Don’t look now, but the first half of the 2017 MLB season is just about in the can.
It’s certainly given us a lot to digest. But who has won the first half of the season? Of course, if there’s a winner, there’s also a loser. So, who has lost the first half?
Which teams have underachieved? Which teams have overachieved? How come so many home runs are being hit? Which playoff races look to be on fire through the second half? What races look to be absolutely dead?
Who/what have been the ten biggest winners and losers of MLB’s first half? We have you covered.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, the stats and records cited are accurate through play on Sunday, June 25.
Winner: Lovers of home runs
Ted Berg of USA Today recently noted that MLB hitters are on pace to set a league-wide record for home runs in a season. The record of 5,693 was set in 2000, and 2017’s hitters are on pace to obliterate that mark.
That was right in the middle of the steroid era. We can’t say that PED’s are gone from baseball now, but compared to 2000 it’s a much cleaner time. So, what gives?
Certainly, some bright new sluggers have been introduced in 2017. New York Yankees rookie Aaron Judge has taken the world by storm with 26 home runs.
Not to be outdone, Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger has unleashed awesome power. He leads the National League in home runs with 24, trails only Judge for the MLB lead and didn’t even debut until late April.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) June 26, 2017
Of course, it takes more than two guys to lead to such a home run boost.
Another set of research says that the balls are juiced. That will certainly help balls find their way to the bleachers.
Additionally, as time goes on teams are becoming more dependent on advanced stats. That favors hitters who may strike out a lot but also do a lot of damage when the ball is put in play.
So, it’s hard to pinpoint just one thing. But if you love home runs, it doesn’t matter. And just think, when we get into the dog days of summer in late July and August and the pitchers get tired, balls may be leaving the yard even more frequently.
Loser: San Francisco Giants
Just so nobody accuses us of going too negative, let’s start with a positive. Buster Posey has been stellar as usual in 2017. He’s an absolute lock to make his fifth All-Star team and is a virtual lock to start the Midsummer Classic for a fourth time.
Now, what’s gone wrong in San Francisco? Essentially everything else.
The Giants rank 26th in starter’s ERA, something that was supposed to be a strength entering the season. Star offseason signing Mark Melancon has slumped and has a 4.58 ERA with a 1.42 WHIP.
Offensively, San Francisco has been even worse. Posey is having a magnificent season (.340/.421/.528, 10 home runs) but has driven in only 30 runs. So, people aren’t exactly getting on base for him. Madison Bumgarner hit two home runs on opening day, but per Andrew Baggerly of The Mercury News no teammate has topped those eight total bases in a single game.
Of course, Bumgarner’s absence has been another negative. He pitched well in his first four starts of the season. But thanks to a dirt bike accident, he’s been on the shelf since April.
Remember, this was supposed to be a win-now team. The Giants have enjoyed tremendous success since 2009, winning three World Series, making four playoff appearances and posting only one losing season. That success has also had them picking low in the drafts, helping contribute to a mediocre farm system.
All of this has led to a team well on its way to losing 100 games for only the second time in franchise history.
Winner: National League West
While the Giants have been dreadful, the same can not be said about their division mates. The National League West boasts three teams with a .600 (or better) winning percentage. MLB’s other five divisions have two.
The Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies have baseball’s second, third, and fourth best records. When the second wild card spot was added in 2012, one of the benefits was that it kept teams in the playoff race for a long time. But the Rockies — who currently occupy the senior circuit’s second wild card spot — are 7.5 games clear of the Chicago Cubs, who are third.
Some of this can be attributed to the overall poor play of the National League. San Francisco is far from the only disappointing team. The Diamondbacks, Rockies and Cubs are the only non-division leaders in the National League with winning records, and Chicago is only a game above .500.
Meanwhile, Arizona is on pace to win 102 games while Colorado is on pace to win 98.
Here's how nuts the NL West is this year. The Rockies just lost 5 straight games, and are still on pace for 98 wins
— Eric Stephen (@truebluela) June 26, 2017
Los Angeles leads the division and is on a 107-win pace. These teams don’t occupy the playoff spots just because the league has been sub par.
