2019 Second-Half Thoughts: Major League Baseball

July 10, 2019 - 1:30 pm
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Thursday, July 11th will mark the official start of the second-half of the 2019 Major League Baseball campaign.

The Houston Astros will visit the surprising Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. A majority of the rest of the league will be back in action come Friday, but before then it's time for a discussion of some of my thoughts and expectations for some teams and players as the "dog days" of summer and an important Trade Deadline still await. Without further ado, here are my five thoughts about the National Pastime.

1.) Los Angeles Dodgers - Is this finally the year?

1988 will hang over this franchises' head until the day they claim another World Series championship. The Dodgers have been one of the National League's best teams over the past handful of seasons; even representing the National League in the previous two World Series matchups. Despite their regular season success and seemingly never-ending pockets, Los Angeles has played second fiddle to both the analytical-darling Houston Astros and 108-win, powerhouse Boston Red Sox in the last two Fall Classics.

The Dodgers were the first team in the league to reach 60-wins this year, and are poised to surpass the 100-win plateau for the second time in three seasons. Cody Bellinger is a front-runner for the NL Most Valuable Player, and left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu looks like a favorite for the Cy Young award even though he shares a spot in the rotation with the likes of Clayton Kershaw and dynamic right-hander Walker Buehler.

Is the third time the charm for the boys in blue?

2.) Minnesota Twins - Will we be seeing Major League Baseball's first 300-home run team?

Last year, the "Twinkies" hit a total of 166 long balls as an entire roster in 162 games. Through 89 contests this season, Minnesota has already reached that mark on the dot (166) and still have at least 73 regular season matchups at their disposal.

The Twins are roughly averaging 1.87 homeruns per game through those 89 games. Now, that average does no account for extra-innings, so it's not exactly spot-on. However if they sustain that average, we could not only see them shatter last year's record of 267 set by the 2018 New York Yankees, but 300 total team home runs is not exactly out of reach. That's a frightening thought.

The Twins sit 134 homers short of an elusive 300 total; divide that 134 by their 73 remaining regular season games and the home runs per game is eerily similar to their current pace. Should Minnesota roughly slug 1.84 taters per game, they would reach 300 and set a new, previously unheralded bar for other teams to chase. First-year manager Rocco Baldelli is getting the best of the talent at his disposal; something Paul Molitor and Ron Gardenhire weren't able to do in year's past.

3.) Philadelphia Phillies - Are the wheels falling off?

2018 Off-season acquisitions: Bryce Harper. J.T. Realmuto. Jean Segura. Andrew McCutchen.

Wouldn't this be something. No playoffs again in Philadelphia? Though the Phillies still hold a Wild Card spot in the National League, the tires have blown on such a promising season since around the start of June. The Atlanta Braves have caught and passed the Phightin's, so too have the surprising Washington Nationals who are even shocking me with their latest run of dominance. The Nats are my favorite team, but I didn't even pick them as a postseason team when doing pre-season predictions. While Philadelphia was reeling and gasping for air, Washington rattled off 28 wins in 39 games and now hold an edge on the Phillies by half-a-game in the Wild Card standings.

Philadelphia locked up the most prized off-season free agent for 13-seasons (Bryce Harper) and swung a trade for the most sought-after trade target (J.T. Realmuto) in less than two weeks this past off-season. Expectations were as high as they've been since 2011 in the City of Brotherly; fittingly, the last time the franchise reached the post-season. Does the team have a rallying cry left in them before the season passes them by? Or will focus shift to 2020 come the Trade Deadline?

4.) Pete Alonso, Cody Bellinger, Mike Trout, Christian Yelich - 60 home runs still in reach?

We haven't seen 60 home runs by a player in a hot minute. You have to go back to 1961 in the American League and 2001 in the National League.

Is this the year we see it again?

Trout ended the first-half on a patented hot streak and sits at 28, Alonso and Bellinger have both reached 30 on the dot; while Yelich picked up where he left off in his 2018 Senior Circuit MVP campaign and has already slugged 31 home runs in 2019. Should Trout reach that mark, he would become the first AL hitter to reach that mark since Roger Maris *infamously* captivated the baseball world with 61 in '61 (there were eight more games on the schedule in 1961 than when Babe Ruth posted his record 60 back in 1927 -- 162 games as opposed to 154). If one of our NL contestants should reach the elusive 60-homer milestone, they would go down in history as the first NL hitter to do so since Barry Bonds destroyed 73 baseballs into the stands in 2001.

Who's got my vote? Yelich. The NL Central is going to be an absolute dogfight until season's end. Yelich will be playing meaningful games until the bell rings on Game 162. No discredit to Alonso, Bellinger or Trout, but their teams are on different sides of the spectrum than Yelich's Milwaukee Brewers. The Mets and Angels are likely to be sellers; again watching the post-season from their couches. It's likely those stars will get rest in otherwise meaningless Septembers, unless managers Mickey Callaway and Brad Ausmus are willing to push them out there each day in chase of the mark. As for Bellinger, the Dodgers are a runaway train in the NL West yet again. Manager Dave Roberts will want the third-year slugger rested for October.

"Save some of those home runs for when they really count." - Roberts, probably.

5.) D.J. Lemahieu - First player to win a batting title in both leagues since 1902?

What were you doing in 1902? Rhetorical. Don't answer that.

If you were Ed Delahanty, though, you were winning a batting title (.376 average) with the American League's Washington Senators. Add that to his title in 1899 with the National League's Philadelphia Phillies (.410 average), and you'll see what we're getting at. Delahanty still remains the only player in Major League Baseball history to be crowned a batting title in both leagues. Should Yankees' utilityman Lemahieu's pace remain, he would be re-writing the record books and joining Delahanty in baseball lore.

Lemahieu is currently hitting at a .336 clip; this after winning his first title back in 2016 with the NL's Colorado Rockies. D.J. hit .348 that season for Colorado, in the midst of a five-year stretch where four different Rockies took home a batting title:

Michael Cuddyer - 2013 (.331)

Justin Morneau - 2014 (.319)

Lemahieu - 2016 (.348)

Charlie Blackmon - 2017 (.331)

Lemahieu has been a god-send for a Yankees team that has been injured and banged up all over the diamond since Spring Training. It would be such an incredible story to see this feat reached, and I think it happens. Lemahieu currently has a 12-point advantage over his next-closest Junior Circuit competitors; Houston's Michael Brantley and Boston's Rafael Devers both start the second-half with respective .324 marks.

Delahanty may have met his match.

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