The All-Star break gives most players an opportunity to catch their breath and reset for the second half of the season. The same goes for fans, too. It has been another wild year in MLB with some massively intriguing storylines. Once the season’s second half unofficially begins on Thursday, here are five stories to lock in on for the rest of the year.
Shohei Ohtani’s greatness
The Los Angeles Angels continue to be a moribund franchise, but they are worth watching every single night because of this man. Ohtani is so good, he’s almost turned Mike Trout — one of the best players of all time — into a mortal. That’s because Ohtani has been doing stuff like this lately.
Shohei Ohtani over these last 34 days ...— Alden González (@Alden_Gonzalez) July 14, 2022
Pitching: 0.45 ERA, 58 SO, 11 BB, 39 2/3 IP
Hitting: .287/.393/.604, 8 HR, 29 G
Six innings of one-run ball, with 12 strikeouts, against the Astros tonight. And a huge two-out, two-run triple.
It is continually unreal.
Ohtani won the American League Most Valuable Player Award last year largely on the strength of his bat, which crushed 46 homers. He was definitely a good starting pitcher then (141 ERA+), but he has taken a leap as a pitcher in 2022. Perhaps no starter has been better than him over the past month. Among those with at least 80 innings this season, he has the second-best strikeout-per-nine rate and ranks in the top 10 in ERA and FanGraphs WAR. Oh, and he’s still on pace to hit about 35 home runs. He may become the first back-to-back MVP since Miguel Cabrera in 2012-13. Don’t take this ridiculously special talent for granted.
How many games will the Yankees win?
This probably would have been the No. 1 question on this list if not for a recent slide that has seen the Yanks drop five of their past six games entering Saturday. They are just 6-7 in the month of July. Prior to that, they were well on track to challenge the 2001 Mariners and 1906 Cubs, who both won an MLB-record 116 games. Now? The Yankees are on pace for just 111 wins. How sad. In a related story, outfielder Aaron Judge was recently on pace to hit more than 61 home runs this season. Now, amid a current slump? Only 56. Boo hoo.
The Yankees’ franchise record for victories is 114 in 1998. That may still be in play, but it will be tough as New York plays in a division where every team is currently at .500 or better. The Yankees probably need to prioritize a starting pitcher and some bullpen depth at the Trade Deadline, but even if they finish with “only” 110 wins, that would still be tied for the fifth-most in MLB history. They hold a comfortable 12-game lead in the American League East and are the co-favorites to win the World Series, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. They are tied with the Dodgers at +400.
Will the Mariners end their postseason drought?
Speaking of those 2001 Mariners, that was the last time Seattle experienced playoff baseball. They have since taken on the unfortunate title of the major pro sports franchise with the longest active postseason drought.
But the tide might be turning for the M’s. At 49-42, they are in second place in the AL West, 10 games behind the Astros, but in playoff position as the owner of the second American League Wild Card. FanGraphs currently gives them a 57.2% chance to make the playoffs. They are led by a couple of the best pitchers in the American League, Robbie Ray and Logan Gilbert, along with one of the game’s most exciting young superstars, All-Star rookie outfielder Julio Rodriguez. Their work is far from done, but this might finally be the year in the Northwest.
When will Fernando Tatis Jr. return?
This season has had plenty of thrills and surprises — and it’s all gone on without arguably the game’s most exciting player. Tatis, who has finished inside the top five in NL MVP voting in each of the past two years, has yet to play this season after fracturing his left wrist prior to the regular season. He is making slow and steady progress. He was originally expected to be out for three months. Now, it’s looking like at least four. And yet, the Padres are still in the thick of the NL playoff race. Yeah, they probably won’t be able to stay close to the Dodgers (they currently trail L.A. by 9.5 games), but San Diego holds the second Wild Card, which is a commendable achievement considering Tatis’ absence. If he is able to come back next month, he’ll essentially be a far better add than any player who could possibly be traded prior to the Aug. 2 trade deadline.
Future Hall of Famers retiring
We know this is the final season for Albert Pujols, one of the greatest hitters of all time. Might this also be the final season for the best starting pitcher of this generation? There were whispers after last season that Clayton Kershaw was ready to hang it up. Although he is still a highly effective starter at age 34, in his 15th MLB season, might this be the end for him as well? He is on a one-year contract, and then we’ll see what his future holds. Perhaps his decision will be influenced in part by whether or not the Dodgers win a second World Series in three seasons. Regardless, let’s treasure these final weeks of the season for two future first-ballot Hall of Fame locks.