- Now that the first half has concluded, let's look back at the one moment that defined every team's first half of 2018.
As baseball’s second half kicks into full gear today, let’s take just one more look back at everything that’s happened so far. Here’s the first half’s final round of power rankings, complete with the game or moment that best summarizes each team’s performance from the first few months of 2018. Onward!
30. Baltimore Orioles (28–69)
Second-Half Outlook: Does “one of the worst teams in recent memory, potentially one of the worst of all time, but now without their best player” sound good to you?
Defining First-Half Moment: The Orioles’ defense has been amazingly, historically terrible—Zach Kram at The Ringer has the definitive piece on the subject here—and so please enjoy this box-score selection, featuring three consecutive plate appearances from a June 2 loss to the Yankees.
29. Kansas City Royals (27–68)
Second-Half Outlook: The big question here is whether they can actually stay on track to finish with the fifteenth-worst record in the history of the modern era, so, uh, yeah, it’s bleak.
Defining First-Half Moment: There are an awful lot of bad pitching performances to choose from here—as you’d expect from a squad with a worst-in-baseball 5.40 ERA, a full half-run above the 29th-place team—but let’s go with the time that they were blow out 16-0 by Oakland, which involved giving up seven runs in the ninth inning.
28. Chicago White Sox (33–62)
Second-Half Outlook: All the misery of the Orioles’ and Royals’ seasons, but without the cachet of chasing history.
Defining First-Half Moment: Hard to know if it’s more apt to describe Lucas Giolito’s April 21 start as “allowed nine runs in two innings” or “walked seven batters in two innings,” so let’s go with both. The White Sox lost, 10–1. (As it turns out, yes, there is a strong connection between the fact that this rotation has baseball’s highest walk rate and the fact that Giolito is closer than ever to deserving the label of “bust.”)
27. Miami Marlins (41–57)
Second-Half Outlook: J.T. Realmuto may or may not get traded, Brian Anderson may or may not win Rookie of the Year, and the rest of this team will definitely be bad.
Defining First-Half Moment: Do you remember Jose Ureña giving up a home run on the very first pitch of the very first game of the season? Sure you do.
26. New York Mets (39–55)
Second-Half Outlook: The usual mix of maddening play and minor off-the-field dysfunction, likely with at least one astoundingly dumb public relations crisis.
Defining First-Half Moment: Against the Marlins on May 23, Jacob deGrom pitched seven shutout innings with eight strikeouts. By Game Score, it was among his best starts in what’s been his best season. As usual, run support was scarce, but it was present: a sixth-inning solo home run from the perpetually smiling Brandon Nimmo.
The Mets lost, 2-1.
25. San Diego Padres (40–55)
Second-Half Outlook: Nothing especially good, but fans can occupy themselves by admiring this deep and talented farm system and dreaming of 2020.
Defining First-Half Moment: A 5–2 loss to the Rockies, back on April 25. It was bad, but not atrocious; San Diego endured a mediocre outing from Tyson Ross, which was paired with almost zero offense from anyone outside of Wil Myers. But, hey, at least there was one really strong inning of relief from Brad Hand, who is now an Indian.
24. Texas Rangers (41–56)
Second-Half Outlook: The last time that the Rangers lost more than 95 games was 1985. Not saying that it’s definitely going to happen this season, but with 40 games remaining against the other teams in a tough AL West… it could.
Defining First-Half Moment: There are plenty of bad starting pitching performances to choose from here, and nothing communicates that better than the fact that four different members of this rotation have allowed eight runs or more in a start that lasted four innings or less. If we had to pick one that’s most emblematic of their season, though, let’s go with Martin Perez allowing eight runs to Tampa Bay in three innings, because that’s just a very sad phrase.
23. Detroit Tigers (41–57)
Second-Half Outlook: Remember that stretch of June when Detroit won five in a row, getting one game below .500 and two-and-a-half games behind division-leading Cleveland? Yeah, that’s not happening again this year.
Defining First-Half Moment: The June 12 game in which Miguel Cabrera suffered a season-ending bicep injury captures the spirit of this season pretty well—because it included the loss of their biggest star, sure, but also because it was a 6–4 loss to the Twins brought on by a bad bullpen performance.
