State of MLB First Half Recap
We are just starting the second half of the 2019 MLB season the meaning the first half of the season over and what a great first half it was. In this post I am recapping the state of MLB going into the second half. If the season ended today in the AL we have the Yankees being the top seed playing the winner of the Rays, Indians wild card game. The Astros and Twins would meet up in the other matchup of division winners . In the NL we have the Dodgers taking the top seed easily and would play the winner of the Nationals ,Phillies wild card matchup. The other NL matchup would be the division winners of the Braves and Cubs. The trade deadline is also upon us on July 31st. I always have this saying though, the real MLB season does not start till after the trade deadline. Especially when contenders address their weaknesses to gear for the playoffs. Let us start with the teams who are selling and are done with the 2019 MLB season the tankers.
Speaking of teams selling we first move to the tankers of this MLB season. Let me make this clear these teams just because of their bad records are not easy sweeps. The Orioles, Royals, Marlins, Blue Jays, Giants, Tiger and Mariners are all rebuilding and tanking for draft order and prospects. They will especially all be sellers at the trade deadline but we will get to that later on in the month. The Mariners after starting 13-2 in April now sit at 39-55 and are looking to shred payroll. They were truly this year’s Mets and were pretenders. The Marlins have a bright future and have solid pitching and present challenges to any team they face. You can just ask the Phillies that who are 6-7 versus the Marlins this season. The Blue Jays welcomed Vlad Guerrero Jr. to the Majors to continue to build on their future as Marcus Stroman may be traded soon. The Giants who boost one of the best bullpens in the league are ready to become sellers at the deadline and continue the Bruce Bochy farewell tour. The Tigers currently are sitting at 28-57 and are just ready to shed more payroll and get younger as Jordan Zimmerman and Miguel Cabrera contracts continue to linger. The Royals have some nice hitters in Whit Merrifield and Alex Gordon who will make good pieces on contending teams. Just like the Orioles, the Royals have a bright future for years to come. The Orioles currently have the worst record in MLB but that is the goal on their rebuild! Now we will move onto the contenders in the National League.
Contenders National League
The deepest team in baseball and the best team the NL are the Dodgers. Cody Bellinger continues his MVP season with .336 batting average and already has 71 RBIs. There is no question Bellinger is winning MVP this year. With AJ Pollock, Cory Seager and David Freese coming back the Dodgers have their full lineup and bench back. Pollock so far looks like his 2018 self which is a scary thought to think about for the middle of the Dodgers lineup. Max Muncy is having a quiet year as an All-Star. Alex Verdugo is also producing a quiet year in his first full season the majors with a .304 batting average. The Dodgers also have a deep starting rotation lead by CY young contender Hyun- Jin Ryu and his 1.73 ERA. Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler are also having productive seasons going 8-1 and 8-2 . Add that to Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda in the back end and you have options to see who pitches outside the big three in the playoffs. The entire Dodgers starting lineup is shutting down lineups left and right and posting an ERA of 3.39, which is best in the NL. The Dodgers currently have a commanding lead in the NL West and can start experimenting for the playoffs. The only weakness on this team that is noticeable is the bullpen and getting the ball to Kenley Jansen. Jansen himself who has velocity issues from time to time have struggled a bit as well. Joe Kelly had a bad first half after being the big signing of the offseason but has been his former self as of late. Pedro Baez and Dylan Floro are key guys as well and both have had their fair share of problems as well. However, when you are a lock for the playoffs like the Dodgers are. You can look past the issues till the trade deadline and go get a quality bullpen arm to be their setup man for Jansen. The reason is the past two postseasons, Jansen had been overworked and it showed.
Next, we move onto the Braves and boy they are hot. The Braves lapped the Phillies in the NL East and have a commanding lead five and half-game lead in the NL East. They do not let you gain ground or games on them, you have to beat them to earn it. The Braves have a top to the bottom deep lineup full of young players and veterans. All-Stars Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman lead the lineup and need no introduction. Add that onto a deep bench you have a lineup that can produce a lot of runs and is the backbone of the team. Moving onto the starting pitching the Achilles heel of the team.
The Dallas Keuchel signing gives them a boost to pair with CY Young dark horse Mike Soroka. Soroka is 10-1 with a light outs 2.24 ERA and is a contender for rookie of the year. Outside of those two, the backend of the starting rotation is inconsistent needs an upgrade.
