Midway through the 2022 season, the Yankees are on their way to an all-time record, led by slugger Aaron Judge, who hit 60 home runs.
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Well, that certainly flew by.
If you don’t bother looking up from your rib rack or plant-based red hot, just a gentle reminder that Major League Baseball’s season is practically halfway through. As the country marks its independence, 13 teams have played at least 80 games, some as many as 82. Has your team met its lockout-mandated five-game intra-division streak yet? If so, congratulations. If not, well, summer can drag on a little longer.
Anyhow, it’s more than mathematically feasible to project half-time numbers over an entire season, well beyond the folly of early May “on pace” concepts, and it’s worth pondering what notable or nefarious performances – individually or as a whole Team – are within reach.
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Much of the heavy lifting is done. With that in mind, USA TODAY Sports examines the eight likely numbers for the second half:
118: Yankees wins
stupid you say Don’t be so stupid if you say so.
We’re past the point of wondering how “real” this Yankee team is and much closer to AL East’s crowning glory and regretlessly making comparisons to the sacrosanct but also all ’98 Yankees. Those Yankees are 58-22, just two games behind the 1998 squad’s pace and ahead of the 2001 Mariners’ record-breaking 116-game gallop.
It’s not so much the overall record, but the numbing consistency that gets us: winning 21 of 26 series, tying three more (and losing a single game in Houston). April 15-6, May 19-9, June 22-6. Nearly the same ERA (3.19, 3.32, 3.35) by mid-rotation starters Jordan Montgomery, Jameson Taillon and Luis Severino. Leading the AL in both home runs and slugging, but also in WHIP and pitchers’ strikeouts.
Know they might sag, but give them their roses. Maybe they’re just getting started…
59: Aaron Judge runs home
And that would put him shoulder-to-shoulder with his middle-line pal, Giancarlo Stanton, as the only man to hit that many home runs since 2001, when, um, Sammy Sosa hit 64 and Barry Bonds hit a record 73.
We all know how that went down, but Judge hitting so many home runs would take on even more weight than comparing Stanton as the supposed clean kings of the post-test era. Consider the offensive environment in which Judge performed:
Leaguewide slugging and OPS are .396 and .707, the lowest levels since 2014. You’d have to go back to 1992 to find the next season that produces such weak collective OPS.
Baseball and its (lack of) flight were a constant concern, less so as the weather warmed up. Still, Judge hit nine home runs in the first 30 days of the season, a time we’ll now mark as a modern, perhaps temporary, dead ball era.
And yes, the home run rate has dropped to 1.08 per team game, the lowest since 2015 and a 14% drop since 2017, when Stanton hit his 59 home runs for the Miami Marlins and earned a trade to the Yankees months later.
Of course, the second half of this feat may prove much more difficult, although the weather is only getting warmer and support in the Yankee lineup (Anthony Rizzo: 44-homer pace) should remain strong. If so, we might not see Judge in the Bonds convoy, but a run on Babe Ruth (60) and Roger Maris (61) as Yankee homer champions in a season is certainly within reach.
4: AL East teams in the playoffs
There’s a lot we’ll loathe or love about MLB’s extended playoffs, though the tincture of time may just lead us to weird results and the occasional mediocre team making their way. And this inaugural season of the 12-team format features a sucker: three wildcard teams, all drawn from one division.
Call them coastal elite if you must, but the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Rays, who are positioning themselves with the Yankees for the postseason, aren’t East Coast-influenced. Hell, this result would have happened last year if a third wild card had been available to accommodate the 91-win Blue Jays.
And in 2022, there’s nothing quite like a 90-win Seattle team to threaten the AL East quartet. Sure, the Twins/Guardians runners-up could be a threat, but both teams seem utterly flawed enough to pull off a battle royale for an 87-win division crown and not threaten either of the others for a wild card slot. And should the nearly .500 White Sox turn it around, they’ll have plenty to say in this derby, with 14 (Guardians) and 16 (Twins) games left against the Central’s cream, enough time to pull the other two back on the Earth.
5: Consecutive* Astros AL West titles
* – Edition of the whole season.
With the 29-31 Astros making it into Game 7 of the 2020 ALCS, there’s little stopping us from declaring Houston as the undisputed ruler of the AL West since 2017. And this season is turning out to be particularly ugly.
So much for serious challenges from Seattle and Anaheim. The Mariners, despite the makings of a solid rotation and a rising superstar in Julio Rodriguez, are 13 ½ games from the first and are hopefully wondering if the Jerry Dipoto-Scott Servais regime’s 5-6 years are worth that kind of stability. The Angels are 37-44 years old, have lost 15 of 25 since they fired Joe Maddon, and are closer to Shohei Ohtani’s free reign than inventing a viable farming system.
