By Ben Verlander
FOX Sports MLB Analyst
With the MLB All-Star Game having come and gone, teams are now preparing for the second half of the season.
We saw some big surprises in the first half, from the White Sox being under .500 to the Angels starting as one of the hottest teams in the league before falling off and looking like one of the worst teams in the league.
But the second half is an opportunity for a reset; it brings a bit of a fresh start for all but a few teams that don’t have a fighter’s chance of making the postseason
To that end, Thursday’s and Friday’s episodes of “Flippin’ Bats” were dedicated to previewing the second half of the season. We discussed every division, some of the key storylines and the biggest question of all: Come October, who will be in the playoffs, and who will be on vacation?
Let’s start in the American League.
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This season is different for the Mariners. Last year, they were playoff hopefuls all the way to last week, yet it never felt like they were truly a playoff team. In the offseason, they went out and totally revamped their team, adding All-Stars and Cy Young winners.
Things didn’t start off well, but after a brawl against the Angels, the Mariners’ season turned around. They won 14 in a row heading into the All-Star Game, which included a crucial four-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays, and now they find themselves in a playoff spot.
I like this team. Before the season started, I believed they would end their 21-year playoff drought. I still believe that today.
Can Seattle Mariners rookie Julio Rodríguez carry the M’s to the postseason?
The Seattle Mariners have Robbie Ray, Kyle Lewis, Mitch Haniger and rookie All-Star Julio Rodriguez trying to lead the team to its first postseason appearance since 2001.
White Sox: Playoffs
What has been wrong with the Sox this year? The answer is kind of complicated.
When they’re pitching, they’re not hitting. When they’re hitting, they’re not pitching. And when they’re doing both, their manager somehow gets in the way.
The White Sox were the overwhelming favorites to win the AL Central, but they haven’t shown why very often this year — until the last series before the break.
The first-place Twins squared off with the Sox, and Chicago took three of four. They’re too talented to play .500 ball over the course of a 162-game season. Look for the White Sox to win the AL Central outright.
Tony La Russa on the hot seat, trade deadline moves and Eloy Jiménez
Ben Verlander welcomes Chicago White Sox beat writer Scott Merkin to talk about Eloy Jiménez’s recent injury, Tony La Russa’s future, what the White Sox will do at the trade deadline and much more!
Never bet against the Rays making the playoffs. Despite injuries and underperformance throughout the roster, this team is once again showing that it has figured out the recipe for success.
Pitching injuries? Yep. Position player injuries? Yep. Stars underperforming? Yep. It doesn’t matter.
I don’t know how they do it, but the Rays always find a way. This year is no different. They will be in the playoffs come October.
Will we see three AL East teams in the playoffs?
Ben Verlander breaks down the American League standings as we go into the second half of the season. Will three AL East teams make the playoffs?
Red Sox: Vacation
Boston’s pitching just isn’t where it needs to be, and to make matters worse, Chris Sale came back and immediately got hit with a comebacker, breaking his pinky finger.
The starting pitching and bullpen both need work, and the lineup, which was supposed to be dominant, definitely has a weak spot at the bottom.
We all remember the 2021 postseason Kiké Hernández had. Unfortunately for the Sox, that stretch is just a memory now, as he’s hitting .209 on the season. The top of the lineup still rakes, but I see too many holes with this team to believe in them.
What the Padres have done so far this season has been special. Without Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado has carried this team all season. Pair Machado’s MVP-worthy season with a pitching rotation that has been dominant, and what you get is a playoff team.
Of course, Tatis is expected back soon, but this team has done more than enough in his absence to set the Padres up for success by the time he comes back.
I must give some credit to Bob Melvin as well. What he has done with this team, which had tons of firepower but needed the right guy leading the way, has been remarkable. He did it in Oakland with teams that had no business winning, and he’s doing it now in San Diego with a team that just needed to learn how to win.
Are the Dodgers underperforming? Will the Padres be a playoff team?
Ben Verlander asks Pedro Moura and Rowan Kavner whether the Padres, Cardinals, Phillies and Giants will make the playoffs and discusses if the Dodgers have underperformed thus far.
The Cardinals have so many issues that not even career years from Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt will be able to fix it.
Without a healthy Jack Flaherty, this rotation doesn’t do enough to keep the team in ballgames on a nightly basis. The only things that could save the Cardinals are the addition of a top-tier starter and a career second half from most of the lineup.
The Brewers will win the division, and the Cardinals will be on the outside looking in come October.
St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Angels and other MLB first-half surprises
Ben Verlander welcomes FOX Sports writer Pedro Moura to chat about the first half of the MLB season.
The Giants were destined to win the NL West last year. So many things had to fall into place for them to knock off the Dodgers, including Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford — two aging stars — having career seasons.
This year, while the Giants are a good team, I’m not expecting a repeat. They pitch well, but their offense doesn’t do enough on a nightly basis. The Giants will be on vacation in October.
Fernando Tatís Jr. headlines NL players to watch in the second half
Ben Verlander gives us his three National League players to keep a close eye on the rest of the season, featuring Marlins ace Sandy Alcántara, Padres star Fernando Tatís Jr. and Mets slugger Pete Alonso.
The Phillies made some big offseason moves to bolster their offense with the additions of Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos. They also addressed the need for talent in the bullpen by adding Corey Knebel and Brad Hand, but that hasn’t worked out too well.
I look for the Phillies’ offense to be elite in the second half and for them to add a back-end bullpen arm at the trade deadline. With that, I expect them to grab the final wild card in the National League.
Ben Verlander is an MLB Analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the “Flippin’ Bats” podcast. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. He spent five years in the Tigers organization Follow him on Twitter at @BenVerlander.
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