Can you believe we made it all the way through the first half? We’ve already seen epic brawls, surprise teams, a 20-strikeout game, debilitating injuries, returns from debilitating injuries, historic starts, historic rookies and individual performances that range from career years to retiring veterans to perhaps the greatest pitcher we’ve ever seen in the prime of his career. And also, we saw a home run from big sloppy fatso, Bartolo Colon. So let’s look at the first half that was.
The AL East
Playoff Teams: Baltimore, Boston, Toronto.
The Orioles are the surprise team of the first half, and I dismissed them outright until they became the last remaining undefeated team in the Majors. Everyone thought their pitching was going to be terrible. And it hasn’t been good (ask your Orioles fan friends their thoughts on Ubaldo Jimenez). But they lead the Majors in home runs (as does Mark Trumbo), they also have Manny Machado and while their division lead might not be sustainable, it’s not like the rest of the division hasn’t been extremely flawed thus far either.
The biggest story in the division is probably the fact that the 40-year-old, David Ortiz – in his final season – is the best hitter on a Red Sox offense that leads the Majors in Runs, Hits, Total Bases, RBI, Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, Slugging and Baby Powder Walk-Off Parties. The only problem is that, despite some pretty good individual performances from Steven Wright and Rick Porcello, the Red Sox are an even more extreme version of the Orioles (1st in Runs, 19th in ERA). Ask a Red Sox fan about Clay Bucholz. Or possibly, they’re just the Orioles with national media attention.
Update: I’ll probably have a lot to say about Drew Pomeranz next week.
After two last place finishes in a row, I just didn’t see how adding David Price and Craig Kimbrel (who have both disappointed) would be enough to justify their pre-season projections. And because I felt the baseball media was too giddy to anoint Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts as the heirs to the Big Papi iron throne, I took the Killer B trio as overblown media hype and focused my attention on Pablo Sandoval’s exploding belt. And boy was I wrong.
My pick to win the division was the Toronto Blue Jays, who might still be the best team in the East, overall. Josh Donaldson is quite possibly the first half MVP. I’d say they have the second-best pitching in the league, with a standout first-half performance by Aaron Sanchez. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic north of the border, even though Toronto’s first half will probably be best remembered for the strong jaw of Jose Bautista.
The Yankees and Rays have mainly been discussed in trade rumors, with Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller being the prized possessions before the deadline. I feel like a lot more attention should be given to Masahiro Tanaka, who might have pitched better than anybody in the league in the first half, despite nobody giving a shit. And C.C. Sabathia wasn’t too shabby, either. On the other hand, the previously-lauded Rays’ staff is about as bad as it gets. And I’d look for a lot of their struggling starters to get a change of scenery after July.
The AL Central
Playoff Team: Cleveland.
I picked the Indians to win the Wild Card because of their staff, and yeah, it’s been the best in the American League this season. Danny Salazar is probably the first half Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber is right up there and Trevor Bauer could also be in the conversation. All of that pitching, along with a better-than-expected offense (without Michael Brantley), lead Believeland to a 14-game winning streak on the heels of the Cavs winning the city’s first world title in 52 years. And they’re the AL favorites going forward.
And yet, prior to the season, I picked the Royals. Because how could I not pick the Royals after they’d gone to the World Series the past two seasons? Sure, they had bad projections. But they always had bad projections. Then they’d just do whatever it is that they do to win. Did you watch the All-Star Game? Eric Hosmer and his faux-hawk might have been annoying as he yelled about the Royals performing on big stages before. But he’s pretty much right. The main difference is that the 2014 and 2015 Royals were relatively injury-free. That totally has not been the case this year, with Wade Davis and Lorenzo Cain currently on the 15-day DL and Mike Moustakas out for the season.
With apologies to my editors, other than the Indians, the entire Central has been mediocre. Except for the Twins, I guess, who are fucking terrible. Except, you know, right before the break for some reason. The Tigers are 1-11 against Cleveland. The White Sox have Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, but don’t score any runs (somebody call Drake LaRoche!). And it’s like a bizarro version of the American League East, where very few teams hit and nobody has a positive run differential, except for the Indians.
The AL West
Playoff Team: Texas.