And more than $500 million in off-season spending, the Rangers — already 13 ½ games away — still can’t lift to .500. They’ve also lost eight of 11 to the Astros, so forget the Silver Boot consolation prize.
The emergence of hitters Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker as all-star calibers and Jeremy Peña as a competent replacement for Carlos Correa keeps the Astros a round ahead of their divisional field. The return of Justin Verlander as an ace – taking significant pressure off Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy – makes her a strong bet to reach her sixth straight ALCS.
106: Red losses
Welcome to Cincy’s first 100-loss season since 1982 — or when club president Phil Castellini was 12.
Now he’s the club’s chief operating officer and for the time being will be best known as Bob’s Son and also the guy who dared fans to ask, “Where are you going?” after the roster is reduced during the off-season.
Oh, it seems like a generation ago, but the 2021 Reds finished 83-79, a nearly identical pace to their 31-29 Pandemic Playoff performance in 2020. Yet this winter they ran Nick Castellanos, traded Sonny Gray, traded Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez gifted Wade Miley to division rivals Cubs and meanwhile wept poverty or something.
Unsurprisingly, the club started 3-22 and while they won’t be as terrible, they are now a season-high 24-game under .500. Not in the darkest days of Bryan Price or Jerry Narron or Dave Miley or Russ Nixon was the club that bad. At least we know how top club officials will feel once a trade deadline purge that likely includes pitchers Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle is complete.
This is where we are at pitcher development and use mixed with the effects of three pandemic-stricken seasons and a 99-day lockdown. Still, it’s irritating: Only Sandy Alcantara, Aaron Nola, Miles Mikolas, Max Fried and Martin Perez are on track to pass baseball’s most nominal metric for pitching endurance.
The pitcher’s starting length has been in free fall for decades, but it’s particularly wild considering that in 2019, the most recent unaffected season but also an undeniably laced with a juicy baseball, 15 players surpassed 200 innings. Of course, baseball is cyclical, and perhaps teams will reconsider the wisdom of how to develop pitchers, how many to make three pitches against opposing batters, and also the wisdom of “openers” at the expense of managing a 13-pitcher team for the rest to use of the week.
But now guess what horses we have left – all five.
4: Pitchers who average 100 mph
And that would be last year’s highest level in the seven-year history of Statcast data.
As the outer speed limits continue to be hit, congratulations to Minnesota’s Jhoan Duran, San Francisco’s Camilo Doval, Cleveland’s Emmanuel Clase and the Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman, all averaging more than 100 mph at their top spot (in Chapman’s case it is classified). as a sinker rather than a four-seam fastball). Does speed correlate with success? Given that Duran (46 strikeouts in 35 innings) and Clase (.82 WHIP, 19 saves in 21 chances) had campaigns of All-Star caliber, absolutely.
Chapman, a seven-time All-Star who was ineffective this season, was almost alone on that ranking in 2017, tied only with Trevor Rosenthal’s 100.5-mile sinker. In 2021, Clase, Chapman, Jordan Hicks and Brusdar Graterol all topped 100 with one (or, in Clase’s case, more than one) offer.
It remains an exclusive club, but the baseline is only meant to keep rising.
2: Erstmalige MVPs
The main purpose of this entry is to illustrate that Judge, Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado have zero MVPs under them. That should change this year.
Judge only has to stay upright and occasionally bat a ball out of the yard to rack up his first trophy, an honor many Yankee fans will feel overdue after being awarded the AL MVP ousted in 2017 is a team plagued by a cheating problem.
What’s more amazing is that neither Machado nor Arenado have claimed MVPs for themselves – and for now, they seem primed to finish the NL race 1-2.
Machado is behind a trio of Cardinals in NL WAR, but his 4.0 mark, .324 batting average and .935 OPS – second only to St. Louis’ Paul Goldschmidt – all come with the added narrative that the alleged franchise Shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. will sit out until August after breaking his wrist. While Machado is a five-time All-Star, finished third in the 2020 MVP vote and has a $300 million contract, he remains oddly underrated. Maybe this ends.
And Arenado? He’s covered the NL MVP contest, finishing third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth at various spots between 2015 and 2019 in Colorado. He was an All-Star and Gold Glover in his freshman year as a Cardinal but is looking back on his dominant self this year, scoring for the cycle and then scoring twice in the last consecutive games. Right now, the NL bWAR leaderboard goes to Goldschmidt and teammates Tommy Edman (4.3), Arenado (4.1), and Machado (4.0).
Who do you want to kill at the top of that pile in October? We take the third basemen as a paired entry.