MLB season hits midway mark: What we learned in first three months, plus three things to observe in second half

With all due respect to the All-Star break, which traditionally separates the first and second halves of the MLB season, Friday is the official halfway level of the 2021 regular season. It is the 93rd day within the 186-day schedule, and so far 1,197 of two,430 video games have been performed, or forty nine.3 p.c. 18 of the 30 teams are in the 80-82 video games performed vary.

If you could transport a baseball fan from, say, September 2019 to July 2021, they would not notice too much of a difference within the game. We still have a few wonky rules (seven-inning doubleheader games, additional innings runners, foreign-substance checks, etc.) and some people are nonetheless required to put on masks in the dugout, however by and huge baseball is again to normal. The stands are packed and expertise is shining.

Now that we’re on the halfway level of the season, let’s take a second to recap what we’ve seen thus far, and break down what we now have to look ahead to these next few months. Come with me, won’t you?

If the season ended right now …

During the 60-game season a year in the past MLB and the MLBPA agreed to a 16-team postseason field that let greater than half the league into October. The two sides were unable to agree to an expanded postseason format for this season, so we’re back to the same old 10-team format that has been in place since 2012. Here’s the present postseason bracket:
AMERICAN LEAGUE
Wild Card Game: Rays at Athletics
ALDS1: Wild Card Game winner at Red Sox
ALDS2: Astros at White Sox

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Wild Card Game: Padres at Dodgers

NLDS1: Wild Card Game winner at Giants
NLDS2: Mets at Brewers

There’s a chance, perhaps even a very good one, the postseason will be expanded permanently with the model new collective bargaining settlement next yr. This could be the Wild Card Game’s swan track. I’ll miss it. I would not say it is honest to thrust a team proper right into a winner-take-all state of affairs after a 162-game common season, however the Wild Card Game is large baseball theatre.

Biggest shock: San Francisco Giants
I do not assume this category is even up for debate. None of us here picked the Giants to complete higher than third in the NL West, and the projection methods at FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus each pegged San Francisco to win seventy five or so video games. Yet right here they’re, with baseball’s greatest record (50-29) and third greatest run differential (plus-97) on July 1. They have a 1 1/2-game lead in the NL West.
The Giants are surprising on either side of the ball. They’ve turn out to be a haven for veteran pitchers looking to resurrect their careers, with Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood (and briefly Aaron Sanchez) turning into rock stable starters. Kevin Gausman has been an ace since joining the club last 12 months, and while the bullpen may be leaky at times, it has been ok up to now.

San Francisco can be one of many highest scoring teams in baseball and, weirdly, they lean on the home run. Even during their mini-dynasty within the early 2010s, they ranked near the bottom of the league in homers. This 12 months they’re second in the league in dingers and getting resurgent seasons from Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford (and Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria earlier than their injuries).

The Giants have one of the oldest rosters in baseball (they have the oldest group of position players) and it’s fair to marvel whether they’ll maintain this up all 12 months, or whether fatigue and put on and tear will turn into an issue later in the season. For now, the Giants have banked a ton of wins in the first half, and they’re the third staff crashing what was expected to be a two-team NL West.

Biggest disappointment: New York Yankees
Coming into the season, the Yankees had been on the brief list of potential World Series contenders. At the midway mark, they’re only two games over .500 with a commensurate run differential (minus-3), and if the postseason began today, they’d be watching from residence. Dating back to Opening Day 2020, the Yankees have played at an 86-win tempo.

The pitching has been surprisingly strong. There were issues behind ace Gerrit Cole and understandably so, however the Yankees are near the top of the league in runs allowed per sport. The pitching generally keeps them in games. The offense though? Woof. The Yankees are one of many lowest scoring teams in baseball. The backside of the AL runs per sport leaderboard:

Tigers: four.00
Rangers: four.06
Orioles: 4.11
Mariners: 4.11
Yankees: four.11
New York’s lineup is essentially the same as last season, which is a part of the issue. Everyone is year older they usually remain overly right-handed. They’re prone to hard-throwing righties and susceptible to hitting into double plays, and so they’re not hitting sufficient home runs to compensate. The Yankees are designed to do one thing and so they’re not doing that one factor.