The Rangers were my pick in the AL West, solely because they won the division last year and they’d be getting a full season from Cole Hamels and the return of Yu Darvish. And when they were good, they were very good. But the Rangers limped into the All-Star break with Darvish and Derek Holland on the 15-day DL and Colby Lewis on the 60. But that’s not what we want to talk about, is it? We don’t even want to talk about the hot start of Nomar Mazara or the first half of Ian Desmond. We want to talk Roogie.
I’d say the most memorable moment of the first half of baseball this season was the Rougned Odor overhand right to the bat-flipping face of Jose Bautista. And, holy shit, do I want a Rangers-Jays rematch in the post-season. And you should too. So we should all pray to the baseball gods (Bill James and Peter Gammons?) that the Blue Jays stay hot and the Rangers can pick up an arm or two before the deadline.
Another reason the Rangers need help is because the Astros are creeping. And they were my pick for a Wild Card before the season. But I also took Carlos Correa as my AL MVP, so shows what I know (I meant to say Jose Altuve, I swear). After an awful start, the Astros turned things around. And they actually have better World Series odds than the Rangers currently.
Okay. Here are my Top 5’s of the AL first half.
Top 5 AL Position Players.
1. Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays. 5.4 WAR .424 wOBA
2. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels. 5.5 WAR .415 wOBA
3. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros. 4.3 WAR .400 wOBA
4. Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles. 4.3 WAR .392 wOBA
5. David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox. 3.3 WAR .451 wOBA
Honorable Mention: Ian Desmond, Robinson Cano, Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Kyle Seager.
Top 5 AL Pitchers.
1. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees. 3.0 WAR 3.31 FIP 3.23 ERA
2. Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians. 2.4 WAR 3.39 FIP 2.75 ERA
3. Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox. 2.9 WAR 3.48 FIP 3.21 ERA
4. Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays. 2.5 WAR 3.52 FIP 2.97 ERA
5. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians. 3.3 WAR 2.95 FIP 3.61 ERA
Honorable Mention: Steven Wright, Chris Sale, Trevor Bauer, Jordan Zimmermann, C.C. Sabathia, J.A. Happ, Rick Porcello.
Now for the National League.
The NL East
Playoff Teams: Washington, New York, Miami.
If you’ve read this column for a while, you may remember something I wrote back in March saying to call me when the Mets’ front four approaches a 19-20 combined WAR. Even earlier than that, I said that the Nationals’ front four might be even better than the Mets’. Well, here’s how it looked at the All-Star break.
Mets (Syndergaard, deGrom, Matz, Harvey) 10.0 WAR
Nationals (Strasburg, Scherzer, Roark, Ross) 9.6 WAR
So, I’m an idiot sometimes. Noah Syndergaard has been amazing, bone spur or not. And Jacob deGrom is quietly having a good year. So if not for a few health scares with Jason Matz and, I don’t know, the fact that they’re losing Matt Harvey for the rest of the season, this staff really could have approached 90’s Braves-level awesomeness. And that’s all without mentioning America’s sweetheart, Bartolo Colon.
I picked the Nationals because everyone was so jacked up about them last year and I figured that there was no way their luck would be as bad as it was in 2015. What I couldn’t have predicted was just how good Daniel Murphy was going to be. I really thought October was a fluke. The 14 home runs he hit last season were a career-high. And yes, I still hate him.
Despite an underwhelming first half from Bryce Harper (although he started on a goddamn tear), Wilson Ramos has also picked up some offensive slack. Stephen Strasburg (with his new contract) is the only qualified starter in the Majors without a loss. As well as the first NL starter since Rube Marquard in 1912 to win his first 12 decisions of the year. Max Scherzer struck out 20 Tigers in a game, throwing 80% strikes and making Brad Ausmus a 20K victim for the third time. And all that adds up for the most franchise wins at the break, along with the infamous ’94 Expos.
The Mets have been plagued by so many injuries, that the only way to make this fun is to remind you of the things Bartolo Colon has already done this season. That Mays-esque catch off the mound. That home run in San Diego. The reaction of the Mets’ dugout. That time he promised the catcher he wouldn’t swing. Any of the times he runs the bases. And I repeat; that home run he hit in San Diego. It’s almost hard to believe Big Sexy exists sometimes.
