NEW YORK (AP) — Clayton Kershaw looks around the major leagues and sees opponents convinced they can reach the playoffs.
"It's just a matter of everybody beating up on everybody," the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher said. "We want everybody to feel like they're in it."
It's the year of parity in the major leagues, when almost no one has managed to break away from the pack or fall way behind. Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner and the reigning NL MVP, has a won-lost record reflecting the parity — he's 6-6.
Every team in the American League reached the All-Star break with a .450 winning percentage or higher. It's the first time an entire league did that since 1944, according to STATS, and many rosters that season were depleted of stars because of World War II.
"It's fantastic to see," Pittsburgh pitcher Gerrit Cole said. "All the teams at .500 all think they're going to finish over .500, and all the teams that are over .500, and even us, we're always fretting, looking behind our back."
Boston headed to the All-Star break in last place yet just 6 1/2 games from first — only the second time since division play began in 1969 the AL East spread was that close. The first-to-last gap has been that narrow in any division just nine times overall in the expansion era, STATS said.
"We're at the bottom of the barrel right now, but we're not that far out," Red Sox All-Star Brock Holt said. "It's just about going out and taking care of our business, and the standings will kind of take care of themselves towards the end of the year.
Oakland has the worst record in the AL but at 41-50 is just 8 1/2 games behind the West-leading Los Angeles Angels. While last in the AL Central, the Chicago White Sox are 41-45 and only 5 1/2 games out for the AL's second wild card.
"We have an unbelievable level of competitive balance," new baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "When I look at the standings, I think we're in for one heck of a ride in the second half of the season."
There is a little more spread in the NL, where the St. Louis Cardinals have the major leagues' best record at 56-33 and Philadelphia owns the worst at 29-62. Other than the Phillies, Miami and Milwaukee, every team is within single-digit games back of a playoff berth.
"It just shows that there's not really that a monopoly of a franchise right now," Baltimore closer Zach Britton said.
Kansas City was 48-46 at the All-Star break last year, 6 1/2 games behind AL Central-leading Detroit and 2 1/2 back of Seattle for the league's second wild card. By October, the Royals were one win shy of their first World Series title since 1985.
Royals manager Ned Yost said the bunching gave his AL players extra incentive in the All-Star Game.
"Everybody in that locker room is going to have a chance to continue to move forward and be playoff bound," he said before the AL's 6-3 victory.
Toronto, Seattle and the Marlins are the only teams that have not made the playoffs since 2005. Increased revenue sharing, the luxury tax on payrolls and restraints on amateur signing bonuses have helped more teams become competitive.
While the Dodgers opened the season with a payroll of nearly $273 million for their 40-man roster, according to Major League Baseball's calculations, there was a huge dropoff after that to the Yankees at $220 million and Boston at $187 million. Six teams were at $140 million to $175 million, seven at $120 million to $125 million, and six more above $100 million.
"A lot of teams that are expected to win are learning that the revenues that they are making ... they're actually going to have to spend some of those revenues to create the gap and not stay where they're at, because teams are getting close to them," agent Scott Boras said.
All that crowding in the standings has its impact on talks as general managers approach July 31, the last day to deal players without passing them through waivers first.
"It makes the trade deadline a lot harder, obviously," Kershaw said. "Not as many teams think they're out of it. It makes it tougher to get pieces, which means you've got to build your team earlier in the offseason, in my opinion."