In the blink of an eye, we are more than halfway through the 162-game MLB season. So, what happened in the first half? Let’s see … The Yankees are on pace for 113 wins. The Dodgers and Astros aren’t far behind. Jacob deGrom hasn’t pitched, but the Mets are still in first place. We’ve had 14-game winning streaks from the Braves and Mariners (the latter one is still active). The Reds started the season 3-22 and the Blue Jays fired their manager despite being in a playoff position.
Aaron Judge has a shot at 60 home runs and we’ve seen eight-RBI games from Rowdy Tellez, Josh Naylor, Joc Pederson and the indomitable Shohei Ohtani. Dodgers pitchers Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson are a combined 21-1 and Matt Carpenter and his mustache have produced an astonishing 13 home runs and 34 RBIs in just 79 at-bats for the Yankees — a .354/.469/.911 line from a player who hit under .200 the past two seasons for the Cardinals.
As we come out of the All-Star break, let’s take one last look back at the first half of the 2022 season and grade all 30 teams on their performances.
MLB season preview: Rankings, playoff odds for all 30 teams
Think back to just a few months ago. After the team had a one-and-done postseason result and then didn’t sign any of the free-agent shortstops, Yankees fans wanted Brian Cashman to answer for it. Then Cashman, in a strange bit of retroactive sour grapes, blamed the Yankees’ World Series drought on the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal in 2017, conveniently forgetting the Yankees hit .205 in the ALCS that year. Then the contract talks with Judge broke down.
But once the season started, the Yankees started winning — and haven’t stopped. For much of the first half, they’ve been on pace to challenge not just the club record of 114 wins of the famous 1998 squad, but the major league record of 116 wins shared by the 2001 Mariners and 1906 Cubs. Judge was probably the first-half MVP (although he slumped heading into the break), while Nestor Cortes, Clay Holmes and Jose Trevino became the three unlikeliest Yankees All-Stars ever.
(This is not an exaggeration. You have to go back to pitchers Jim Coates in 1960 and Ryne Duren in 1958 to find somebody similar, and even Coates had pitched well the season before. Duren was a hard-throwing reliever with thick glasses who had a 5.27 ERA for the A’s in 1957 when the Yankees acquired him and turned him into an All-Star.)
As for the second half, the Yankees will have to monitor the innings for Cortes and Luis Severino, so I don’t think they’ll want to push as hard as the 2001 Mariners did for the wins record. However, there isn’t much room to relax if they want to keep the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage with the Astros close behind.
The Astros were certainly heavy — although not consensus — favorites to win the AL West, but I don’t think anybody expected 107 wins, which would match the club record set in 2019. The biggest stories have been the thunderous return of Justin Verlander and the crack of Yordan Alvarez‘s bat. He was on pace for one of the best offensive seasons in Astros history — his OPS+ of 196 would be topped only by Jeff Bagwell’s 1994 MVP campaign — before landing on the IL with hand inflammation and missing the week heading into the All-Star break.
What clearly makes the Astros title contenders, however, is that starting rotation depth. The Astros go six-deep, with Verlander and ground-ball wizard Framber Valdez working as a dominant 1-2 duo. Cristian Javier has suddenly turned into a strikeout machine, including back-to-back games of 13 and 14 K’s against the Yankees and Angels. Throw in dynamic rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena, and the Astros are good and — yes, baseball fans — fun to watch.
There were no expectations heading into the season, not after 110 losses in 2021. Preseason projections from our Brad Doolittle forecasted 58 wins — the worst record of all 30 teams. Then they went 7-14 in April and the joke was management had moved the left-field fences too far back, turning Camden Yards into the Grand Canyon. Then the Orioles slowly began turning things around: 14-16 in May, 14-12 in June and then the incredible 10-game win streak — the franchise’s longest since 1999 — to push them over .500 and into the wild-card race.
Look, who knows whether this can continue — the AL East is brutal — but Orioles fans can finally see a future. Adley Rutschman is up and playing well after a slow start. Gunnar Henderson has vaulted from the back end of top-100 prospects lists to perhaps the best prospect in the minors. Grayson Rodriguez, although currently sidelined, remains one of the top pitching prospects. They just drafted Jackson Holliday with the No. 1 overall pick. FYI, during the 162-game era, 16 previous teams have lost at least 108 games. Only the 1979-80 Oakland A’s followed up with a winning season the next year.
