But time flies, and we've reached the stretch run, folks — the final 50 games of the regular season. And thanks to the expanded playoff format, 18 teams still can be called contenders (although we're stretching it a bit with the Red Sox and Blue Jays, both sub-.500 through Wednesday.)
Schedules can have as much to do with stretch-run finishes as injuries and clutch performances, and here's a look at how each of the top 16 contenders stack up the rest of the way, ranked by league from easiest to toughest:
Outside of a select few NL cities, the Buccos are everybody's sentimental favorite to reach the playoffs (forget the finishing above .500 thing; that's clearly going to happen).
The good news is there's nothing schedule-wise that should hold them back. Their Cubs-Astros count is 13 (that many games left against those two also-rans), and they also have nine games with the Brewers, six with the Padres, and four with the Mets.
The challenges are home-and-home series with the Reds and Cardinals, plus four games against the Dodgers. Interestingly, they will be finished with the Cardinals on Aug. 29, while the six games with the Reds are in September.
Also interesting to note that the Pirates and Braves — currently the two wild-card leaders — will play the final series of the regular season. Could that be a preview of a one-game playoff?
The Braves will be on the road more than you'd like, including a west coast swing later this month. But they are a very solid 30-21 away from Turner Field, and get a much easier draw than the Nationals as far as strength of schedule.
They have series remaining with the Mets (6 games), Padres (7 games), Marlins (6 games) and Rockies (3 games), and in September/October, the only contenders they will see are the Nationals (Sept. 14-16) and Pirates (Oct. 1-3).
So there's every reason to think there won't be a repeat of last year's epic late-September collapse. And in fact, things are set up quite well for Fredi Gonzalez's team, especially if it can stay solid on the road.
A recent four-game skid has cost the Reds the top spot in the NL, but they remain in very solid position for a postseason spot. Their schedule isn't particularly challenging, save for a six-game trip to Pittsburgh and St. Louis to finish the regular season. But if they have clinched a playoff spot by that point, the trip might not mean as much as you'd think.
But you know they're thinking division title, of course, and the other big challenges will be home-and-home series with both the Pirates, Cardinals and Phillies, as well as series with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks.
The good news is their Cubs/Astros count is 16, plus three-game series with the Brewers, Mets and Marlins.
Chris Johnson isn't Hunter Pence or Hanley Ramirez, but if you thought the Diamondbacks got left behind the Dodgers and Giants at the trade deadline, you better think again.
Johnson got his ticket punched out of Houston to replace Ryan 'Tatman' Roberts (this season's easiest-to-predict regression candidate), and has outhit Pence and Ramirez to the tune of 11 for 34 with five homers and 16 RBI as a Snake. And no other contender will be able to dip into their farm system for quality pitching options such as Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs.
The Diamondbacks are hanging around, and do have nine more shots at the Giants and six at the Dodgers. Also, four of their last five series are against the Padres, Rockies, Cubs and Rockies, so a late run is very possible.
San Francisco Giants
General manager Brian Sabean has given his team some needed deadline assistance led by Hunter Pence, who completes an outfield rebuild from the 2010 World Series championship team.
In fact, if you look around, other than Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey, the lineup has turned over since then, and there's no Brian Wilson in the ninth inning. That leaves dominant starting pitching as the Giants' remaining signature strength. And to that end, Tim Lincecum is much more closely resembling his 2009-10 self since the second half began (3-1, 2.48 ERA).
The Giants will begin September by finishing up a Houston-Chicago road trip, and after that will stay entirely within the NL West, where they're 20-15 to date. That means nine more games with Arizona and six with Los Angeles, but also six apiece against San Diego and Colorado.
There's no bigger question on the minds of Nationals players and their fans than when Stephen Strasburg will be shut down. General manager Mike Rizzo will make that critical call, and even he isn't sure at this point, as he says it will be something of an eye-test decision. But it sure seems as if treating him like a fifth starter and spacing out his starts a bit prior to this point would have been the better way to go, doesn't it?
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
At least the Nats have regained the NL's top record, and are in very solid position wildcard-wise, if it comes to that.
St. Louis Cardinals
Everybody knows the closing strength of the Cardinals, so they never can be counted out. But it's not going to be easy for them to make up ground in the NL Central race, as they face the toughest of the three contenders' schedules.
A 10-game trip through Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Washington (Aug. 24-Sept. 2) is about as tough as it gets in the NL, and we'll see where the Cardinals stand at that point. They also have one more West Coast swing through San Diego and Los Angeles.
On the plus side, their Cubs-Astros count is 12, and they do have the Nationals and Reds at home to close the season, when a couple of playoff spots still could be at stake.
Los Angeles Dodgers
We know that new ownership means the Dodgers will shoot up to far-and-away payroll-leader status in the NL West. But was GM Ned Colletti able to do enough with the acquisitions of Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and Randy Choate to get the Dodgers back to this postseason?
The schedule maker has set up a very difficult road — toughest of any NL contender. On Friday, the Dodgers start a 10-game trip to Miami, Pittsburgh and Atlanta, then return home to face the Giants. And unlike the other two NL West contenders who will stay inside the division in the final month, the Dodgers face a very tough run with consecutive series against the Cardinals, Nationals and Reds.
A final note: They do close the regular season at home against the Giants.
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.