You have Max Freid and Julio Teheran but the Braves may explore adding a third pitcher to their lights out the duo. The bullpen is the weak spot of this team and could also use an upgrade as Luke Jackson can be shaky in that closer role. Either way, the Braves are 58-40, trying to catch the Dodgers for the best record in the NL and sit in a good position heading towards the trade deadline.
That brings us to the Cubs who limped into the All-Star break going four out of six their last 10 games. Javier Baez, Kris Bryant Anthony Rizzo, and Wilson Contreras still pace their lineup. Contreras is now injured leaving a hole behind the plate and forced to the Cubs to trade for a backup catcher in Martin Maldonado. What keeps this team with a mediocre record is the bullpen. Cubs bullpen had 13 blown saves in the first half. Craig Kimbrel signing is trying to address that but the bullpen remains inconsistent could mean more moves for the Cubs in the future. As for starting pitching Jon Lester despite cooling off continues to be the ace. The Yu Darvish signing looks worse by the day. Cole Hamels and Kyle Hendricks are still solid rocking 3.49 and 2.98 ERAs. However, after having such a bad start in April. For the Cubs to be in first place sitting at 52-40 is something to be happy about going into the trade deadline where they will be big buyers.
Here come the Nationals who at one point where 12 games under .500 after being swept by the Mets in mid-May. Now at the All-Star break, the Nationals are seven games over .500 and are in the top wild-card spot. Max Scherzer is pitching the best baseball of his career from late May till the All-Star Break. Currently hurt Scherzer in his past eight starts, has a 0.95 ERA and 83 strikeouts against eight walks in 57 innings and has only given up just one home run.
The rest of the rotation Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez are all pitching efficiently and are the strength of the team. The 5th starting spot however continues to be inconsistent and will need am upgrade. For the offense Juan Soto has 56 RBI hitting .300 now and has the sixth-highest OBP in all of MLB. Anthony Rendon is an All-Star and leads the Nationals offense despite being a little banged up. The Nationals are now fully healthy with Ryan Zimmerman being back. The veteran Howie Kendrick has 49 RBIs in only 238 plate appearances. Trea Turner is the x-factor when in the lineup, they’re 10 games over .500 when he plays and is healthy. Either way, this team has had the best record in baseball since May 24th. They still have 13 games left against the Braves to try and catch them in the division.
The Phillies are now second in the NL East after limping into the All-Star break. Bryce Harper still hits around the .250 to .260 average and is below average in every important baseball stat. outside of RBIs and walks. The Phillies suffered a big loss in Andrew McCutchen being out for the year. Jay Bruce has done well in his absence but now sits on the IL himself. Injuries have played a big part in the Phillies demise. Segura once hitting .320 in April and May now hits in the .270s after an awful June. There has inconsistency for the Phillies lineup in general, being in the bottom half of the NL in batting stats. The entire bullpen is hurt and is in the bottom half of the NL in bullpen ERA. Jake Arrieta is playing through injury and underperforming, you can also add that onto being a locker room problem. Aaron Nola is starting to play like his 2018 form after a slow start. However, home runs given up are a problem for him this year. Well, he is not the only one as in general home runs given up is a problem for all Phillies pitchers as they are first in MLB home runs given up. Being 6-7 against the Marlins is inexcusable can explain why they have lost so much ground to the Braves and Nationals. It is July yet it feels like the Phillies are fighting for the playoff lives.
While the backend of bullpen continues to be one of the top bullpens in baseball despite a bad statistical June. The lineup is still paced by MVP contender Christian Yelich there is nothing more to say than that. The one glaring weakness on this team continues to be starting pitching and a lack of an ace. Compared to other contenders in the NL, the Brewers are behind in the starting pitching department. The Brewers and Cubs will be locked in a tight race in the NL Central for the rest of the season. So they need to be buyers at the trade deadline and find some experience and elite pitching for the playoffs. Brandon Woodruff is not bad but if you go off of last year their downfall was overworking their bullpen in the playoffs. As for the lineup it to is inconsistent outside of Yelich. You do not know which version of Ryan Braun will show up every day. Yasmani Grandal has been a quality signing and not putting up bad numbers. Jesus Aguilar, Lorenzo Cain, and Travis Shaw have dropped off compared to their stats from last year. Cain is rocking a 1.0 WAR so far and is only hitting .246. The Brewers are one of the disappointments of the NL so far and have a lot of work to do to try and reach their goal of a World Series appearance.
