Are we there already?
Sorry, kids, we still have a second half. It might be harder for the Cubs than anyone else, but it’s neither here nor there. Let’s do a little recognition in the first half before the All-Star break, which starts as soon as the games end on Sunday:
TEAM TO BEAT, AMERICAN LEAGUE
It must be the White Sox, right? No, it’s the Astros, who are scoring the most, hitting for the highest average, hitting the least, basing themselves on the highest clip in the majors and – a big ” ‘and’ ‘- have the AL’s only group of starting pitchers with a lower combined ERA than the Sox guys. BetMGM lists the Astros at +600 to win the World Series, the Sox at +800 and the Red Sox at +1000.
TEAM TO BE Beaten, National League
It may take a heart-breaking story in the style of the stunning Nationals NL Division Series in 2019 for a team to topple the mighty Dodgers, but there is a compelling roster of contenders. The Padres are the best show in baseball, the Giants are Team Mojo, the Mets have Jacob deGrom and the Brewers have a huge lead.
2 BEST STORIES, AL
Show them, Shohei: After a miserable 2020 year at the plate – and having essentially not launched since the operation of Tommy John in October 2018 – the Shohei Ohtani of the Angels leads the majors in the circuits (32 entries on Friday) and is the first player to make an all-star team as a hitter and pitcher that same year.
Sox Education: What have we learned? They can withstand untold injuries – to Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and now Yasmani Grandal – because of their organizational depth. Lock in Dylan Cease as a spinning device, but maybe not playoff time. When you hold a gigantic lead, you certainly aren’t swinging into a 3-0 count with bases loaded and a player in position on the mound. Oh, and maybe a certain Hall of Fame director still has an idea after all.
2 BEST STORIES, NL
Giant surprise: The best baseball record does not belong to the Dodgers or the Padres, but to an NL West team that was supposed to lose in 2021. The Giants are raising their division just like the Cubs did in 2015, when the Cardinals and the Pirates were seen as much heavier hitters.
10-4, good Cubbies: Not ‘better’ like in gay, but, man, things got interesting. The Cubs were the NL’s ‘it’ organization before the Dodgers stole that status. When and where will Craig Kimbrel, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and the rest go? As a big boss under tremendous pressure, will Jed Hoyer stand tall or fall face down? And what are Ricketts really made of?
3 FOR MVP, AL
Ohtani: By the way, what a pleasure it will be on Monday to see him hit bombs in the Home Run Derby.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays: He leads the majors in RBI (73), OPS (1.118) and total bases (207).
Rafael Devers, Red Sox: Look, somebody’s got to be third. Devers is two RBIs behind Guerrero’s pace.
3 FOR MVP, NL
Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres: DeGrom is the little betting favorite, but Tatis is a war machine with a triple crown in mind.
deGrom: His sleeves are down – intentionally – to keep the tank full until the finish line. But that 1.08 ERA means a chance to run Bob Gibson’s magical 1.12.
Brandon Crawford, Giants: He’s probably going to disappear in this race – if he’s even there now – but he’s been quietly better than ever throughout the first half and deserves a nod.
4 AS, AL
Carlos Rodon, Sox: Give it to the man with a hit and the most strikeouts per nine innings (14.3) in the AL.
Lance Lynn, Sox: The self-described “big bastard” has the lowest ERA (1.77) among the AL starters.
Gerrit Cole, Yankees: No one was more electric in April and May than the betting favorite to win the Cy Young.
Kyle Gibson, Rangers: He was pretty good all those years with the Twins, but not as good.
4 ACES, NL
deGrom: He should really get at least half of a true Cy Young Award for his first half performance.
Kevin Gausman, Giants: Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum would only have liked to have Gausman’s numbers in the first half.
Zack Wheeler, Philly: So many strikeouts, as many innings pitched and the best WAR pitcher (4.9) on the planet.
Brandon Woodruff, Brewers: Woodruff (0.78 WHIP) was totally dominant, albeit a bit overlooked, in Milwaukee.
TOP 5 SOX
1. Carlos Rodon
2. Lance Lynn
3. Liam Hendriks
4. José Abreu
5. Yasmani Grandal
TOP 5 CUBS
1. Craig Kimbrel
2. Kris Bryant
3. Kyle Hendricks
4. Javy Baez
5. Willson Contreras