The 10 Best Moments From Major League Baseball's First Half
The All-Star break is not the halfway point of the MLB season. I know it, you know it, and the American people it.
But unofficially, it is. It's a symbolic thing, you know. And since I'm into symbolism, and because there aren't going to be any real baseball games played for the next few days, now is the best time to take a look back at the "first half" of the Major League season, even though it isn't truly the "first half."
This is leaving you feeling a bit hollow inside, huh? Have no fear, there are lots of video and fun times below, so just enjoy it.
Max Scherzer Strikes Out 20
Perhaps the greatest feat by a single player this year was Max Scherzer's 20-strikeout performance against the Detroit Tigers on May 11.
Scherzer gave up six hits and two runs in the game, both on homers, but had electric stuff that left Tigers batters looking foolish all night. He actually had a chance to break the record and record his 21st strikeout, but James McCann grounded out instead.
Scherzer, an All-Star once again this season, has been his usual brilliant self, 10-6 with a 3.03 ERA and a league-best 164 strikeouts. He's given up a few more homers this year, a league-most 21 so far, but he's been durable once again, with an NL-best 19 starts.
Jake Arrieta's No-Hitter and Dominance Continued
Scherzer's 20-strikeout game had a Game Score of 87, tied for 14th-best in baseball this year. But it wasn't a better score than Jake Arrieta's no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds, with Arrieta in the midst of one of the greatest streaks in baseball history.
His Game Score for that night was 89, tied with four other players for eighth-best, and was another notch in the chain of a stretch dating back to 2015 in which he was simply unconscious.
From August 4, 2015 through May 31 of this year, Arrieta went 20-0 in 23 starts. He had an ERA of 0.94. He gave up 17 earned runs in 163 1/3 innings pitched. Only twice did a team score at least three earned runs off him in any start, and in 14 starts, he didn't allow a run at all.
But Arrieta has slipped as of late, much like the rest of the Cubs pitching staff (more on them a bit further down the list). In his last seven starts, he's 3-4 with a 4.81 ERA and a 3.61 FIP and is walking an unfathomable 4.12 batters per nine innings.
The All-Star break is coming at just the right time for Jake Arrieta.
There are not a lot of analytics to break down here, unless you want to calculate the degree of force with which Rougned Odor landed his right cross on the jaw of Toronto's Jose Bautista during a wild melee that carried over from last year's ALDS Game 5.
Bautista went in hard on Odor at second base, and Odor didn't like it one bit, and a fracas ensued between the two clubs. You'll remember last year, in a wild game that went down as one of the most memorable postseason games in baseball history, it was Bautista who hit a dramatic, late-inning home run, complete with the epic "bat flip heard round the world."
There aren't many brawls like this in baseball anymore. Players are so friendly with each other that there isn't much bad blood to go around. But that was not the case with the Rangers and the Blue Jays, and it probably still isn't.
Trevor Story, Rookie Sensation
Colorado shortstop Trevor Story was the story everyone was talking about at the start of the season.
The rookie started smashing taters in early April and just... did... not... stop. He hit seven in his first six games and, for the entire month of April, went yard 10 times, with a wRC+ of 143 and an isolated power of .435.
Since then, in May, June and the first part of July, he's hit 11 more with a wRC+ of 98. He hit two in a game against the Phillies this weekend, his 20th and 21st.
Those 21 long balls tie him with San Francisco’s Dave Kingman (1972) and St. Louis’ Albert Pujols (2001) for the most home runs by a rookie before the All-Star break. He's slowed down quite a bit after a hot start, but he's having one heck of a rookie season in terms of power.
Bartolo Colon's Home Run, All-Star Game Nod
Yes, it actually happened. Bartolo Colon hit a pitched baseball that landed on the other side of the fences that line the outfield, sometimes more than 300 feet away!
We call it a "home run," although Colon hasn't actually "run" since 1995.
It was the 42-year-old's first home run of his 19-year career, going deep off James Shields (pity poor James Shields, people), his first hit of the season and just the third extra-base hit of his professional life. He also became the oldest player in MLB history to hit his first career home run, surpassing Randy Johnson, who was 40 when he went yard.
According to Statcast, the ball left Colon's bat at 97 miles per hour and landed 365 feet away. He took more than half a minute to round the bases.
For his career, Colon is a .093/.100/.118 hitter in 269 career plate appearances, so yeah, calling it "unexpected" would be an understatement.
For a little while there, everything was fine in Kershaw-ville.