22. Cincinnati Reds (43–53)
Second-Half Outlook: Continued frustration with the fact that an infield this talented and fun has to play behind pitching this bad.
Defining First-Half Moment: “Bad Homer Bailey starts” is a rich category with years of material, but May 7’s outing against the Mets is nicely representative. Future All-Stars Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett both went 2-for-4 with two extra-base hits. Even Billy Hamilton hit a home run! Bailey allowed six runs in the first four innings, and Cincinnati lost, 7-6.
21. Toronto Blue Jays (43–52)
Second-Half Outlook: Increase fixation on the progress of Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. in the minors because there’s not a whole lot to be excited about on the major-league level.
Defining First-Half Moment: No metaphor in this one, just a very direct statement: Marcus Stroman snapping at a television reporter and yelling, “We’re f— terrible” after a loss to the Red Sox.
20. Minnesota Twins (44–50)
Second-Half Outlook: Glance at the AL Central’s dreadful standings quickly and think, “Hey, Twins in second place—not too bad!” And then look a little more closely and realize, uh, no, actually too bad.
Defining First-Half Moment: It didn’t take long for the Twins to find that the Lance Lynn signing might not hold great things. In the first inning of his first start, he allowed five runs to Pittsburgh; on offense, Minnesota went down one-two-three, including a strikeout by Miguel Sano. But, hey, Eduardo Escobar ultimately went 2-for-4. (They lost, 5–4.)
19. Pittsburgh Pirates (48–49)
Second-Half Outlook: If they go .650 the rest of the way, they could contend for a wild card spot. (They won’t go .650 the rest of the way.)
Defining First-Half Moment: An unremarkable performance in a 6–4 loss to the Cardinals on a cloudy Sunday afternoon.
18. Tampa Bay Rays (49–47)
Defining First-Half Moment: Putting back-up catcher Jesus Sucre on the mound to pitch with a lead in extra innings on July 3, and ... still winning!
17. St. Louis Cardinals (48–47)
Second-Half Outlook: The Cardinals have a new manager, following last week’s firing of Mike Matheny, but contending for a wild card spot will require a bigger makeover than that.
Defining First-Half Moment: Matheny’s last game works almost a little too perfectly as a symbolic inflection point. July 14’s 8–2 defeat by the Reds was ugly—dormant bats, shoddy relief pitching—but the loss, at least, triggered some change.
16. San Francisco Giants (50–48)
Second-Half Outlook: Just close enough to the race to make throwing in the towel seem like a weak option, just far enough out of it to be… out of it.
Defining First-Half Moment: Hunter Pence has been dreadful this year, a disappointing reminder that age comes for us all. But you know when he was… well, not quite good, but fine? On June 20. He went 2-for-4, knocking in two runners on two singles. Derek Holland made an okay start. The bullpen threatened to blow it, but they didn’t. The Giants beat the Marlins, 6-5. Everything was fine! Not quite good—they almost blew a lead against Miami, after all—but fine. That was a perfectly adequate day, and that was the Giants’ first half.
15. Los Angeles Angels (49–48)
Second-Half Outlook: There’s a very real possibility that the return of a fully healthy, two-way-playing Shohei Ohtani might be coming! Unfortunately, the team will likely be too far behind for that to matter.
Defining First-Half Moment: On May 5, Mike Trout went 3-for-5 with two doubles. Andrelton Simmons went 4-for-6. Tyler Skaggs made a solid start. The Angels lost, by one run, to the Seattle Mariners.
14. Colorado Rockies (51–45)
Second-Half Outlook: The NL West is bunched too tightly together for anything to be clear, but while a wild card berth is a longshot, it’s not an impossibility.
Defining First-Half Moment: The day that Jon Gray was sent to Triple-A might seem like an odd choice for this. Having to demote a pitcher who was expected to provide ace-level talent is never a good thing, after all. But Colorado actually won the game that marked the final straw for Gray. On June 28, he was all over the place, allowing five runs in four innings against the Giants. The Rockies’ bats dug the team out of that hole, however, with a 3-for-4 day from Trevor Story. Eventually, top reliever Adam Ottavino closed it out, and Colorado won, 9–8. While Gray was in the minor leagues, the team went on to win seven of their next eight games.
