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There were undoubtedly those who figured the Red Sox would rebound from last year's last-place, 69-win season, but anyone who says they picked them to have baseball's best record at about the midpoint of the season is either lying or a huge fan of clam chowder. The AL East in general is top to bottom the best division in baseball -- though it can't match the NL Central's elite top three, all five divisional teams are within striking distance of first place, and only Toronto (at 44-46) owns a losing record.
Here's how Nationals Insider Mark Zuckerman, Nats writer Chase Hughes, and I see the rest of the major leagues shaking out:
1. Boston Red Sox (56-37; LW: 3) - Hughes: Boston has the majors’ best offense and much of it was built on the fly this offseason. Ben Cherington is a clear frontrunner for executive of the year.
2. St. Louis Cardinals (54-34; LW: 1) - Zuckerman: They've hit .338 with RISP. That's not sustainable over a full season, is it?
3. Pittsburgh Pirates (54-36; LW: 2) - Zuckerman: The pitching staff remains deep and talented. The lineup could probably use another bat, though.
4. Oakland A's (54-38; LW: 6) - Roney: Does anyone have a bigger All-Star gripe than Josh Donaldson? A .316/.385/.529 slash line with 15 homers and valuable defense should be enough to garner some midseason recognition.
5. Texas Rangers (53-38; LW: 4) - Roney: Yu Darvish hitting the DL is terrible news in the best of times, but with an already banged-up pitching staff and looking up at the A's in the standings? Not an enviable position to be in.
6. Atlanta Braves (52-39; LW: 7) - Hughes: Freddie Freeman is proving to be one of the best overall hitters in the game and he’s only 23.
7. Tampa Bay Rays (52-40; LW: 12) - Hughes: Tampa is on fire with the best team ERA thus far in July. David Price began the month with his two best starts of the season.
8. Cincinnati Reds (51-40; LW: 5) - Zuckerman: As much attention as their lineup gets, all five starting pitchers have ERAs under 3.70.
9. Detroit Tigers (50-40; LW: 8) - Zuckerman: Miguel Cabrera: .366-29-93 before the All-Star break. Al Kaline never hit more than 29 homers in any full season of a Hall-of-Fame career with Detroit.
10. Baltimore Orioles (50-42; LW: 9) - Hughes: Trading for Scott Feldman could end up making the difference for Baltimore, he gives them at least one legitimate starter to rely on most nights.
11. New York Yankees (49-42; LW: 10) - Hughes: New York has made it work through the season’s first half, despite all their injuries. They may need to be proactive at the deadline to keep their good fortune going.
12. Arizona Diamondbacks (47-44; LW: 11) - Roney: Somebody tell Ian Kennedy to stop hitting Dodgers. Hate 'em all you want, Ian, but this is getting out of hand.
13. Cleveland Indians (47-44; LW: 13) - Zuckerman: Quietly hanging around in the AL Central, with Tigers unable to shake 'em.
14. Washington Nationals (47-44; LW: 15) - Hughes: The offense is showing signs of life and should be a strength moving forward as long as they stay healthy. Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos at the back end of a lineup has to scare opposing pitchers.
15. Los Angeles Dodgers (45-45; LW: 22) - Roney: How on Earth is Yasiel Puig trailing Freddie Freeman in in the Final Vote? Not that Freeman isn't deserving (he absolutely is), but not at the expense of Puig, who's among the five or so most electrifying players in the game right now.
16. Philadelphia Phillies (45-47; LW: 20) - Hughes: The Ryan Howard news is devastating for their chances this season and could turn them into sellers at the deadline.
17. Kansas City Royals (43-45; LW: 19) - Zuckerman: Little-known-fact: Kansas City has the AL's best record since June 4. True story.
18. Toronto Blue Jays (44-46; LW: 14) - Hughes: Toronto is homering its way into the playoff mix, yet still ranks last in MLB’s premier division.
19. Colorado Rockies (44-48; LW: 16) - Roney: Every year there's at least one head-scratcher in the Home Run Derby lineup; this year, it's Michael Cuddyer. Nothing against Cuddyer, but no matter how well he fares, it just won't feel like he belongs among the four representatives from his league chosen to put on a home run show. Did Domonic Brown have other plans?
20. Los Angeles Angels (44-46; LW: 23) - Roney: Josh Hamilton is slogging through a pretty lost season, hitting just .229 and getting on base at an abhorrent .289 clip. Changing teams isn't as easy as putting on a new jersey and continuing to chug right along. Across town, Carl Crawford is nodding his head.
21. Seattle Mariners (40-51; LW: 24) - Roney: I thought it would be a decade before a Mariners pitcher outperformed King Felix, but Hisashi Iwakuma is giving the longtime ace a run for his money, although he was shelled last night by Boston.
22. New York Mets (40-48; LW: 28) - Hughes: Will Matt Harvey start the All-Star game? Probably, although Clayton Kershaw probably deserves it at this point.
23. Chicago Cubs (40-49; LW: 25) - Zuckerman: Henry Rodriguez faced 5 batters last night: HR, 1B, 1B, BB, BB. Anybody miss this guy?
24. San Francisco Giants (40-50; LW: 18) - Roney: Not sure what's up with Matt Cain this year, but one of baseball's best and most consistent starters just lasted 2/3 of an inning last night against the Mets. It's likely he left with an injury, but he hasn't been himself all year.
25. San Diego Padres (41-51; LW: 17) - Roney: Chase Headley is heating up, which is absolutely essential if they're going to contend -- and in the NL West, nobody's out of it just yet. San Diego may be in last place, but they're only 6.5 games out of first.
26. Minnesota Twins (37-51; LW: 21) - Zuckerman: Kinda tough to win when your pitching staff owns a collective WHIP of 1.422.
27. Milwaukee Brewers (37-53; LW: 26) - Zuckerman: Positives this season: Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez. Negatives: Everything else.
28. Chicago White Sox (35-53; LW: 27) - Zuckerman: Weren't the Cubs supposed to be the really bad team in Chicago this year?
29. Miami Marlins (33-57; LW: 30) - Hughes: Giancarlo Stanton has more walks than RBI this season. That’s what happens when you’re surrounded in a lineup by scrubs.
30. Houston Astros (32-59; LW: 29) - Roney: They've supplanted the Marlins at the bottom spot, so of course we'll take this opportunity to say what we say here -- the veterans will be traded, and there are youngsters coming. So long, Carlos Pena and Bud Norris; hello, George Springer and Mark Appel.