Based on current records, it is going to take ninety five wins to reach the postseason in the American League. The Yankees need to go 54-28 the relaxation of the way to get to ninety five wins, or a 107-win tempo throughout a 162-game season. Can this team do that? Sure, it wouldn’t be the most surprising factor in the world to see them go on a three-month tear, but it would need to happen fast.

Honorable point out goes to the Braves and particularly the Cardinals. At one point St. Louis was 25-18 with a 3 1/2-game lead within the NL Central. Since then, they’ve lost 23 occasions in 38 video games, and fallen to eight video games back within the division. Yikes.

Sleeping big: Toronto Blue Jays
At 41-37, the Blue Jays are 7 half video games again within the AL East and four 1/2 video games back of the second wild card spot. The bullpen has given supervisor Charlie Montoyo plenty of complications, particularly recently, and the back of the rotation could be better as properly. There are cracks within the dam, little question about it.

That stated, Toronto has a fierce offense and one of many highest scoring lineups in baseball. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is having a monster MVP-caliber season, and his supporting forged (Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, Marcus Semien, and the newly wholesome George Springer) is great as nicely. This offense will wreck a pitcher’s day real fast.

A weak bullpen and an unlucky 6-10 record in one-run games has held again a staff with a dynamite offense, a bona fide ace (Hyun-Jin Ryu), strong sufficient No. 2 and three starters (Robbie Ray and Alek Manoah), and the seventh-best run differential in baseball (a nice plus-69). They’re additionally sneaky good defensively, significantly on the infield. Toronto does lots of issues nicely.

It may be too late to get again into the AL East race, however the Blue Jays are going to be handful down the stretch. Both down the stretch this year and in future years. The young position participant core is excellent and enhancing, and they have the resources to enhance their pitching. This is not a staff is ignore regardless of their present spot within the standings.

The honorable mention here is, after all, the Dodgers. The defending World Series have kinda sorta stumbled through the first half, but they’re as deep and as talented as any staff in the sport. The reality Los Angeles is only one half games back while giving off this underwhelming vibe and the Giants being so great has to leave San Francisco feeling uneasy.

Most more likely to fade: Cleveland
It is type of wonderful Cleveland is seven games over .500 and solely 4 video games again in the AL Central. The lineup apart from José Ramírez and Franmil Reyes provides opposing pitchers plenty of delicate touchdown spots, and the pitching has been merely good somewhat than typically nice. Cleveland is averaging 4.45 runs allowed per recreation this 12 months, nearly precisely the MLB average (4.44).

The pitching is the explanation I anticipate Cleveland to fade. Shane Bieber is hurt, Aaron Civale is harm, and Zach Plesac is harm. All of their horses are hurt (Bieber and Civale are still a ways away too) and so they’ve had to dip very deep into their pitching reserves. I’m undecided the offense and the bullpen can prop the makeshift rotation up lengthy sufficient to maintain Cleveland in the postseason race.
A week in the past presently I was planning to list the Brewers as an honorable point out here, but they’re on some sort of heater right now, and have opened a six-game lead in the NL Central. I’m not betting towards them now, so as an alternative I’ll go with the Mariners. They’re only five games back of a wild card spot, however are 42-39 with a minus-47 run differential. The latter better displays their talent.

Three key storylines for the second half
1. DeGrom’s pursuit of historical past. At this level, Mets ace Jacob deGrom is one of the best pitcher we have seen since peak Pedro Martinez. I say that with all due respect to Hall of Famers Roy Halladay and Randy Johnson, and all of the others who’ve dominated during the last 20 years. DeGrom is just on one other degree right now. A level not seen since peak Pedro.

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