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Biggest winners and losers from first half of MLB season

Manny Machado

There’s a lot of baseball left in the schedule in 2018. Still, the MLB season is half over. We’ve seen a lot of stuff go down. As such, we have plenty of both good and bad to spotlight.

Mike Trout has been the game’s best player for his entire career. Yet, somehow, he continues to get better. While it seems inevitable that the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, and Seattle Mariners, will all make the playoffs, the remainder of the year will be fun for fans who enjoyed the good, pre-Wild Card era playoff races. And while the New York Mets have nosedived, they have potential to be one of the first half’s top winners.

On the other side of the coin, offense is down from last year. The Cleveland Indians are in first place, but that’s almost a default title. Finally, while the Mariners are having a great year, one of their best players did a lot to torpedo the season.

As we get set to move into the second half of the season, these were the biggest winners and losers from the first half.

Note: Stats are accurate through Sunday, June 24.

Winner: Mike Trout is only getting better

Do you prefer old-school stats? If so, Trout is just having an otherworldly season. He’s hitting .325/.461/.661. The latter two stats would shatter his already impressive career highs, while the average would fall just short. He’s also on pace for a career-high 47 home runs. If you like the new-school stats, it’s no less impressive. Only halfway into the season, Trout already has a 6.6 WAR. For reference, Jose Altuve won the AL MVP last year with an 8.3 WAR. Given how good Trout has been, it’s almost impossible to imagine him getting any better. But year after year, he continues to make that happen.

Loser: Hitters not living up to 2017 magic

Offense is down in 2018. In 2017, hitters slashed at .255/.324/.426. In 2018, they’re hitting .245/.317/.407. An average game in 2017 featured 9.3 runs. In 2018, that’s down to 8.8. This isn’t just a matter of 2018’s hitters not quite meeting the record home run total from 2017, or being on pace to set a league wide strikeout record for an 11th straight year. The pitchers have adjusted to the offensive outburst that we saw a season ago. The hitters have yet to make any counter-adjustments.

Winner: Fans of old-time playoff races 

The Wild Card Games were added, at least in part, to place an extra emphasis on winning the division. And while managers may not care for the single-elimination game, it definitely serves that purpose. That’s especially true in the Junior Circuit this year. A lot of baseball remains to be played. But it’s highly probable that the American League East and West runners-up will square off in the Wild Card Game. That will likely place Luis Severino or Chris Sale against Justin Verlander or James Paxton. Does a must-win game against any of those guys seem desirable? Winning the division is much more appealing.

Loser: Crush is gone from Chris Davis

MLB star Chris Davis

A number of well-known players are having bad seasons. With that in mind, Davis’ stands out above (or below) the rest. First of all, he’s hitting .151. Nobody would ever confuse Davis with a batting champ. But he has the lowest average for any qualified player by 18 points. He’s also backed that up with a .230 OBP, .242 slugging percentage, and only five home runs and 10 extra-base hits. This is a guy who averaged 37 homers and 61 extra-base hits a year from 2012-2017. The Orioles are having a potentially historically bad season. Plenty of players deserve blame. But Davis is at or near the top of that list.

Winner: The slumping Mets

It seems crazy. The Mets started 11-1 and are now on pace to lose 95 games. How on earth can we call them winners? Well, we’ve seen a number of teams adopt the controversial tanking model in 2018. The nature of tanking is that you don’t really have many players that contending teams would want. In Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, the New York has two of the only real All-Star quality starters on the market. That’s going to lead to a serious bidding war, which will only drive their tags up. If the Mets play this well, they can control the market and really make out well on July 31.

Loser: American League Central is a mess

Through the first half of the season, no division has been close to as bad as the American League Central. The National League West has had a down year (especially compared to preseason expectations), but that division at least boasts three teams with a winning record. The Indians are the only AL Central team above .500. Additionally, four NL West teams have winning records outside of the division. No AL Central team, including Cleveland, can make that claim.

Winner: Manny Machado owning his contract year

While his Orioles are having a dreadful season, Machado is having the kind of contract year that players only dream of. He’s hitting .301/.371/.558 with 19 home runs and 55 RBI. That puts him on pace for a .301/.371/.558, 41 home run, 117 RBI season, and we’re just now reaching the summer months. Unless he’s traded (which is possible), Machado won’t sniff a pennant race in 2018. But the kind of contract he’ll sign when this season ends will more than make up for it.

Loser: MLB attendance figures

Attendance isn’t everything in baseball. It certainly isn’t as significant as it was in bygone eras, before every game was televised. Even still, it’s a pretty good judge of how well the product is being received. Attendance is down more than 1,900 per game across the league from what it was in 2017 and more than 2,000 from 2016. A total of 22 teams are drawing fewer fans than they were last year, while 20 are bringing in fewer fans from 2016. Is it weather, tanking teams, style of play? In truth, it’s probably all of the above. But whatever the cause, the objective numbers don’t paint a great picture for 2018.

Winner: Surprise National League division leaders

By and large, preseason expectations have been met in the American League. In the National League, though, not so much. The senior circuit’s divisions are being led by the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, and Arizona Diamondbacks, respectively. We could bash the favorites (the Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers), but they all have winning records. All three current division leaders are on pace to win 93 games (or more). We don’t know how things will turn out. But halfway through, we have to credit Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Arizona for playing great baseball.

Loser: Robinson Cano tarnishes legacy, screws Mariners

Robinson Cano suspended

Before his suspension for violating the MLB PED policy, Cano had built a Hall of Fame resume. But Hall of Fame voters have not been kind to similar players. Cano’s Hall of Fame candidacy is a long-term issue that we’ll have years to debate. In the short term, he hurt his team. While Seattle has held up in his absence (going 25-14), the real problem will be when he comes back. The plan is to play him in what amounts to a platoon role.

But what happens if the Mariners have a chance to win the AL West, or if they need a good finish to even make the playoffs? Do they play Cano? He’s ineligible for the postseason, so that would mean someone who Seattle would rely on in the postseason would head in playing only minimally leading up to it. With that in mind, would they bench one of their best players and risk adding another year on to North America’s longest active playoff drought? Cano’s apology isn’t going to offset the damage he did. This is all bad.

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