The MLB All-Star Break is here.
While it’s not the actual midway point in terms of number of games played out of 162, it’s a nice stopping point to put everything in perspective and reflect on the year so far.
That’s what the break is supposed to be: a representation of a summer filled with stories that make up the marathon.
In order to recap one of the wildest first halves in recent memory, let’s dumb everything down as if we’re children sitting on a carpet square listening to a book read aloud to us with the alphabet: the ABCs of the 2023 MLB first half.
A is for “America’s Team”
The Cincinnati Reds went from a middling team struggling for attendance with incompetent ownership to leading the NL Central as the most exciting team in baseball and Jonathon India hailing them as America’s Team overnight.
You’ve got superhuman freakazoid Elly De La Cruz being called up and hitting 450-foot laser home runs and stealing three bases in a row because he feels like it; Matt McLain, Spencer Steer, Will Benson, and TJ Friedl are also having a blast in this youth movement, and then Joey Votto the grizzled veteran having fun with the kids wearing a Viking helmet and cape after he hits a homer at age 39. They’re the darlings of the first half.
B is for “Boppin’ Braves”
The Atlanta Braves are on pace to break the Minnesota Twins’ single-season home run record with 307 in a single season. They have 169, 28 more than any team, and have the record for most before the break in MLB history. Seven of their players have at least 14 home runs.
And they don’t just hit them out; they hit them into another county with the largest percentage of homers going over 450 feet. The long ball has carried the Braves to be the best team in baseball in the first half, and they feel like an even more loaded team than the one that won the World Series in 2021.
C is for “Chasing History”
Speaking of the Braves, with the new rule changes such as the shift being banned, the bases being larger, and the pitch clock being implemented, we have two players on NL East teams that have been chasing history that could easily be the NL MVP when it’s all said and done. The first is Ronald Acuna Jr., chasing the 40-40 milestone of 40 homers and 40 stolen bases. That in itself is a legendary mark that hasn’t been hit since 2006, but he’s already at 21 homers and 41 stolen bases in the FIRST HALF. Could we see 50-80? Ronnie will either run past you with the prowess of a gazelle on the basepaths or hit it 450+ feet out and do the LeBron celebration in your face. You pick.
The other is Luis Arraez of the Marlins, hovering around the .400 batting average generally all season, who is getting hits on another level with 126 and currently sitting at .388. You have to go back to 1941 to see the last .400+ batting average, so just by being this close for this long, facing even more pitchers, styles of pitching, and velocities higher than ever, is an achievement in itself. He’s a wizard at the plate.
D is for “Depth” (or DeGrom, unfortunately)
The Texas Rangers signed arguably the best pitcher in baseball of this generation when he’s healthy and on the field in Jacob DeGrom, for 5-years and $185 million, adding another superstar payday to follow up their offseason of spending a half a billion dollars on their infield for the next decade in Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to buy their way into winning now.
The 5-year deal for the 35-year-old was scoffed at since DeGrom has had the reputation of having glass bones and paper skin when it comes to staying healthy already, and he played just 6 games before needing another season-ending Tommy John surgery that could have him out until 2026. It’s just sad at this point.
However, the Rangers’ depth has made the horrid signing from a value not even really seem to matter; they’ve coasted as the AL West leaders and one of the most surprising teams in the AL due to their rotation of Nathan Eovaldi, Dane Dunning, Andrew Heaney, and Jon Gray, all arms that they’ve purchased or acquired in recent years, and their lineup leading in hits, average, and runs has made a lack of an ace not seem to matter. No DeGrom, no problem for Texas so far.
E is for “Effort”
The St. Louis Cardinals are known for being one of the most consistent winning organizations in sports with self-proclaimed “classiest fans in baseball” and were coming off of a pennant-winning year with the two top-voted NL MVP candidates in 2022. The first month of the year, manager Oli Marmol ripped Tyler O’Neill’s unacceptable amount of effort getting thrown out at home in a loss, to which Tyler O’Neill didn’t seem to, uh, appreciate getting lit up on a public forum.
