MLB: 10 Things We Learned in the First Half of 2019

Firstly, I think it’s silly that we separate the season into two “halves” at the All-Star break, when every team in Major League Baseball has already played at least 86 games and as many as 94. That’s more than half of the season, right? Here at MLB, simple math eludes us. And don’t get me started on — Oh, wait, I’m trying to write an article.

After Sunday’s games, the first half of the 2019 MLB season officially came to an end and sparked the beginning of All-Star week festivities. We learned a lot about the landscape of the game over the first half of the campaign, as well as what might unfold down the summer stretch and in October.

Let’s take a look at the 10 things we learned before the annual MLB All-Star Game.

The Surprise Teams in the AL are Here to Stay

The Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays, and Texas Rangers all failed to qualify for the 2018 postseason, and in 2019, the trio of incredibly surprising clubs are right in the thick of the playoff race. The Twins (56-33) are 5.5 games ahead of the Cleveland Indians for the top spot in the American League Central, while the Rays (52-39) are in the second AL Wild Card position, and the Rangers sit just three games out of the playoffs.

While the resurgent Indians and Boston Red Sox have come back into play in style, the surprise teams from the early parts of the AL schedule are clearly here to stay and at least make a play at bringing October baseball to their home ballpark.

It is High, It is Far, It is Gone, It is a Problem

You have almost certainly heard this already, but MLB players are hitting a lot of home runs in 2019. To me, this is fine! I think it’s good! MLB has long had a problem with making the game more enjoyable for youthful audiences, and the home run is easily the most exciting event in the game for casual fans. This is what we should want, and what MLB absolutely wants.

But the sheer absurdity of some of the first-half power numbers are cause for concern. So far this season, there have been 3,691 home runs hit, an MLB-record rate of 1.37 per game. This means we can expect the current single-season home run record, set in 2017 (6,105), to be clobbered.

This is different than the steroid era of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, in that everyone is impacted, not just those who decided to juice up. Only one thing affects all players: the ball. Justin Verlander (correctly so) believes that the ball — which is manufactured by MLB-owned sporting goods company Rawlings — has been manipulated to increase home runs on what would be routine fly ball outs. I post this link knowing that someone with a default profile picture and a username like “baseball1896257” will probably insult me on Twitter over it, but it must be done.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are a Godless Killing Machine

The winners of the last two National League pennants look destined to play for the World Series crown for the third year in a row. The L.A. Dodgers are a monstrous, soul-sucking hellhound of a baseball team and every other club should just forfeit their games against them.

At 60-32, the Dodgers possess the best record in the big leagues and a 13.5-game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West. Only one other team in the NL, the East-leading Atlanta Braves, have more than 50 victories. Cody Bellinger (6.6), Hyun-Jin Ryu (3.7), and Max Muncy (3.6) are all in the top 10 in Baseball-Reference WAR, while the pitchers behind Ryu in the rotation, Walker Buehler (8-1, 3.46 ERA) and Clayton Kershaw (7-2, 3.09 ERA), would be number-one starters on almost every other team in the majors.

Godless killing machine.

Dave Martinez Deserves Some Credit

The Washington Nationals went 28-11 over their final 39 games before the All-Star break, a sudden and dramatic turnaround that has shifted them from potential trade deadline sellers to legitimate October sleepers. In the first NL Wild Card position, Washington would host the Wild Card Game if the season ended right now, despite sitting at 19-31 on May 24. Many believed the team would trade off key pieces like Anthony Rendon or Max Scherzer, not long before firing manager Dave Martinez.

Something extraordinary happened that wasn’t apparent over the past couple of seasons: Guys are just buying into the system and meshing well as teammates, and that starts at the top. Martinez has done a valiant job in getting this team in the position they’re in and getting contributions from stars like Scherzer, Rendon, Juan Soto, and Stephen Strasburg and role players like Gerardo Parra and Kurt Suzuki alike. The only conclusion to come to is that Martinez has left an indelible impact on the clubhouse.

If they continue on their current stretch of downright dominance, there is no reason why the Nationals can’t win the NL East.