The Cardinals once had the best record in baseball in late April. Now in July, they are just hanging around in the division and wild card race waiting to break out again. They lost their closer Jordan Hicks to Tommy John Surgery ending his year. Andrew Miller is not the Andrew Miller we saw in 2015 and 2016. Michael Wacha is heading to the bullpen after struggling as a starter. The lack of a true ace is hurting this team a lot across the board. As for hitting Paul Goldschmidt has not produced as much as the Cardinals had hoped in the first half. Nobody in the starting lineup is hitting over .290 meaning inconsistency across the board at the plate. Matt Carpenter is having a horrible season himself hitting .214 and a .319 OBP. The Cardinals just keep hanging around .500 fighting for a playoff spot but there is nothing to get excited about on this team for now. Maybe the Cardinals will be buyers at the trade deadline to help make a playoff push against the Brewers and Cubs.
For the Mets, Micky Callaway’s hot seat grows every day to the point his general manager is throwing chairs at him. The Mets bullpen is in a bad state with 7.00+ June ERA and Edwin Diaz blowing multiple saves and nobody standing out in that bullpen. That trade of Diaz and Robinson Cano has not worked out for the Mets so far looks worse by the day. Pete Alonso continues his hot rookie year breaking record left and right. Alonso now has 30 home runs on the season and is the favorite to win NL MVP. Jeff McNeill is in contention for the NL batting title and paces the Mets lineup. Jacob Degrom is still in form and trying his best to work with an impossible situation. Outside of these three, the Mets are mediocre and right now are the joke of MLB.
Pirates need to give Josh Bell some help plain and simple. Bell is having a breakout year that gets overlooked because of the Pirates’ bad record. This pitching staff is terrible and that is only one way to describe it. The Chris Archer trade looks worse by the day. I still have no clue why they gave up some much for him. They have some talented hitting and have a talented closer in Felipe Vazquez. Now sitting below .500 and losing ground in the division and sitting 3.5 back in the wild card the Pirates season is on life support. I also expect this team to be big sellers at the trade deadline.
The Reds have had their hot stretches this season teasing you that they be a playoff contender. The talent is there with Nick Senzel, Yasiel Puig and Eugenio Suarez all having solid years. Joey Votto’s name speaks for himself despite only hitting .265. If you look at their pitching staff one name that stands out is CY Young contender Luis Castillo with his 2.28 ERA. Another name that stands out in a bad way is Tyler Mahle. If you want to know why the Reds are under .500 and losing ground in the playoff race look no further then, Tyler Mahle. A 2-10 pitching record is just unacceptable and costs your team valuable games in a tight playoff race. It will be interesting to see if the Reds will be sellers at the trade deadline or be buyers. Either way, I believe there are pieces to build on for the rest of the season and the future.
The Padres to me are still a year or two away from being a playoff team and a potential challenge to the Dodgers They have baseball best farm system and have a bright future. Manny Machado finished the first half strong getting his batting average up to .266. Power is the main thing you need to know with the Padres. Three players Hunter Renfroe, Franmil Reyes and Machado all have 20 plus home runs. Fernando Tatis Jr. is a star in the making hitting .327 in the second half and the average could be higher, had he not gotten hurt. The only weakness of this team that is noticeable, is starting pitching because of a lack of a true ace and depth. The same goes for the bullpen outside of Kirby Yates.
Oh, the Rockies are the most home and away team you will ever see in baseball. Outside of Coors Field, the Rockies are an average baseball team. That also applies to All-Star Charlie Blackmon. Blackmon is hitting .359 at home and .259 away. Nolan Arenado is being Nolan Arenado, who is well onto his way to another gold glove. Do not forget about David Dahl .308 average either. The lineup is not bad but Daniel Murphy is not the first baseman. However, the Rockies are 27-13 when Daniel Murphy gets a hit. Ian Desmond is also not a center fielder in my mind as well. I will not even get into the pitching as it is a pitchers nightmare to play half their games there.