It’s all been a bad omen since then, feeling like a lost locker room with no Pujols or Yadi, and the Cardinals have been in last in the NL Central the majority of the year with 28 blown leads and the third-worst record in their league.
F is for “Fightin’ Fish!”
If you would have told someone before the season that the Miami Marlins, the team that had a 69-93 record in 2022, would start the year with their Cy Young Winner Sandy Alcantara looking average with a 3-7 record and 4.72 ERA and the MLB The Show cover athlete Jazz Chisholm injured for the majority of the year, you would have thought that they were tanking and one of the worst teams in the majors.
Instead, their pitching staff of Jesus Lazardo, AJ Puk, Eury Perez, and Braxton Garrett have them in top-5 in starting wins; Luis Arraez has been the hit king, Jorge Soler hits moonshot bombs,, and they’re tied with the Dodgers for the third-best record in the NL. They’re riding the South Beach sports high.
G is for “Glizzies”
There are a lot of people going to the ballpark now that the game’s action, runtime, and electrifying personalities are on display. That’s a lot of grizzlies eaten at the park if you will. MLB attendance was at an all-time high since 2015, the first half of the year, with a boom of an average of at least 35,000 fans in attendance per game.
The sport is dying, though, right?
H is for “Human” (or Harper)
Human is something that Bryce Harper is not, apparently.
The superstar that carried the Phillies to the World Series last season had Tommy John surgery that was supposed to keep him injured until now. Still, his tenacity and “dawg in him” led to him rehabbing, wearing essentially a bionic arm in order to still be on the field, and even offering to play first base, a position he’s never played before, just to be on the field. This is an injury that knocks pitchers out for two years in some circumstances, and Harper came back in one off-season.
I is for “Interleague”
This is the first year with a balanced schedule of every team playing everyone in the majors, and it’s led to constant interleague matchups that are wacky (what’s your most memorable Guardians-Rockies series?), fewer rivalry matchups, and fewer teams benefitting from playing a weak division or suffering from playing a loaded schedule if they’re in a division that’s a dog fight.
While it gives fans the opportunity to attend games seeing teams they wouldn’t normally get to see, maybe we get some newfound rivalries with drama in the coming years! We already had the White Sox and the Pirates at each other’s throats once this year!
J is for “JACKS”
Even without steroids, without a juiced ball, and with the pitching being better than ever, home runs that are absolute JACKS are still up this year.
With over 3,000 hits at the midway point, we’re on pace for the most hit since 2019, when 6,776 were hit (with balls that were possibly doctored), and barreled balls are averaging 387.3 feet in June and July. Bring your glove to the game, kids.
K is for “Kryptonite?”
It was just last season that the Toronto Blue Jays’ ace Alek Manoah got everyone tuned into the All-Star Game by being mic’d up and asking the announcers in live time what pitches to throw as one of the most dynamic personalities of the game and finished 3rd in Cy Young-voting. This season has been utterly bizarre for Manoah, and you hope that hitters haven’t found his kryptonite- to start the year, he went 1-7 with a 6.36 ERA and the most walks given up and 10 of his starts lasting 5 innings or less.
Then, it just got even worse when he got sent to their FCL league (playing against 20-year-olds) and allowed 11 runs in less than 3 innings. While his last start being brought back up to the majors against the Tigers before the All-Star break was encouraging, a win with only 1 run allowed in 6 innings, Manoah’s downfall was one of the craziest stories for a Blue Jays team that looked ready to contend with him being the heart and soul of their competitive energy.
L is for “Let’s Celebrate!”
It’s been a year for the viral home run celebrations, adding an element of flair to the dugouts and comradery of the game.
We’ve seen everything from the Reds’ Viking helmet, the Milwaukee cheesehead, the Orioles’ homer hose, the Angels’ Samurai helmet, the Twins’ “Land of Ten thousand RAKES” jacket, or even a Braves’ oversized hat (getting subsequently banned for no-fun advertising reasons).
M is for “Mediocre Midwest”
The Central divisions have been competitive for all the wrong reasons- aside from the Reds and Brewers suddenly getting hot; no one wants to win.