Has it been a perfect first 90 games? Hardly. Max Muncy is hitting under .200, Cody Bellinger is barely above .200, Walker Buehler is injured, Blake Treinen has pitched just three innings and Craig Kimbrel hasn’t exactly been lights-out replacing Treinen as closer. But here they are, on pace to top even last year’s 106 wins. It could be their fourth 104-win season since 2017, an incredible run of dominance (and that doesn’t include 2020, when they had their highest winning percentage of this era). Gonsolin and Anderson are a combined 21-1 and Clayton Kershaw is looking like vintage Kershaw. Along with Julio Urias, that gives them four starters with sub-3.00 ERAs. First in runs, first in fewest runs allowed, a scorching-hot Freddie Freeman — and maybe somebody added at the trade deadline. In my book, they’re the World Series favorites over the Yankees.
It’s been a whirlwind first half for the Mets, dealing with deGrom’s injury and then bolting out of the gates with a 34-17 record through the end of May that included a couple of the most dramatic wins of the season (scoring seven runs in the top of the ninth to beat the Phillies 8-7). They headed into June with a 10½-game lead in the division, but the offense and rotation haven’t been as stellar since, and while the Mets remain on a 100-win pace, the Braves have cut into most of that lead. With deGrom about to return and Max Scherzer looking strong since his return from the IL, the Mets should have all the pieces in place for a strong run in the second half — one that could end deep into October, especially if they can add a power bat at the trade deadline (maybe that will be top prospect Francisco Alvarez).
Indeed, the Braves were just 23-27 at the end of May, but then they kicked off June with a 14-game winning streak. Things really turned around when they called up Michael Harris II to play center field and moved fellow rookie Spencer Strider to the rotation, where he’s been blowing hitters away with his upper-90s fastball. But the stars have delivered as well: Austin Riley is proving last year was no fluke, Max Fried and Dansby Swanson have been outstanding, and Matt Olson has filled Freeman’s shoes. The 12 games against the Mets in the second half — starting with a five-game series in New York on Aug. 4 — will be must-watch baseball.
Maybe this is finally the year anything does happen! The team with the majors’ longest playoff drought was a miserable 29-39 through June 20, with FanGraphs’ playoff odds sitting at 5.3%. The offense was terrible, and the bullpen had been producing clutch results like last season. Then the Mariners closed the first half by winning eight straight series, and the 13-game winning streak pushed those playoff odds up 63.2%. Rookie sensation Julio Rodriguez is already a huge star, an absolutely electric talent who keeps delivering big hits, like his first career grand slam the other night. The offense still needs to improve, but Jesse Winker is finally starting to hit, they’ll get Mitch Haniger back at some point and Carlos Santana has been a nice addition so far. And keep an eye on Robbie Ray: In his past seven starts, the Mariners have gone 6-1 and he has a 1.36 ERA and .151 average allowed. He’s looking like an ace who could start — dare we say it — the first game of a playoff series.
On one hand, it’s been a frustrating first half with the inconsistent offense (including so-so numbers from Wander Franco before he landed on the IL with a fractured right hamate bone) and a slew of injuries that would have crushed most teams. The Rays always seem to find a way, however, and the electrifying Shane McClanahan, who leads all starters with a 35.7% strikeout rate and .506 OPS, has put on his Superman cape at times. They’ve also received great work from relievers Jason Adam and Brooks Raley, while Jeffrey Springs — a reliever the past three seasons — moved into the rotation and had a .253 ERA before he, too, got injured. They’re the ultimate example of why you need an entire 40-man roster to succeed in today’s game (or, in their case, 49 players so far).
All things considered, I think the Brewers will take where they are — on pace for 90 wins and leading the NL Central coming out of the break. With just 21 combined starts out of Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta, they’ve had to scramble a bit more in the rotation than they’ve liked, but they may also need more from the offense to hold off the Cardinals. Their regular lineup features eight players with an OPS over .700 but under .800 — meaning eight average or better hitters, but no big offensive stars. (It seems clear that Christian Yelich will never be “the man” again.) That may be good enough for the regular season, but can it work in October? Also: Do they need to worry about the suddenly struggling Josh Hader after his three-homer explosion on Friday?