For the Diamondbacks, I always thought their offseason moves singled a tear it down and rebuild. However instead they are teasing the NL with their hot stretches and good play in the first half. They have to deal with the wrecking ball Dodgers so the divison is out of reach. However they are in the thick of the NL Wild Card race sitting only 1.5 games back of second. Zack Grenkie is still doing his thing as the ace. Robbie Ray is only 6-6 but has a solid 3.96 ERA. Ketel Marte has made himself the best second basemen in the NL and maybe in baseball. Eduardo Escobar has 68 RBIs and a .884 OPS to add another bat behind Marte. As for their bullpen Greg Holland has blown some saves recently against the Dodgers potentially creating bullpen problems. This is another team that may be buyers at the trade deadline.
The Yankees are hot and are tied with the Dodgers for the best record in baseball at 62-33. The bullpen remains the strength of this team with Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman taking the eighth and ninth inning. Chad Green also offers support as well. They have taken control of the AL East even without Giancarlo Stanton, ace Luis Serverino, Jacob Ellsbury etc. They have had a lot of injuries, which makes this run even more incredible. As for hitting Luke Voit, Gary Sanchez ,DJ LeMahieu continue to pace the Yankees lineup for most of the season. Lemahieu is in contention for the AL batting title and is best in baseball with hitting with runners in scoring position. I can tell you nobody saw that coming at all. Aaron Judge has returned from the IL list to make their lineup even deeper and more a threat. They brought in Edwin Encarnacion as the DH to be a home runner hitter in the middle of the lineup as well. The most important thing is the Yankees have been taking care of the division against the Rays and Red Sox. As a result they have opened a big lead in the AL East. I expect Brian Cashman to make the Yankees be buyers at the trade deadline and acquire more pitching. The matter of fact is I still am not sold on their starting pitching. They need better quality arms for the playoffs as I see that as their only weakness minus strikeouts of course.
The main contender in the AL outside the Yankees is the Astros. There was some slumping in June that can be related to injuries. injuries have put Carlos Correa and Brad Peacook on the IL. The callup of Yordan Alvarez has given the Astros another power bat in their lineup. Micheal Brantley is in contention for an AL batting title. Alex Bregman is producing home runs, RBIs and getting on base for his teammates. Despite Jose Altuve being in a bad slump. Josh Reddick has helped pick up some slack hitting .292. As for pitching Justin Verlander continues to do his thing with a 11-4 record and the leader in the AL Cy Young award. Gerrit Cole is unstoppable at home to hit. Outside of those two however is inconsistency that needs to be addressed at the trade deadline. The Astros bullpen ranks fourth in MLB in bullpen ERA so no problems there. I still believe this team is the best team in the AL.
Can you name me five players on the Twins? Well if you can congrats because that’s hows under the radar the Twins have been. They are the biggest surprise of 2019 so far sitting at 57-33 and first AL Central. This team does not have any stars that stand out. However the Twins have players like Byron Buxton, Max Kepler. Jorge Polanco and Nelson Cruz who embrace their roles and can hit for power. They hit, score and play good defense. They also have two solid pitchers in Jose Berrios and Jake Odorrizzi. The Twins will make the playoffs and are fighting for homefield against the Astros and Yankees. MLB did not do them well by not having as many All- Stars as the other contenders. However a quiet team like the Twins will be a pain come the playoffs. You know want to know why? The Twins have yet to lose three games in a row all season something that is important comes playoffs! They are not pretenders as people once thought back in May. So expect the Twins to be buyers at the trade deadline to go continue their playoff push and address team needs.
One of my wild card picks coming into the season was the Rays. Their pitching and defense is one of the best in MLB. Blake Snell and Charlie Morton are two of baseball best pitchers. Morton is a legit Cy Young contender. After a hot start of being the top team the AL East. The Rays have fallen back to the Yankees. The analytic based Rays still hold the top wild card spot by 1.5 games over a logjam of four teams within three games. However with the Yankees getting healthy the odds of winning the division are getting tougher by the day. As for their lineup nothing stands out expect for young players Brandon Lowe and Austin Meadows. This is a team that lives or dies off their pitching and defense. Their bullpen however has been shaky as of late with a lack of a true closer. If they want to win against good teams that needs to be addressed. Oh and their stadium is still awful and no one still shows up either for a potential home wild card game.
The disappointment of the 2019 season so far. I cannot express how bad of a championship hangover this as been. if the season ended today they would miss the playoffs. Chris Sale looks lost with a 3-9 record. The starting pitching and bullpen have been inconsistent. One night the Red Sox look like a championship team. Then the next night they look like an average baseball team. Now 10 games back of their rivals in the AL East, they acquired Andrew Cashman to try and begin a fix of their biggest problem pitching. There has been talk of moving starters like Nathan Eovaldi to the bullpen to try and generate a spark. The matter of fact is their lineup of Rafael Devers, Mookie Betts, JD Martinez and Xander Bogaerts cannot win them every game. If they want to make the playoffs their pitching needs to step up end of story. I expect the Red Sox to be one of the biggest buyers of the trade deadline.