The Twins and Guardians have hovered around .500 or worse as the division’s LEADERS all year, which would be last in the AL East, and the White Sox, Tigers, and Royals have three of the four worst records in the AL. One of these teams has to make the playoffs.
N is for “Nurses”
The league has needed a lot of them, metaphorically. Due to (probably) adjustments to the pace of play with the new rules, injuries have gone up this year, with elbow and shoulder injuries increasing at a 44% rate thus far. Names like Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Rodon, Kyle Freeland, Jacob DeGrom, and more are all just a few that have missed time; we knew a reckoning adjustment period was coming.
O is for “Old”
The oldest roster in the MLB? The New York Mets- the team with the highest payroll in the history of the sport that invested in big names, but old ones at that. When you invest in old wood, don’t be surprised if the ship begins to wear and tear; they’re 42-48, have a 0% chance to win the division according to Fangraphs, and are paying 40-year-old Justin Verlander and 38-year-old Max Scherzer a combined $174 million over the next two years as they have a combined 11-7 record this year.
Your only hope really is to believe that the youthful bright spots like Francisco Alvarez or Brett Beaty can start performing like superstars in their 20s to have something to show for this money being spent.
P is for “Pitch it already!”
This is what you’ll be yelling from your seat at the ballpark with the new 20-second timer at the ballpark. It’s jarring to the point where if there is any sort of delay- a mound visit, a throw over to first, or if the pitcher just uses all 20 seconds, you’re almost annoyed or anxious with the pace of play.
It feels palpably different consuming a game, and the crowd groans and yells with it.
Q is for “Questionable Spending”
The biggest offseason headline where almost $4 billion was spent in free agency was the Mets and Padres signing 17 combined free agents to really say, “We’re going for it!” to reach two of the top three payrolls in baseball. Their success would really be a way of encouraging the ownership that you really CAN pay players in the offseason and create winning situations rather than tank and develop on the cheap!
Well, with the Mets and Padres both being out of the playoff picture for essentially all of 2023 with the Mets at 42-48 and the Padres at 43-47, both in fourth in their divisions, it’s been a battle of who’s the most disappointing team that bought a team on Amazon, and it came in the mail two sizes too small.
R is for “Randy and the Rays”
The Rays? You mean those computer nerds that don’t have any stars because they try to win by spending nothing and play in a dump where no one attends the games?
No, these Rays are different. The best record in the American League feels genuinely different now that they have a lineup of guys wearing neon and playing with explosive personalities highlighted by a megastar who loves the bright lights: Randy Arozarena. He’s not just a fluke from that 2020 World Series, having the pose, Randy Land in left field, and a love of the drama.
The Rays and their 13-game win streak to start off the year was the story of the season to start us off. They finished the break on a cold note, but they feel different than the Rays of old.
S is for “(Show)hei Me the Money”
The biggest storyline arguably in this sport’s offseason history has been here since the start of the year, and it’s only going to get louder: the best player the game has ever known, Shohei Ohtani, a human unicorn, is approaching free agency and is going to get PAID. You essentially have to pay him like two players since he’s an MVP at both pitching and hitting. Does that mean $70 million per year? It’s like paying two superstars $35 million!
We’ve never seen anything like it, and with the Angels already looking like they’re out of the playoff picture currently with both Trout and Rendon injured, our long national nightmare of Ohtani not playing meaningful playoff baseball might come to a close next year with the big market teams salivating at the opportunity to sign the man who can throw 100 mph and hit it 450+ feet the same day.
T is for “Toe”
The other larger-than-life AL MVP superstar might fit the word “valuable” better than Ohtani’s best because without Aaron Judge in the lineup, the Yankees go from playoff contender to one of the worst offenses in baseball. The Yankees were in Wild Card contention most of the season with a healthy Aaron Judge; then he suffered a bizarre toe injury running through a wall in Dodger Stadium in early June.
