Sometime during spring training, parity snuck into the luggage of MLB players and made the trip across country to nearly every division in baseball.
The worst team in the AL East is playing .500 baseball. Albert Pujols forgot how to swing a bat while young guns Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo have the Angels in playoff contention. The Nationals and Phillies have ditched tradition to switch places at the top and bottom. And the Pittsburgh Pirates -- yes, I said Pirates -- are in first place of the NL Central.
But if we've learned anything from baseball and history it's to respect the full 162 game schedule. With approximately eighty games left to play for each Major League team, no squad is mathematically out of it. As long as ten-game leads with three weeks to play are a possibility, so too are the chances of down-and-out MLB squads at the mid-point of the year.
Here are five MLB teams with second-half potential to climb out of mediocrity and into playoff contention.
5. Philadelphia Phillies (37-50, last place , 14.0 games behind leader)
The reigning five-time NL East champions are in real trouble. A squad with big-name players who are proven winners have been hit hard by the injury bug and old age. Roy Halladay, arguably the best pitcher in the game, is sidelined on the DL while slugger Ryan Howard is finally making progress to get back on the field. It's hard to believe that a Phillies squad at full-strength from day one would be having this tough a time.
The Phils have nowhere to go but up as their players get healthy and return to the field. Add to that the meltdown in the NL East in 2011 by the Atlanta Braves and it's way too early to count out anyone in the division, especially Philadelphia.
4. Boston Red Sox (43-43, 4th place, 9.5 games behind leader)
No team in professional sports has been hammered for average performance amid devastating injuries like that of the 2012 Red Sox. It should be a near miracle that the team made it to the halfway point in the season with a .500 record.
Missing are key pitchers Clay Bucholz and John Lackey. The regulars are even more tattered with Carl Crawford, Jacoby Elsbury, and Dustin Pedroia all stuck on the disabled list. A perception of unrest has fallen over the clubhouse as well with new manager Bobby Valentine fighting to earn the respect of the city and team, but the biggest obstacle appears to be the lack of health that has infected the BoSox. If the stars can return from injury and perform at their proven levels then Boston has a serious shot at a run for one of the wild card spots in 2012.
3. St. Louis Cardinals (46-40, 3rd place, 2.5 games behind leader)
For proof of what the Red Sox and Phillies could be, see the quick turnaround of the Cardinals during the first-half of this season. St. Louis, who was rolling to start the year, was delivered a brick-wall roadblock with injuries to the likes of Jon Jay, Alan Craig, Carlos Beltran, and Lance Berkman.
But as the players gained their health and returned to the starting lineup, so did the Cardinals find their winning ways. With Berkman still on the disabled list and pitcher Chris Carpenter out for the year with injury, it's hard to think the frail St. Louis club can keep it together the rest of the season. As much excitement as there is over the Pittsburgh resting in first place at the All-Star break, remember that the Pirates were 46-43 on July 9th in 2011. We all know Pittsburgh's season didn't end as pretty while St. Louis made history with a world championship.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks (42-43, third place, 2.5 games behind leader)
The defending NL West champions are in a solid place considering the turmoil that has infiltrated the division. The Dodgers have shown just how thin they are as injuries have rocked the boat. Meanwhile, the Giants have struggled to overcome a rocky year by pitcher Tim Lincecum combined with a lack of consistent offense.
Even without pitcher Daniel Hudson for the rest of the season (Tommy John surgery) Arizona should be fully charged for a run at the top of the division thanks a talented and deep minor league pitching. The youth of the squad mixed with last year's successes have the squad hungry for postseason redemption as well.
1. Detroit Tigers (44-42, third place, 3.5 games behind leader)
The biggest buyers of the offseason in the AL Central, Detroit has rebounded from a rocky start to win five straight going into the break. A healthy squad led by big-name sluggers in Fielder and Cabrera have started to gel as defending AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander continues to lead the team from the mound.
Once the law of averages roll around to the rest of the staff, the Tigers should quickly catch up to the White Sox and Indians at the top of the Central. Chicago's pitching staff will likely pose the biggest threat, but the ability of the struggling Tigers to stay within striking distance hints at just how good they can be when playing at a high gear.
QOTD: What teams do you see turning it around before the end of the 2012 season?
Justin Mikels is a staff writer for Operation Sports. For more of his thoughts on the MLB, NFL, and NCAA football; follow him on Twitter @long_snapper.