Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game is now in the rear-view mirror. The trade deadline is ahead of us and then the postseason. Right now, though, it’s time to ponder the current state of things. It’s time to assess what we saw in baseball’s first half.
This is the first of Yahoo Sports’ MLB midseason review series and we’re talking about the biggest surprises and disappointments in the league, both teams and individual players. It’s a fact of sports life that nothing ever goes exactly how we expect it, for better or worse.
Just ask the Chicago Cubs or the San Francisco Giants. Or, conversely, the Milwaukee Brewers or Arizona Diamondbacks.
Here are our writers’ picks:
ALEX WOOD: Had Alex Wood broken out three or four years ago with the Braves, few would have been surprised. That it’s happening now, after years marred by injuries and inconsistency, and that it’s happened to the extent it has, is quite shocking. Wood has been so good, some have actually joked he’s bumped Clayton Kershaw to the Dodgers No. 2 starter. He’s the first Dodger starter to begin the season 10-0 since Don Newcombe in 1955, and only the second lefty in the last 100 years to be 10-0 with an ERA under 2.00 (1.67). For whatever reason, the light bulb has gone on for Wood, and that’s a big reason why the Dodgers are the National League’s best and most dangerous team. (Mark Townsend)
GREG HOLLAND: Holland didn’t play in the majors in 2016. Not one game, not one inning, not one blessed second. He was recovering from Tommy John surgery, and it took the entire season. The Colorado Rockies took a flier on him in the offseason, giving him a one-year deal worth $7 million. And Holland is rewarding their faith. He leads all of MLB with 28 saves, and owns a 1.62 ERA. He looks a lot like the Greg Holland of 2013-14, who notched a ton of strikeouts and boasted ERAs under 1.50. The Rockies have been a pretty big surprise this season, so it makes sense that they would employ a closer who is unexpectedly racing down the comeback trail with reckless abandon. (Liz Roscher)
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS: Give it up for the Arizona Diamondbacks. After a 2016 season in which they had plenty offseason hype and even more regular-season disappointment, the D-backs are doing what almost no one expected. If the postseason started today, they’re a playoff team. At 53-36, they actually have the third-best record in MLB, even if they’re second in the NL West behind the Dodgers. New manager Torey Lovullo is getting the best out of this bunch and slugger Paul Goldschmidt is playing at an MVP level. But perhaps most surprising: The D-backs have the second-best team ERA in the game. That makes twice they’re behind the Dodgers. (Mike Oz)
MILWAUKEE BREWERS: Everyone thought the National League Central belonged to the world champs, but the Brewers didn’t get that memo. Milwaukee has outscored its opponents by 45 runs thus far, so it doesn’t look like a total fluke. A number of things have propelled the team to this spot. They’ve hit on key acquisitions from this winter, received breakout performances in the rotation and made strong moves as part of the rebuilding effort. Until the Cubs get their act together, the Central is now the Brewers’ to lose. (Chris Cwik)
CHICAGO CUBS: It was inevitable that this season would be a letdown after the Chicago Cubs’ 2016, a 103-win fairy tale season that culminated in a drought-ending World Series championship in which they came back from a 3-1 deficit. Starting the 2017 season, it was a lot to live up to. But the Cubs have managed to have a far more disappointing season than anyone anticipated. They haven’t been in first place since June 6, and they’re currently 5.5 games behind the Brewers. Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and pretty much every member of their starting rotation has been varying degrees of terrible. Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Javier Baez are all underperforming. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist is hitting .214. And Kyle Schwarber was doing so badly that he was sent to Triple-A to straighten his head out. Plus, no one looks like they’re having fun, which is just sad for a team made up of such exciting players. The Cubs have a big to-do list for the second half, but at the top of the list? Get their chemistry back. (Liz Roscher)
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: Many were expecting the NL West to be a two-team race again between the Dodgers and Giants. Instead, the Giants are battling the Phillies for the worst record in the entire league. Injuries are a big reason why San Francisco entered the All-Star break at 34-56. Losing Madison Bumgarner in a dirt-bike accident in Colorado was the biggest single blow, but there were already obvious cracks forming before then. Now those cracks are craters thanks to a roster that seems void of upside but is still owed a ton of money. I went from thinking this could be a playoff team four months ago, to wondering if it can be fixed without a complete teardown. (Mark Townsend)
MANNY MACHADO: In a year where the ball is flying out of the park, Machado is posting his lowest slugging percentage since 2014. His entire line is pretty rough, actually, as he’s hit just .230/.296/.445. His struggles are easily one of the most puzzling parts of this season. Machado was a top-5 player in baseball coming into the year, and he’s still only 25, so there’s no reason he should be seeing a steep decline now. One explanation could be his exceptionally low .239 BABIP. Machado is making harder contact this year, so it seems like it’s just a matter of time before he turns things around. His defense is still strong, so he’ll be elite again once the balls start falling in. (Chris Cwik)
EVERYTHING METS: Oh, boy. Talk about a weird season. Sure, the Cubs and Giants are disappointing, but they’re nothing compared to the mess that the Mets’ season has been. The Mets were another team with playoff expectations and World Series aspirations — with a supposed world-class pitching staff and enough offense to make the NL East interesting. Naw. Noah Syndergaard is hurt but that started with a controversy after he refused an MRI. Matt Harvey has been a complete sideshow, from his poor performance to his tabloid-fodder off-field antics. Yoenis Cespedes spent a good chunk of time on the DL. You know it’s bad when that sex-toy controversy doesn’t even rank among the top 3 of the season. At 39-47, they’ve returned to full LOLMets status. (Mike Oz)
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