Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (R) stands with his team at Wrigley Field in Chicago on April 11, 2016. The Cubs easily would have earned a first-half "A" if not for a June-July swoon leading to 20 losses in 34 games. "For anybody out there that believes it doesn't happen to every team, you're wrong," said Maddon. Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo
The Chicago Cubs certainly made the grade after bolting out of the blocks with a flourish to begin the 2016 season, only to lose favor with the teacher heading into the All-Star break.
The Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians San Francisco Giants have been far more consistent, however, and have elevated themselves to the top of the class.
While those four will receive favorable grades for their first-half showing, there are others in the back of the class that won't be as fortunate.
Here are the first-half grades of each team, according to The Sports Xchange's national network of baseball writers:
D -- The D-backs worked so hard to get RHP Zack Greinke in a last-ditch free-agent push just before the winter meetings, and now this. Not much has gone right, from health to the starting rotation to turning their potent offense into runs. Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb and Jean Segura deserved to be All-Stars, but only Goldschmidt got in, for a fourth straight year. When your team struggles, that happens.
C -- After going 64-98 last year, the Rockies were expecting improvement this season. But it wasn't realistic to envision them vaulting into contention. They reached the All-Star break with a 40-48 record, putting them on pace for 74 wins. They need to dominate at Coors Field and win at least 50 games there to overcome their history road woes and have any hope of contending. That hasn't happened as the Rockies are 20-22 at home.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
B-minus -- Nobody can accuse the Dodgers of sacrificing the future for the present. The organization has succeeded in balancing immediate and future needs, but at a price. Corey Seager, 22, offers the best evidence for the Dodgers' success with that approach as he is making his case to be the National League's Rookie of the Year and the league's best shortstop.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
D -- No one expected the Padres to be a challenger in the tough National League West this season. But no one expected them to go 0-9 against the Giants, 6-22 in day games, 1-13 on Sundays and 4-25 in the final games of series. Some things about the Padres are inexplicable. They have picked it up considerably on offense since the end of May. But the pitching has gone south and the defense has been erratic.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
A -- One year after finishing 84-78 and missing the playoffs, the Giants (57-33) have the best record in baseball at the All-Star break. What more could you want? And they did it with several of their mainstays on the disabled list, some for months at a time. Even those who picked the Giants to win the championship because 2016 is an even-numbered year couldn't have predicted they would have won nearly two-thirds of their first 90 games.
B -- The Cubs had an impressive start, with a 25-6 (.806) record through 31 games, and they eventually opened a 12 1/2-game lead -- their largest since 1929 -- over their closest competitor in the NL Central. They easily would have earned a first-half "A" if not for a June-July swoon when almost everything went wrong, leading to 20 losses in 34 games. "For anybody out there that believes it doesn't happen to every team, you're wrong," manager Joe Maddon said recently.
C -- Look, we all knew what this club's objectives were going into the season, so evaluating them on wins and losses is difficult, but necessary to a point. The Reds finished the proverbial first half 32-57, getting decimated by early injuries and an abysmal start by the bullpen. Pitching coach Mark Riggins became the first casualty when he was fired in early July, replaced by bullpen coach Mack Jenkins. While injuries set back the rebuilding process to start the season, the Reds got healthy slowly but surely and were able to stabilize the bullpen and rotation in recent weeks.
C -- Most expected the Brewers to be a 100-loss team, but they are far from it. In fact, had the rotation not been abysmal for the first month of the season, Milwaukee could have spent at least a bit of time over .500. A brutal schedule down the stretch sent the Brewers into the break 11 games under, but all things considered, it was about as good as one could expect from a team in the midst of a total rebuild.
B -- This grade would have probably been a C or worse a few weeks ago, but Pittsburgh's late push has put it in good position to compete for a fourth consecutive postseason appearance. The Pirates' June was abysmal, with 19 losses in 28 games, but their July has brought them back from those depths, thanks in large part to an explosive offense. Pittsburgh has scored at least four runs in nine of 10 July games.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
C -- Given the high expectations that surround this team every year, it deserves no better grade at the All-Star break. While the Cardinals have been far more explosive offensively this season than they were at any time in the last two years, they also have been inconsistent on the mound and bad on defense, not only making a lot of errors but also making a spate of fundamental mistakes. There is no way a team with a run differential of plus-89 should be just four games over .500.