Catching the Dodgers will be difficult (FanGraphs gives the Padres about a 3% chance of winning the division), but they’ve put themselves into playoff position without Fernando Tatis Jr., who is still three to four weeks from his return to the majors. Joe Musgrove‘s maturation into a legit ace continues, but they’ve been barely a .500 team when he doesn’t start, as they’re really just middle-of-the-pack across the board — offense, rotation, bullpen. Tatis might have to play the outfield when he returns, as center field and right field have been their least productive positions. Obviously, the hope is he makes a major impact, but you know GM A.J. Preller will do something big before the trade deadline.
After back-to-back AL Central titles in 2019 and 2021, the Twins fell to last in the division last season, but a series of moves made after the lockout — signing Carlos Correa; trading for Sonny Gray, Gio Urshela and Gary Sanchez — signaled the Twins were in playoff mode. Luis Arraez has put together a Tony Gwynn-caliber first half, and Byron Buxton has delivered two walk-off home runs, one of those a memorable 469-foot blast off Liam Hendriks. Rookie starter Joe Ryan looks like a steal (acquired last year from the Rays for Nelson Cruz), while rookie reliever Jhoan Duran has shown some ridiculous talent. The front office may have made one trade too many, however, as the Taylor Rogers–Chris Paddack–Emilio Pagan deal has backfired — Paddack went down with Tommy John surgery, and Pagan has blown five saves.
Most projection systems saw the Guardians as a .500 team, and that’s what they’ve been, although you could argue that since the White Sox, Tigers and Royals have all been at least mildly disappointing, perhaps Cleveland hasn’t taken enough advantage of a soft division. But this season was all about giving some young players the chance to prove themselves, and the bright spot there has been Andres Gimenez, acquired in the Francisco Lindor trade, making the All-Star team. Naylor has improved and had an eight-RBI game against the White Sox that he ended with a three-run walk-off home run in the 11th inning (perhaps the most exciting game of the first half). Throw in Jose Ramirez, a healthy Shane Bieber and Emmanuel Clase, and you can’t rule out the Guardians catching the Twins in the second half.
They’ve done a good job adjusting on the fly, such as giving playing time to Brendan Donovan and Juan Yepez, shifting Tommy Edman over to shortstop to create an opening for Nolan Gorman at second, and utilizing Ryan Helsley at closer at times. Yet, there’s still the feeling they should be better than this, especially given Paul Goldschmidt was the first-half NL MVP. Granted, they’ve underperformed their Pythagorean record by a few wins, but they’ve also been shut out 11 times — heading into the final weekend before the break, that was second most in the majors behind Detroit’s 12. Note: Based on current winning percentages, the Cardinals also have the easiest schedule in the majors the rest of the way, including 11 games against the Cubs, 10 against the Reds, nine against the Pirates and seven against the Nationals.
Maybe this grade is generous! After all, the bandwagon was more crowded than a Bad Bunny concert back in spring training — 29 of 38 ESPN MLB experts picked the Blue Jays to win the division. And only two picked the Yankees, so 36 of us are going to be wrong. (Full disclosure: I picked the Rays.) Obviously, the Jays’ front office was disappointed in the performance as well, with the surprise firing of manager Charlie Montoyo last week. They can’t even really blame injuries; Sure, Hyun-Jin Ryu was lost for the season, but the position players have all been healthy. Nearly every hitter, however, has been just not quite as good as in 2021 — and let’s not forget, Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray had a 13.8 bWAR between the two of them last season. That was going to be difficult to replace. Note as well: Twenty-six of their first 30 games coming out of the break are against playoff contenders.
It was looking ugly when they were 22-29 and fired manager Joe Girardi, but they turned things around under Rob Thomson, going 19-8 in June with an impressive plus-40 run differential. But note: They played only three games against the Mets and Braves in June. They have 12 against Atlanta and seven against New York after the break. They’ve been without Bryce Harper since June 26 and have played about .500 without his big bat, even with Kyle Schwarber going on an absolute home run tear. In Harper’s absence, they need some others to step up — most notably “Ground Ball” Nick Castellanos, who is far below his numbers of recent seasons. As always, the defense and relief pitching have had their issues, ranking in the bottom third of the majors.
Let’s give an A+++++++ to Sandy Alcantara and, well, too many Ds and Fs elsewhere (Jesus Sanchez, Avisail Garcia). The Marlins still lack the organizational depth to overcome injuries or poor performances, so despite the bright spots — Alcantara, Jazz Chisholm Jr., Pablo Lopez — they’re straddling .500 instead of chasing a playoff spot. The biggest problem is the outfield, and not just the bad offense from Sanchez and Garcia. It seems every time I turn on the Marlins, I’m seeing some bad defense as well — miscommunication, bad jumps, bad throws. They really need a legitimate center fielder. They did just call up starter Max Meyer, and Eury Perez has continued to develop into one of the best pitching prospects in the minors, so those are two big positives.
