The first half of the baseball season saw plenty of surprise teams making headlines, while a handful of playoff clubs from last October are slowly falling out of contention. We'll take a look at the four squads that are set to exceed their projected win totals posted in March. The first team on the list is by far is the biggest shocker not only from a victories standpoint, but from an excitement perspective.
Last season, Pittsburgh finished the first half at 47-43, while even getting to six games above .500 on July 25, 2011. The Bucs didn't win three consecutive contests after that night, as Clint Hurdle's team concluded the season at 72-90. The Pirates hope to avoid another second half collapse after 47 games through the first 84.
Pittsburgh's number to begin the season sat at 73 ½, but tremendous pitching from James McDonald (9-3) and A.J. Burnett (10-2) has anchored the Bucs' ship to the top of the NL Central at the All-Star break. Andrew McCutchen is putting up MVP-type numbers (.362 BA, 18 HR, 60 RBI), but the key to Pittsburgh's success is taking care of business at PNC Park (29-14).
The AL Central seemed like Detroit's to lose after the Tigers ran away with the division title last season. Following Ozzie Guillen's exit to Miami, the Sox hired former third baseman Robin Ventura for his first managerial position at any level. Ventura is pushing the right buttons with the Sox sliding into the break in first place of the AL Central.
The key to the pitching staff is southpaw Chris Sale, who posted a 10-2 record in his first season inside the Chicago rotation. The Sox received an offensive jolt from Adam Dunn (25 HR), while Kevin Youkilis is making a strong impact since getting picked up from Boston. There weren't high expectations for Chicago coming out of Spring Training, as the win total came out at 74 ½. The Sox are on pace to win 91 games, while looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Washington made tremendous strides last season with 80 victories, but things are coming full-circle in 2012. The duo of former top picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper has infused life into baseball inside the Nation's Capital, owning a 49-34 record at the break. The Nationals were expected to finish above .500 in Spring Training with a listed win total of 83 ½, but this club is on a torrid pace to end the campaign with 97 victories.
Davey Johnson's is taking care of business inside the division with a 16-9 record, as the Nats begin the second half with 14 consecutive games against NL East opponents (including six against the Braves). Washington is profiting as a home favorite this season by compiling a 21-11 record, including an 8-4 mark down the stretch.
The Beltway's other team started out of the gate on fire with a 27-17 ledger, but that kind of run only lasts so long in the competitive AL East. However, Baltimore's expected slide came at the end of May with a 2-9 stretch to fall backwards in the division. The Orioles are on pace to eclipse the 69 ½ win total posted in March thanks to the fast start, but the schedule will not ease up for Buck Showalter's club.
Baltimore has 40 games remaining against its division counterparts, including the final 12 contests of the season. The O's are set to finish with 87 wins, but a crucial stretch for Baltimore 'over' backers comes in early August with seven home games against the Mariners and Royals. If Baltimore can come out of that span with five victories, there may not be a need to sweat things out over the final two weeks of the season.
All 30 teams are listed in the table below with their win total to start the season and what they are projected to finish at.