The defending American League champion Kansas City Royals were expected to compete throughout the season, but they have done much more than that in the first half. They currently sit 18 games over .500 and hold a four and a half game lead over the second-place Twins. At one point they dominated the All-Star balloting, almost getting every starting position filled up with Royal blue. This team has proved that last season's playoff run was not a fluke, but will be challenged with Alex Gordon going down with a leg injury.
The Minnesota Twins have been the surprise team in the division, bringing Torii Hunter back to where his career began. Although the veteran has had a solid season, it has been the young guns contributing to bring the Paul Molitor-led team near the top of the division. After taking three of four from the Detroit Tigers, they head into the break nine games over .500 and in second place. Byron Buxton has been called up, but is currently on the disabled list, and recently called up Miguel Sano has gotten off to a quick start.
The Tigers have been a surprise, but for all the wrong reasons. Despite positive seasons from J.D. Martinez and Yoenis Cespedes, and a strong return from Victor Martinez, the defending division champs enter the break at .500 and without star Miguel Cabrera, who is out until August with a strained left calf.
After losing Max Scherzer in free agency, Detroit is in need of starting pitching. Outside of David Price, the rotation has seen no consistency, including from Justin Verlander, who missed the first two months of the season. They are currently nine games out of first place for the first time since the end of the 2010 season.
The Indians and White Sox have both underachieved after making positive off-season moves.
The American League East division has been close from top to bottom, as all five teams are separated by six and a half games heading into the break. The New York Yankees have gotten production from returning Alex Rodriguez, including his 3,000th career hit, which was a home run. The Yankees' All-Star snub is hitting .278 with 17 home runs and 51 driven in. This has helped New York remain in first place in their first season without Derek Jeter.
The Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, and Baltimore Orioles are stuck in the middle of the race. Tampa Bay is one game over .500, Baltimore is at .500, and Toronto enters the break one game under. All three teams have a good amount of assets, and everyone is waiting for one of them pull away in the
race. The Rays have been the surprise after losing Joe Maddon to the Chicago Cubs. They have no All-Stars in their starting nine, but their rotation has kept them breathing. Toronto and Baltimore both have offensive power, but it's their rotation that has held them back.
The Boston Red Sox have struggled, primarily due to their rotation, but also because of their star players underachieving. David Ortiz is hitting just .231, while Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia have struggled to remain healthy. Boston did deal Cespedes to the Tigers for Rick Porcello, who at one point had the highest ERA in Major League Baseball. Young stars Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts have kept them within striking distance in the East.
The American League West division has the most shocking team in baseball in the Houston Astros, who held first place for much of the first half. They lead all of baseball in home runs and have an ace in Dallas Keuchel who has had a stellar first half, en route to an All-Star Game start. Young star George Springer went down with an injury late in the first half, but is expected to return at full strength for the stretch run.
The Los Angeles Angels have gotten red hot to take over first place by a half game heading into the All-Star break. Mike Trout has continued to rake against opposing pitchers, while Albert Pujols has found his groove for the first time in Anaheim. He leads the AL with 26 home runs, which is just one behind major-league leader Giancarlo Stanton.
The Texas Rangers were also a surprise team for much of the first half, including Prince Fielder returning from injuries to be near the top in batting average. Adrian Beltre hit his 400th career home run before going down with injury. The Rangers also brought Josh Hamilton back to Arlington, which was a great experiment before he went down with injury. Joey Gallo came up with Hamilton going down and gave Texas a spark in their lineup, but he has been sent back down to Triple-A.
Texas struggled to end the first half and they are now four games under .500 and six games out of first place.
The National League Central division looked as if it would be a blowout due to the St. Louis Cardinals, who are the best team in baseball. For much of the first few months the Cardinals held at least a six game lead on the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs, but the Pirates have cut into that deficit. Adding in the exciting series win over the redbirds this past weekend, Pittsburgh is just two and a half games out of first place.
The Pirates have gotten solid starting pitching from Gerrit Cole and the returning A.J. Burnett. Their young, talented outfield has sparked their offense, and got clutch hits late in games during the last week heading into the All-Star break. With the Cards losing ace Adam Wainwright for the season, the Pirates look to challenge St. Louis all the way to October.
The Cubs are also well-alive in the playoff race, but may have to turn to one of the wild card spots. They are currently eight games out of first place, which seems reachable, but the Pirates and Cards do not seem to be slowing down any time soon. After their was controversy surrounding Kris Bryant not making the team out of Spring Training, he has come up and showed why that controversy existed. He performed his way into the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game by smacking 12 home runs and knocking in 51.
The Washington Nationals were expected to run away with the division, but the surprising New York Mets remain just two games back. Max Scherzer has been worth every bit of the $210 million that Washington gave him in the off-season, including consecutive starts with a perfect game into the seventh. The latter part of those starts saw him lose perfection with two outs in the ninth, but complete the no-hitter at home.
The other bright spot for the Nats is Bryce Harper, who is tied for second in baseball with 26 home runs. He is also hitting .339 with 61 RBI in 81 games played. Despite the issue of his hustle every now and then, Harper is making a strong case to win the NL MVP.
The Mets have gotten strong pitching from the young assets of their rotations, including Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Add in the veteran presence of Bartolo Colon and the Mets are able to overcome the minor struggles of Matt Harvey.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are sitting in first place as expected, but the inconsistency of the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants have kept the Arizona Diamondbacks alive in the NL West race. Clayton Kershaw has not had a Kershaw-type season but did wiggle his way into the midsummer classic. Zack Greinke has taken over the role of the ace, leading the National League in ERA and starting the All-Star Game in Cincinnati.
Joc Pederson has been a young spark for the lineup, hitting 20 big flies at an average of 431 feet.
The Giants remain in second place, but struggled around the same time the Dodgers went through a rough streak. They have surprisingly struggled at home and dealt with injuries to their rotation and Hunter Pence. They do have the highlight of Chris Heston's no-hitter against the New York Mets on June 9th.
Arizona is three games under .500 and seven and a half games out of first place, but it could be much worse if Los Angeles and San Francisco played up to their potential. Meanwhile, San Diego and Colorado both have multiple All-Stars, but just have not gotten it done on in the win column.
This season has seen the arrival of multiple young stars who have kept surprising teams near the top of the playoff race. Many of these rookies have prominent roles on playoff-caliber teams and those roles are expected to increase post All-Star break. This inception promises for an exciting All-Star Game at Great American Ballpark and creates the question of the second half: Which young stars can get it done down the stretch?