C-minus -- No one expected this team to contend, but the Braves became irrelevant by losing their first nine games. Untimely injuries to Ender Inciarte and Gordon Beckham and slow offensive starts from Freddie Freeman, Adonis Garcia and Jace Peterson -- the last two resulting in demotions to Triple-A Gwinnett -- contributed to the 18-46 start, which featured a franchise-worst 18-loss April. The bad beginning doomed manager Fredi Gonzalez, who was fired on May 17. The Braves were 9-28 at the time.
B -- The Marlins trail the Los Angeles Dodgers and are battling dead even with the injury-plagued Mets for the second wild-card spot. Manager Don Mattingly has done a solid job in his first year with the team. Mattingly is a low-key personality, but his resume upon arrival in Miami -- as a player with the Yankees and as a manager of the Dodgers -- clearly impressed the Marlins players, earning their respect. Mattingly has made some good personnel moves such as putting Adam Conley in the rotation in his first full year in the majors and switching David Phelps from spot starter and long reliever to eighth-inning setup man.
NEW YORK METS
B-minus -- The middling grade for an injury-wracked team that would be tied for a wild-card spot if the season ended today falls less on manager Terry Collins than it does on upper management. Collins remains an unusually popular target for criticism amongst Mets fans on social media, but his lineup machinations are generally well thought-out and he commands universal respect in the clubhouse. General manager Sandy Alderson operates with a small-market payroll in America's biggest city, but he didn't add depth at three positions manned by brittle Lucas Duda, David Wright and Travis d'Arnaud, who combined to miss 159 out of a possible 264 games.
C-plus -- The way the Phillies started their season, it looked as though they may be onto something special. Their hot start didn't last too long, as they quickly came back to reality thanks to a nine-game slide in June after pulling into a tie for first in the NL East. This was never supposed to be a playoff season for Philadelphia, as the team remains in rebuild mode. With a farm system ripe of top talent, the Phillies will be a competitive team for years to come ... but not just yet.
A-minus -- Very little has gone wrong for the Nationals in the first half, though there was the seven-game losing streak and a 3-7 road trip that ended June 26. Manager Dusty Baker, in his first year on the job, has shown that he is much more flexible with in-game moves -- especially with the bullpen -- than previous manager Matt Williams ever was. Baker may not bring his closer into the game in the seventh -- who does? -- but if he senses the seventh is the key inning, he will not hesitate to mix and match with his bullpen to get key outs to escape a jam.
B -- The opening month was ugly, the offense has been inconsistent, and the Astros still haven't fully addressed their hole at first base. However, shifting Evan Gattis back to catcher after he didn't log one inning there in 2015 has paid dividends, and manager A.J. Hinch tinkered with the lineup until reaching the conclusion that George Springer should lead off and Carlos Correa should bat fourth. Since Springer took over the top spot in the order, the Astros are 31-13.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
F -- Injuries not only consumed the team's depth but also exposed a thin farm system. Owner Arte Moreno's budget restrictions forced general manager Billy Eppler to sign journeymen and reclamation projects to patch holes. Few have made solid contributions, with two exceptions. Gregorio Petit, invited to spring training on a minor league contract, became the starting shortstop when Andrelton Simmons went on the disabled list. The 31-year-old Petit responded by batting .275 while playing in a career-high 48 games. Right-hander Deolis Guerra, selected in the Rule 5 Draft, owns a 2-0 record and a 2.73 earned-run average in 17 relief appearances while conceding just one walk and 21 hits in 26 1/3 innings.
D -- There is a reason why the A's are such a great story when they have any measure of success. It's because it doesn't happen all that often. That said, it's also not very often when they lose 51 games in the first half of a season. They haven't lost 100 since 1979, but they have suffered 90 or more three times since then, including last season. It's happening again, so it's already wait-'til-next-year for that next happy chapter.
B-minus -- A frustrating June that was exacerbated by a rash of injuries to the starting rotation brought the Mariners back to earth, but one can't ignore the impressive first two months of the Scott Servais era. Through it all, Servais has Seattle in the postseason hunt, which is more than most people expected at this point of his first season as a manager.
