As June ends, most teams are at the half-way point in the season schedule, at least numerically: going into July they will have 78, 79, maybe 80 games remaining. Nobody really thinks of this as the end of “the first half”, and that’s because baseball’s annual breather, the All-Star Game, and its four-day break from championship play typically serves as the dividing line. By the time the All-Star Break arrives following the games of July 14th, clubs will have around 65, 66, 67 or so games remaining, and that creates an interesting dynamic.
Aficionados of the game typically regard the two weeks leading up to the All-Star Break, and the week that follows, as “Trap-Time”, because teams that coast into the break, and glide out of it, frequently find themselves on the outside looking in once the Dog Days of August have arrived. The teams that charge into the break, and blast out of it, are the ones that likely will be left standing come the final days of the pennant races.
Some teams pride themselves on being “second-half” clubs, meaning that they will turn it on and play their best baseball down the stretch. It’s always best to be playing your best ball at that time, but the facts are teams that have built big leads up to now are in pretty good shape and can “regress towards the mean” as the season progresses. There are plenty of cases where teams cool off too much and get caught (see last season in the American League West when the Oakland Athletics caught and passed the Texas Rangers on the last day of the season to win the division), but generally at some point the teams that are playing ahead can start looking at the schedule of terms of where .500 baseball will get them from that point, and if it’s wins in the mid-90’s or better, they are in good shape.
It’s a truism that teams will win one-third of their games, lose one-third, and what happens in the other third will determine the outcome of their season. Generally speaking, winning sixty percent of the schedule, or about 97 games, will guarantee a spot in the post-season. The next three weeks are going to have a lot of impact in determining just which teams can get there.