Since then, the Yankees have had an offense only better than the Oakland A’s and have fallen out of a playoff spot. Coming off of last year with Judge getting the national spotlight and getting the home run record, the season just hasn’t felt the same due to that very impactful toe.
U is for “Unlikely Heroes”
We’re nearing August, and amongst your current playoff teams, we have: the Texas Rangers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Miami Marlins, San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles, and Cincinnati Reds.
Every team aside from the Giants (third) were projected to finish fourth or worst in their division to start the year.
V is for “Vegas Bound”
The most inexcusable ownership saga in Oakland is finally looking like it’s coming to a close with the team officially announcing that they had signed the bill to move there (despite not even having any stadium plans and expecting the residents to pay for it). It also led to the “reverse boycott” game that could arguably have a movie made about it- where the A’s, a pitiful excuse for a roster thus far, had a sellout crowd of fans wearing “SELL THE TEAM” shirts as they miraculously beat the Rays, the best record in baseball at the time.
You can’t make this stuff up. The Coliseum was a dump that’s been deemed unfit for events for almost 25 years now, and the passionate fan base that’s been overcharged and underserved is getting uprooted to a place where people will prefer to go to sportsbooks, shows, or concerts.
W is for “Wild Wests”
Aside from the aforementioned A’s and the Rockies, both West divisions have been absolutely wild thus far- with, generally speaking, four teams in the NL West and AL West having postseason expectations before the year or during this year.
The AL consists of the World Series Champion Astros, a Mariners team that broke the curse last year to make the playoffs and signed all of their young pieces to contend for the next decade with Julio Rodriguez, an Angels team that has BOTH Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout and should always be expecting to compete on that alone, and somehow the Texas Rangers are the ones that have had the division lead from end-to-end.
Meanwhile, the NL has the Padres with all their chips on the table with Manny Machado, Juan Soto, Xander Bogaerts, and Fernando Tatis Jr. as they’re in fourth; the Giants surged into postseason position by simply just being good to average at everything, the Dodgers are still the Dodgers and are leading the division despite having what was deemed a “weakened roster”, and the Arizona Diamondbacks are tied with them at the top of the division as the standout surprise in the NL this year.
There are not enough seats at the table for everybody, unfortunately.
X is for “X Marks the Spot”
Outfield assists that are thrown on a laser to the X that marks the spot have been remarkably impressive and increased this year. Last year, all season the leader was Tommy Pham with 15. Adolis Garcia, your leader in the 2021 season, is already at 10 and looking to pass that with ease. Fernando Tatis Jr. was also just kind of stuck in the outfield preseason because the Padres had too many shortstops, and he’s been a stud in his first year with 9 gunned down already. You have to be careful on the basepaths.
Y is for “Youth”
We’ve seen arguably the most impactful prospect call-ups this early in the first half of the year, and it’s been incredible to see. The Reds are in postseason contention by having 4 of their top 6 in the majors, all under 25. The Orioles’ youth movement of Adley, Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg, and Colton Cowser are all under 25, with 19-year-old Jackson Holliday on the way.
The Diamondbacks’ MVP thus far? 22-year-old Corbin Carroll. Just last month, when the Pirates were struggling, the move was not to tank- it was to call up their coveted #1 overall pick, Henry Davis. The cliche is “the future is bright,” but it’s never been more relevant.
Z is for “Zombie Giants”
The San Francisco Giants, no matter how many non-superstar players they have in their lineup or rotation, can’t be killed when it comes to winning as Gabe Kapler finds a way to maximize their talent. Two years ago, they won 107 games while they were projected to finish at the bottom of their division. Somehow, this team that started out 12-17 lost Buster Posey to retirement, and his “successor” catcher Joey Bart taken #2 overall, has just been in the minors, got a hot June where they won 10 in a row, and are back in postseason contention.
They’re winning with names like Thairo Estrada, JD Davis, Lamonte Wade Jr., and Michael Conforto, and it’s the most Giants thing ever to just find a way to win this way.
No, Buster Posey and Bart has been a disappointment? That’s fine; we have another promising 24-year-old catcher in Patrick Bailey. The Giants are zombies.