Midsummer is here. Not Midsommar, which is also here, but is a bit more nightmarish than the baseball things we’re here to discuss. Unless, that is, you’re an Orioles fan. With a tad over half the games played, it’s time to take a spin through both leagues and pick out a favorite thing, perhaps a reason to tune in even, for each and every team, starting with the Junior Circuit. And while we’re at it, we might as well take this opportunity to do a power ranking.
15. Baltimore Orioles (26-61)
I don’t really have a lot of positive things to say about the Orioles, who look like one of the worst teams in baseball history. However, if you’re looking for a reason to watch, you couldn’t ask for a better team to tune into if you dig the long ball. O’s pitchers have given up 168 of them already this season and are on pace to not only lay claim to the record of 258 set by the 2016 Reds, but to absolutely obliterate it. John Means (2.50 ERA, 82 IP) is the only pitcher on the entire staff with more than 6 innings and an ERA south of 4.00, which is impressive when you consider that there are 20 different pitchers that meet that innings requirement. That makes for some excitement, just as long as you’re not actually a Baltimore fan. If you are, well, really try and savor those Means starts, and just trust the process and hope that the ends justify the Means (sorry, not sorry).
14. Detroit Tigers (28-55)
As with the Orioles, the Tigers are bad and we’re putting lipstick on a pig here, even if no team is quite on the same level as Baltimore this season. If you’re looking for a reason to tune in, though, look no further than a Matthew Boyd start. Boyd has been put together 2.7 fWAR this season, which ties him for 13th in MLB by that measure. His impressive 11.94 K/9 and 1.68 BB/9 have been dragged down by a disappointing 1.60 HR/9, but he’s still managed a 3.87 ERA and 3.57 FIP, despite giving up home runs at three-quarters the rate of the Orioles. When he’s on, he’s an absolute joy to watch. If you’re a Tigers fan, you already know this though. If your team is higher up this list, you might want to see what all the hype is about so you can be prepared for the coming onslaught of trade rumors.
13. Kansas City Royals (30-59)
I spent more of my July 4th watching Royals baseball than anticipated (damn you, rain delays), so I feel for Royals’ fans. But it’s not all bad. Whit Merrifield has continued to build on what he did last season and Ian Kennedy appears to have found himself again pitching out of the bullpen. But my personal pick of the bunch would be Hunter Dozier, a 27-year old former first-round pick who came out of nowhere to absolutely destroy opposing pitchers in 2019’s early runnings (191 wRC+ in April!). He’s been sidelined and dealing with chest tightness since the clock turned to June, but here’s to hoping that he recovers quickly, as his 156 wRC+ in the first two months was the 8th best mark in MLB.
12. Toronto Blue Jays (33-56)
With all apologies to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (.303/.354/.622, 152 wRC+), who is absolutely living up to expectations, my favorite thing about the Jays this year would have to be Eric Sogard. I’ve been a sucker for baseball players rocking glasses since the first time I saw Major League, but I’m an even bigger sucker for 33-year old journeyman with career 82 wRC+’s suddenly breaking out with a 127 wRC+. Add in the fact that he’s doing it the old fashioned way, as a contact hitter, rather than swinging for the fences, and he’s easily the most fun thing about the Blue Jays this year.
11. Seattle Mariners (38-54)
I, for one, was not expecting the M’s to be 19 games back come this point in the season and definitely would’ve taken the under on 100 losses (and specifically did so in my season predictions), but here we are. It also does not appear that Yusei Kikuchi is going to win the Rookie of the Year Award (those damn predictions, again, preserving everything for eternity), so I’m going with Daniel Vogelbach. Like spectacled throwbacks, big, beefy bashers are always going to hold a special place in my heart. At 26, Vogey has finally gotten his first extended go of it in the majors, and he’s rewarded the Mariners by laying off more pitches and posting the second best walk percentage (18%) behind only Mike Trout. Oh, and also launching 20 HRs. While Mike Leake has been an unexpected surprise and should bring back something of interest for Trader Jerry, Vogey has been too much fun this year to pass up.
10. Chicago White Sox (41-43)
Lucas Giolito has long been a tantalizing player, appearing in the top ten from 2014 to 2016. But then he bombed in his first call up in Washington and was sent to Chicago in the Adam Eaton trade. Now, though, he has a 2.72 ERA, a 3.15 FIP and 3.1 fWAR, and he’s in an eight-way tie for third place in MLB by that last stat. He ditched his sinker and changed up his pitch selection and now he’s starting to look like the ace that was promised. That, along with the continued development of Yoan Moncada, has to be reassuring for South Side fans.
9. Los Angeles Angels (45-44)
First of all, my least favorite thing about the season so far would be the tragic loss of Tyler Skaggs earlier this week. The sudden passing of a 27-year-old who was, by pretty much all accounts, a great dude is an awful thing and my heart goes out to all the folks in his orbit.
I’m not quite sure how to follow that seriousness up, so I’ll just point out that the Halos continue to have the best player in baseball, as always, in Mike Trout. If that’s not reason enough to put off your Stranger Things binging and tune into an Angels game, well, Shohei Ohtani is back, even if he’s only going to be DH-ing.
