Three days before July Fourth, we are a nation of haves and have-nots. Or at least we're an MLB of haves and have-nots. Don't believe me? Check out the standings. The Orioles, Indians, Rangers, Nationals, Cubs and Giants all lead their respective divisions by five games or more. It's the first time since divisional play began in 1969 that every leader had at least a five-game lead on the first day of July.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the closest we've ever been to this was in 1998, when five out of six teams held a cushion of five-plus at the end of June. Interestingly enough, the five teams that had large leads back on 7/1/98 (New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, San Diego Padres) all went on to make the playoffs. The only team that led on July 1 and didn't make the postseason that year was the Angels, who had a 3 1/2-game lead over the Rangers but were swallowed up down the stretch and finished three games behind Texas.
Does that mean that the O's, Tribe, Nats, Cubbies, G-Men and Rangers (why don't the Rangers have a nickname?) are locks to make the playoffs? Hardly. In fact, since divisional realignment, there have been only three years when all six leaders on July 1 won their divisions: 1996, 1997 and 1999. In other words, things change. People change. Teams change (just ask the 2015 Mets).
That being the case, let's take a look at how the leaders got to where they are, who's the biggest threat to make their massive margin melt away, and how likely they are to win the division.
American League East
Leader: Baltimore Orioles
How they got there: Bombs and bullpen. Baltimore's starting rotation was expected to get battered, and it has. But the battering hasn't been mattering (paging Dr. Seuss ... Dr. Seuss, please report to the white courtesy phone) thanks to a homer-happy offense that just set the record for most June jacks ever (56) and is scoring 5.2 runs per game, second best in the AL. A filthy bullpen led by closer Zach Britton (23-for-23 in saves) and criminally underrated middleman Brad Brach (1.04 ERA, 0.83 WHIP) has made the starting rotation a (relative) nonissue.
Odds of winning division (according to Baseball Prospectus): 38.4 percent, highest in AL East (Red Sox are next at 33.9 percent)
Leader: Cleveland Indians
How they got there: A still-alive 13-game winning streak that ties a franchise record, set most recently in 1951 (which isn't very recent). Prior to the streak, they were tied for first. Now they're six games up. So how have they managed to rattle off a baker's dozen in a row? Pitching, pitching and more pitching. During the streak, Cleveland starters have a 1.86 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP, and are limiting opponents to a sickly .165 batting average.
Biggest threat: Detroit Tigers. With young righty Michael Fulmer starting to make good on his first-round promise (3-1, 0.61 ERA in June), Detroit went 17-11 over the past month and could leapfrog the Kansas City Royals soon.
Odds of winning division: 92.8 percent (Royals are second at 2.7 percent)
Leader: Texas Rangers
How they got there: Smoke and mirrors. I jest, but really it's unbelievable that with starters Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Colby Lewis all on the disabled list, the Rangers somehow went 20-8 in June (could've been 22-6 were it not for back-to-back bullpen implosions the past two days) and boast a .637 winning percentage that's the best in the American League. While Rookie of the Year candidate Nomar Mazara has cooled off, Comeback Player of the Year candidate Ian Desmond -- whose 39 hits in June were tied for the second most in baseball -- has helped carry the offense.
Biggest threat: Houston Astros. Jose Altuve has nudged his way into the MVP dialogue, and George Springer has been a difference-maker at the top of the order: Since A.J. Hinch moved him into the leadoff spot, Houston's 25-9 record is the second-best mark in the majors.
Odds of winning division: 79.9 percent (Astros are second at 12.8 percent)
National League East
Leader: Washington Nationals
How they got there: During the preseason, their rotation wasn't as heralded as the Mets', but it's been just as good if not better. Max Scherzer & Associates are averaging 9.6 K's per nine innings and 3.7 whiffs per walk (both best in the bigs), and their 3.42 ERA ranks third. Offensively, even though Bryce Harper has struggled (.243 since May 1), his pals have picked him up: Daniel Murphy, who leads the NL in hitting at .351, and teammate Wilson Ramos, who's right behind him at .340, are threatening to become the first teammates since Boston's Manny Ramirez and Bill Mueller in 2003 to finish 1-2 in their league in batting.
Biggest threat: Miami Marlins. With the Mets banged up beyond recognition (see: spurs, bone) and Giancarlo Stanton finally awakening from his spring lumber slumber, Miami -- which acquired Fernando Rodney on Thursday -- looks like the only even remotely legit threat in a division that's weaker than Popeye during the Great Spinach Famine of ... whenever the Great Spinach Famine was.
Odds of winning division: 88.9 percent (Mets are second at 8.4 percent)
Leader: Chicago Cubs
How they got there: By developing young players, making big splashes on the free-agent market and giving their pitchers a secret potion that suddenly turns even the most marginal hurlers into Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown (when you have a sec, take a look at Jason Hammel's numbers before and after going to Chicago).
Biggest threat: St. Louis Cardinals. For a team that's just two games over .500, that plus-72 run differential is awfully large. In fact, it's the fourth best in the majors. Besides, they're the Cardinals -- as such, they're required by federal law to make a run, regardless of how poorly they start out.
Odds of winning division: 98.9 percent (Cardinals are second at 1.0 percent)
Leader: San Francisco Giants
How they got there: By having arguably the best 1-2 punch in baseball in Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto. And, offensively, by being this year’s version of the Royals. Their 80 percent contact rate is the best in baseball, and their 16.8 percent K rate is the lowest in the NL by almost 3 percent. That's why, even though they don’t have a singular regular hitting over .300 and have only one guy with double-digit homers (Brandon Belt, just barely), they're still averaging 4.7 runs per game, good enough for fourth best on the senior circuit.
Biggest threat: Los Angeles Dodgers. But let's not kid ourselves. After all, it's an even year.
Odds of winning division: 62.4 percent (Dodgers are second at 37.0 percent)