Welcome to the second half of the 2015 season, baseball fans. We're in for a wild finish to a campaign replete with playoff contenders, surprise stars and excellent performances.
If you enjoy pennant-race ball, this year is for you. But regardless of place in the standings, each team took some ups and downs into the All-Star break.
Below, find my review -- and look ahead -- for all 15 American League clubs. Each team-specific review/second-half preview is broken down as follows:
1. One player who exceeded expectations prior to the Midsummer Classic.
2. One player who could boost his team's fortunes by doing more in the second half.
3. A season-to-date snapshot.
Exceeded expectations:Kevin Pillar -- The 26-year-old went from fourth outfielder to strong contributor on offense and defense.
Needs to step up:Drew Hutchison -- Expected to be a leader on Toronto's pitching staff, the right-hander has instead struggled to maintain an ERA under 5.00.
Second-half skinny: Toronto's offense is propping up a poor starting staff. The Blue Jays will struggle to make the postseason if they don't receive more quality starts in the second half.
Exceeded expectations:Brett Gardner -- The outfielder has gone from good to great, and he will be part of the AL MVP Award discussion if he maintains his current pace.
Needs to step up:CC Sabathia -- The club seems reluctant to remove him from the rotation, so he needs to provide better results.
Second-half skinny: The Yankees lead the AL East, and they may be the favorites to win the division. Recently galvanized by the returns of Jacoby Ellsbury and Andrew Miller, the club boasts a deep lineup and a sterling back end to its bullpen.
Exceeded expectations:Manny Machado -- He has reached star status earlier than some expected and is a legitimate candidate for AL MVP Award.
Needs to step up:Chris Tillman -- Starting pitching has been the club's weakness, and Tillman was expected to be the leader of the group. He needs to keep Baltimore in games.
Second-half skinny: Baltimore is hanging around in the AL East race despite a long absence from Matt Wieters and disappointing first-half results from some starters. This team has the talent to put together a run in the second half.
Exceeded expectations:Chris Archer -- Previously regarded as a fine No. 2 or No. 3 rotation option, he is now among the 10 best starters in the Junior Circuit.
Needs to step up:Asdrubal Cabrera -- Offense is the Rays' biggest weakness, and Cabrera is among the few established veterans in the group. He needs to hit for average and supply more power in the second half.
Second-half skinny: On the strength of quality starting pitching and a strong bullpen, the Rays have hung around in the AL East race. But with seemingly little hope for offensive improvement aside from additions via the trade market, Tampa Bay could fall behind in the pack.
Exceeded expectations:Clay Buchholz -- The right-hander has bounced back from a disappointing 2014 season to become the ace of a staff that solely needed one.
Needs to step up:Rick Porcello -- Starting pitching has been the club's weakness this season, and Porcello has been one of its most disappointing starters. He doesn't need to be an ace, but he needs to string together quality starts and give his team a chance to put together a winning streak.
Second-half skinny: Boston's offense has been mediocre, and its rotation has been a notable disappointment. This team has the talent to climb back into the postseason race if its starting five rounds into shape in the near future. Young lefties Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson could make a difference down the stretch.
Exceeded expectations:Chris Young -- The right-hander started off the season by providing excellent relief work and has stabilized the rotation in the past two months. Kauffman Stadium is a great park for his skill set.
Needs to step up:Yordano Ventura -- Starting pitching has been this team's weakness, and Ventura is arguably its most talented starter. He needs to lead this staff in the second half.
Second-half skinny: With an amazing bullpen and a pesky lineup, the Royals arguably are the class of the AL. They are the Junior Circuit version of their Midwest counterparts -- the Cardinals.
Exceeded expectations:J.D. Martinez -- By taking his power numbers from good to great, Martinez has emerged as a serious contender for the AL home run crown.
Needs to step up:Justin Verlander -- This team needs better pitching behind David Price. With a massive contract and a lengthy resume, Verlander is the best candidate to lengthen Detroit's rotation.
Second-half skinny: The Tigers have plenty of star power, but they will be tested by the extended absence of Miguel Cabrera. A mediocre back of the rotation and an unimpressive bullpen could be their downfall.
Exceeded expectations:Brian Dozier -- The second baseman, who has followed up his breakout 2014 season by performing even better this year, could be one of few middle infielders to top the 30-homer mark in 2015.