13. Washington Nationals (48–48)
Second-Half Outlook: The Nationals aren’t out of the race yet, not by any means. They’re just close enough to being out of it that the prospect of trading Bryce Harper has been floated on a semi-regular basis, which… is not a great place to be. They have time to recover—but not very much.
Defining First-Half Moment: If you’re optimistic, you’d go with 19-year-old Juan Soto’s home run on the first pitch of his first start. The future is here, and he’s a frighteningly talented teenager! If you’re less optimistic—well, what would you prefer, the lowest moments of Bryce Harper’s slump or the news of Stephen Strasburg’s trip to the disabled list or this 11-0 loss to the Rays?
12. Atlanta Braves (52–42)
Second-Half Outlook: The NL East’s race will be tight, but Atlanta should be hanging in there through the end.
Defining First-Half Moment: Sure, this team’s defining feature is its young talent, but its most notable breakout just might belong to 34-year-old Nick Markakis. The outfielder’s resurgence has made for one of the season’s better feel-good storylines, and it’s been a key part of the Braves’ success. What was the game that crystallized Markakis’ revival as the real deal? Facing Jacob deGrom on May 2. He went 3-for-4, knocking in a run with a double. Meanwhile, starter Sean Newcomb—another crucial part of this team’s high performance—earned the win with a near-flawless performance on the mound.
11. Oakland Athletics (55–42)
Second-Half Outlook: It’s still more likely that Oakland will be sitting at home in October than it is that they’ll be able to snag a wild card berth. But it should still be fun as all get-out to watch them try.
Defining First-Half Moment: A one-game display of dinger-mania back in June, featuring home runs by everyone from Franklin Barreto to Mark Canha to Jed Lowrie to Matt Olson to [checks notes] Josh Phegley in a romp over the Padres.
10. Cleveland Indians (52–43)
Second-Half Outlook: They’ll continue to enjoy baseball’s biggest division lead and cruise to a playoff spot, which has more to do with the AL Central being bad than with Cleveland being good.
Defining First-Half Moment: Against Houston on May 25, Corey Kluber threw six scoreless innings, striking out seven. With a 2-0 lead, Kluber was pulled for Andrew Miller, who promptly exploded, as did each of the four relievers who followed him. Cleveland lost, 11–2.
9. Arizona Diamondbacks (53–44)
Second-Half Outlook: After spending most of the first half in first place, the Diamondbacks are unlikely to pass too much time there in the second half. The Dodgers have hit their stride, and overtaking them now would be a tall task. But that doesn’t signify that Arizona should be counted out of the playoff race, by any means.
Defining First-Half Moment: We’ll cheat and go with two here: A.J. Pollock’s May 14 departure with a broken elbow, and his July 2 return. When healthy, the centerfielder offers stunning defense tied to the team’s best bat outside of Paul Goldschmidt. (At times, the best bat including Paul Goldschmidt.) The Diamondbacks can win without him, and this season, they did. But they’re much stronger when they don’t have to.
8. Philadelphia Phillies (53–42)
Second-Half Outlook: A fierce race in the NL East, and one that they have a pretty decent chance of winning.
Defining First-Half Moment: The season’s first wave of headlines about this team centered on rookie manager Gabe Kapler. Most weren’t too flattering, a litany of stories of strategic blunders and communication mishaps. But those headlines have subsided as Kapler has settled in and Philadelphia has kept winning. What was the turning point? One came on April 27. Earlier on, Kapler had been fast to call to the bullpen—even though his relief corps wasn’t particularly strong, even in situations where his starter was dealing, and even before a guy’s pitch count was a pressing matter. Against Atlanta on April 27, though, Kapler didn’t have such a quick finger with the bullpen phone. His young ace, Aaron Nola, had faltered early on by allowing three runs in the first inning. But he was lights out from that point forward, and Kapler let him go with it. He didn’t pull Nola until after the seventh inning, and the result was a 7–3 win for the Phillies.
7. Milwaukee Brewers (55–43)
Second-Half Outlook: The Brewers spent the bulk of the first half in first place, but the question of when they’d slip down to second was hanging over their heads the whole time. The Cubs—while hampered by a slow start and some poor luck—were clearly the more talented squad, and it seemed like only a matter of time before they’d take over the division’s top spot. But Milwaukee refused to make it easy for them, until a six-game losing streak right before the break finally dropped them three games beneath Chicago. While it seems likely that they settle in at second place from here on out, that certainly doesn’t make them incapable of a postseason run.
