The Major League Baseball All-Star break is upon us.
Which means that serious dissertations and introspective arguments will be written about just who is performing to expectation, who is surprising us and who has disappointed the heck out of everyone.
An early look heading into the nominal second half of the season sees the Boston Red Sox as more than prohibitive favorites to win another title — at 38 games above .500 right now, they better at least make the playoffs!
The Yankees and their newfound Murderer’s Row aren’t far behind at 29 games above, while the defending champion Houston Astros are right where we thought they would be.
The National League, across the board, is a a tightly packed toss up. Playoff positions may not likely be solidified until the last week or two of the season.
Standings and statistics to this point show many surprise efforts, as well as deplorable ones from high priced help. Here are the 20 most surprising and most disappointing teams and players, so far.
20. Boston Red Sox – Surprising
It’s not surprising the Bosox are in first place in the AL East. But it’s the pace they have set so far that is truly astounding. At the rate they are piling up the wins — 68 in their first 98 — the Red Sox are on pace to win 113 games, which would put them fourth best in baseball history. There is nary a position player or pitcher who isn’t having a career year, led by AL batting leader Mookie Betts with a .359 average and home run and RBI leader J.D. Martinez, who has 29 and 80 respectively. On the pitching side, Chris Sale is being Chris Sale. With a 10-4 record, league leading 2.23 ERA and AL high 188 strikeouts, he’s making a strong bid for his first ever Cy Young award. The Cy case could even be made for reliever Craig Kimbrel, who is 30 for 32 in save attempts and has a skinny 1.77 ERA. Much to love, in Beantown.
19. Washington Nationals – Disappointing
Where the Red Sox are sizzling, their counterparts in the NL East, the Washington Senators, are struggling mightily. We have pointed out before that their starting staff is one of the best in baseball, but to this point the lone guy pulling his weight is perennial Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer. Of the others, Stephen Strasburg was just OK before going down with an injury, ditto Gio Gonzalez, who isn’t injured but hasn’t been lights out. Veteran Tanner Roark (more on him later) has not been in any way as advertised. At the plate, there have also been several disappointing performances, led by Bryce Harper and his underwhelming batting average and strikeout rate. The only thing the Nats have been able to crow about so far this miserable season (they are 48-48, 5.5 games back of Philadelphia) was Mark Reynolds’ 10-RBI game.
18. Atlanta Braves – Surprising
Who’d have thought the Braves would be anywhere near first place this late in the season? Not us, for sure. At the break Atlanta sits 0.5 games back of even more surprising Philadelphia for first place in the NL East at 52-42. The Braves have swooned a bit lately, going 3-7, but with a rest and reset they should get back to gunning for the top spot. Players young — Ozzie Albies — and old — Nick Markakis, Freddie Freeman — are rowing in the right direction for the previously moribund Braves. Diminutive Albies leads in homers with 20, the revived Markakis in average at .323 and a healthy Freeman is a MVP candidate with a .315 average, 16 homers and 61 RBI. Pitching-wise, Cy Young candidate Mike Foltynewicz leads a tough staff. He is 7-5 with a 2.66 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 101 innings.
17. Toronto Blue Jays – Disappointing
The Jays, not long removed from back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, look rather ordinary now. Straight up fodder for AL East foes New York, Boston and Tampa Bay. They have had a lot of injury problems, but previously stout players like Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Josh Donaldson, when healthy, have been very sub-par. Stroman is just 2-7 in 12 starts, with a lousy 5.86 ERA and 1.500 WHIP. Ditto Sanchez, who is again on the DL but in 15 starts is 3-5 with a 4.52 ERA and 1.510 WHIP. Donaldson, the 2015 MVP, has played in all of 36 games this season and in those contests wasn’t much of a difference maker. He was hitting .234 with five homers and 16 RBI before going down to injury. Across the board there isn’t one everyday position player hitting above .260 and only three pitchers (all relievers) with an ERA below 3.00.