Yelich vs Bellinger is a Historically Epic MVP Battle

One of Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger isn’t allowed to win the NL Most Valuable Player Award, and that greatly upsets me. Even in a power-happy environment, both players are enjoying historically incredible seasons.

Bellinger: .336/.432/.692, 30 home runs, 71 runs batted in, eight stolen bases, 54 walks, 70 runs, 220 total bases, 1.124 OPS, and 191 OPS+ in 88 games (377 plate appearances).

Yelich: .329/.433/.707, 31 home runs, 67 runs batted in, 19 stolen bases, 52 walks, 66 runs, 215 total bases, 1.140, and 188 OPS+ in 82 games (365 plate appearances).

Both players might end up with top-30 seasons ever, and one of them won’t win the MVP Award. It might come down to accumulative stats, rate stats, or other stuff like baserunning (where Yelich has the advantage) or defense (where Bellinger is not only better than Yelich, but perhaps the best in baseball this season).

I really don’t like the idea of a co-MVP — which has actually happened before, when Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell tied for award — but if there was ever a season for it…

Someone Probably Definitely Should Have Signed Dallas Keuchel

Though he looked rusty in his first few starts, Dallas Keuchel‘s last start showed exactly why some team should have done the absolutely insane act of, uh, signing a free agent during the offseason. The Braves inked the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner to a one-year, $13 million deal shortly after the MLB Draft, and his masterful pitching display on Sunday was another example of how silly it was that no owner could pony up the money for the lefty.

Keuchel went 7.1 innings, allowing five hits, two earned runs, walking just one batter, and inducing 13 groundball outs, five fly-ball outs, and four strikeouts. He looked like someone with ace-level control and the mental focus to start a high-leverage playoff game, a task which he has historically been solid at (3.31 ERA in 51.2 innings of postseason ball).

Mike Trout. That’s the whole subheading. That’s all I need.

Every time I have to look at Mike Trout‘s Baseball-Reference page, I stay on the site for at least 30 minutes at a time. It’s mesmerizing.

Trout is building a case for himself as being the greatest player in the history of the sport, and his 2019 season is yet another exemplary campaign. In the quiet of a mediocre Los Angeles Angels team, the All-Star center fielder has posted a .301/.453/.646 slash line, 28 home runs, 67 RBIs, 76 walks, a 1.098 OPS, 191 OPS+, and 195 total bases. Though DJ LeMahieu, Jorge Polanco, Matt Chapman, and others will get some votes at the end of the season, Trout has essentially already locked up the MVP Award.

New Set of Rookies are Electrifying the Game

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Pete Alonso lit the Cleveland audience on fire in Monday night’s Home Run Derby. Fernando Tatis Jr. has an OPS over 1.000, is playing elite defense, and running the bases with reckless abandon at just 20 years old. Alex Verdugo is hitting .303 on the best team in baseball. Eloy Jimenez and Austin Riley each have 16 bombs in their first season in the bigs. John Means and Chris Paddack have ERAs under three.

The 2019 rookie class is one of the most exciting in the history of the game, and all of these guys listed above have the staying power and talent to blossom into permanent stars.

The Mets are a Joke

I mentioned Pete Alonso, right? I hope Mets fans are enjoying the season he’s having and how exciting it is to watch someone like him play.

The New York Mets are 40-50, fourth in the National League East. Mickey Callaway has been a tire fire as the manager of the club, their starting rotation has been underwhelming, and their marquee offseason acquisitions — Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Wilson Ramos, Jeurys Familia — have disappointed mightily.

Their farm system is depleted, their division is way too competitive to make a surprise run at this point, and their front office is completely incompetent. Pete Alonso, though!

An Exciting Playoff Race is Just Around the Corner

While October baseball is the best thing in sports, there’s a certain appreciation for the run of games in July, August, and September. The divisional races, Wild Card competition, and intense rivalry games are must-watch television, while the players in the running for individual awards step it up with the spotlight bright on their back. The allure of playoff baseball is all because of the anticipation of the summer stretch, and every year, it gets better.

There are five teams battling for two Wild Card spots in the AL and eight teams within five games of each other for the NL Wild Card spots. Even for casual fans, or supporters of teams outside of the playoff picture, it can be a very exciting time.

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