It has always seemed strange to me that most baseball season review markers tend to come at the quarter-mark or the All-Star Break. The Major League Baseball season runs, essentially, for six months which can quite logically be broken up into three easily digestible two-month chunks:
April-May: Teams settle into the season, getting the first sense of who they are.
June-July: The final decision is made whether or not a team is a contender, neatly leading into the Trade Deadline.
August-September: The stretch run.
So, even though you just read all those "we're a fourth-of-the-way-through-the-season" pieces, the beginning of June seems the most reasonable spot to take a step back and see where every team is standing. What has each team learned from the first two months? What do they need looking forward? Are they going to floor it to contend this season?
It's time for your First Third MLB Review. Here's how every team looks, and whether you should buy, sell or hold their stock moving forward.
American League East
New York Yankees. So this really couldn't have started out much better for the Yanks. Aaron Judge has turned into an MVP candidate -- with the underlying skill set showing that this breakout looks sustainable -- and the lineup is getting massive boosts from aging bald guys like Brett Gardner and Matt Holliday. (Even Starlin Castro, who is only two years older than Judge, is having a terrific year.) But perhaps even more surprising has been the pitching. Aroldis Chapman is stuck on the DL, and Masahiro Tanaka has a 6.34 ERA. And the Yankees are still 10 games over .500, thanks to a breakout season from Luis Severino, a culmination year for Michael Pineda and even some steadiness from CC Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery. The Yankees could still use another starter, but there's a ton of talent still in the Minors and Gary Sanchez hasn't even gotten going yet. The Yankees were thought to be a year away from contending. But they're here right now, with plenty of weapons. Look out, folks: The next dynasty looks like it's starting a year early. BUY
Boston Red Sox. It wasn't long ago, (like, two weeks) that John Farrell looked like he was on his way out. But the Red Sox are starting to round into form. The lineup has been the disappointment, but Andrew Benitendi and Jackie Bradley, Jr. are beginning to live up to expectatins, and Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are already there. But the rotation -- along with a revived Craig Kimbrel and a deep, scary bullpen -- is the key here. With David Price back, last year's AL Cy Young Award winner, Rick Porcello, might be the fourth best starter on this team. We knew Chris Sale would be great -- though maybe not this great -- but the revelation has been Eduardo Rodriguez. Do you want to face those guys right in a row in the postseason? The Red Sox have had their brief moment in the darkness this year, and they've emerged stronger. If Price gets going and those young hitters get hot at once, this could end up being the Red Sox we all thought they would be. BUY
Baltimore Orioles. The good news for the O's is that they're three games over .500 despite not having Zach Britton all year and with Manny Machado somehow only batting .205. (How is that even possible?) The offense has some oomph even without him and should be doubly scary when he gets going. The fear is the same fear it always is with the Orioles: The starting pitching. Dylan Bundy has the usual injury worries and Wade Miley has the highest strikeout rate in the rotation, but Kevin Gausman has been a mess. That fifth spot, with Ubaldo Jimenez finally sent to the bullpen, is still a big question. I know Buck Showalter is great and the Orioles always outperform what you think, but I'm sorry … just objectively, this looks like a team with a worse offense and rotation than the two teams above them, and maybe a team or two below them. And the Red Sox and Yankees can now match them in the bullpen. The Orioles will surely prove me and everybody else wrong again, but I just don't see anything other than SELL here.