This grade might not feel harsh enough to some, since it has been a disappointing follow-up to 2021’s 107-win season for the ages, and the expectations from the front office were certainly aimed at a repeat trip to the postseason. But everything went right last season, and given the age of this roster and the volatility of bullpens, this is perhaps what should have been expected. Remember, the Giants received huge performances last season from Buster Posey and 34-year-old Brandon Crawford, plus a .975 OPS from 33-year-old Brandon Belt in 97 games. Posey retired, Crawford has been beat up and Belt has missed half the games. The good news: They’re still in the wild-card hunt, although 14 games against the Dodgers in the second half will be a difficult test.
Are they going to make the playoffs? No. Do they still need a lot of help in the rotation? Yes. Are things going in the right direction? That remains to be seen. Free agents Corey Seager and Semien picked things up after sluggish starts (Semien in particular was awful in April, hitting .157 with no home runs), so we’ll see where their final numbers end up before passing judgment on the first year of their megadeals. It has also been a rough go for some of their top prospects. Jack Leiter, the second overall pick last season, has had big-time control issues at Double-A, while Josh Jung tore a labrum in spring training and has yet to play. Throw in the unknown status of All-Star Martin Perez (Will he be traded? Signed to a long-term deal? Be this good again?) and the Rangers’ future remains murky.
The Rockies might have considered themselves playoff contenders, but to everyone else it was pretty clear they would need a lot to go right just to crack .500. It hasn’t helped that Kris Bryant spent more time on the injured list than on the field and that German Marquez, after five seasons with a combined ERA+ of 116, has been a below-average starter. Let’s hope all those innings at altitude haven’t ruined him. There have been some positive developments on the farm from the likes of shortstop Ezequiel Tovar, outfielder Zac Veen and catcher Drew Romo — all of whom should enter 2023 as top-50 prospects.
It’s been a whirlwind first half for the Red Sox: An ugly 10-19 start, a 20-6 record in June to climb back into the wild-card race, then a tough stretch to in July when they played 14 straight games against the Rays and Yankees and went just 4-10. That stretch included a four-game sweep in Tampa and back-to-back 14-1 and 12-3 losses to the Yankees to close out the first half. Chris Sale came back, made two starts, and got hit by a line drive, breaking a pinkie that will sideline him for four-to-six weeks. Then there were a couple brutal late-game losses in Toronto in which reliever Tanner Houck was unavailable since he is unvaccinated and not allowed to travel to Canada. Otherwise … Rafael Devers is pretty awesome.
Well, they’re not as bad as last year, when they lost 110 games. They stumbled out of the gate in April, hitting just .181 — although April hasn’t actually been their worst month. That was June, when they went 10-16. But this remains one of the most anonymous teams in the majors; heck, their All-Star was 31-year-old reliever Joe Mantiply. That sums up what this team needs: Some stars. Ketel Marte was supposed to be one, but he hasn’t been able to repeat his stellar 2019 season. Maybe it will be rookie outfielder Alek Thomas or sweet-swinging center fielder Corbin Carroll, who just got promoted from Double-A to Triple-A after posting a 1.073 OPS for Amarillo.
They’ve lost games 21-0, 19-2, 16-0, 18-4, 13-2, 11-1, 14-5, 9-0 and 9-0 — just to count the losses by nine or more runs. So when they’re bad, they are really bad, which probably makes them look worse than they really are. At some point though, you need to see things coming together and I don’t think they’re at that point yet. Yes, Oneil Cruz is an exciting talent — more 97.8-mph throws, please and thank you — but he’s also a work in progress at the plate. Ke’Bryan Hayes is an all-world defender and let’s hope they don’t trade Bryan Reynolds. But they’ve used 29 different position players for some reason (nine different players have started at second base) and that’s a sign of a club throwing darts at the Roberto Clemente Bridge.
