The midway milestone of the MLB All-Star Break is over. We’re officially at the point where every single series the rest of the year is going to have a tidal wave of impacts in the postseason races and the outlooks of teams going forward, especially with the trade deadline approaching on July 30th. After some time off to regroup, this could be the time for some of the big stars that struggled in the first half of the year to finally put it together and have a solid second half of the year; this can often be on the same level or better as a team going out and making a big trade if you get an impactful player performing again. Here are some of the players whose second half comeback could mean all the difference.
Jack Flaherty- St. Louis Cardinals Starting Pitcher
8-1 Record, 2.90 ERA, 67 Strikeouts
The Cardinals won Flaherty’s first 8 starts of the year. He was on pace to be potentially the all-star starting pitcher. He left the game with an injury on May 31, when they were 30-24, and since then, the Cardinals are 44-46 and have fallen to third in their division. This is a team this offseason that went out and traded for Nolan Arenado, the platinum-glove winning third baseman, to plant their flag as the NL Central favorite, and the Brewers and Reds have now blown by them down this stretch. Their main problem? The pitching. They give up the most walks in the MLB and have the second-lowest number of strikeouts. They’re not throwing strikes, and these free basemen are translating into runs for the other team and causing them to lose games. In fact, their bullpen had the highest walk rate in the history of the divisional era at 14.8%.
Their pitching depth has become a major problem. With the rotation’s struggles, they’ve had to turn to the bullpen more, and all they seem to do is walk batters to blow leads. The Brewers are so far ahead in the division, so it might take a trade for the Cardinals to be able to keep up, but if Jack Flaherty comes back healthy from his torn oblique in early August, that changes the outlook of their season; that gives them their ace back. Hopefully he can recover smoothly, and until then, if they can keep afloat, they’ll have a real chance to take the division: they end the final month of the season with 7 divisional games against the Cubs, who could be tanking, and 7 against the Brewers, the team they’ll be looking to make up ground against.
Francisco Lindor- New York Mets Shortstop
.227 BA, .326 OBP, 11 Home Runs
In one of the ugliest, slogs of a division where everyone else in the NL East is beating up on one another, the Mets have remained at the top for relatively the entire year. It’s been almost entirely due to their dominant pitching- they’ve allowed the fewest hits and earned runs, have the 5th-fewest walks, and the 3rd-fewest home runs allowed. It helps when you have the best pitcher on the planet in Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, and Taijuan Walker in the rotation. However, the Mets not only have been one of the most-injured, but they haven’t hit at all. The only team that has scored less runs than them is the Pirates and they have the fewest number of hits.
While that’s a major red flag, that also means they’ve been able to win even without hitting! Imagine the ceiling of the team when they have the dominant pitching staff that they have and they finally get some run support. Francisco Lindor was their prize acquisition in the offseason, meant to be the face of the franchise for the next decade, and he’s been one of the biggest disappointments of the year. He had a stretch this year where he went 0 for 26 and was benched. He’s finally gotten a bit of his mojo back, but if he puts on a hitting clinic like he’s supposed to, it will energize this Mets team to extend their lead in the division and give them the chance to be one of the contenders in the National League come October.
Matt Chapman- Oakland A’s Third Baseman
.227 BA, .319 OBP, 11 Home Runs
The A’s as of right now are 3.5 games back of the Astros in the division and have a 3.5 game lead over Seattle for the final Wild Card spot. They’ve remained afloat and competitive, but Houston is beginning to establish themselves as the team to beat in the American League, Seattle might not go away any time soon, and the Angels will be getting Mike Trout back after the break. Oakland doesn’t necessarily do anything the best. They walk the second-fewest batters, but they’re around average at best at every other statistical category. They’re the epitome of being solid at essentially everything and gutting out wins by being balanced.
But Matt Chapman is supposed to be their superstar. He’s an all-star and 2-time platinum glove winning third baseman- the team is supposed to be centered around the two Matt’s! (The other being Matt Olson) Oakland is not the type of franchise to go out and make a massive trade that will establish that they’re all-in, so this team is pretty much what they’re going to look like going forward barring a massive surprise. Chapman hasn’t put anything together offensively, and if they want to have a shot at competing; they’re 4-9 against the Astros, and that trend isn’t going to cut it. Chapman catching fire is what the A’s need to push them to another level.
Aroldis Chapman- New York Yankees Reliever
5-3 Record, 4.55 ERA, 52 K
He was the best closer in baseball to start the year. The 100+ mph heat tosser didn’t give up a single earned run in his first 18 appearances. Now, he’s blown save after save, from a game-tying grand slam to Jared Walsh to back-to-back homers by the Twins to tie the game, his ERA has ballooned to just plain bad..
The other night in a game against the Astros, Gerrit Cole had thrown over 120 pitches with a 1-0 lead against the Astros when he went on an expletive-filled rant to Aaron Boone, who tried to take him out of the game to bring in Chapman. Even Cole doesn’t trust Chapman with his lead!
The Yankees are 46-43, but given they were the favorites to come out of the American League to start the season, it’s been a nightmare start to the year. Cole is the only pitcher they can trust, all the Yankee batters seem to do is bat into double-plays, and now their top-tier closer can’t be trusted in high-leverage situations. The Yankees are bound to make a deadline trade that will improve either their offense or the starting rotation, but Chapman is the one that needs to get it together for their season to be salvaged; losing games in the fashion that he has crushes the morale of the team in a season swirling with negativity. They’ll be in tight games given their competitive division with the Red Sox, Rays, and Blue Jays all ahead of them in the standings, and consistency and reliability in those spots will be the deciding factor.
Chris Sale- Boston Red Sox Starting Pitcher
(Injured all season)
Sale was Boston’s ace and one of their most-critical parts to winning the 2018 World Series. He’s a 7-time all-star and 2-time strikeout leader, but after signing his massive extension, his 2019 season ended early as he needed surgery that would also keep him out for 2020. The Sale injury, a manager leaving amidst a scandal, and a Mookie Betts trade later, Boston finished last in their division.
This year, with manager Alex Cora back and good vibes throughout Fenway, they’ve surprised the entire league and have been atop the AL East for nearly the entire season. JD Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers could all potentially be in the MVP discussion at the end of the year, and they haven’t lost once against the Yankees, crushing them in both series.
Sale has been rehabbing all year from his Tommy John surgery, and while their pitching rotation has been surprisingly solid thus far, we need to really see it from Boston. If he comes back and looks in any form close to what he looked like before his injury, the Red Sox will have another piece of depth that they’ll need to make a deep run in the postseason and prove that their hot start to the year was no fluke.
Evan Longoria- San Francisco Giants Third Baseman
.280 BA, .376 OBP, 9 Home Runs
Who would have seen this coming from the 35 year-old? The grizzled veteran got off to a hot start to the year before spraining his shoulder and knocking him out for 4-6 weeks, but the Giants have STILL been able to win without him. We were all expecting this “cute” start to the year by an old team that would likely sell and tank to eventually end with the Dodgers and Padres in their division considered to be World Series contenders, but they won’t go away. They have the best record in baseball through the first half of the year.
So.. what if it’s real? What if the Dodgers don’t even win their division? What if the Padres are fighting for a Wild Card spot? What if we get 3 teams out of the NL West and other teams in the NL just get blindsided because this random Giants team came out of nowhere this year?
It would be incredible to see their magic continue. Longoria isn’t a superstar at this point in his career, but he’s another piece that could potentially keep the team chugging along as the biggest surprise in the major leagues.