Posted 06/26/2012 at 01:09 PM
Last year we saw Tampa Bay and St. Louis both overcome huge deficits in the standings to make the playoffs, with the Cardinals eventually winning the World Series. At this point in the year there are some teams buried in the standings that could realize similar paths with a great second half of the season. Here are the best candidates:
Boston Red Sox: The dysfunctional Red Sox are an easy choice for this list as they have scored more runs than every team in baseball except for the Rangers. While Bostonís pitching has not been great they still own the ALís third best run differential on the season. Dealing away Kevin Youkilis was the right move to eliminate the distraction and entrench promising Will Middlebrooks as the regular third baseman. Bostonís offense could get even better as Scott Podsednik and Ryan Sweeney should be back in the short term and Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford could also return in the not so distant future. Boston has battled on the mound but Daisuke Matsuzaka recently returned from the DL and could eat some innings while Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett should return soon. Andrew Bailey could also boost the bullpen in the coming months. Boston will have a lot of division games ahead and it remains to be seen if the division will remain this tight or if teams like Baltimore and Toronto start to fade as they have in past recent seasons.
Kansas City Royals: By most measures it has been a very disappointing season for the Royals given that they opened the year with elevated expectations. The Royals are by no means out of the race however as they are just five games behind the White Sox. It wonít take a great record to win the AL Central and if Kansas City can even up its awful home record of 12-23 in the coming months and continue to play just slightly above .500 on the road they will have a shot. Kansas City has only been outscored by 34 runs on the season and the Royals have most of their AL East games out of the way, having already played 20, by far the most at this point of the any of the Central teams. There are plenty of issues with this team as the starting rotation has been led by Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar with rather marginal numbers. Jonathan Sanchez recently returned to action and Felipe Paulino should be back soon so there could be slight improvement in the starting pitching in the second half. The Royals are batting .262 as a team, the eighth best mark in baseball despite being 24th in runs scored so timelier hitting could make a big difference for a team that is not as far away as it seems.
Philadelphia Phillies: All of the NL East teams are certainly still in the mix. Washington has led the way all season but they are counting on a young pitching staff to deliver three more months of results and it will be tough to match the great pitching numbers the Nationals have received in the first half. The Mets also are a team that appears likely to fade by most conventional measures and one of the other teams should be in position to take advantage. The Braves and Marlins have the talent to do it but the Phillies have the experience to make it happen. Philadelphiaís pitching staff has not been what was expected this season but the starters still have good numbers as Cole Hamels is having a great season while Vance Worley and Joe Blanton have been more than capable. Cliff Lee still doesnít have a win but his fortune should change as he is still an elite starter and Roy Halladay should be due to return in July. Chase Utley is expected back in action soon and Ryan Howard could follow, even if neither can replicate their past All Star numbers the presence will make a big impact in the lineup. Offense has not been a problem as the Phillies have the fifth highest team batting average in baseball and the pitching staff leads baseball in strikeouts. This is a better team than the record indicates and the schedule ahead looks promising.
Arizona Diamondbacks: While The Dodgers and Giants appear to be in for a tight race ahead Arizona could jump ahead of both of those teams in the coming weeks in the NL West. Arizona has played great ball in June at 14-7 with the most runs per game in baseball and the pitching staff that has disappointed this season could get better. Daniel Hudson appears to be rounding into form after an early DL stint and Joe Saunders will be expected back from the DL in the next few weeks. Ian Kennedy has had a tough season but he could turn things around in the second half and the Diamondbacks could also get better results from Trevor Cahill. Whether or not Wade Miley can remain on his great season pace remains to be seen but this could be an above average staff by the end of the season. Arizona should be the best offensive team in the division and currently is 6th in MLB in OPS and 9th in runs scored. Arizona has only played twelve games this season against a pretty weak NL Central so the second half will feature a lot of games against those teams and the Diamondbacks also have a lot of tough NL East games already done with, something the Dodgers and Giants will be contending with. Arizona is a team to look out for in the NL West even though the attention will be on the more popular historical rivals in the coming weeks.