16. Milwaukee Brewers – Surprising
If not for a pre-All-Star break 2-8 swoon, the Brewers might well be in first place in the NL Central. The Cubs, who are third in overall team payroll at a shade under $200 million, are 55-38 and in first. Meanwhile, frugal Milwaukee, who are 26th in team payroll at just over $106 million, are 55-43 and holding their own. If they had a better record than 3-8 against the Cubbies, it would be a whole different ballgame, too. While the line-up sports big name guys like Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain — who are both hitting well — it’s relative unknown 1B Jesus Aguilar who is lighting it up. In 87 games he is hitting .298 with 24 homers and 70 RBI, which is already a career year for him. The team’s pitching has been pretty good too, with unheralded starter Junior Guerra having a great season. In 18 starts, seven of them quality, he is 6-6 with a 3.23 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 97 innings. The second half should be interesting in Wisconsin.
15. New York Mets – Disappointing
Here’s how the Mets are disappointing — even though they, too, like Toronto, have been bitten by the injury bug. They are ninth in payroll, just behind crosstown cousins the New York Yankees, yet mired in last place in the NL East. Over in the Bronx, the Yanks would be in first if not for the red-hot Boston Red Sox. The Mets pitching hasn’t been terrible, but the staff suffered the loss of Noah Syndergaard, who missed seven starts. Those weren’t adequately filled, hence the team’s lousy 39-55 record. Offensively, other than Asdrubal Cabrera, no one is impressing anyone at the dish. In fact, starters Todd Frazier, Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce are all dangerously close to the Mendoza line, hitting .217, .216 and .212, respectively. Those terrible marks are made even worse when reclamation project Jose Bautista is hitting better (.238). A lost year in Brooklyn, again.
14. Philadelphia Phillies – Surprising
In 2017, the Philadelphia Phillies won just 66 games and were out of it by the All-Star game. This season, they have already won 53 and are in first place in the NL East. First place! The team with the eighth lowest total payroll is slugging it out with the big spenders on the senior circuit like the Cubs (55 wins) and Dodgers (53 wins). This is a great young team led by those same youngsters like Odubel Herrera (16 HR, 52 RBI), Cesar Hernandez (14 SB, .270 average) and Maikel Franco (.269, 13 HR, 47 RBI). To date, staff ace Aaron Nola has outpitched big time free agent acquisition Jake Arrieta, which is a good thing. Nola is 12-3, with a 2.30 ERA and 130 strikeouts. Arrieta, meanwhile is a healthy 7-6 with a 3.23 ERA and 10 quality starts. This Phillies team is a contender.
13. Baltimore Orioles – Disappointing
The deplorable O’s would be in last place overall, if not for the Kansas City Royals. But, the O’s still spend above the league average on their roster, while the Royals are well below it. With a 28-69 record, Baltimore is 39.5 games back of front-running Boston, with no end to the bleeding in sight. There are few players punching above their weight, with only the surely-to-be-shipped out Manny Machado having any kind of impact (.315, 24 HR, 65 RBI). Otherwise this is Team Mediocre, with five fairly regular position players hitting at or below .200. One of them would be high priced 1B Chris Davis (more on him later), who isn’t hitting his weight at .158. Their pitching staff has been pretty much a disgrace, with big ticket acquisition Alex Cobb sporting a 2-12 record, 6.41 ERA and 1.580 WHIP. The season can’t end soon enough.
12. P Luis Severino – Surprising
Most of the news today is about how disappointing it was for Luis Severino to lose the starting AL All-Star team start to Chris Sale. If that’s the worst thing to happen to the Yanks staff ace this season, so be it. The fourth-year starter has been more than dominant and may give Sale a comeuppance at year’s end by taking home his first Cy Young at the expense of Sale, who hasn’t won one either. In 20 starts, Severino has a major league leading 14 wins (14-2 overall), as well as a 2.31 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 128.1 innings pitched. He has already equalled his win total from an All-Star worthy 2017 campaign and is on pace to win 20 for the playoff-bound Yankees.
