Today marks the end of the first half of the 2019 Major League Baseball regular season. Most of the league will get the next few days off before play resumes later in the week. From there, the ensuing couple weeks will revolve around who will be on the move ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. Playoff races will then take center stage until it's time for postseason baseball.
In other words, the next few days represent the best (and only) time to reflect on what's happened thus far. While we can't touch on everything, we decided to highlight nine aspects of the first half that surprised us, amused us, or disappointed us.
(Before anyone gets mad: if we "snubbed" your favorite storyline, it's because we dislike you on a visceral level -- or, perhaps, because everyone has different tastes and time and space dictate we keep these kinds of pieces modest in scope. You choose.)
1. The ball ain't right
If you've followed our baseball coverage at all this season, you know we've repeatedly pointed out how the baseball itself is different than what we're accustomed to seeing. Commissioner Rob Manfred has blamed the ball's enhanced aerodynamic state on the "pill" being centered better. There is independent research suggesting the seams have also been altered.
Whatever the leading reason, the ball is moving quicker and carrying farther than normal -- and it's leading to a home-run barrage.
We noted last week the amount of home-run records being shattered is absurd. What's happening is making the steroid era looked like a muted outburst. For some, that's fine. Home runs are exciting. But if you're tired of tuning in to a home-run derby each night -- we feel you.
2. Mike Trout is absurd
All right, let's balance the griping by focusing on something pure: Mike Trout. The Angels don't seem likely to reach the postseason this fall, and man oh man is that a shame.
Trout is undeniably the best player in baseball, and seems certain to finish yet another season with an OPS+ over 160. This is his eighth full season; he's never been lower than 168. Ridiculous. Trout is also likely to notch his sixth 30-plus homer season and perhaps his second year with more walks than strikeouts.
Trout could also tally his fourth campaign with 10-plus Wins Above Replacement. For those wondering, the only other players to accomplish that feat: Babe Ruth (nine), Willie Mays (six), and Roger Hornsby (six). Reminder: Trout will turn 28 years old in August. Ridiculous.
3. Bellinger, Gallo ought to be appreciated
Baseball has so many fantastic athletes right now, and sometimes you worry people don't properly appreciate their skill.
Take Cody Bellinger and Joey Gallo. Both are having big seasons, with Bellinger threatening to usurp Christian Yelich as the NL MVP. They're big guys who can hit the ball a long way, but they're each athletic enough to play at least a passable center field. That's not normal.
Each has made strides this season, too -- with their approach, and in Bellinger's case, with his swing-and-miss tendencies. It would be fair to say they're budding stars -- except they're already there. Do yourself a favor and make it a point to check them out in the second half.
4. The Dodgers are fantastic
While we're talking about Bellinger, how about the rest of his team?
Los Angeles had a bad offseason, in our opinion, trading away a fair amount of talent and adding only A.J. Pollock and Joe Kelly. Neither has had much of a positive impact, and yet the Dodgers are steamrolling the rest of the NL.
Los Angeles came into Wednesday with the best run differential in baseball, and was more than 80 runs better than any other NL squad. That's dominance. When you look at the roster, you can see why they're so good. They have three legitimate All-Star pitchers (and two other starters who aren't so bad); more quality hitters than spots in the lineup; and a couple high-grade relievers.
Andrew Friedman will probably add a reliever or two at the deadline, but no team in the NL has a clearer path to the postseason -- and it's fair to write that right now, the Dodgers look positioned to win a third consecutive pennant.
5. The Reds deserve better
One of those trades that sent talent out of Los Angeles involved the Reds landing Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, and the since-released Matt Kemp. The deal hasn't quite worked out as planned for the Reds -- Puig has had a good month-plus, though Wood hasn't yet pitched -- and if we're being honest that's an accurate description of their entire season.
Some early season high-leverage struggles have caused the Reds to post a worse record than their underlying measures suggest they should have. Put another way, the Reds have consistently flirted with a top-10 run differential all season -- and have seldom gotten out of last place in the NL Central.
With so many veterans on expiring contracts, it's fair to wonder if the Reds will keep this group together and hope things even out the rest of the way. If they don't, Cincinnati fans will be left to wonder what could have been -- or, maybe, what should have been.
6. Fernando Tatis Jr. is electric
Just watch this nonsense:
.@tatis_jr is a daredevil on the basepaths. pic.twitter.com/adesKSIl9F— MLB (@MLB) July 2, 2019
Tatis is a 20-year-old who can play shortstop, bat in the middle of an order, and get away with running the bases like he's invisible. He's already one of the best players in baseball, and it's scary to think how good the left side of the Padres infield will be over the next five to 10 years.
7. The Mets are a mess
Woo boy. New general manager, new-look roster, and yet it's the same old mess in Flushing. During the first half the Mets had to: walk back a number of self-imposed tactical restrictions on closer Edwin Diaz; change course on having Dominic Smith play the outfield; and fine manager Mickey Callaway and pitcher Jason Vargas for hectoring a reporter.
We could keep going, but it's incredible how cursed this franchise appears at times. Imagine if, back in March, we had all known Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil and Smith were going to play this well. We would've all bought in on the Mets being a legitimate playoff contender.
Instead, it's the All-Star Break and they seem certain to sell pieces at the deadline and fire their manager before the season ends. That takes … not talent, but something -- it takes something.
8. The Twins are not a mess
On the flip side, how refreshing have the Twins been? They detected an opening in the AL Central (thanks to Cleveland's ownership) and spent the offseason stocking up on power bats. That gamble has more than paid off.
We like seeing teams who try get rewarded for it -- see the section above on the Reds. The Twins tried at a time when they could've well deemed this a bridge year -- a season for rookie skipper Rocco Baldelli and pitching coach Wes Johnson (imported from college) to get acclimated to life in their new roles. The Twins didn't though.
And it looks like Minnesota could win the division for the first time since 2010 as a result.
9. The Orioles and Tigers are horrible
There are a handful of truly dreadful teams in baseball this season -- the Orioles, Royals, Tigers, Blue Jays, and Marlins -- but the Orioles and the Tigers might be the worst of the bunch.
Consider this: those two have the worst run differentials in baseball -- and it's not close. The Orioles were in danger of entering the break having been outscored by 200 runs in the first half. The Tigers were the only other team to have been outscored by more than 100.
You do the math and there's a chance both clubs finish the season having been outscored by an average of two runs per game. If so, they'd join a select and undesirable company.
Pray for the Orioles, pray for the Tigers.