No, all three have been darn good teams ever since the season started.
Loser: Mike Trout
Actually, Trout isn’t the only loser here. Everyone who loves watching Trout play (which should be everyone who loves baseball) is also a loser here.
Trout has missed a good portion of the season already. Despite being one of the American League’s leading vote-getters, he’s likely going to miss the All-Star Game.
This would be unfortunate for anyone. If we were talking about someone like Buster Posey, Kris Bryant or Bryce Harper, it would be essentially impossible to find any positive spin. Yet with Trout, it’s somehow worse.
It’s not just worse because Trout is baseball’s best player and is well on track to be one of the most complete players in the game’s history. No, it’s worse because we just haven’t seen as much of Trout in the big moments as we have those other guys.
The reason for this? Los Angeles Angels have generally been mired in mediocrity during Trout’s career. Despite the otherworldly numbers consistently put up by Trout, his team has only made the playoffs once. That was an ALDS sweep in 2014.
Now, to the Halo’s credit, they’ve hung around. Los Angeles is well out of its division race but is right in the middle of the American League Wild Card race. Unfortunately, the rest of the American League is, too (more on that shortly).
If Trout had been in the lineup over the last several weeks, maybe the Angels would be in more commanding playoff position. But as things stand, they’re just one of many teams hoping for a chance to get into a single elimination game.
That certainly doesn’t bode for for Trout, or anyone hoping to see the game’s best player deep into October.
Winner: American League playoff races
If you are a fan of exciting playoff-race baseball, you should keep your eyes glued to American League Baseball through the second half of the season.
We can say with a good deal of certainty that the Houston Astros will win the American League West. They’re one of the best, most talented teams in the league and are 13 games clear of the Texas Rangers and the aforementioned Angels, who are tied for second. Outside of that, though, the junior circuit figures to be a free-for-all.
The Yankees and Boston Red Sox are tied atop the American League East. Only five games separate them from the last place Toronto Blue Jays. The Minnesota Twins lead the American League Central. They are only 2.5 games ahead of the third place Kansas City Royals and only 7.5 clear of the last place Chicago White Sox.
The No. 1 Wild Card seed is whichever team loses the tiebreaker between New York and Boston. That team is only 1.5 games ahead of the Cleveland Indians. Cleveland, meanwhile, is only seven games ahead of Chicago, the American League’s worst team.
That means that every team in the American League is within seven games of a playoff spot. Yes, some teams will drop off — that’s a given. But a good portion will stay in the race as well. Expect to have some incredibly exciting, close races coming down the final stretch.
Loser: New York Mets
Unlike the Giants, the Mets actually have a few real positives going their way. New York beat up on San Francisco in AT&T Park to sweep a weekend series. Additionally, during the month of June, Mets hitters have been on a historically great power pace.
Mets have 45 homers in June, tying a franchise record for the most in any month.
— Mike Puma (@NYPost_Mets) June 25, 2017
Unfortunately, New York is still 11-13 in June, 34-41 overall and 11 games out of a playoff spot. This is a team that was in the Wild Card Game in 2016 and the World Series in 2015.
The starting pitching has just not been there in 2017. The Mets are 28th in starter’s ERA, ahead of only the Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds.
A lot of New York’s issues can be attributed to injuries. The Mets have had several prominent players on the disabled list in 2017 for lengthy stints. That includes Yoenis Cespedes. It also includes Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, David Wright and Jeurys Familia, all of whom are presently on the DL. Additionally, New York has been plagued by ineffective play even when its players have been healthy.
It’s all contributed to make the Mets a clear seller at the trade deadline, and one of the clear losers from the first half of the 2017 MLB season.
Winner: Minnesota Twins
There’s a lot about the Twins that’s hard to buy. Their starting rotation ranks 20th in the league in ERA. The bullpen is even worse. Offensively, Minnesota is nothing to write home about. The Twins are a decent 11th in OBP but are only 21st in runs scored and tied for 17th in home runs. That’s all lead to a team that’s tied for 23rd in run differential.