A -- The defending American League West champs came into the season with high expectations and have lived up to them. Texas has the best record in the American League and has done so despite injuries that have three of the five projected rotation members on the disabled list and a bullpen that has been one of the worst in baseball. But the bottom line is winning, and no AL team has done that more.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
B -- The White Sox threatened to plunge into irrelevance after a 10-26 skid that led some fans and local sports talk-show hosts to call for manager Robin Ventura to be fired. But the team fought back to regain a winning record and set up a second-half pursuit of the franchise's first playoff berth since 2008. Narrow outcomes have been common, and that trend is likely to continue. The White Sox are 15-14 in one-run games and 10-7 in two-run games as they enter the All-Star break.
A -- Every area of the team, and almost every player on the roster has had a solid, or well-above average first half, to the point that the Indians reach the All-Star break with the best record in their division and one of the best records in the majors. The decision by the front office during the offseason not to trade any of the Indians' front line starting pitching is paying big dividends now. Adding a hitter or two was a priority over the winter. But instead of using some of their surplus of starting pitchers in a major trade, the Indians kept their pitchers and made some astute free-agent signings.
C-plus -- Rookie general manager Al Avila got mixed results from his offseason moves. The trade for closer Francisco Rodriguez gave the club ninth-inning stability it hasn't had in years, swaps for center fielder Cameron Maybin and left-hander Justin Wilson worked out very well and signing free agent right-hander Jordan Zimmermann has been good for the most part. But the signing of free agent Mark Lowe as the setup man has been a disaster and crumbled the bullpen while left fielder Justin Upton took three months to get untracked, although he continues to strike out way too much.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
B-minus -- The preseason expectations were to win the AL Central again and advance to their third consecutive World Series. Those are in danger with the rotation seldom chalking up quality starts to hand over to the best major league bullpen. The Royals are great at home, a 29-13 record, but horrible on the road, 16-30. Ned Yost best manage the AL to a victory in the All-Star Game to get home-field advantage for the World Series should Kansas City reach that.
D-minus -- The Twins were awful for most of the season and there's little sugarcoating it. They know it but until recently had done little on the field to stop it, which earns them the low marks. Perhaps the thing that typifies how things went for most of the first half is the fact that GM Terry Ryan had to talk about pitchers failing to cover first base three times in the same week when the team was in New York two weekends ago.
B-plus -- The Orioles began the season with a seven-game winning streak and repeated that twice more in the first three months, helped by good power, relief pitching and defense. Manager Buck Showalter's got just about all he can out of this group, especially the bullpen. The question still remains why general manager Dan Duquette did not obtain a starter in the offseason. The rotation has been the biggest weakness so far. The starting pitching must improve.
BOSTON RED SOX
B-plus -- Las Vegas thought the Red Sox were going to win the American League East, and while they don't sit in first place at the break, they are close enough and have overcome plenty of adversity. Coming off two straight last-place finishes, it's hard not to appreciate what's already been done -- with more work to do. General manager Dave Dombrowski added bodies near the break but you have the feeling there's a big fish (pitcher) out there and he will be in the running to get him.
NEW YORK YANKEES
C -- The definition of mediocre. While not picked as a championship team in preseason predictions, it is doubtful many thought the Yankees would be on a constant quest for a .500 record throughout the first half. The front office assembled a nice back end of the bullpen in Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller but the rest of the relievers have been spotty. The other offseason moves of getting Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks have been mixed at best.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
C-minus -- There's leniency only because of the injuries all over the lineup -- when this team was healthy and intact, the record was better than its pitching should have made it. Starting pitching hasn't been effective, putting more strain on a bullpen that lacked depth when it was healthy. At the plate, the Rays have struggled to produce with runners in scoring position, and more recently, to get runners in scoring position in the first place.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
B -- The Blue Jays were expected to make a run at the AL East title that they won with a strong second half last season. They have won 18 of their past 25 games and are two games off the lead in the AL East and well-positioned to make another strong run. They were 45-46 at the break last season and finished with 93 wins, thanks to some brilliant dealing by then general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who has since joined the Los Angeles Dodgers. The bar has been raised for the team and its new executive team of president and CEO Mark Shapiro and his hand-picked general manager Ross Atkins.