Red Sox, Yankees top Astros threats as MLB second-half looms
Major League Baseball's mid-season All-Star Game break ended Thursday with the arch-rival Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees looking like the biggest threats to the reigning champion Houston Astros.
The Red Sox, who hadn't won a World Series since 1918 until capturing the 2004 crown, own the best record in the major leagues at 68-30 in quest of their fourth title in 15 seasons and first since 2013.
The Yankees rank second overall and in the American League East division at 62-33, just in front of the AL West-leading Astros at 64-35.
"We've had some of our iconic franchises, most notably the Yankees and the Red Sox, having unbelievable years," MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said. "It looks like it's going to be a good race all the way through September."
Boston boasts two of the top three batters in the major leagues in All-Star outfielders Mookie Betts, averaging an MLB-best .359 at the plate, and J.D. Martinez, who leads the majors with 29 homers and 80 runs batted in.
"Our whole team is full of All-Stars," Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland said. "We've proved it day in and day out that we're a really good team and we have had fun doing it."
Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale, only the third pitcher to start three consecutive All-Star Games, leads the American League with 188 strikeouts and a 2.23 earned-run average with a 10-4 record.
But the Yankees counter with Luis Severino, a 24-year-old Dominican right-hander who stands 14-2 with a 2.12 ERA this season, and two of the sport's top sluggers in Aaron Judge, with 25 homers this season, and Giancarlo Stanton, who has hit 23.
"We had a great first half. We're not where we want to be, especially chasing Boston right now, but we'll recover," Judge said. "(We'll) get going in the second half."
Expect great things as well from the Astros, who at 64-35 are five games in front of Seattle (58-39), which holds the final AL wild-card playoff spot by three games over division-foe Oakland (55-42).
Houston boasts the major leagues' top starting rotation -- the pitchers led by right-handers Gerrit Cole (10-2), Charlie Morton (11-2) and Justin Verlander (9-5) going 47-21 with an MLB-low 3.02 ERA. And only the Red Sox have plated more than the Astros' 500 runs.
The Astros are a threat to become the first back-to-back World Series champions since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000.
But don't sleep on AL Central leader Cleveland, which added ace reliever Brad Hand to join solid righty starters Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber. The Indians are 52-43 and 7 1/2 games ahead in the division.
- Dodgers land Machado -
And then there is the up-for-grabs National League, with eight teams having between 50 and 55 wins -- four of them being in the NL West division.
The reigning NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers, losers to Houston in a seven-game thriller World Series last year, added power-hitting shortstop Manny Machado in a Wednesday trade with Baltimore that should enhance their repeat chances.
It has been 30 years since the Dodgers won a World Series but the addition of Machado could help them overcome a tight division they lead at 53-43 with Arizona at 53-44, Colorado third on 51-45 and San Francisco a threat at 50-48.
It could be that only the division winner even reaches the playoffs with Philadelphia (53-42) and Atlanta (52-42) atop the NL East division and the Chicago Cubs (55-38) ahead of Milwaukee (55-43) in the NL Central. Those clubs would take division titles and two wild-card playoff spots as things stand now.
The Cubs, who ended the longest title drought in American sports history by winning their first title since 1908 in 2016, collect their second crown in three seasons.