The four-time ERA champ, three-time Cy Young award winner, and former MVP was having another season exactly like his previous ones, 11-2 with an NL-best 1.79 ERA and three shutouts in 121 innings. He led the league in ERA+ (200), FIP (1.70), WHIP (0.727), hits per nine allowed (5.9), walks per nine (0.7), and strikeout-to-walk ratio (16.11). He struck out 145 batters and walked 9. And his WHIP is lower than the record-holder, Pedro Martinez (0.74), set in 1999.
And then, his back flared up. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list, further crippling a Dodgers pitching staff that had seen the following players go on the disabled list this season: Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-jin Ryu, Alex Wood, and Mike Bolsinger. Kenta Maeda has pitched very well this year, but Scott Kazmir has not, even though he's been healthy.
Ryu and McCarthy are now back, and the team traded for Bud Norris from Atlanta, so some of the other arms are returning to health. McCarthy has pitched well upon his return, and L.A. hopes the depth they worked so hard to accumulate will improve their playoff chances, which now stand at 79.8%.
But they'd obviously like to have Kershaw back, and there's no telling exactly when that will be.
Ichiro "Passes" Rose
In what many believe will be his final season, Miami's Ichiro Suzuki is having a ridiculous send-off. In 188 plate appearances, he's batting .335/.412/.390, with an OPS of .802 heading into the All-Star break. And earlier this year, Suzuki made a little history.
Suzuki compiled 1,278 hits while playing in Japan, and when you add in his MLB hits (2,990), that puts him at 4,268 for his career, more than Pete Rose's 4,256.
But no, that does not really make him baseball's all-time hits king. However, he is 10 hits away from 3,000 for his Major League career, an incredible accomplishment for someone who was 27 in his rookie year.
David Ortiz Mashes in His Final Season
Hey, David Ortiz, are you sure you're going to hang 'em up this year?
Big Papi has been on fire since the opening bell sounded this year and heads into the All-Star break batting .332, with an AL-best .426 on-base percentage, .682 slugging percentage, 1.107 OPS, 184 OPS+, and 34 doubles. He's also added 22 homers and 72 RBI for good measure.
It still appears that Ortiz, at 40 years old, has lots left in the tank. But as of now, he is going to end his Major League career on perhaps the highest high note of any professional athlete in history.
Indians Win Streak
After getting swept by the Kansas City Royals on June 15, the Cleveland Indians were 35-30, tied for the lead in the American League Central. They were having a decent season, featuring a very good starting rotation and an offense that was holding it together.
Then, things got a little nuts. They beat the Chicago White Sox at home in a walk-off. Then they beat them two more times for a series sweep. Then they decided to just stop losing altogether, winning 14 in a row, capped off by this insane 19-inning affair against the Blue Jays in Toronto.
Obviously, that victory (which probably should have counted as two games), expelled every ounce of good fortune the team had left in the tank, as they lost to the Blue Jays 9-6 the following day and then 17-1 in the final game of the series. They've been treading water ever since but head into the break 52-36, 6 1/2 games up in the AL Central and with a 89.2% chance of making the playoffs, fourth-best in baseball.
Cleveland's rotation has an AL-best 8.9 fWAR, thanks to five arms that have been virtually unhittable all year. Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin have been lights out, helping keep afloat an offense that has surprisingly scored the fifth-most runs in the American League.
The Once-Hot-Now-Suddenly-Struggling Cubs
The Cubbies blasted out of the gate as soon as the regular season started, and for a while there, it didn't look like there was anything the rest of baseball could do to stop them. On Sunday, June 19th, they finished off a sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates to put their record at 47-20, 12 1/2 games up in the NL Central.
Since that game, Chicago has fallen on hard times. Heading into the All-Star break, they have gone 6-15 in their last 21 games and have seen their lead in the NL Central cut in half, to just 6 1/2 games.
The problem has been the pitching. Over the last 14 days heading into the break, the Cubs' starters had an MLB worst -0.6 fWAR. Their 6.56 ERA was 27th out of 30 MLB teams, their FIP was 28th, and they've been giving up a ton of homers, 2.48 per nine, 2nd-worst in baseball.
The bullpen has been awful too, with a 5.63 ERA which is 24th, a 5.13 FIP which is 3rd-worst, and a home runs per nine innings ratio of 1.66 that is also 3rd-worst in baseball.
The offense has been fine, with a wRC+ of 113 and 70 runs scored that are both 11th-best in baseball, blasting a Major League best 27 homers over the last two weeks.