cubs
Dear Starlin Castro: It’s not too late, but we’re all starting to worry just a bit. I mean, Cubs fans don’t want to compare you to Neifi Perez just yet, but they’re getting there. And that $16 million option in 2020? Yeah, that’s not looking so good right now.
28. Houston Astros
While they might lose 100 games for the third straight season, they’re not as awful as everyone predicted. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not. Anyway, if some of their prospects like George Springer and Jonathan Singleton got called up, at least Astros fans could start seeing the future. By the way, Chris Carter is on pace for 221 strikeouts, so he could challenge Mark Reynolds’ single-season record of 223. Joe DiMaggio struck out 220 times in his first eight seasons.
29. Miami Marlins
Confession: The only time I check out the Marlins is when Jose Fernandez is pitching. Even then, I flip channels between half innings. And I feel a little guilty about this because Giancarlo Stanton deserves better.