Top second half MLB storylines to follow

By Michael Dixon

The first half of the season is done. It gave us plenty of positives and negatives to draw from. Now, it’s time to look forward. What are the main MLB storylines to follow through the second half of the season?

The Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Houston Astros, and Seattle Mariners are all looking at potential 100-win seasons. Each has at least one major storyline to keep an eye on, as well.

The Baltimore Orioles might be the worst team in MLB history. Even still, one of their players might have a lot to say about the playoff races.

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw will have a lot to say about how free agency goes.

The second half of the 2018 MLB season will give fans plenty to keep an eye on. These are the most intriguing storylines.

Yankees and Red Sox building towards dramatic Fenway finale

The Yankees will finish the season in Boston with three games against the Red Sox. If the AL East is not decided by that series (and certainly by the last day), Aaron Boone and Alex Cora will each face a potentially huge decision. Option 1, start your ace (Luis Severino and Chris Sale, respectively), risk losing and not having him for the pesky winner-take-all Wild Card Game. Option 2, sit them, essentially throw in the towel on the division, and go into that game with your best pitcher. We don’t envy the rookie managers who’d have to make that call.

Will the Mets really keep Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard?

As we move towards the July 31 trade deadline, it’s clear that the starting pitching market is not great. The best guys who’ll likely be available are mid-rotation guys, and there’s not even many of them. As such, the New York Mets can really control the trade market if they make Syndergaard and especially deGrom available. Recent reports indicate that’s not likely. For New York’s sake, let’s hope that’s just posturing. It’s never easy to deal players like this. But the Mets farm system is not well regarded. Given that and the lack of quality arms available, this seems like an avenue to explore.

The pursuit of 100 wins

Giancarlo Stanton

Entering Thursday’s action, the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros, and Mariners on pace are all on pace to win 100 (or more) games. If that holds, it would be historic. Only six MLB seasons (including 2017) have ever had even three 100-win teams. None has ever had four. Additionally, neither the National or American League has ever produced more than two 100-win teams in the same year. All four of the teams currently on a 100-win pace play in the junior circuit.

Clayton Kershaw’s finish

Kershaw has a $32 million player option for the 2019 season. If Kershaw finishes well, he’s more likely to opt out of his deal. The Dodgers could still re-sign him, but it would likely be for more years with a lower AAV. If, however, he finishes poorly, he’ll likely opt back in. That would make it much harder for Los Angeles to sign the likes of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, especially if it wants to stay under the luxury tax. Kershaw’s finish and subsequent decision will potentially have a lot to say about how one of the best free agent classes we’ve ever seen will unfold.

Nationals’ mettle getting tested

The Washington Nationals have won four division titles since 2012. They never won by fewer than four games. Every time Washington has reached the playoffs, it’s been sent home in the first round. The talent has always been there. But every time this team has been tested, it’s failed. Now, with guys like Harper and Daniel Murphy heading into free agency, the Nats are getting tested again. They’re under .500 and in third place, well behind both the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies. The rest of the season will tell us how much fight is in this team.

Can the A’s jolt the AL playoff race?

It seems all but inevitable that the American League playoffs will feature our four 100-win-pace teams and the Cleveland Indians. While the division races are important, having all five playoff teams all but decided isn’t exactly exciting. But all it takes is for one team to falter. The Oakland Athletics have had a stellar season, and while their pitching isn’t great the offense can score runs against anyone. If one of those teams falters, the A’s certainly have a team that can throw a wrench into what presently seems inevitable.

Baltimore and Kansas City both try to avoid futility history

Entering play on Thursday, the Chicago White Sox are on pace to lose 105 games. In a normal year, they’d be the worst team in baseball, probably with ample room to spare. But this is not a normal year. The Orioles and Kansas City Royals are each on pace to lose 115 or more games. Since 1900, only four teams have lost that many times in a season. Additionally, both teams could come close to the Modern Era single-season loss record of 120. Each has a lot more potential selling to do, too. This could certainly get worse.

Edwin Diaz pursues saves record

In 2008, Francisco Rodriguez saved 62 games, breaking Bobby Thigpen’s 18-year-old record. In 2018, Seattle closer Edwin Diaz has a real chance to knock Rodriguez out of the record book. With 33 saves, Diaz is on pace to finish with 61. Obviously, a lot will come down to opportunity. The Mariners will need to win games, but not by too much. But Diaz has a 2.40 ERA, 0.84, and a 14.4 K/9 rate. So, if the opportunities do come his way, we have every reason to believe he’ll lock them down.

Brewers look to complete under-the-radar brilliant season

While not on the same pace as the AL’s best teams, the Milwaukee Brewers are having a fantastic season. They’re on pace to win 96 games and have the best record in the National League. Yet, it seems as though Milwaukee is largely going overlooked. If you want to overlook the Brewers, that’s fine. Just know that this is a team that won 86 games a season ago and significantly improved. With an upgrade to the starting rotation, it’s not hard to imagine seeing this team playing well into October.

How Angels use Shohei Ohtani

Shohei Ohtani is a MLB star

Ohtani recently returned to the Los Angeles Angels from an extended trip to the DL. It will still be a while before we hear about when he pitches again, but Tommy John Surgery remains a concern. Ohtani’s status as a two-way player makes this really interesting. Do the Angels try to ease him back into pitching once he’s cleared for that? Will they eventually decide to just go with the surgery? Ohtani is the most unique player we’ve seen in a long time. As such, how he’s brought back from injury will be unique, as well.

What kind of finish will the Giants have?

This is interesting from two different perspectives. One, while there are certainly better teams, three championships in the decade means that the San Francisco Giants must be taken seriously if they make the playoffs. But it’s more interesting if San Francisco falls out of the race. Should that happen, the Giants will have two non-contending seasons in a row, one of which featured 98 losses. That could potentially open up the trade offseason trade market for at least some of Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and especially Madison Bumgarner. If nothing else, it’s interesting to think about.

Triple Crown pursuit in each league

Boston slugger J.D. Martinez leads the AL in home runs (26) and RBI (71), while his .327 average trails teammate Mookie Betts by 11 points. Colorado Rockies star Nolan Arenado also leads his league in home runs (22) and RBI (63), and his batting average is 19 points behind Cincinnati Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett. Miguel Cabrera won the AL’s Triple Crown in 2012, but it’s the only one we’ve seen in the last 50 years. No NL player meanwhile, has won since Joe Medwick in 1937. Both can change in 2018.

Where will Manny Machado end up?

Manny Machado

It’s been a persistent question since before the season even began. Which team will pull the trigger for the Baltimore superstar and pending free agent? We know that the Arizona Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Indians, and Chicago Cubs are interested. But the list likely extends well beyond that. Machado is having an absolutely stellar year, hitting .311/.378/.565 with 21 home runs and six steals. His trade (assuming it happens) will have a major impact on the pennant race.

Astros’ quest to break repeat drought

MLB hasn’t seen a repeat World Series champ since the Yankees 1998-2000 three-peat. It’s the longest drought in the history of the league. The Astros are well positioned to break that. Houston is on pace to win 105 games and has a starting rotation that will give postseason opponents nightmares. Now, it wouldn’t be unprecedented for a team like this to struggle in the playoffs. But the Astros are also getting a strong push from the Mariners in the AL West. So, we’re not too concerned that Houston will fall victim to the same problem that’s plagued so many teams that have cruised to the playoffs over the years.