Defining First-Half Moment: First baseman Jesus Aguilar currently leads the National League in home runs, with 24. This would have sounded preposterous two years ago, when he was struggling to earn any playing time in Cleveland, or last year, when he was hitting well but not overwhelmingly so in his first season in Milwaukee, or two months ago, when he’d hit just three home runs through his first 37 games. In his 38th game? On May 18, Aguilar hit two home runs, leading Milwaukee to an 8–3 win over Minnesota. A few weeks later, and the idea of “Jesus Aguilar, home run champion” doesn’t sound preposterous.
6. Seattle Mariners (58–39)
Second-Half Outlook: They took a step backward before the break—dropping eight of their last eleven games—and it’s likely that some more losing is on the way for a team whose first-half success always felt precarious, built on a foundation of one-run contests. A wild card berth, however, is still a safe bet.
Defining First-Half Moment: The tone was set from the very first game of the season here: a 2–1 victory over Cleveland, the first of more than two dozen one-run wins to come. (Their first-half record in such close contests was 26–12.) The scoring came from extra-base hits from Mitch Haniger and Nelson Cruz, and the night was closed out with three flashy strikeouts from Edwin Diaz. It wasn’t pretty at every point, but hey, it was a win.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers (53–43)
Second-Half Outlook: Take every sign that this team has shown of the potential to be the National League’s most talented squad, and now add Manny Machado.
Defining First-Half Moment: The Dodgers’ lineup is loaded with talent, top to bottom, but the most remarkable name is one that you’d probably never heard before this season. When, exactly, did Max Muncy make the leap from Quad-A outfielder to the National League’s OPS leader? Somewhere around the second game of a May 19 doubleheader in Washington. Max Scherzer was dealing, on his way to a final line of 13 K’s. And here’s how Muncy did against him: single, walk, home run, groundout (hey, he’s only human). The Dodgers won, 5–4.
4. Chicago Cubs (56–38)
Second-Half Outlook: The Brewers’ presence means that the Cubs don’t necessarily have a smooth ride ahead when it comes to holding down first place, but they should still reach their final playoff destination without any serious problems.
Defining First-Half Moment: No player on this team has been more fun or dynamic than Javier Baez, and it’s hard to imagine a better showcase for him than this one from June 26. The Cubs beat the Dodgers, 9–4—thanks to not one but two home runs from Baez, and this was pretty sweet, too:
3. New York Yankees (62–33)
Second-Half Outlook: Chasing Boston in what should be an AL East race for the ages.
Defining First-Half Moment: Luis Severino has been dazzling all season, but his single brightest moment came against the Red Sox on July 1. He didn’t just shut down Boston’s lineup—he thoroughly embarrassed them. Severino allowed just two hits in six-plus shutout innings and New York’s bats did more than enough to back him up, en route to an 11–1 victory. Aaron Judge homered. Gleyber Torres homered. Kyle Higashioka homered. Aaron Hicks homered three times. It was the pinnacle of what’s possible for this team—one of baseball’s best starting pitchers, paired with one of its fiercest offenses, looking essentially unbeatable.
2. Boston Red Sox (68–30)
Second-Half Outlook: See above.
Defining First-Half Moment: A little context on that July 1 Red Sox-Yankees blowout described above—it was the inverse of the previous day’s game, an 11–0 Boston victory. Chris Sale was as close to flawless as humanly possible, with 11 strikeouts. Rafael Devers went 5-for-5; J.D. Martinez went 3-for-4; Mookie Betts got on base four times. It was, again, the pinnacle of what’s possible for this team, too—one of baseball’s best starting pitchers, paired with one of its fiercest offenses, looking essentially unbeatable.
1. Houston Astros (64–35)
Second-Half Outlook: Frighteningly bright, in every capacity.
Defining First-Half Moment: Every brilliant start by Justin Verlander, by Gerrit Cole, by Charlie Morton; every home run from Alex Bregman; every slick display of glovework by Carlos Correa. Everything that’s shown how terrifyingly talented this team is, and how likely they are to repeat as 100-game winners and World Series champions.