Just like the Diamondbacks I thought the Indians window had run out. Instead they are in playoff contention fighting for a wild card spot. Their lineup is led by All Star Carlos Santana and shortstop Francisco Lindor. As for pitching their once dominate pitching staff is no more. Trevor Bauer is a prime trade target for other teams. Shane Bieber was an All- Star MVP and now the ace of the staff. Outside of those two you do not have much else to offer for starting pitching. Despite the lack of big names the bullpen does rank fifth in MLB in ERA. Either way the Twins have taken care of the Indians so far to take control of that division. The second half will be an interesting one for the Indians as I once again have no clue where the future of this franchise is going?
It must be hard to have the Astros in your division every year. As a result once again at the All-Star break the Athletics sit as the second wild card team. Matt Chapman was an All-Star and leads the team in almost every hitting stat. Khris Davis had an off first half compared to the last couple of years but the power is still there for him. Nothing else stands out hitting wise in the lineup. They do have the best outfielder arm in baseball in Ramon Laureano, spoiler alert do not run on him. As for pitching their potential All- Star pitcher Frankie Montas was suspended for 80 games and they are still trying to recover from that. Blake Treinen has had a down year compared to his dominate year last season. Despite this the bullpen is top 10 in bullpen ERA but not as good as last season. The starting staff is solid with Mike Fiers, Brett Anderson, Frankie Montas all having nine wins each. As the second half begins the Athletics are in the same position as they were last year, fighting for a playoff spot. Oh and getting Homer Bailey is the start of being buyers at the trade deadline as well.
Well I did not expect the Rangers to be fighting for a playoff spot as this point in the season. However the resurgence of All- Star Hunter Pence’s career plays a part in that. Despite his injury Pence was hitting .294 with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs. Joey Gallo too was an All-Star and is a home run hitting machine. It is crazy how much teams shift Gallo too to the point he can bunt doubles. Elvis Andrus is still doing his thing hitting .301 at the break. Nobody talks about Shin-Soo Choo either his solid season so far. This is a surprisingly productive lineup that can put up runs and hit for power. As for pitching Lance Lynn is the ace of their pitching staff sitting at 12-4 with a 3.69 ERA. Mike Minor follows with a 2.73 ERA forming a good duo. Outside of that you have nothing and a bullpen that sits in the bottom half of the league in bullpen ERA. Clearly at the trade deadline the Rangers needs to address pitching depth to make a serious push for the playoffs. Either way the AL West is just going after the wild card spots with the Astros big division lead.
What an emotional couple of weeks it had been for the Angels. They lost teammate Tyler Skaggs (RIP) and in their first home game without him threw a team no hitter. Mike Trout is the AL MVP without a doubt. Tommy La Stella is an All-Star and is putting himself as one of the best second basemen in the league. David Fletcher is a name nobody talks about in their lineup. Shohei Ohtani returned from injury only as a DH. The lineup is still one of the better lineups in the AL but why so out of the playoff race? Well the pitching staff is the reason why their current record is 48-46. With Skaggs death the Angels now have a bigger hole in their rotation. To me they are out of the playoff picture as there are too many teams to pass in the wild card. Another year of Mike Trout prime being wasted. Oh and their free agency moves well were bad and put this team in a hole they cannot climb out of in the second half. That no hitter however is why we watch and love sports so thank you for that touching moment Angels.
The White Sox are on the verge of being put on the tankers list. However the young talent on this team cannot be ignored. Tim Anderson is a fun player to watch with his bats flips and his .317 batting average. Lucas Giolito is having a breakout year as an All-Star. You throw in Reynaldo Lopez and that is their duo of the future. Do not forget about the veterans either in All- Stars Jose Abreu and James McCann. Nobody talks about these breakout years because thw White Sox are the little brother to their rivals the Cubs. Oh and having a record below .500 of 42-47 does not help either. There are some bright spots and pieces here to build on the future. For now it seems the White Sox are heading towards tanking territory for the second half of the season because they are mediocre.
By Ashkan Motamedi