Midseason finales stink, don’t they?
All of your favorite shows do it now; having to wait months for the next episode to resume is like waiting to get a cavity filled at the dentist. The wait is unsatisfying, even if the end result is.
The 2019 season has already offered a ton of intrigue. The Mariners were good, until they weren’t. The Yankees were broken, then they kept winning. The defending World Series champs answered some questions, but still haven’t looked great. We’ve seen the arrival of new players such as Pete Alonso, Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Eloy Jimenez.
While the wait for baseball to restart following the All-Star break is just a few days, it certainly feels like months – especially when there are so many questions to be answered and stories that need resolutions.
So as you gear up for “MLB 2019: Part 2,” here are some storylines to keep your eyes on entering the second half of the season.
National League fatigued?
It’s a bit of a surprise to see so many devastatingly average teams in the Senior Circuit. The Dodgers own the NL’s best record at 60-32, with the Braves in second at 54-37. After that, here are the best records in the NL:
So only two teams in the NL have 50 wins or more, while the rest are hovering at or around .500. That’s wild. Not to mention, some sub-.500 teams like the Pirates, Rockies, Reds and Giants are worth keeping your eye on. While none of those squads might be competing for a title, they’re definitely going to be able to throw monkey wrenches in the race the rest of the way.
The NL East has drastically underperformed – though the Nationals seem to be waking up and the Braves have taken control of the East – while the Central is equal parts mediocrity, injuries and beating up on itself inside the division. Will both divisions heat up, or will they continue to be middle-of-the-road the rest of the way?
Plenty of these teams will be looking for additions at the trade deadline, which makes the NL even more intriguing to watch unfold over the coming weeks and months.
There will be no shortage of impact starting pitching on the market this season: Marcus Stroman, Matthew Boyd, Mike Minor, Madison Bumgarner could all be on the move. If you’re a starting pitcher and your name starts with “M,” just consider yourself a trade target.
That logic leads us to Max Scherzer; Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that Scherzer is not on the block. That said, lots of things can change between now and the July 31 trade deadline – just one deadline this year, by the way – but at this point, it doesn’t look like Mad Max is going to be heading anywhere beyond the Thunderdome this season.
Something to note on Scherzer: He’s pitching at Cy Young levels yet again this year. Lest we forget, Scherzer will have 10-and-five rights next season, making it harder for Washington to trade him for a legitimate package. The Nats certainly don’t have impetus to trade Scherzer, especially through this resurgence, but it would do Rizzo well to at least answer the phone, should teams call.
There are plenty of teams that could use starting pitching this year. The Yankees, Cubs, Phillies, Brewers, Twins are all still in division races and in need of starting pitching help. There will be movement. There will be angry fans. There will be trades. And it will be awesome.
MLB ALL-STAR GAME: Actual baseball takes back seat as Cleveland celebrates sport
One thing was clear about the All-Star break: MLB is going all-in on supporting its stars. Finally, a concerted effort to make the sports stars more recognizable, something the sport has desperately needed for a long time.
The trio of commercials that MLB put out – one for Mike Trout (below), one for Javy Baez and one featuring Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger – were all excellently done and placed a premium on making their faces and personalities were front and center.
Not only were the promos great, but the in-game commentary featuring mic’d up players during the All-Star Game was excellent. Francisco Lindor hyping up Cleveland and talking about the wonders of Matt Chapman was great TV. Charlie Blackmon talking about his wife never having seen him without his beard was funny commentary, as well.
Players have personalities: They’re more than just numbers, and the relatability of players is part of what makes baseball a unique sport. It’s high time baseball start showcasing that. And to MLB’s credit, it is.
But aside from the marketing part of baseball, there’s no shortage of stars who are going to make an impact in divisional races the rest of the season. All across baseball, young talent will be placed centerstage with opportunities to make highlights on a nightly basis. After the good work MLB did during the All-Star break, we’ll see how well it’ll be able to capitalize on that momentum moving forward.
Belli vs. Yeli
One of the coolest things to come out of the 2019 All-Star Game was watching Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich share an outfield – and a microphone. The two friendly rivals sang each others’ praises during the telecast, but the race for the NL MVP will be much more intense.
Earlier in the season, it looked like Bellinger was going to moonwalk to another Hollywood star on his resume. But Christian Yelich was not to be outdone. Yelich now leads Bellinger in home runs (by one), OPS and stolen bases. Bellinger leads in walks, runs scored and is the better defender overall.
While Baseball Reference has Bellinger solidly ahead by bWAR (6.6 to 4.9), Fangraphs’ formula has the race a bit more snug, but still in favor of Bellinger (5.7 to 5.0). Needless to say, this one might go down to the wire.
We’ve seen how races and chases can captivate fans; indirect one-upmanship can fuel some of baseball’s biggest narratives and most exciting rivalries. #BelliVsYeli is no different, and it’s going to be dazzling to watch the rest of the season.
Bullpen is terrible?
Bullpens across baseball haven’t been as good as they have been in years past. Are they on pace for a course correction the second half of this season? Don’t bet on it.
In the first half of the 2018 season, 14 teams were pitching to a bullpen ERA of 4.00 or higher. In 2019, that mark is at 23 teams. Strikeouts are up, but so is offense. Altogether, there are myriad reasons behind this.
1. Have bullpens been overused in recent years, causing guys to tire? Maybe. But walk rate isn’t really up, while K/BB rate is. More strikeouts = more pitches, after all. So fatigue could be playing a big factor.
2. Have hitters adjusted? Well, when everyone’s coming out of the pen throwing 99 with wipeout breaking stuff, guys are more used to seeing it on a regular basis. That’s just speculation.
3. Do the baseballs play into it?
Juicy Juiced balls
Justin Verlander made his thoughts known about the state of baseballs today, and, well, he paid a small price for it.
The profanity-laden tirade Verlander let loose pretty much (presumably) echoed the thoughts of pitchers across baseball. With offense on the rise once again, it’s not unfair to ask why, especially if you’re a pitcher. Is contact baseball on the rise again? Is the launch-angle revolution still in full swing? Home runs are up across the sport once again.
Nine players in the majors have 25 or more home runs, three of whom (Bellinger, Yelich and Mets rookie sensation Pete Alonso) have 30-plus. Last year at the season’s official midway point, there were no 30-home run hitters and just five with 25 long balls or more.
Something’s going on. Who knows what that something is, but it’s something. Are the baseballs juiced? Does launch angle reign supreme? Are pitchers just worse in 2019?
Who knows? But it’s going to make for some fireworks heading into the dog days of the 2019 MLB season.