All that being said, the door is probably wide open for the Miami Marlins to make a run in the second half. They’re getting Dee Gordon back soon. They have Jose Fernandez. And if the Home Run Derby is any indication, Giancarlo Stanton could round out an outfield so good, that Ichiro might have to wait a while before getting 10 more hits.
The NL Central
Playoff Team: Chicago.
From the start, the Cubs were my pick to win it all. And they started so hot and so fun (wacky suits, mariachi bands) that a semi-epic collapse at the end of the first half still had them up 7 on the Cardinals in the division. Of course, there was the season-ending injury of Kyle Schwarber. And the past month of awful pitching. But overall, it’s been amazing. Dexter Fowler was Mr. April. Ben Zobrist was Mr. May. Jon Lester was Mr. June. Somewhere in there, Jake Arrieta threw another no-hitter. And Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo could arguably 1-2 in first-half MVP voting. Not that that’s a thing.
There was also the Javier Baez walk-off on Mother’s Day. The Travis Wood Game. The first Wilson Contreras at-bat. The game where Bryant had three bombs and two doubles. I just hope that the All-Star break was a reset button for a team that played 24 games in 24 days, that Arrieta can resemble his second-half performance from last year, that they get the help they need in the bullpen and all of their troubles are behind them. Then I can finally get to see the ending to what Sports Illustrated dubbed ‘the last great American sports story’. Ohpleaseohpleaseohplease.
You know, either that, or they could keep tanking and watch the Cardinals and Pirates pass them.
The NL West
Playoff Teams: San Francisco, Los Angeles.
All of the ‘Even Year’ dipshits can rejoice. The Giants are the best team in baseball at the half. Not that they were in 2010, 2012 or 2014. Uh oh, you fucking idiots. But Jeff Samardzija and especially Johnny Cueto were great pick-ups for San Francisco. Their front four has a 9.5 WAR, if you’re keeping score at home. And as good as the 20 K game by Scherzer and no-no from Arrieta were, the single best pitching performance in the first half was Madison Bumgarner’s from last week where he allowed 1 hit, 1 walk and struck out 14 in a complete-game shutout (98 Game Score). That would make me the only person on the planet actually talking about MadBum’s pitching.
In Vin Scully’s final season with the Dodgers, he might be witnessing the greatest pitcher in team history. Or maybe all-time. Or he could be hurt for a while. I don’t know. But Clayton Kershaw’s first half was so good, that I’d be willing to say he was the National League MVP, Cy Young and then Corey Seager could also let him hold his Rookie of the Year trophy while we’re at it (oh man, remember Trevor Story?). Anyway, the Dodgers’ staff was plagued by injuries. And I still can’t stand their fans. But I’d really love to see Kershaw come back soon and overtake San Fran in the Wins column.
Also, I was right about the Diamondbacks.
Now for the NL’s Top 5’s.
Top 5 NL Position Players.
1. Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs. 5.0 WAR .403 wOBA
2. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs. 3.5 WAR .419 wOBA
3. Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals. 3.7 WAR .410 wOBA
4. Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals. 3.1 WAR .414 wOBA
5. Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks. 3.1 WAR .407 wOBA
Honorable Mention: Nolan Arenado, Brandon Belt, Corey Seager, Marcell Ozuna, Paul Goldschmidt, Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Wilson Ramos, Freddie Freeman, Christian Yelich.
Top 5 NL Pitchers.
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers. 5.5 WAR 1.70 FIP 1.79 ERA
2. Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets. 4.0 WAR 2.06 FIP 2.56 ERA
3. Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins 3.9 WAR 2.13 FIP 2.52 ERA
4. Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants. 3.7 WAR 2.70 FIP 2.47 ERA
5. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants. 3.3 WAR 2.96 FIP 1.94 ERA
Honorable Mention: Stephen Strasburg, Drew Pomeranz, Jake Arrieta, Jacob deGrom, Tanner Roark, Kenta Maeda, Kyle Hendricks, Max Scherzer, Jaime Martinez, Steven Matz.
Alright. That’ll do it. See you in the outfield for the second half. Check me out on Comedians Talking Baseball with Joe Kilgallon, available on iTunes. Until then, Ichiro needs 10 hits and the Cubs’ magic number is 68.