The six most intriguing MLB teams in the second half


The second half of the MLB season starts Friday, and it’s already been an eventful year.

Several players are flirting with history and multiple franchises are attempting to return to the playoffs after significant absences.

Plenty of storylines, lots of intrigue. I’m concentrating on the latter: Which teams are the most intriguing during these last two-months plus of the season?

It’s not necessarily the best teams or most popular teams, but ones that trigger curiosity.

For instance, the New York Yankees don’t make this list. They’ve slept through the first half and are still within spitting distance of the playoffs. And anything can happen once a team gets a dance invite.

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But these Yankees are boring; exactly what a New York team shouldn’t be. They’ve played and managed themselves into a malaise. I’ll take spectacularly terrible or a train-wreck-per-night over competently mediocre. And that’s where these Bronx Bombers are right now.

Here’s my order of teams that I’m following closely – and you should, too – in the second half.

1. Atlanta Braves

spencer strider

They are currently the best team in baseball. And the hottest one. They have 60 victories at the All-Star Break and have won 27 of their last 32. And they should be getting star lefty Max Fried back sometime shortly.

The Braves are on pace for 109 wins, which would be the most in club history, and they could potentially threaten the MLB mark of 116 regular-season wins. They also have the game’s most exciting, one-way player in Ronald Acuña and an ace with a killer mustache.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

st. louis cardinals

The train wreck is real in St. Lou. The Cardinals were 38-52 in the first half, that’s a 94-loss pace. The last time the Redbirds lost at least that many in a season was 1913. That doesn’t sit well with Cardinals’ fans, who expected a World Series contender not a cellar dweller.

General manager John Mozeliak has taken some heat for recent personnel decisions and manager Oliver Marmol is listed by multiple betting sites as the most likely to be fired in-season. Mozeliak isn’t promising major changes, but he said the focus now is getting better for 2024. The Cardinals could blow up the trade market by dangling some of their superstars or members of their young and promising outfield, but likely will go the safe route and deal away expiring contracts of several pitchers such as Jordan Montgomery and Jordan Hicks.

The thing that makes this club most intriguing is that this is still the Cardinals, and it is still the NL Central. Two hot weeks and they could be contenders again. That ship has probably sailed and capsized, but it is still worth monitoring.

3. Cincinnati Reds

cincinnati reds

This is why we love baseball. The Reds lost 100 games last year. This season? They have ridden a stable of young talent – now led by viral sensation, 21-year-old shortstop Elly De La Cruz – to a 50-41 record, including 24-12 since June 1.

De La Cruz is worth the price of admission and could keep the Reds’ relevant for this year and beyond. But other 20-somethings, such as Spencer Steer, Jonathan India, Matt McLain, TJ Friedl and Jake Fraley, have breathed life into this offense. And the pitching is an ensemble of high-ceiling flamethrowers. Maybe they are a year away from making noise in the postseason, but with the energy they possess, it’s going to be fun watching them get there.

4. Baltimore Orioles

baltimore orioles

This is the AL’s version of the Reds: Fun, fast and fearless. The Orioles made their move into the national baseball consciousness last year, when they posted their first winning season since 2016. This year, they have built on that success and currently boast the second-best record in the American League, only two games behind the division-leading Tampa Bay Rays.

Former No. 1 overall pick Adley Rutschman, who, in his first full season, already has grown into one of the more respected players in the game. The switch-hitting catcher has an immense presence on the field and in the clubhouse, and he’s surrounded by talented teammates, including 21-year-old Gunnar Henderson and veteran outfielders Austin Hays, Anthony Santander and Cedric Mullins. Built from the middle out, the Orioles’ sparkling defense has helped a starting pitching staff that is improving and can hand the ball to two All-Pro defensive linemen in behemoth relievers Yennier Cano and Félix Bautista.

5. Los Angeles Angels

los angeles angels

OK, this is normally the least intriguing team in baseball. You know the Angels’ drill. Big payroll. A few megastars. A head-shaking owner. And a finish out of the playoffs. These Angels are on pace to duplicate that recipe once again.

One aspect, however, makes them fascinating: Two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani. His talent alone is worth following. But this year is different. Because he is a pending free agent. And the Angels could throw the industry on its ear by making him available this month. They likely won’t. But the possibility looms, and that would change the playoff picture in an instant.

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6. Oakland Athletics

oakland athletics

I considered good teams here like the Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Miami Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks as well as underachieving messes like the New York Mets and San Diego Padres. But, let’s face it, we’re all curious as to whether the A’s, who are on pace to end the year at 43-119, which would tie the 2003 Detroit Tigers for second most losses in modern baseball history (1900), can somehow reach the 120-loss nadir set by the 1962 Mets.

The A’s may not finish with the worst record in 2023 – the Kansas City Royals are near historically awful, too – but these A’s are the ones to watch, given the subplot of their expected move to Las Vegas.

I view this Oakland team as if it were a friend from high school who you lost touch with and is now in jail. There were some good memories. You haven’t thought much about him in a while. Now, he’s in trouble. And you care. Kind of. You at least wish things were different. You are also morbidly curious to see how this disaster ends up.  

Dan Connolly is an MLB Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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