Tampa Bay Rays. Don't look now, but the Rays are two games over .500 and only a half-game out in the crowded AL Wild Card race. Baseball Reference's Simple Rating System has them as the fourth-best team in baseball, behind only the Astros, Yankees and Dodgers. The key? They've finally found some offense in Corey Dickerson, Steven Souza and Logan Morrison, all of which have an OPS-plus over 144. Even Colby Rasmus is hitting! The rotation hasn't quite been the division's best, as one hoped in the offseason, but having a bunch of guys in their 20s with ERAs under 4.00 … you could do a lot worse. The issue with the Rays, as always, is that they have little margin for error: If any of those hitters slow down, or they have another rotation injury, there's no one there to step in. But right now, this is a team just slightly above .500. That sounds sustainable to me. HOLD
Toronto Blue Jays. Hey, hey -- after that disastrous start, look who's only one game under .500 all of a sudden. It's amazing what having Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki back in the lineup will do for you. The question is how much further they can crawl back into contention, particularly in this increasingly stacked division. As nice as Marcus Stroman and Marco Estrada have been, this rotation still has collapse potential, and we've already seen the lineup slump severely once this season. Maybe the Jays have one more kick in them. But right now, .500 seems like the best case. HOLD
Minnesota Twins. Right now, the Twins are 26-23. Last season, at one point, they were 26-54. So that's different. No matter what happens the rest of 2017, this has been a happy year for the Twins. That's good, because what's likely coming is going to be much worse. Even if you think that Ervin Santana can continue his Greg Maddux impression all season -- and you should not think this -- and that Jose Berrios has finally found himself, this rotation is flimsy and the bullpen has a ton of holes. There are some fun young bats in this lineup, even if none of them seem to be Byron Buxton, and the Twins are an enjoyable team to watch. They certainly have the upside of a .500 team, maybe. But they're still a year -- maybe two -- from being taken all that seriously. Not that this hasn't been a blast so far. SELL
Cleveland Indians. Edwin Encarnacion has been a disappointment, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana have been terrible, the second-best starter on the team has been Mike Clevinger, and Corey Kluber has taken the hill six times. And yet the Indians, with essentially everything going wrong, are still tied for first. Also, have you seen what Andrew Miller is doing? He has pitched 26 1/3 innings. He has given up one earned run. The Indians are still going to win this division by 10 games. BUY
Detroit Tigers. The undignified, elderly shuffle toward the middle that is the signature Detroit Tigers gait is feeling particularly wobbly this year. Miguel Cabrera's power has vanished, half the old-man lineup is hurt, and only J.D. Martinez is hitting above his station. Meanwhile, Justin Verlander is a human being again, Jordan Zimmermann is a nightmare and somehow Francisco Rodriguez still closed games for this team. Even in a weak division, the wheels are about to come off this thing. SELL
Chicago White Sox. Avisail Garcia is finally the hitter White Sox fans were told he would be, even if it's maybe a year late. The rest of the White Sox's "success" so far has revolved around guys in their 30s who are having one last dead-cat bounce: Derek Holland, Mike Pelfrey and Melky Cabrera. It would be handy if trade chips like Todd Frazier and Jose Quintana would start showing some skills to market. Yoan Moncada is coming soon, though. HOLD.
Kansas City Royals. Who is gonna be the first to go? Who is going break the dam? Eric Hosmer? Lorenzo Cain? Mike Moustakas? Even Jason Vargas? As soon as one gets traded, the Royals are open for business, baby. They made two World Series in two straight years and won one of them: This is the ultimate price the piper must be paid. There are worse scenarios. By the way, does Jorge Soler really just have one home run? And Alex Gordon has none? SELL
Houston Astros. Well, this is working out. You knew the offense was going to be excellent -- though did you really see this from Marwin Gonzalez and George Springer? -- but having Dallas Keuchel turn into his AL Cy Young Award-winner self and Lance McCullers finally make the leap turned this team into a legitimate juggernaut. And don't think that they're done. The Astros could look for upgrades in the rotation, the bullpen and even at first base; they've got the prospects to make it happen. Also, they already have an 11-game lead, which means they can spend the next four months resting and tweaking the roster. This is your current World Series favorite. This team might just be the 2016 Cubs. BUY
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. I'm not sure I would have been up on the Angels even if Mike Trout hadn't bummed out all of baseball by messing up his thumb, but now? Yikes. Seriously, the best hitter on this team now is currently hitting .242 (and it's Cameron Maybin). Enjoy Albert Pujols' 600th homer, because that's the last time there's going to much to watch here until Trout comes back … and the Angels will probably be in last place by then. This is the easiest call on the board. SELL
Texas Rangers. Lots of whiplash for Rangers fans this year. They had likely thought the team was out of the wilderness after that winning streak but now Texas is two games under .500 again. Certainly no one saw Rougned Odor and Jonathan Lucroy forgetting how to hit, but now Adrian Beltre is back, Cole Hamels will be back in a month and the rest of this division looks like it's going to get worse before it gets better. There's going to be plenty of room to move up. BUY
Seattle Mariners. How depressing would it be if this little boomlet of Seattle baseball being competitive ended with still no playoff games? Pretty depressing! The Mariners are staring down that barrel. The rotation outside of the brilliant James Paxton has been the culprit, and it's reasonable to wonder how much help there is on the horizon. Still: This offense is too good, and the front office is too motivated, to have this needle not move at least slightly forward at some point. They've got one last kick in them, I bet. BUY