8. Texas Rangers (47-41)
Not too many folks really expected Texas to be in the thick of things in July before the season started, but here they are, pestering a whole bunch of teams who figured them for DOA. As a denizen of San Francisco during their biennial reign of terror in the first half of this decade, Hunter Pence is always going to have a special place in my heart. But he also hit just .226/.258/.332 last season in his final year on the Giants, and that was after a rough 2017 (.260/.315/.385), so all signs pointed to his either (a) hanging it up or (b) signing a minor league deal, not making it out of Spring Training and going back to (a). Google tells me that people ask “Does Hunter Pence play for the Rangers?,” “Who does Hunter Pence play for now?” and “Did Hunter Pence make the Rangers?” The answer is that he’s hitting .294/.353/.608 for Texas, with 15 home runs and remains a remarkably fascinating and enjoyable hitter to watch and talk about. Hunter Pence is the Texas Rangers of MLB’s 2019 season, left for dead but thriving and is, thus, my favorite thing about the Rangers, even if he’s currently on the IL. Get better soon, Hunter.
7. Oakland Athletics (49-40)
Frankie Montas, whose new splitter helped him to a 2.70 ERA/2.90 FIP over 15 starts in Oakland, was my favorite thing for most of the season, but then he had to go and get himself busted for PEDs in late June. So I’m going to go with Australian reliever Liam Hendricks, who went from being to DFA-ed last year to opening the AL Wild Card Game. This year, he’s got a 1.27 ERA/2.12 FIP and been the A’s best pitcher aside from Montas, recently cementing himself in the closer role and earning himself an All Star nod. Not bad for a Digger who was almost out of baseball last year.
6. Cleveland Indians (48-38)
It’s been a rough year for the Indians, something we’ve already been over. They’re only six games back, but it feels like an awful lot more than that. It’s not all bad news, though. Oscar Mercado’s development is welcome, as is the resurgence of Carlos Santana and Shane Bieber’s building on his 2018 gains. And while there’s certainly some schadenfreude involved in seeing the Indians assume the division is theirs for the taking, go cheap and then stumble, I’m not so cruel as to suggest that’s my favorite thing. Really, I’m just glad we won’t have to see the Chief Wahoo logo on the field at the All Star Game.
5. Boston Red Sox (47-41)
Over here in Europe, I have to constantly explain to people who don’t really watch baseball why it isn’t basically about as exciting watching paint dry. Fortunately, the London Series drew some eyes to a series where the Red Sox scored 21 runs over two games and yet somehow lost both of them. That’s before you even get to the fact that the team that outscored them was the entirely apropos Yankees. Thank you, Boston, you have done a great service to your country.
4. Tampa Bay Rays (50-39)
While there’s been some off-the-field nonsense in Tampa this year, what with the talks of sharing the team with Montreal, the on-the-field product has been on point. The pitching, in particular, has been excellent, with Tampa’s staff leading all of MLB in ERA (3.39), FIP (3.55) and fWAR (14.5). But there have been issues, with Blake Snell taking a step back and Tyler Glasnow hitting the IL. Need for a fresh arm resulted in the call up of two-way player Brendan McKay a couple weeks ago. He may have gone 0-for-4 in his first big league at-bats, but that’s a very small sample size and he’s availed himself against AAA pitching this year, hitting .265/.400/.551 for a 141 wRC+ there. More importantly, he pitched 11 innings across two starts to the tune of a 2.45 ERA before getting sent back to the minors. While McKay doesn’t have the ceiling of the aforementioned Ohtani, he’s still an intriguing player on both sides of the ball and my favorite thing on a team that every year does something worth talking about.
3. Minnesota Twins (55-32)
The Twins are probably my favorite thing in baseball this season, if I’m being honest. They made some shrewd offseason moves while their only division rival twiddled their thumbs, and now they’re riding high and enjoying a 6.5 lead in the standings and the best run differential (+116) this side of the Dodgers. They lead MLB with 165 HRs and simply bludgeon their opponents into submission. They’ve found playing time for Willians Astudillo, aka La Tortuga, who probably doesn’t deserve it as he’s hit .263/.282/.383, and even he rewards us by doing amazing things like this. The whole damn team belongs on the list.
2. Houston Astros (55-33)
Unlike the Twins, Houston was expected to be here. Their offense has been ridiculous, with a wRC+ of 117 that is tied for the top spot in MLB with those Twins. With so many players succeeding, it’s hard to choose a favorite. With apologies to Alex Bregman, George Springer and Michael Brantley, who are all starting the All Star Game, I keep coming back to Yordan Álvarez. After introducing himself with a home run so mammoth it inspired some crazy cackling, the Cuban outfielder/DH hit 7 home runs and notched 16 RBIs in his first 12 games, setting an MLB record. He’s hitting a ridiculous .313/.397/.719 in 73 ABs and, as long as we limit the ABs, the only player in MLB to top his 189 wRC+ would be the midseason NL MVP Cody Bellinger (190 wRC+). Small sample sizes aside, that’s pretty impressive.
1. New York Yankees (57-29)
We talked about the injuries that defined the beginning of the early season for the Bronx Bombers. We talked about the players who stepped into to fill the void left by the loss of those players. So, we already talked about DJ LeMahieu, but that article is from the beginning of May and I was not expecting LeMahieu to continue to improve when I wrote it. LeMahieu’s .348 AVG leads the league and his 138 wRC+ is up with the best as well. Given that his signing basically seemed like an afterthought, it’s pretty wild that LeMahieu is tied with former teammate Nolan Arenado with 3.4 fWAR and it’s pretty wild that the Yankees are in possession of the top spot on our midseason power rankings, given all that they’ve been through.