We’re about halfway through the season and hitting the All-Star Break, where teams are blessed with the opportunity to take some time off to reset, get healthy, and gather some momentum. The postseason participants are far from being decided, especially now with the expanded playoff being implemented this year, and with baseball being the marathon it is with the ups and downs of the roller coaster season, organizations are able to tell themselves that they are indeed still alive despite the terrible stretches they endure at certain points of the year.
In times of adversity in the first half, there are certain constants that have been there for teams fighting to keep their pace for their goal- the life preservers of the team that are keeping them afloat no matter how many times we, the media and fans, overreact and declare them dead. These are the standouts that are carrying the load, doing the heavy-lifting, and giving the spark to keep the faith.
These are the mid-season Life Raft Awards.
Tony Gonsolin, Los Angeles Dodgers SP
That’s right- the guy that loves cats so much he has cat cleats is probably going to be your National League All-Star starter. Not Scherzer, Kershaw, or Fried, but Tony Gonsolin, the cult hero of Los Angeles.
Look, the Dodgers don’t need saving by any means as the World Series odds-on favorites in a major market with the capability of buying whomever they please. However, with the loss of Max Scherzer to free agency, Kershaw mulling his return due to his age and injury history, and Dustin May out with Tommy John surgery, the pitching of the Dodgers was speculated as a point of weakness going into the year. Then their ace, Walker Buehler, later went down on the IL for extended time with a tendon strain.
It hasn’t mattered at all with the consistency of Tony ‘Caturday’ Gonsolin on the bump.
Gonsolin is leading the league with a 1.62 ERA, first in WHIP at .80, and is 11-0 in 16 starts. He has incredible efficiency and usually goes a minimum of 6 innings in his outings, and he doesn’t do it with a lot of strikeouts either! He’s got 4 solid pitches and they’re pretty much all strikes.
We thought the Dodgers finally lacked depth, and Gonsolin has prevented that weakness from even becoming a sliver of thought. The Dodgers remain the Dodgers.
Kyle Schwarber, Philadelphia Phillies LF/DH
The Phillies have been reactionarily declared dead several times already in this incredibly long year. They’ve gone from Alec Bohm getting caught declaring “I F-ing hate this place” during a game after some
little-league-level errors, to blowing a 7-1 lead in the 9th inning to their rival Mets, to firing Joe Girardi, to losing their MVP-winner and superstar carrying the team in Bryce Harper.
Well, in Harper’s absence, one man has kept the faith alive offensively, one absolute barrel-chested moon-shot at a time: their offseason signing and grizzly of a man, Kyle Schwarber. With a .212 batting average, Schwarber pretty much hits it only one distance: out of the park. He’s skyrocketed to the top of the NL in homers at 28, and 17 of those have been during this stretch of desperation from late June to early July, with several of those being multi-homer games that have been the key to the Phillies wins. He’s gone from a defenseless dud of a signing to the reason for the Phillies to keep fighting until Harper gets back. They’re in one of the toughest divisions in baseball with the Mets, Braves, and Marlins all competing for October too, but until then, Schwarber murdering skin off of baseballs has been Philly’s saving grace as they’re now in position to take a Wild Card spot at 46-40.
Sandy Alcantara, Miami Marlins SP
Staying in the NL East, we have what has become a dying breed that is old school, alpha baseball that should be celebrated and appreciated: a workhorse. In the age of preserving the arms of your starters by taking them out and summoning the bullpen, or starting the game with an opener, Sandy Alcantara, as the kids say, HAS THAT DOG IN HIM.
He’s an absolute innings-eater that will scowl in the face of his manager should he want to take him out of the game. He will violently yell into his glove should he be taken out by what he believes to be prematurely as an ultra-competitor. Not only is Alcantara 9-3 with a 1.82 ERA and 107 strikeouts, he’s doing so while pitching 123 innings, 12 more than the pitcher right behind him. He’s had 12 of his starts go for 7 innings or more and 3 of those have been complete games.
The Marlins, like the Phillies, have been in a tough spot with how heavy their division has been with a young and developing core that has been below .500 for the majority of the year. Sandy’s reliability every 5 days as a starter to come in and get the win deep into games to preserve their pen has been the consistency they’ve needed, and they’re not out just yet as a budding team trying to reach their ceiling. It’s a tall task, but they’re 40-42 but just 4 games out of that last Wild Card spot. Let’s see how the next half of the year goes for the fish with arms.
Julio Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners OF
Another team in the similar vein of the Phillies is the Seattle Mariners. After being so close to the postseason last year with great expectations this season after a very active free agency period, they’ve been declared dead at several different points during the season when they would go on absurd losing stretches where they just couldn’t get out of their own way and gain some momentum, and their new bats in Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker were going through an adjustment period to playing on a new team in a new league in a pitcher-dominant ballpark. They fell as far as 29-39 with Mike Trout decapitating their hopes and dreams with homer after homer, then later that very week the infamous brawl that led to a plethora of suspensions happened. They were not only dead, but an embarrassing, underachieving one at that.
BUT ARE THEY BACK? (This is the beauty of baseball being 162-games per season- you find yourself asking this question many times as a fan with the ebbs and flows.)
Julio Rodriguez announced prominently, “Welcome to the J-Rod Show” this year after they called up the 21 year-old phenom prospect to start the year, and he looks to be settled into the league now. He’s carried Seattle back to 2nd place in the AL West at 45-42 and they’re now on a 11-1 game stretch in their last 12 games while the division rival Angels continue to be an atrocity game by game with their two superstars on a losing team.
Julio has been the electric spark plug, the energetic clubhouse sense of youth, optimism, and hope for the franchise. He looks similar to early Ronald Acuna when you think about his combination of both speed and power as an outfielder over 6 feet that can hit bombs and steal bases in the process. J-Rod is batting .274, has 15 homers, 20 stolen bases, and hit .360 with 3 homers last week during the stretch that could have potentially saved their season. If the rest of the roster can get it together during the second half of the year, the AL Wild Cards are all in the AL East and are going to be eating each other like a food chain- now tied with Toronto for the final wildcard spot, Seattle has a pulse, and his name is Julio.
Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox 3B
There was panic in Beantown. The budding stars in Toronto went out and had one of the most-active free agencies heading into the year that made them a division threat. The Rays will always be the Rays by out-nerding everyone with an incredibly cheap payroll with Fortune 500 company consistency. The hated Yankees got off to the hottest start in baseball and continue to have the best record in the league. Suddenly, when the Red Sox had a slow start out of the gate at 10-19 in the best division in MLB with their offseason signing of Trevor Story looking like a dud, hope felt lost- with extension decisions for their key players looming, hope felt lost on the year.
One man has never wavered: Rafael Devers. He’s going to be getting a big bag of cash for his MVP-level play that has kept Boston in the playoff hunt as their life raft. Last week, the Yankees beat the Red Sox 6-5. However, those 5 runs they scored were due to two absolute bombs off of the Mr. Moneybags himself, ace Gerrit Cole. It was Yankees 6, Devers 5. Cole was immediately pulled and afterwards looked like he had seen a ghost when asked about how to stop Raffy when he said “I’m open to suggestions.”
Devers is third in average at .327, second in total hits, and has 19 bombs on the year. He carries the load in Boston. Even in the games where he doesn’t record a hit, he steals a base. It’s quite remarkable how consistent the AL All-star starting third baseman has been to turn the season around. After the Red Sox 10-19 start, Raffy was essential to their 11-5 run following that stretch to keep the faith, and now they sit in the second wildcard spot and have the fifth-best record in the American League.
The AL East is a gauntlet. Devers has steered the ship through the treacherous waters with ease.