MLB Second Half Preview: Who Makes the Playoffs?

July 13, 2023

We’re ready to get meaningful baseball back in our lives, making it a perfect time to preview the second half of the season. There should be a lot of exciting playoff races in the second half of the season, particularly with the expanded playoff field.  We’ll handicap some of the races and point out some best bets along the way. We’ll also handicap the potential award winners.

AL East

Since the Rays began the season 20-3, they’ve only gone 38-32. They boast a very deep lineup and have only been outpaced by the Rangers with 506 runs. The problem is their pitching. They’ve lost Drew Rasmussen (elbow)and Jeffrey Springs (elbow) for the season, while Shane McClanahan (back) and Tyler Glasnow (hand) both have health concerns heading into the final two-plus months of the campaign.

Meanwhile, Baltimore is flexing their muscles with one of the deepest farm systems in the league. In addition to having the likes of Jordan Westburg and Colton Cowser already on the big-league roster, Grayson Rodriguez is poised to rejoin the rotation in short order. They’ll also be able to use their organizational depth to upgrade their big-league roster at the trade deadline.

The Blue Jays aren’t likely to make noise for the division, but struggling would-be ace Alek Manoah may be turning things around. If that’s the case, they’ll have one of the deepest lineups and rotations in the league and could potentitally be a nightmare matchup in the postseason.

  • Division Winner: Baltimore Orioles
  • Wild-Card team(s): Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays
  • Best Bet: Division Winner – Baltimore Orioles (+440)

AL Central

What an ugly division. No team is better than .500, and no team has won more than they’ve lost against opponents with a winning record this season. In this division, only the winner will make it to the postseason. The Twins sit at 45-46 but have woefully underperformed their expected win/loss record, which sits at 49-42 according to both and Baseball Reference.

The Guardians get the most out of their pitching every year, but their bats have no punch – made clear by their .375 slugging percentage.

  • Division Winner: Minnesota Twins
  • Wild-Card team(s): N/A
  • Best Bet: Division Winner – Minnesota Twins (-150)

AL West

We transition from one of the worst divisions in the league to one of the best. There are three legitimate contenders to make the postseason out of this division, though the Angels are likely buried by injuries at this point. Seattle has underperformed and may need to upgrade its lineup to join the big boys.

The division is run by a pair of Texas clubs in the Rangers and Houston Astros. The Rangers have the most prolific offense in the league, and they’ve already signaled that they will be buyers at the trade deadline by acquiring Aroldis Chapman from the Royals to bolster the bullpen. The rotation should be next up, and they have plenty of prospect depth to deal from.

The Astros have been one of the better teams of the last decade (aided by trash cans, of course) so we shouldn’t count them out. On paper, however, they simply don’t measure up this season.

  • Division Winner: Texas Rangers
  • Wild-Card team(s): Houston Astros
  • Best Bet: Division Winner – Texas Rangers (+105)

NL East

Atlanta is the best team in the league and boasts an impressive 8.5 game lead over the Phillies for first in the division. They’re going to win the division and likely with ease. The real question is which, if any, club will make it as a wild card.

The Phillies were under .500 through May but have gone 23-11 since. They’re only 0.5 games out of a playoff spot and we should expect them to flip places with the Marlins for second in the division. Miami has been a great story and has an excellent rotation.

The run production of their lineup is fortuitous to this point and is likely to fade without a big addition at the trade deadline. Given their tendencies to act as a small-market team, we shouldn’t count on that.

Instead, the Mets have repeatedly proven they’re all in. The first half didn’t go according to plan, but they have a proven duo atop the rotation in Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer to go along with a lineup that blends proven elite hitters with an infusion of young talent. Expect them to make a run for the postseason.

  • Division Winner: Atlanta Braves
  • Wild-Card team(s): Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets

NL Central

What is it with baseball in the Central divisions? The NL Central has been another stinker, though the Reds are suddenly one of the most exciting teams in the league thanks to Elly De La Cruz and their other young, rising stars.

Even so, their current run seems a little to be good to be true. If Hunter Greene (hip) and Nick Lodolo (leg) can beat their timelines to come back, perhaps the Reds can hang onto the division. Otherwise, the pitching isn’t good enough to hold off even the mediocre competition.

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The Brewers are currently in second place, but it’s difficult to identify the strengths of their roster. Christian Yelich has had a bounceback season, Devin Williams is a shutdown closer, and now we’ve run out of nice things to say. The return of Brandon Woodruff (shoulder) will help, and this team has postseason experience.

The Cubs are the best team in the division as measured by run differential. They sit seven games out, however, which is a significant hole to climb out of. The division is open though, and it’s not clear how.

the Reds or Brewers would be able to finish a division-winning season, which makes the Cubs a decent longshot (+770) to consider.

  • Division Winner: Milwaukee Brewers
  • Wild-Card team(s): N/A

NL West

The Dodgers are being challenged for the division crown for the first time in several seasons as they enter the All-Star break tied with Diamondbacks for first place. Both are good bets to make the postseason, though both teams have significant weaknesses that could prevent them from winning the division.

Those concerns revolve around the rotation. Los Angeles’ primary issue is health, as they’ve had every pitcher originally projected to be in their starting rotation hit the injured list at some point.

The Diamondbacks simply lack reliable pitching depth as their young starters haven’t delivered results the way the team would have hoped. This is an obvious area for the team to buy at the trade deadline. The other more recently developing issue is Corbin Carroll’s lingering shoulder issue, which would be incredibly impactful.

Ultimately, it seems like the best idea to lean on the Dodgers run of experience and success in recent seasons.

  • Division Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Wild-Card team(s): Arizona Diamondbacks

Most Valuable Player

There is only one player to consider in the American League barring catastrophic injury and that’s Shohei Ohtani. If he is traded to a National League team before the July 31 deadline, a couple other players such as Corey Seager and Marcus Semien could enter the picture.

In the National League, Ronald Acuna is another runaway favorite at this point. We can safely assume he won’t be traded by Atlanta, so perhaps he’s an even safer choice than Ohtani. Mookie Betts is likely to be runner-up, but as a distant second-place finisher.

Cy Young

There’s a more wide-open field for the Cy Young award in both leagues. Framber Valdez, Kevin Gausman, and Gerrit Cole are the frontrunners in the American League. Of the group, Gausman has the strongest SIERA and K%, so look for him to have an excellent second half and win the award.

In the National League, Zac Gallen and Spencer Strider should be viewed as the two favorites. Strider leads the league in K% and SIERA by a significant margin, but Gallen has the better surface stats. If those both hold, it will be interesting to see how voters split. Ultimately, Atlanta will be the better team, so perhaps Strider has an advantage as a result.

Rookie Of The Year

Corbin Carroll looked to be the runaway winner for most of the season, but his health concerns and Elly De La Cruz’s electrifying first month in the league has made things interesting. Assuming Carroll remains healthy, he should still be viewed as the favorite because he has a larger body of work. If he is forced to miss time, De La Cruz will become the favorite.

The American League has three primary contenders in Josh Jung, Masataka Yoshida and Gunnar Henderson. Jung has already been named an All-Star and is hitting in the middle of one of the more prolific lineups in the league. That will be enough to sway voters.

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