We’re officially past the half-way mark of the 2017 Major League Baseball season, and sitting at the All-Star Break. It’s been an exciting and interesting season, with numerous surprise storylines and disappointments around the league. Let’s take a look:
5. Jose Ramirez (3B-CLE)
Cleveland Indians Third Baseman Jose Ramirez was good in 2016. In fact, his .312/.363/.462 slash line was terrific, and he was worth almost 4 wins above replacement. That being said, Ramirez was eclipsed by shortstop Francisco Lindor, former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, and the lights out Cleveland bullpen that shined in the postseason.
This season, Ramirez has stepped things up, turning into a legitimate MVP candidate (if a certain player from New York didn’t captivate the nation). Ramirez is starting the All-Star Game at 3rd with a ridiculous .332/.388/.601 slash line. Last year he had all of 11 home runs. He has 17 of those at the break, along with 5 triples and 27 doubles. On a Cleveland team struggling to cement themselves in 2017, Ramirez has become a true star.
4. The National League West is Really Good
The National League West has been decent for years now, bolstered by strong San Francisco Giants teams and Los Angeles Dodgers teams filled with young talent. This year, the Giants finally fell apart, but the division is miraculously better than imagined.
In fact, the National League West not only is the only division to boast two 50-win teams at the break, but they have 3 of them. As of right now, the Diamondbacks and Rockies are in the driver’s seat for the Wild Card race, with the only downside being the number of times they have to face each other (and the NL-leading Dodgers) through the remainder of the season. Still, the Rockies have a 7.5 game lead in the wild-card. That’s amazing.
3. The L.A. Dodgers Have 61 Wins
Speaking of the National League West, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the success of the Los Angeles Dodgers at this point of the season. A lot of folks, myself included, had the Dodgers winning their division this year. To be on pace to do it with well over 100 wins? That’s ridiculous.
It’s also ridiculous that Cody Bellinger (honorable mention for surprise), is having the breakout season he is. With 25 home runs and 58 runs batted in, Bellinger adds even more star power to a team that already had Clayton Kershaw and Corey Seager.
2. The Houston Astros Have 60 Wins
You know the last time that two teams have had 60+ wins going into the All-Star break? Never. Never have two teams had 60+ wins going into the All-Star break.
Again, many predicted that the Houston Astros would be good enough to win the A.L. West this year, and they’ve had untapped talent for years. That being said, Houston is carrying an absurd +162 run differential going into the break. They also have 4 players batting over .300 and have allowed the second-fewest runs in the American League. Wow.
1. Aaron Judge (OF-NYY)
In 27 games with the New York Yankees in 2016, a rookie named Aaron Judge batted just .179 with 4 home runs. In 84 games so far in 2017, Judge is batting .329 and is leading the Major Leagues with 30 home runs. Judge was always a top-tier prospect, but what he’s doing in his breakout campaign is just absurd.
Judge is a legitimate triple crown threat, leads all of baseball in WAR, Slugging %, Home Runs, and OPS+. Judge is the current favorite for MVP, and a near-lock to run away with Rookie of the Year unless he has some sort of season-ending injury. The Yankees have cooled off (although they still own a wild-card spot), and still seem a year or two away from true contention. That being said, Judge has blown away the baseball world.
5. Cleveland Indians Slow Start
The Cleveland Indians enter the All-Star break leading the American League Central, but they’re on this list as a disappointment. How does that happen?
Simple. The Tribe is facing high expectations and was supposed to be really, really good this year. The Indians upgraded from Mike Napoli to Edwin Encarnacion in the offseason, had a healthy All-Star return to the lineup in Michael Brantley, and returned all the major pieces of their pitching staff. This is a team ESPN’s experts gave the best odds of winning the World Series.
Instead, the Tribe has muddled to a 47-40 record at the break, a mere 2.5 games up on the lowly Minnesota Twins. They’re also a solid 12 games back of the Astros for best record in the A.L., making any chance at home field advantage throughout the playoffs a pipe dream. The Indians have lots of time to clean up and lock in, but they’ve been unimpressive in a year with high expectations.
4. The Mets Are Out of It
I, along with 12 of the ESPN experts I mentioned above, picked the New York Mets to win the National League East. They’re sitting 12 games out of first at 39-47 and no where close to claiming a wild-card berth this year.
The Mets have struggled to keep healthy for a couple seasons now, but the odds of this team as constructed returning to the World Series look long. With a resurgent Yankees team across town, the Mets may again become the second fiddle in NYC.
3. The Giants Have Completely Collapsed
Again, a sizable number of baseball experts expected the San Francisco Giants to be in the running for the N.L. West until late in the season. While the Dodgers were favored, many had the Giants snagging a wild-card spot if not winning the division outright.
Instead, the Giants have the 2nd-worst record in the National League and it looks like the dynasty is falling apart. It’s regression across the board, except perhaps for Buster Posey, who has upgraded his slash line from .288/.362/.434 in 2016 to .324/.406/.498 in the first half of 2017. He can’t carry this team, however.
2. Blue Jays, Tigers, Orioles, and Rangers
What do these four teams have in common? They were all either playoff teams or division runners up in 2016, and were universally expected to regress but still be competitive in 2017. So far, they’ve lived up to the regression narrative, but not the competitive one.
None of these teams warrants a “disappointment” storyline of their own, but collectively they represent a big reshuffling of power in the American League. It’s a long season, but these four teams look like sellers and that means a different baseball landscape for the next few years.
1. Cubs Having a Hangover Season?
Nothing could be more emblematic of the season unfolding on Chicago’s North Side than the 10-run first inning the Pittsburgh Pirates put up against the Cubs in their last game prior to the All-Star break.
This is a team that was favored to win the World Series by nearly every baseball prognosticator in 2016 and managed to get it done. Favored again by many in 2017, they find themselves 2 games below .500 at the All-Star Break and looking up at the Milwaukee Brewers, of all teams. Of course there’s still time for the Cubs to turn their ship around, but they don’t even look in the same league as the Dodgers, Nationals, or even the Diamonds or Rockies at this point. Hope you enjoyed last year’s Fall Classic, Cubs fans.