Needs to step up:Phil Hughes -- This team is in the midst of a surprising postseason charge, but it would benefit greatly from Hughes duplicating his 2014 results and emerging as the ace of the staff.
Second-half skinny: Predicted by many to dwell at the bottom of the AL Central, the Twins are serious contenders for the postseason. They aren't particularly impressive in any area, but they also have few weaknesses. With some success in close games, they could stay in the Wild Card race until October.
Exceeded expectations:Jason Kipnis -- From the leadoff spot, the second baseman is having a career year. He is carrying an offense that contains several 2015 underachievers.
Needs to step up:Carlos Santana -- His patient approach results in a high on-base percentage, but he isn't collecting enough hits or homers to be the centerpiece of a lineup that desperately needs one.
Second-half skinny: With a powerful pitching staff and a cast of veteran sluggers, the Indians expected to be in the thick of the AL Central race. Instead, they are trying to decide if they are buyers or sellers as we approach the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Exceeded expectations:Chris Sale -- A torrid stretch across the past two months has put him into the discussion as the best pitcher in baseball. He has been one of the few players on his team to meet -- let alone exceed -- expectations this season.
Needs to step up:Adam LaRoche -- Chicago's disappointing lineup has had several underachievers, but LaRoche stands out. He was expected to be an effective cleanup hitter behind Jose Abreu, but he has struggled to hit for average or power.
Second-half skinny: With arguably the worst offense and defense in the Majors, the White Sox have fallen far short of expectations. This team has a couple cornerstone pieces, but it may need to reconfigure the roster that surrounds Sale and Abreu.
Exceeded expectations:Billy Burns -- The speedster has emerged as the sparkplug of a lineup that desperately needed a leadoff hitter when it lost Coco Crisp for an extended period of time. With a high batting average and terrific basestealing ability, Burns has been one of the best table-setters in the AL.
Second-half skinny: The A's sunk themselves with a poor start to the season, but they have played better in recent weeks. They will need to surge during the second half of July in order to avoid being sellers at the Trade Deadline.
Needs to step up:Shin-Soo Choo -- The outfielder was expected to bounce back from a disappointing 2014 season and become one of Texas' lineup cornerstones. Instead, he has struggled vs. left-handers to the point where he may soon become a platoon candidate.
Second-half skinny: The Rangers managed to stay in the postseason discussion during the first half, but their lack of pitching will likely keep them from being serious contenders into September.
Exceeded expectations:Dallas Keuchel -- Houston knew it had a solid starter in Keuchel, but he has improved to the point where he may win the AL Cy Young Award.
Needs to step up:Chris Carter -- When swinging a hot bat, Carter is among the best power hitters in baseball. But he has struggled to push his average to .200 this season. An improvement from Carter could turn a solid lineup into an excellent one.
Second-half skinny: The Astros have been surprising up to the All-Star break. They have an exciting young core that will try to qualify for the postseason.
Exceeded expectations:Albert Pujols -- By turning back the clock, Pujols has given the Angels a potent complement to superstar Mike Trout. Some expected a notable regression this season, but Pujols may instead win the AL home run title.
Needs to step up: Jered Weaver -- The longtime ace of the staff, Weaver has struggled to the point where he may no longer be among the team's five best starting options. The Halos don't possess a deep lineup, so they will need to receive quality starts on a steady basis in order to win the AL West.
Second-half skinny: Despite a mediocre offense and disappointing performances by Weaver and Matt Shoemaker, the Angels are in first place in the division. With the acquisition of a hitter or two, this club could have what it needs.
Exceeded expectations:Taijuan Walker -- Seattle hasn't had many positives this season, but Walker has been one. After a slow start, he has been working deep into games and limiting opposing offenses. Walker is a terrific sidekick for Felix Hernandez.
Needs to step up: Robinson Cano -- The Mariners' lineup has been among the least productive in baseball. Nelson Cruz has done his part to build a dangerous combination with Cano, but the second baseman needs to reach base more often and provide some of his own power.
Second-half skinny: Due to a low-scoring lineup, Seattle has had a largely disappointing season. At this point, the Mariners' lineup seems unlikely to surge forward in time to climb back into the postseason chase.
Dan O'Dowd is an MLB Network analyst and MLB.com columnist who served as general manager of the Rockies for 15 years, building a National League pennant winner in 2007. Prior to his time with Colorado, he worked in the front offices of the Orioles and Indians. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.