The first half of the MLB season has been filled with electrifying players, great statistical performances and a record home run pace. As we look toward the second half, these 25 developing storylines are worth watching.
Bellinger won the NL Rookie of the Year in 2017 but regressed last season. After making some mechanical adjustments, he's now a top candidate to win NL MVP and possibly even the Triple Crown, ranking second in batting average (.344), second in home runs (30) and second in RBI (71) as of July 4. His second half should be fun to watch, as he puts the finishing touches on an epic season.
Bell revamped his swing in the offseason and is leading a surprising Pirates offense. As of July 4, he led MLB by a wide margin with 81 RBI and also had an impressive 26 home runs with a 1.031 OPS. He has a real shot at winning NL MVP, even with Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich having amazing seasons.
Bochy is managing his final season, his 25th in MLB. It's not going as well as hoped in San Francisco with its 39-47 record, but Giants fans and opponents continue to show appreciation for his long career of success in the game that includes three World Series wins and a World Series appearance with the Padres in 1998.
Philadelphia had an incredible offseason, acquiring Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson, among others. Yet as of July 4, the Phillies were 5.5 games back in the NL East and had a slim hold on a wild-card spot. Anything short of a playoff run would be a disappointment in Philly, and the team desperately needs Harper, Realmuto and Co. to improve in the second half.
Baseball no longer seems important after the shocking and tragic death of Angels starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs. His death at 27 will be the most lucid memory of the 2019 Angels, but they still have a chance to make a playoff run as they dedicate the season to Skaggs. They are just four games back in the AL wild-card race as of July 4.
DJ LeMahieu signed a two-year, $24 million contract with the Yankees in the offseason, but he didn't seem likely to be a huge impact player. The former Rockies second baseman has been arguably New York's best player with Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Luis Severino missing significant time to injury, and he has a great shot to win his second batting title with a .339 batting average as of July 4. LeMahieu won the NL batting title in 2016, hitting .348.
There haven't been any manager firings in the first half of the season, but there are plenty on the hot seat. Among them are Mets manager Mickey Callaway, Nationals manager Dave Martinez, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler and Cardinals manager Mike Shildt.
The NL Central was considered to be one of the deepest divisions entering the year, and it hasn't disappointed in that respect. As of July 4, just 3.5 games separate the first place Brewers and last place Reds. While nearly every team in the division had higher first-half expectations, they each have a shot to claim the division.
Baltimore lost 115 games last season and not much more was expected from the team in 2019. The question is whether the Orioles will finish as one of the worst teams in history, standing at just 25-61 with a negative-170 run differential as of July 4.
As usual, there have been plenty of major injuries in 2019, but many of the players lost in the first half are set to make returns to help their teams down the stretch. The most significant of those players include Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Correa, Cole Hamels, as well as many others.
Since Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in 1927, that number has become a historic landmark for power. The 2019 season is seeing more home runs than ever, and several players have a chance to reach that historic home run mark, including Christan Yelich, Cody Bellinger and Pete Alonso.
The defending World Series champs have been digging out of a terribly slow start. While winning the AL East looks almost out of the question, 11 games back as of July 4, Boston is still just 2.5 games back in the wild-card race. Several key players, like Mookie Bets, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello, have struggled early in the season, but fans will forget about that if Boston can advance to the playoffs and make a run.
Tampa Bay won 90 games last season and has looked even better this year. The Rays have a comfortable three-game lead for an AL wild-card spot as of July 4 and just promoted top prospect Brendan McKay. It's been truly a full-team effort during the first half, and Tampa Bay is showing enough depth to potentially make a playoff run despite its minuscule payroll.
Hyun-Jin Ryu posted a 1.97 ERA in 15 starts during the regular season last year, but most didn't think he could repeat that performance. The Dodgers lefty has not only repeated, but he's also actually been better during the first half this year with a 1.83 ERA and only 10 walks in 103 innings over 16 starts in the first half. He's the clear favorite for the NL Cy Young, though Ryu's long injury history does still give fuel to the doubters.
Sabathia is putting the finishing touches on what has been a borderline Hall of Fame career. Among his accomplishments are the 2007 AL Cy Young, six All-Star appearances and 251 wins over 19 seasons. He's off to another solid start with a 4.40 ERA in 13 starts and hoping to finish off his career off with a bang, as the Yankees have a shot to make a great playoff run.
It's looking like another amazing season for Max Scherzer, who leads the league in innings (122.1) and strikeouts (170) as of July 4, and he also has a 2.43 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP. He has a chance to become only the fifth pitcher to win four Cy Young Awards and is also well on pace to fan 300-plus batters for the second straight season. Scherzer's run since 2013 is one of the greatest seven-year spans of any pitcher in MLB history.
"Dumping" has become a more common occurrence in MLB, as teams follow the models of the Astros and Cubs, accumulating top draft picks as they reload. Baltimore, Toronto, Detroit, Seattle, San Francisco and Miami are currently in the midst of major rebuilds and will continue to trade off their valuable veterans for young players and prospects this month as they look toward competing again two to four years down the line.
The first half of the season has seen many top prospects promoted from the minors, including Fernando Tatis Jr., Pete Alonso, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Austin Riley, Keston Hiura, Mitch Keller, Yordan Alvarez, Brendan McKay and Dylan Cease. There are plenty of top prospects still expected to make their debuts later this year, like Bo Bichette, Jesus Luzardo, Gavin Lux, Matt Manning, and Dustin May.
The trade deadline usually includes big names on the move, and that should be the case again this year. Among the top players who could be traded are Madison Bumgarner, Marcus Stroman, Zack Wheeler, Nicholas Castellanos and Ken Giles.
Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown in 2012, becoming the first to do so since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. This year there are three legitimate candidates in the NL: Christan Yelich, Cody Bellinger and Josh Bell. Each player is also chasing the NL MVP Award and is on a team that remains in playoff contention.
Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball overall since 2012, winning two AL MVPs and finishing top four in the voting in each season since then. It's hard to fathom he could get any better, but the Angels center fielder has a chance for his best season to date. He was hitting .296-24-61 with a 1.068 OPS as of July 4, leading the AL in home runs, walks, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He's the clear top candidate to win AL MVP and perhaps have another historic campaign.
MLB got rid of the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline this year, meaning teams have only until July 31 to make trades. In recent seasons we've seen big deals in August, such as Houston's acquisition of Justin Verlander in 2017. Now teams will have to definitively determine whether they are buyers or sellers by the end of July, and more players than usual could be on the move.
The Yankees have had a truly remarkable first half, considering the injuries they've overcome. The team has a 7.5-game lead in the AL East at 56-29 despite missing Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Luis Severino for the bulk of the season, not to mention stints on the IL for Aaron Hicks, Didi Gregorius, Luke Voit, Gary Sanchez and James Paxton. Barring setbacks, the team should get Voit back after the break, Stanton in August and possibly Severino for the playoff run. The Yankees have a real shot for their first World Series win in 10 years.
Yelich's encore performance after winning the NL MVP last year has been something else. He's on a 60 home run pace, with 31 homers through July 4, and he is also hitting .328 with 67 RBI, a .425 on-base percentage and league-leading .712 slugging percentage. The Brewers right fielder has a real chance to win not only the traditional batting average, home run, RBI Triple Crown but also the batting average, on-base and slugging Triple Crown.
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