The first half of the MLB season has come and gone as we are now at the All-Star break. For some teams, this is a welcome break and for others, it is unfortunate that they can’t continue their momentum. While teams take the time to rest and gear up for the second half we get treated to the all-star festivities. As great as those festivities are that isn’t the reason why we’re here today. As with any competition, there are those who surprised and those who disappointed. So let’s jump into the winners and losers so far this season.
Winner #1 Boston Red Sox
Many people, including me, predicted gloom and doom for the Red Sox before the season started. What has actually happened has been anything but that. Boston finds themselves in first place with a game and a half lead at the all-star break. The only team right now that looks to be a threat is Tampa Bay and they might be hard-pressed to keep up the pace. Boston is led by an offense that is only inferior to the Astros in the AL. If there is a cause for concern with this team it would potentially be their bullpen. That being said, Red Sox fans will be more than pleased to see their team in first place as well as seeing the Yankees miles away from the top.
Loser #1 New York Yankees
Speaking of the Yankees, this season has been such a disappointment. I like many pundits picked the Yankees to win the World Series and while that’s still possible it doesn’t look likely. The Yankees find themselves 8 games behind hated rivals Boston. To make matters worse, the Red Sox are 6-0 against them so far this season. It really is a nightmare scenario for the Yankee faithful and it might not end anytime soon.
As currently constructed this team doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room to make moves. With one of the league’s highest payrolls, the Yankees can’t just throw money at their problems. Especially since Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge are due for big deals themselves. It’s been over a decade since the Yankees won the World Series, a drought by their standards, and it’s hard to see that changing anytime soon.
Winner #2 San Francisco Giants
If you had the Giants in first place at the all-star break you’re either a liar or an irrationally confident Giants fan. Either way one of the biggest surprises has been the team from San Francisco. While everyone was debating either the Padres or Dodgers to win the division, the Giants have emerged from nowhere. Much of their success can be attributed to their stellar home record going 30-13 so far. That, however, doesn’t tell the whole story as they are one of the stingiest teams in baseball. Only the Mets have given up fewer runs than the Giants pitching staff in the NL so far. Only the Dodgers have a better overall run differential than the Giants in the NL.
This only shows that this team can sustain its success throughout the rest of the season. They aren’t heavily relying on one phase of the game, but are good on both sides. The one worry of course is that the Padres and Dodgers are both more talented than the Giants. That might catch up to them as the season wears on and the teams play each other more. That being said I fully expect the Giants to at worse clinch a playoff spot come seasons end.
Loser #2 St. Louis Cardinals
Like the Yankees, the Cardinals had sky-high expectations and just like their New York counterparts have fallen well short of them. The acquisition of Nolan Arenado was supposed to solidify this team as contenders in the NL. Instead, they find themselves tied for third in their division 8 games out of first place. Pitching has been their biggest reason for the disappointing first half. Cardinal pitchers have issued 24 more walks than any other team in the league. This includes 15 walks with the bases loaded.
Hitting hasn’t been much better as the team ranks in the bottom 5 in batting average. I mentioned before the Giants are good in both phases of the game and the Cardinals on the other end of that spectrum. The silver lining for the Cardinals is that they have been decimated by injuries and those players are coming back soon. They also have a few top prospects that are just about ready to make their MLB debuts and give this team a boost.
Winner #3 NL Division races
Coming into this All-Star break the Milwaukee Brewers had the largest division lead which is at 4. The other two divisions are even closer. What that should mean is that we are in for some fun and tight division races down the stretch. The fact that the two wild card teams will likely be from the west division means more pressure for the other two divisions. Not winning your division in the central and the east could mean missing out on the playoffs altogether.
The west will have the Giants, Dodgers, and Padres all fighting it out for the division with the two losers playing in the wild card game. The Central has the Brewers with a solid lead now, but their offensive woes might be all the Reds need to swoop in. Keep an eye out for the Cubs and Cardinals as one of those teams will make a run. In the east, the Mets reign supreme right now, but everyone excluding the Marlins could easily take over. Several division races going down to the wire is precisely what baseball wants to see.
Loser #3 Baseball’s Popularity
Baseball has been losing ground to other sports for years and that isn’t groundbreaking news. However, it is particularly concerning how little national news has picked up on Shohei Ohtani’s performance this season. What he has done this season is the closest thing we have had to Babe Ruth in decades. He leads the league in home runs (33) and is one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. He got voted into the All-Star game as a pitcher AND hitter. What he is doing is nothing short of remarkable and yet it has been treated like it’s no big deal.
Another blow to baseball’s popularity is that several of its biggest stars have gone down to injury. Ronald Acuna Jr. the Braves superstar outfielder just tore his ACL this past weekend and is out for the season. Mike Trout, arguably the best player in the league, has been out for a few months due to injury. Chris Sale, who is a top 5 pitcher, has been out all year long. Several other players come to mind, but baseball missing some of its biggest stars has definitely hurt.
The third and possibly the biggest reason is due to the pandemic pushing everything and making this summer different than the rest. Normally baseball doesn’t have to compete with so many things at once, but there’s so much going on at once. The NBA finals are going on as we speak, South America and Europe just wrapped up their showcase soccer tournaments. You had the Olympic qualifiers as well as the Stanley Cup playoffs not too long ago. The second half should see more attention to baseball as all those sporting events end, but it still is a bit worrying that something historic is happening in baseball and no one is batting an eye.