The White Sox, perhaps the biggest disappointment so far, were coming off a 93-win season and brought back all their key players. Thirty-four of 38 of our experts picked the White Sox to win the division. Everyone wants to blame Tony La Russa and he’s an easy target after questionable moves like the two-strike intentional walk to Trea Turner and the game he batted light-hitting Leury Garcia third (oops, make that two games). To be fair, the White Sox have been hit with injuries (Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Lance Lynn), plus poor performance (Moncada, Grandal, Lynn, Lucas Giolito, A.J. Pollock). Dylan Cease has delivered a dominant breakout season, however, and Michael Kopech, finally in the rotation, has shown flashes of excellence. If Giolito and Lynn can get going, the White Sox still have a chance in the AL Central — and that could happen, since the White Sox have the majors’ second-easiest schedule the rest of the way.
From the second game of a doubleheader on June 4 through June 16, the Cubs lost 10 games in a row and were outscored 90-30. I’d say that’s the worst stretch of Cubs baseball since the ’97 Cubs started 0-14, except last year the Cubs had separate losing streaks of 11 and 12 games. There have been some positives — Seiya Suzuki can hit and rookie Christopher Morel has come up and held his own — but several of the veterans the front office brought in to hopefully help make the team respectable haven’t played well, including Jonathan Villar, Yan Gomes and Andrelton Simmons. And things could get worse in the second half: Willson Contreras and David Robertson (a veteran who has worked out) are likely to be traded.
The season began with promise and optimism: Spencer Torkelson! Javier Baez! Riley Greene! Eduardo Rodriguez! Heck, everyone even loved the acquisition of defensive stalwart Tucker Barnhart behind the plate. Instead: Torkelson has been the least valuable everyday player in the majors. Baez hasn’t hit enough. Greene fractured his foot at the end of spring training, delaying his debut in the majors. Rodriguez has left the team for personal reasons. Even the guys who were good last season — Jeimer Candelario, Robbie Grossman, Akil Baddoo — have been terrible. The only hitters with an above-average OPS+ are Victor Reyes and Eric Haase. The bullpen has been solid though.
This is up from an F- after the first weeks when they started a horrific 3-22 and looked like they might be one of the worst teams of all time. Now it looks like they won’t even get the first pick in the draft. Here’s the thing though: This isn’t even a particularly young team, especially on offense, where only the Giants have an older average age (weighted for playing time). Hunter Greene has alternated between brilliance (11.3 K’s per nine) and frustration (22 home runs in 85⅓ innings).
The only reason this isn’t an F is because rookie Bobby Witt Jr., after a slow start, has flashed the power and speed that make him a 30-30 candidate — perhaps as soon as this season. Otherwise, this is a rebuilding team perhaps in need of a rebuild. OK, maybe that’s a little harsh. There is hope with Witt and fellow rookies MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino and Nick Pratto. Of course, Pratto was called up only after 10 unvaccinated Royals weren’t allowed to enter Toronto, with Whit Merrifield suggesting he might get vaccinated in the future if he happens “to get on a team that has a chance to go play in Canada in the postseason.” Don’t worry, Whit, nobody wants your .635 OPS right now anyway. GM Dayton Moore’s response to Merrifield’s comments: “I was disappointed. Pretty disgusted, truthfully.” Your 2022 Royals, everyone!
Ohtani is having another historic two-way season, Mike Trout has been awesome, Taylor Ward has a 146 OPS+ and the rotation has actually been very healthy. Yet, they’re still 20.5 games behind the Astros. Ouch. Really, this may end up being the most disappointing and frustrating season of the Trout era — yet another one that appears will finish without a trip to the playoffs, barring a miracle turnaround over the final two-plus months. If anything, you wonder if they’ll look to trade Noah Syndergaard and perhaps … no, not Ohtani — a reliever or two like Ryan Tepera or Aaron Loup.
Well, I like their City Connect jerseys. And at least Juan Soto is finally starting to heat up. Otherwise, they’ve already churned through 29 pitchers, not counting the three position players who have pitched. One of those was Stephen Strasburg: He came off the injured list, made one start, and returned to the 60-day IL. There was never going to be a path to the playoffs with this roster, but it has been some ugly baseball. No wonder the Lerner family is looking into selling the team.
One of the most admirable traits of Billy Beane’s tenure as general manager is that the A’s have never gone into full tank mode, à la Astros, Cubs, Tigers and others. Beane’s first season was 1998 and the A’s have just four top-10 picks under him — and none in the top five. That looks like it might change in 2023 as the A’s will be in a heated battle for the first overall pick. It’s not just the team on the field that earns the A’s this grade, however, but off-the-field public relations disasters like raising ticket and parking prices (then the trades of Olson and Matt Chapman). The A’s are last in the majors in attendance — and boy have they earned it.