In fact, a series in Cleveland over the last weekend of June seemed like as good a time as any for Minnesota to get buried. The Twins entered the three-game set two games behind the Indians. A sweep at the hands of the American League champs would surely relegate Minnesota to Wild Card status and eventually, out of playoff contention. It just didn’t work out that way, although we did see a sweep.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 25, 2017
If you’re one for omens, that 1991 season ended pretty well for the Twins.
Minnesota has just done a fantastic job hanging around. The American League Central has had some disappointing teams (namely the Indians and Detroit Tigers), and the Twins have taken advantage of that.
The peripherals don’t appear to bode well for Minnesota. But it’s a great sign that this team is still contending. The Twins have the tools to upgrade their pitching staff, especially at the deadline. Also, the longer a young team stays in contention, the longer it believes it can win. There’s no way to measure how relevant that is.
Minnesota is a team loaded with talent. It’s young and in many cases unpolished, but there’s a lot of talent there. This is not a team that American League Central foes want to see hanging around in the race.
Loser: Yasiel Puig
In some respects, this hasn’t been a terrible year for Puig. His slash line isn’t great, but it’s a respectable .247/.329/.457. It would be a career low in batting average but that .329 OBP would be his best since 2014. So, he’s being more selective at the plate. That’s also showing up in his power numbers. He has 14 home runs, more than he hit in 2015 or 2016 (11 both years), and is on pace to shatter his career high of 19. On the bases, he has nine steals, only two short of his career best (11 in 2013 and 2014).
Yet, that strangely makes things even worse for Puig. Because despite all of that, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports recently reported that the Dodgers would “absolutely” trade Puig if they could get full value.
Now, generally speaking, the idea is that anyone can be had for the right price. But would the Dodgers “absolutely” consider trading Bellinger right now? Would the Washington Nationals listen to offers on Bryce Harper?
That’s not to say that Puig is the same kind of player. But he’s having a good year for a first-place team set to cruise into the playoffs.
If that shows anything, it’s that the Dodgers have only been keeping around for the last few years in hopes that he’d do something to pump his value up. If that happened (as it has), they’d look to trade him.
The fact that Los Angeles is so willing to trade someone like that isn’t a good sign for Puig.
Winner: Houston Astros
The Astros are just loaded with talent. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer are all on track to start the All-Star Game and really, it’s hard to argue against any of them.
— #VoteAstros (@astros) June 25, 2017
Normally, we have to be careful with power dependent teams. Teams who hit for a lot of power tend to strike out a lot as well. In the playoffs when teams are usually throwing their best starters and relievers, that’s a problem. But while Houston is first in home runs, it’s also second to last in strikeouts. Only the Red Sox have struck out fewer times.
The Astros aren’t one dimensional, either. Their pitching staff has the third best ERA in baseball. Imagine how good it can be when guys like Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh get back into the starting rotation.
Here’s a piece of friendly advice for anyone travelling to the Houston area in October. Book your hotels early. Chances are, it’s going to be a pretty busy time there.
Loser: Chicago Cubs
If we had one word to define the Cubs, it would be “lucky.” If we put the defending champs in either of the National League’s other divisions, they would be scrapping just to get back into playoff contention.
Of course, there’s some good news to be had here. Chicago doesn’t play in either of those divisions. In the National League Central, the Cubs are only 1.5 back of a Milwaukee Brewers team that’s generally overachieved this year.
So, what are we so worried about? Eventually, the Brewers will turn back into a pumpkin, Chicago will start winning games, and the Cubs will be right back in the playoffs. They may not have home field advantage through the NL again, but that’s not such a big deal, right?
It sounds good and could even work out that way. Unfortunately, Chicago has done nothing to show that it’s capable of an extended run in 2017. The Cubs have never been more than four games over .500. Their longest winning streak (five games) came right in between losing streaks of six and four games. Every time Chicago has looked poised to take the division over, it has slid back.
No, the Cubs aren’t out of the race like the Giants or Mets. They can still make the playoffs. Heck, they can still win the World Series. But even if that happens, Chicago has significantly underachieved through 2017’s first half. It makes the 2016’s champs one of 2017’s biggest losers…thus far.