11. OF Lewis Brinson – Disappointing
At one time a prized prospect in the Texas Rangers organization, Brinson has been a key piece in two big trades that saw him go to Milwaukee and then last year to Miami in the Christian Yelich deal. After being named the top prospect in the Marlins organization, Brinson made the opening day line-up on a team gutted of stars like Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton. Instead of using the opportunity on a non-contending team to shine, Brinson has the lowest average of any everyday player in the National League at .186. He has hit for a bit of power, with 10 homers and 30 RBI in 84 games, but the speedster has stolen just one base and drawn only 14 walks (against 94 strikeouts), giving him a lousy .232 on base percentage, which is also worst in the National League.
10. RP Edwin Diaz – Surprising
Diaz did save 34 games in 2017 for the Seattle Mariners, that is known. What is surprising is his 2018 pace, which could see him easily top 50 after entering the All-Star break with a league leading 36. Diaz has blown just three saves, too, making him deadly when the game is on the line for the M’s, who own the second AL wild card spot. Diaz, a Cy Young candidate if we ever saw one, also sports a 2.25 ERA in 48 appearances, along with a 0.792 WHIP and 79 strikeouts in just 48 innings pitched. His ERA is down over a full point from last year’s mark (3.27) and he has cut his homers allowed significantly (two this year vs. 10 in 2017). Diaz has been so overpowering, he has struck out the side in eight of his 36 save opportunities. Amazing.
9. SP Lance Lynn – Disappointing
The Minnesota Twins were expected to contend after making the playoffs in 2017 and by signing the St. Louis Cardinals Lynn, those hopes were strong. To date, the $12 million man has been mostly a disappointment. He is 7-7 in 18 starts, but owns one of the worst ERA’s in baseball at 5.22 and his WHIP is a terrible 1.653. He is but one reason that the Twinkies are six games below .500 and 12.5 games out of the last wild card position. Lynn’s mostly poor season got off on the wrong foot, as he went 0-3 in April, issuing 23 walks and giving up five homers over five starts and 23.2 innings pitched. He’s shown a few signs of breaking out of his season long funk, but unless he gets better command — he’s third worst in walks with 55 — it’s going to be a long second half.
8. 2B Scooter Gennett – Surprising
Leading a team in batting average that has perennial .300 hitter Joey Votto in its ranks is one thing, leading a National League chock full of great contact hitters is quite another. But, there he is, Scooter Gennett, owner of a lifetime .289 average hitting a NL-leading .326. He had a career year in 2017, but is even now surpassing that blistering offensive pace. A year ago he finished with a .295 average, 22 doubles, three triples, 27 homers and 97 RBI in 141 games. Through 92 contests this season, the sixth-year second sacker has 21 doubles, 16 homers and 63 RBI. A Milwaukee Brewers cast-off, Gennett has had many multi-hit games, the best of which was a 5-for-5 performance with a homer in a win over Colorado in late May. He’s an All-Star for the first time, too.
7. SP Jason Hammel – Disappointing
We get it, the Royals are in rebuilding mode after winning it all in 2015. The inevitable aging of much of the team’s core and the sell off of players like Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and others hasn’t helped. Hammel, signed to a two-year, $16 million contract by the frugal Royals in 2017, was supposed to be the kind of bridge veteran to shore up the starting staff until prospects could arrive and make an impact. To date, the 35-year-old has not provided a whole lot of value for the money. Last year he was 8-13 with a bloated 5.29 ERA, which looks a lot worse compared to his 2016 mark with the Cubs of 3.83. This year, Hammel’s stock has sunk even further as he carries a 2-11 record, career worst 6.15 ERA in a full season, as well as an AL worst 1.614 WHIP. That 2019 contract option between him and the club isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
6. 1B Jesus Aguilar – Surprising
Hands up, all two of you, who had any knowledge of Milwaukee Brewers’ slugging first baseman Jesus Aguilar until the 2018 season. The big Venezualan did have a pretty good 2017 campaign, his first long foray in the big leagues after having cups of coffee with Cleveland for three seasons previous. In 133 games, Aguilar batted .265, with 16 homers and 52 RBI. Not bad, but nothing to write home to Maracay about. Then 2018 happened. So far, the first time All-Star is hitting .298, with a National League leading 24 homers and 70 RBI (third best on the senior circuit). What is most amazing about his home run hitting prowess is the fact he had just three dingers through his first 37 games. He went on a tear after that, smacking 21 big flies in his last 50 appearances.
