While die-hard baseball fans enjoy their 162-game schedule, the All-Star break can be considered by some as the real start to the baseball season.
We now have a great understanding of which team’s are real contenders and the excitement of a pennant race finally begins to pickup.
With the trade deadline mere weeks away, the MLB season is in full swing, making it a great time to take a look at where each team stands. Here is the power rankings for all 30 teams as we enter the second half of the season.
Nationals Take Commanding 2-0 Lead Back to Washington in the NLCS
The Washington Nationals are in prime position to go to the World Series for the first time in franchise history.
Washington now returns home to play three games with the chance to clinch the series by winning two games in front of their fans.
For the Nationals it has been their pitching that has carried them thus far against the Cardinals, as St. Louis has been helpless against their starters.
In Game 1, the Nationals were forced to send out their No. 4 starter as their trio of aces were worn down from the series against the Dodgers. Luckily that starter was Anibal Sanchez, a long-time MLB veteran that has pitched in big games plenty of times in his career.
Sanchez was not fazed by the moment by any stretch and actually no-hit the Cardinals through seven innings.
It actually felt inevitable that the no-hitter would happen too, as no-hitters usually come with an incredible defensive play and Ryan Zimmerman delivered one in the eighth inning.
Unfortunately for Sanchez, he yielded a base-hit to Jose Martinez two batters later, ending his no-hit bid.
Still the most important thing for the Nationals was that Sanchez got them the 2-0 victory. But the craziness was just beginning for the Nationals, because the next day, it almost happened again.
Max Scherzer pitched Game 2 and he carried a no-hitter through six innings. Scherzer would not finish the no-hitter though, as Paul Goldschmidt laced a single to lead off the seventh inning.
In the end, Scherzer struck out 11 batters and did not yield a run across seven brilliant innings.
The thing that makes Sanchez and Scherzer’s back-to-back no-hit bids more incomprehensible is the fact that they actually had already done this before.
Back in 2013, when both pitchers were on the Detroit Tigers, Scherzer and Sanchez actually accomplished a similar feat.
This year’s version was more impressive however, as they are not only both 35 years old, but they also took their respective no-hit bids deeper into the game.
While the Nationals have to love the performances that those two veterans have given them thus far, they should hope that history stops repeating itself there.
That is because the Boston Red Sox came back in that series against Sanchez and Scherzer’s Tigers and won the ALCS in six games. Boston went on to win the World Series.
We will see if the Cardinals can turn their fate in a similar fashion when the series resumes on Monday night in Washington for Game 3.
Gerrit Cole Leads the Astros to the ALCS For Third-Straight Year
The Houston Astros are once again heading to the ALCS, as they continue their dynasty over the American League.
In the past two seasons, the Astros have won their division round mathcup rather easily, never facing an elimination game. However this year that changed, as the Tampa Bay Rays pushed them on the brink of elimination.
Tampa won Game 3 and Game 4 at home, forcing the series to return to Houston to play a Game 5 on Thursday night. But the Astros still had Gerrit Cole ready to pitch in that game and he was his usual dominant self.
Cole was spotted a four-run lead in the first inning, giving him ample run support. Then Cole did what any good ace does. He closed the door.
The hard-throwing righty allowed just two hits and one run across eight brilliant innings pitched.
In his first playoff start, Cole struck out 15 batters in a dominant performance. After reaching double digits again in Game 5, Cole put himself in elite company for accomplishing a rare postseason feat.
With Gerrit Cole in the rotation, the Astros stand a great chance to make it to the World Series and win their second title in three years. Cole was not with the Astros in 2017, giving him extra motivation to get his first World Series ring.
The first team standing in the way of that happening is the New York Yankees. The Yankees just came off sweeping the Minnesota Twins and will have been resting for five full days by the time Game 1 starts on Sunday.
That could give them a slight advantage over the Astros, but with a starting rotation that includes Cole and Justin Verlander, Houston will be ready to face whatever the Yankees throw at them.
Washington Nationals Upset the Los Angeles Dodgers to Advance to the NLCS
The Los Angeles Dodgers were the best team in the National League this year and it wasn’t really even close. L.A. won 106 games and had a run differential of plus-273.
For comparison, the Braves were the next best team in both those departments with 97 wins and a run differential of plus-112. Yet at the end of the day on Tuesday, both teams have been eliminated from the playoffs.
In Game 5 between the Nationals and the Dodgers, it was a great pitching matchup, as Stephen Strasburg squared off against Walker Buehler.
Early on it appeared that would be the deciding factor in the game, as Buehler outdueled Strasburg by holding the Nationals to just one run.
Meanwhile the Dodgers hit two home runs off of Strasburg in the first two innings, getting out to a 3-0 lead.
Strasburg buckled down from there though, keeping his team in the game by giving them a quality start through six innings. With the Nationals trailing 3-1, everything changed in the eighth.
Clayton Kershaw came into the game in relief to get the Dodgers out of a jam in seventh inning, striking out Adam Eaton with two runners on. He then stayed in the game to pitch the eighth inning and disaster struck.
Facing one of the best hitters in baseball in Anthony Rendon, Kershaw gave up a lead-off home run to put the Nationals within a run of tying the game.
After Rendon took him yard, all of the chatter surrounding Kershaw’s miserable postseason struggles began to be brought light again as he can’t shake that narrative in an otherwise remarkable career.
Then Juan Soto put the nail in his postseason coffin, drilling the longest home run of his career to tie the game.
While Kershaw is a clear first-ballot Hall of Famer and the greatest pitcher of his generation, he just can’t seem to get the job done in October.
As much as you can’t blame one player on a 25-man roster, Kershaw has been at the middle of a lot of playoff disappointment for the Dodgers over the last decade.
While Kershaw did blow the lead, he did not blow the game, as the Dodgers still had a chance to score a run in the final two innings to come away with the win.
The Nationals were just better though, holding them to no runs in their last two frames and taking the game into extra innings.
Then in the 10th inning, Washington loaded the bases with no outs and Howie Kendrick stepped up to the plate. The former Dodger would deliver one of the biggest home runs in Nationals history, hitting a grand slam that put L.A. away for good.
Washington’s closer Sean Doolittle shut the door in the bottom of the 10th inning and they won their first playoff series in Nationals history.
After their dramatic victory in the NL Wild Card Game and their beating of the juggernaut that was the Dodgers, it is safe to wonder if these Nationals may just be the team of destiny.
We will find begin to find out later this week, as the Nationals open their series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night.
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