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Second (Half) Thoughts: Previewing Baseball’s Stretch Run

As the second half of the Major League Baseball season begins, we are reminded again how history often provides a valuable glimpse into the future. Just look deeply into its eyes.

The Houston Astros were the best team in baseball at last year’s break, steamrolling the American League with a 60-29 record that served to portend their eventual World Series championship.

So, if you believe in such omens, let’s be the first to offer congratulations to the Boston Red Sox, eventually, inevitably and inescapably destined to win the 2018 crown.

But you don’t really believe in that kind of junk, do you?

MLB second half

Rob Carr / Getty

Remember the 2007 New York Mets, who had a seven-game lead in the NL East in September? Or the 1964 Phillies who led the NL by 6½ games in only 12 left to play. How about the 1978 Red Sox, who ultimately blew a 14-game lead to the Yankees to make a legend out of Bucky (you know the rest) Dent.

Moral of their stories: Stuff happens.

There are a number of factors that can turn a pennant race into demolition derby, and the first likely happened Wednesday when the Dodgers dealt for Manny Machado. Talk about hump day. His acquisition, and insertion at shortstop, immediately makes the Dodgers exponentially more ordainable in Los Angeles than even LABron.

But there is much more to come, particularly in the trade market, that can swing the balance of the races. Please note the acquisitions of Justin Verlander by the Astros from the Tigers in 2017, David Price by the Blue Jays from the Tigers and Yoenis Cespedes by the Mets from the Tigers in 2015. Consequential acquisitions.

Makes you wonder who the Tigers will dump this year, doesn’t it?

Who will the Yankees, Astros, Brewers, Braves, Phillies, Cubs, Mariners, Indians, A’s and Red Sox pick up over the next 10 days, and how will it impact the 17 teams that are still within six games of a playoff spot.

But there are other things to consider as we begin to proceed, many of which have to do with the Yankees.

They have already hit 161 home runs this season. That puts them on pace to slug 274, which would shatter the MLB record of 264 set by the 1997 Mariners.

And former Yankee manager Joe Girardi — still sporting a crewcut, but with a MLB Network nametag as opposed to pinstripes — may soon be named manager of the Cardinals.

The Mariners (58-39) are five games behind the Astros in the AL West, but are second (to the Yankees) in the Wild Card race by 3½ games. The Mariners have not made the playoffs since 2001, when the Yankees beat them in the ALCS. It’s the longest current postseason drought of any team in the MLB, NBA, NHL or NFL.

Who is the AL MVP: Mike Trout, Aaron Judge or Mookie Betts? And will Jacob deGrom of the Mets win the Cy Young pitching for one of baseball’s worst teams? It’s happened before, you know.

In 1972, Steve Carlton was 27-10 for the Phillies. The Phillies were 32-87 when he didn’t pitch. Carlton won a higher percentage of his team’s victories (45.8 percent) than any pitcher in the 20th century. And he also led the N.L. in ERA (1.97), strikeouts (310), and innings pitched (346).

The AL East race between the Yankees and Red Sox is also shaping up to be one of the most monumental in recent history. The Red Sox (68-30) are currently 4½ games ahead of the Yankees (62-33).

It may very well come down to the final two weeks of the season when the teams play six times, including the final three of the regular season at Fenway Park. The Sox are on pace to win 112, the Yankees 106. If it holds up, the loser would break the MLB record for most wins by a Wild Card team, set by Oakland (102) in 2001.

And sadly, the Royals (27-68, .284) and Orioles (28-69, .289) are in contention to surpass the 1916 Phillies (36-117, .235), 1935 Boston Braves (38-115, .248) and 1962 Mets (40-120, .250) for the worst winning percentage in the modern era.