5. SP Tanner Roark – Disappointing
The malaise that has infected the Washington Nationals this season runs deeper than role players and call-ups. Starting hurler Roark, considered a key cog in arguably the best starting staff in baseball, has seen some skill fade since a dynamic 2016 season. After going 16-10 with a 2.83 ERA in 2016, he slipped to 13-11 with a 4.67 ERA in 2017. This season, Roark and by extension the Nats are scuffling along, trying to find the playoff mojo they seem to have misplaced. Roark is a miserable 3-12 in 2018 (most losses so far) and he sports a career worst 4.87 ERA. Even worse, Roark has surrendered a NL high 117 hits and has been donged for 15 homers and has a 1.395 WHIP. He can take solace in the fact that Gio Gonzalez is also experiencing the yips.
4. SP Blake Snell – Surprising
It may seem that the Tampa Bay Rays are spinning their wheels in an AL East dominated by Boston and the Yankees, but the future sure looks bright. That optimism can flow through 25-year-old starter Blake Snell, who has also thrown his hat in the ring for AL Cy Young. The third-year southpaw has assumed the role of staff ace from Chris Archer, going 12-5 in 20 starts with a 2.27 ERA, 1.067 WHIP and 134 Ks in 119 innings pitched. All of those numbers put him in at least the top 10, if not the top 5, in the American League. His most dominant effort was a one-hit shutout through seven innings of work, with 10 strikeouts, in a 11-0 victory over Washington in late June. He, like a few players on this list, will be making his first All-Star appearance.
3. 1B Chris Davis – Disappointing
In terms of Chris Davis’ horrible, awful offensive season, where do we begin to describe it? We will start with the Orioles highest paid player’s batting average. Through 80 games, Davis is hitting a miniscule .158, which is the lowest in the major leagues and a full 28 points below the second worst, Milwaukee’s Lewis Brinson at .186. Davis, who is making over $21 million a season and is under contract until 2022, could be forgiven his lousy bat if he was hitting home runs like he did in 2013 (AL high 53) and 2015 (47, AL high). But, sadly, he’s not. Davis has just nine homers and has driven in 28 runs. His batting eye, at age 32, has got even worse, too. He has struck out 116 times, putting him on pace to eclipse the career worst 219 whiffs in 2016. The Orioles, unfortunately, have to play him, since they’re paying him a king’s ransom.
2. SP Aaron Nola – Surprising
On the face of it, Aaron Nola is a drop dead bargain for the Phillies at a paltry $573,000. His relatively cheap salary pales in comparison to big time free agent acquisition Jake Arrieta, who makes more than that, per start (he is making $30 million this year. Nola, who flirted with a no-hitter against Toronto earlier this season, is going head-to-head right now with the Mets’ Jacob deGrom and Washington’s Max Scherzer for NL Cy Young honors. Nola, drafted in the first round in 2014 by the Phillies, is second in ERA to deGrom at 2.30. He is also third in WHIP at 0.977, tied for wins with 12 and fourth in strikeouts with 131. Nola also leads the senior circuit in homers per nine innings at a skinny 0.4 (six total in 129 innings over 20 starts).
1. OF Bryce Harper – Disappointing
Again, there are many cooks in a Washington kitchen serving up sub-standard fare, and by his lofty standards, former MVP Bryce Harper is burning the toast too. Sure, the homers are there with 23 and RBI totals a respectable 54, but his .214 batting average and 102 strikeouts have an odor to them. For $21 million, the Nats should be getting a whole lot more out of their prized pupil, who is still just 25 and should be coming into his best years. But the dip in his batting average and increase in strikeouts are alarming. His previous high in Ks was 131, when he was NL MVP in 2015. But he played 153 games and led the NL many offensive categories. This year, he is on pace to go down swinging — or looking — a career high 175 times. Not a Harper-like season, in any sense.