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MLB midseason lookahead: Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees heading for compelling A.L. East finish

UPDATED: Thu., July 19, 2018

Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts  looks across the field during the first inning of Tuesday’s  All-Star Game in Washington. (Patrick Semansky / AP)
Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts looks across the field during the first inning of Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Washington. (Patrick Semansky / AP)
By Jay Cohen Associated Press

CHICAGO – Mookie Betts and the major league-leading Red Sox are on pace for 100-plus wins. Same for Aaron Judge and the Yankees, and the World Series champion Astros, too.

The Orioles, White Sox and Royals are on track to lose more than 100.

It’s the haves and the have-nots as baseball returns after the All-Star break.

“There’s a few good teams out there that they’re going to make it interesting in the second half,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “That’s why you got to show up every day and keep playing. We had a great first part of the season, but that doesn’t guarantee us anything in October, going to October.”

The Dodgers know all about October, and they are a World Series contender again. Especially with the addition of Manny Machado.

The N.L. West leaders got a head start on the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline by sending five prospects to Baltimore on Wednesday for Machado, an All-Star shortstop capable of powering Los Angeles to its first title in 30 years.

“Any time you have a chance to add an impact player in a tight division race that’s something you have to look at closely,” Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi said.

The Indians bolstered their bullpen by acquiring All-Star closer Brad Hand and rookie Adam Cimber in a trade with San Diego on Thursday, sending catching prospect Francisco Mejia to the rebuilding Padres.

Machado might be the biggest star to switch teams this month, but there will be plenty of players on the move.

If the last-place Mets decide to rebuild, aces Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard could shake up the playoff race. Rangers left-hander Cole Hamels and Reds pitchers Raisel Iglesias and Matt Harvey – remember him? – also could be headed for new homes. Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas and Twins second baseman Brian Dozier could provide hitting help for a contender.

“Starting pitching is always big during the trade deadline, whether it’s me or somebody else who’s having a good year,” deGrom said.

The Padres also could ship out relievers Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen. They are the only team out of the conversation in the N.L. West, where the Dodgers’ lead over fourth-place San Francisco is just four games. The Cubs have the best record in the National League after chasing Milwaukee for much of the first half, and the N.L. East looks like a three-team race.

Washington was supposed to be one of the haves this year, but it hasn’t worked out so far. The Nationals hit the break with a .500 record, looking up at the surprising Phillies and Braves.

But ace right-hander Stephen Strasburg, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and closer Sean Doolittle are set to return from injuries, and it looked as if Bryce Harper regained some of his swagger with his win in the All-Star Home Run Derby in his home ballpark.

“We’ve got to battle,” Harper said. “I think the Braves are really good, the Phillies are good and those are two teams that are probably going to make some moves as well. Looking forward to the second half. Looking forward to do what we need to do.”

While the N.L. features three tight division races, there is nothing like the duel in the A.L. East, or the crowded A.L. West for that matter.

The Red Sox and Yankees have baseball’s best two records, and one of them could be headed for the wild-card game. The Astros are in prime position to become the first repeat World Series winner since the Yankees from 1998-2000, but any stumble and the Mariners or surging Athletics could push the Astros into a more precarious spot.

“We need to win games and need to continue to push and put pressure on our division, put pressure on the rest of the American League,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “We have to do what we’re capable of.”

There is a lot to love about Boston, too. Betts is making a case for the A.L. MVP award, and Chris Sale leads the strikeout-crazy majors with a whopping 188 Ks. The Red Sox also have received surprising contributions from All-Star first baseman Mitch Moreland and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez.

Of course, the Yankees don’t look like they are going anywhere either, not with Judge anchoring a deep lineup and Luis Severino at the front of their rotation. Expect the A.L. East rivals to be on the hunt for help at the nonwaiver deadline, desperately hoping to avoid that dicey wild-card matchup.

“One of the signs of a potentially great team is you’re not satisfied with anything you’ve done to this point,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “A handful of guys have had really great years. There’s more guys in that room who certainly feel like they can be even better. That’s our expectation moving forward.”

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