Oakland A's. The A's have been a little more feisty than you might have anticipated, though, as usual it's a bunch of guys who feel like they're having late-career upticks rather than a sustained performance to build around. Frankly, Yonder Alonso would be perfect trade bait for, say, Houston. Also, names to keep in mind include Khris Davis, Jed Lowrie and Andrew Triggs … basically, the A's continue to feel like a Deadline feeder system more than an actual team right now. That'll end up showing up in the record. SELL
National League East
Washington Nationals. They've already got a 9 1/2-game lead in the division and, frankly, no one else in the NL East looks like they're even going to make it to .500. The Nationals are in the Astros' rest-and-tweak mode. Maybe they'll sniff around for a short-term center fielder, and you know they'll make at least one move to shore up the bullpen, but right now, the Nats can put it in cruise control unless pitchers throw at Bryce Harper often enough that they finally hurt him. I guess that's what they want? BUY
New York Mets. Of all the mascots in baseball that should be flipping the bird to fans right now, Mr. Met is perhaps in the least tenable position to be doing so. The Mets have Jacob deGrom and nothing else, they have an injured bullpen, they have a flimsy lineup and they have a fan base that's about the storm the castle with pitchforks. They are a total mess, top to bottom. Their peak contention window with their core talent likely has already passed. Is it better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all? (They'll still probably finish in second place in this division.) HOLD
Atlanta Braves. The old-pitcher strategy hasn't really worked out, and the primary reason to get out to the new ballpark shattered with Freddie Freeman's wrist. Dansby Swanson is batting .185. Bartolo Colon has a 6.99 ERA. Maybe they can get a good deal for Jamie Garcia at the Trade Deadline. Otherwise, well, this is not how the Braves wanted to open the new place. SELL
Miami Marlins. It has obviously been an ugly start for the Marlins, particularly in the rotation, which is going to take a half-decade at least to recover from the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez. There is still some talent here, though, and more talent than this record reflects. That lineup is still a chore to get through, and don't look now, but Giancarlo Stanton is starting to heat up. The rotation assures a lot of high scoring games, but hey, baseball needs some more high scoring games. BUY
Philadelphia Phillies. It's not going to remain as bad as it has been over the last two weeks. But this still might be the worst team in baseball. They're not wretched. They're just below average pretty much everywhere, which adds up to a very bad team. They might get a little boost from some July callups, though, and thank heavens for that, because otherwise there is carnage in every direction. HOLD
We actually covered the National League Central yesterday in our "Why is the NL Central so terrible?" column, but if you're looking for specific designations for each team, how about:
Pittsburgh Pirates: BUY
Cincinnati Reds: SELL
St. Louis Cardinals: HOLD
Chicago Cubs: BUY
Milwaukee Brewers: SELL
Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers' rotation has been constantly shifting, with Rich Hill, Julio Urias, Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda shuffling in and out. Adrian Gonzalez has lost the ability to hit a home run. Joc Pederson has not become the star he was supposed to be. Justin Turner is hurt. Yasiel Puig is batting .229. And the Dodgers are still in first place. This is an unstoppable machine with star replacement parts everywhere, and even more are coming. The D-backs and Rockies should be very excited, but for the NL Wild Card. The Dodgers are not going anywhere. BUY
Arizona Diamondbacks. The question of which team is more likely to slide -- Arizona or Colorado -- is going to be central over the next two months, not least of which because St. Louis, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and San Francisco are all going to be staring at them, waiting for a wobble. Here's betting that the D-backs are more likely here to stay. The lineup is getting contributions everywhere and will only improve when A.J. Pollock returns. But the rotation looks as solid as any, with Zack Greinke back as a legitimate ace, Zack Godley coming out of nowhere, Robbie Ray looking like a star and Taijuan Walker not too far from returning. This looks like a playoff team. HOLD
Colorado Rockies. They've fallen out of first place, but that's more a product of the Dodgers finally getting their act in gear than anything the Rockies have done wrong. But there are reasons to worry. Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon have been excellent, but this offense is relying way too much on Mark Reynolds who, realistically, is not going to be hitting over .300 much longer. (He's a lifetime .237 hitter.) Carlos Gonzalez, DJ LeMahieu, Ian Desmond and Trevor Story are all having down years; Story is batting .197 and Gonzalez's power is gone. The pitching has been a pleasant surprise, particularly Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland, but can you reasonably expect those pitchers, both in their first full seasons in the Majors, to keep ERAs under 3.60 all year? The bullpen is holding up for now, but they're also throwing a lot of innings. The Rockies are better than almost anyone thought. But a lot of this is being held together with wire and string. If someone is going to fall out from the NL West and give Wild Card contenders from other divisions a shot, it's going to be Colorado. SELL
San Francisco Giants. They were starting to cobble something together there for a while, and then the Nationals came into down and swept them. Now they're 11 games under .500. That is a steep whole to dig out of. The real question is whether or not they'll even bother pushing Madison Bumgarner to come back when he's healthy, or if they'll just let him rest to give this another shot next year. The Giants won't finish in last place. But this is already a lost season. HOLD
San Diego Padres. They just swept the defending champion Cubs. I dare say that this is probably going to be the mountaintop for the Padres this year. SELL
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