Angels hitting their stride
The Angels got off to a terrible start, but when you go out in the offseason and sign one of the game's all-time best hitters and add a high-quality starter to a team that's already got a very strong nucleus, good things are eventually going to happen. The trick, apparently, was just getting everybody on the same page.
Albert Pujols is back to his old self, and two of the best young hitters in the game — Mark Trumbo and 20-year-old Mike Trout — are on a serious roll, which gives the Angels an offensive attack that is nearly unstoppable to go with a rotation that features Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. Oh, and the closer has an 0.00 ERA and has given up just seven hits in 25 innings.
Schedule favors Reds
I'll take the Reds. The Reds started slow — in part because of five losses in seven games to a surprisingly strong Nationals club — and they did not climb above .500 for good until mid-May. But the Reds play far better in their home bandbox, and in the second half they have 42 home games and 35 road games.
The Reds are done with the Nationals. They're done with the Braves. They're done with the Giants. They don't have to play in L.A. or New York. They have seven games left with the Phillies — all after the trade deadline, with the Phillies looking increasingly like sellers. Of their 35 road games in the second half, 16 are against arguably the three worst teams in the National League: the Astros, the Cubs and the Rockies.
Phils, Bucs in good shape
The Pennsylvania teams have great chances to have really good second halves for different reasons.
The Phillies are desperate but getting healthy. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are back. From a comfort level, that should help a wildly inconsistent offense become merely inconsistent.
Roy Halladay is back after the All-Star break, when the Phils visit the bad Rockies and beat-up Dodgers. That should give them momentum heading home to face the Giants and Brewers. That's a good 12-game stretch leading up to the trade deadline.
The Pirates have 18 games in a row leading up to August against sub-.500 teams, then an 11-game homestand. That makes it seem unlikely to see a repeat of 2011's second-half collapse.
Red Sox will be back
Playing for Bobby Valentine is never easy, but that's because he pushes his teams. I'm a believer, and I think Boston fans will see what I mean as July turns into August and the Red Sox start to get healthy.
Despite a devastating run of injuries, Valentine's team has compiled the fourth-best run differential in the AL. It may take a smart trade or two — the bullpen is an area of special interest — but the Red Sox are going to step it up after a chaotic, disappointing first half.