0 out of 10
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
The second half of the 2022 MLB season will kick off Thursday, and while we wait for the All-Star break to wrap up, it’s the perfect time to look back at the first half.
Including breakout stars, juggernaut contenders, disappointing injuries and massive slides down the standings, the first half was filled with healthy doses of good and bad around the league.
Ahead we’ve highlighted five of the biggest winners and five of the biggest losers from the first half of play, focusing on teams and individuals.
There’s still a lot of baseball to be played before the postseason rolls around, but here are some early takeaways from the 2022 campaign.
1 out of 10
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Since winning Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, the Washington Nationals have gone 122-194 (.386), and they are well on their way to the franchise’s first 100-loss season since 2009.
For the last few seasons, rising superstar Juan Soto has at least provided some hope for the future, but that hope has evaporated in recent days.
Because Soto reportedly turned down a $440 million extension offer, the Nationals are prepared to entertain trade offers for the 23-year-old outfielder as hopes of signing him long term have dwindled.
“Soto’s rejection of $440 million, however, altered the equation, sources said, leaving club officials believing that if they cannot sign him for that money, they never will,” Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wrote.
So what now?
Sluggers Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz were already expected to be traded, the pitching staff is one of the worst in baseball with a 5.13 ERA, and their farm system is one of the worst in baseball.
Even with an earth-shattering return in a Soto trade, this team would still be a long way from contention and potentially without a star and face of the franchise to put fans in the seats.
2 of 10
Shane McClanahan (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Tampa Bay Rays ace Shane McClanahan was announced as the starter for the American League in the All-Star Game on Monday, and deservedly so after he went 10-3 with a 1.71 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 147 strikeouts in 110.2 innings during the first half .
The 25-year-old was the No. 31 pick in the 2018 draft, and while the No. 1 pick that year, Casey Mize, is recovering from Tommy John surgery, a number of other pitchers from that draft class are enjoying breakout seasons.
- Logan Gilbert, SEA (No. 14 overall): 19 GS, 2.76 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 104 K, 111.0 IP
- Brady Singer, KC (No. 18 overall): 11 GS, 4.02 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 69 K, 71.2 IP
- Josiah Gray, WAS (No. 72 overall): 17 GS, 4.40 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 106 K, 92.0 IP
- Aaron Ashby, MIL (No. 125 overall): 12 GS, 4.57 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 83 K, 69.0 IP
- Drew Rasmussen, TB (No. 185 overall): 15 GS, 3.22 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 62 K, 72.2 IP
- Joe Ryan, MIN (No. 210 overall): 14 GS, 2.99 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 66 K, 75.1 IP
- Tarik Skubal, DET (No. 255 overall): 18 GS, 4.11 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 102 K, 100.2 IP
McClanahan is the AL Cy Young front-runner, Gilbert is trying to lead the Seattle Mariners to the postseason and Ryan is the best rookie pitcher in the American League.
3 out of 10
Boston Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale missed the first 87 games of the 2022 season while recovering from a fractured rib cage before finally returning on July 12 with five shutout innings against the Tampa Bay Rays.
His second start back lasted six batters and 24 pitches before he suffered a fractured left pinkie finger on a comebacker to the mound that was 106.7 mph off the bat of New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks.
“One look at this finger, I knew (it was broken) immediately,” Sale told reporters. “That feeling of just that kind of cold water rushing through your body when something like that happens. As soon as I hit the ground, I looked down, the finger is gone.”
It’s a devastating blow not only for Sale, but also for a Red Sox team that staggered into the All-Star break with a 1-6 record in their last seven games and a 5-12 record in July. Sale rejoins fellow starters Michael Wacha (shoulder) and Rich Hill (knee) on the injured list, and this could be the blow that pushes the Red Sox from buyers to sellers at the deadline.
4 out of 10
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At 39 years old and coming off Tommy John surgery, it was fair to wonder what Justin Verlander had left at this point in his Hall of Fame career.
The answer: A lot.
Through 17 starts, he’s gone 12-3 with a 1.89 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and a 108-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 109.1 innings, putting him squarely alongside Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Shane McClanahan atop the AL Cy Young race.
His 94.9 mph fastball velocity is right in line with where it was pre-injury, and his slider remains one of the best put-away pitches in the game.
That performance has helped lead the Houston Astros to an AL-best 3.15 ERA from the starting rotation, and his presence as a veteran leader atop a young rotation has been invaluable in itself.
5 out of 10
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The Detroit Tigers quietly won 77 games in 2021, including a 37-34 record after the All-Star break, and they looked very much like a team on the cusp of contention heading into the offseason.
With top prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene knocking on the door and some good young pieces already in place, the front office took an aggressive approach to the offseason, signing Javier Baez (six years, $140 million) and Eduardo Rodriguez (five years, $77 million) to massive contracts, while also trading for Gold Glove winner Tucker Barnhart and All-Star slugger Austin Meadows.
Torkelson was optioned to Triple-A heading into the All-Star break, as he sported a .197 average and 25.5 percent strikeout rate. Baez is hitting .213 with a 78 OPS+ and 0.6 WAR in 78 games. Rodríguez has been away from the team dealing with a personal matter since June.
Barnhart has a 50 OPS+ and minus-0.4 WAR in 59 games. Meadows is on the injured list with Achilles strains, and the player who was traded to acquire him, Isaac Paredes, has a 131 OPS+ with 13 home runs in 182 plate appearances in Tampa Bay.
With that, the Tigers are 37-55, on pace for 12 fewer wins than they had a year ago and 12.5 games back in the AL wild-card standings.
6 out of 10
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While Aaron Judge has undoubtedly helped his free-agency cause with an AL MVP-caliber first half, he was always going to get paid this offseason.
The same can be said of Trea Turner, Willson Contreras, Joe Musgrove and a handful of other top-tier players set to hit the open market.
But no one has done more to boost their value than Dansby Swanson.
The 28-year-old entered the All-Star break leading all shortstops with 3.8 WAR, and he’s doing it with his bat and glove.
The 28-year-old set career highs in doubles (33), home runs (27) and RBI (88) last season, but he did it while hitting just .248/.311/.449 for a lackluster 97 OPS+ and 1.9 WAR in 160 games.
This year, he’s hitting .294/.353/.481 with 20 doubles, 15 home runs and 53 RBI in 94 games, and his batted-ball metrics have improved across the board. He has also tallied four defensive runs saved as he continues to be a rock-steady option in the field.
His age, production and the fact that he plays a premium position all point to a nine-figure deal if he can keep it going in the second half.
7 out of 10
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The Los Angeles Angels were 27-17 on May 24, and they climbed as high as No. 4 in our weekly power rankings early in the year.
That impressive start, however, was torpedoed by a 14-game losing streak that cost manager Joe Maddon his job and moved the Angels from one game out in the AL West race to 9.5 back and four games below .500.
With a 2-12 record in July, they entered the All-Star break at 39-53 with a 21-game deficit in the division.
Mike Trout is still searching for his first postseason appearance since 2014, and the front office now has to seriously consider shopping two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani with his free agency fast approaching after the 2023 season.
For seven weeks, it looked like the Angels might finally be on their way to contending, and then it all unraveled in epic fashion.
8 out of 10
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The Seattle Mariners entered the All-Star break as the hottest team in baseball, riding a 14-game winning streak that took them from below .500 to the No. 6 spot in our most recent power rankings and second in the AL wild-card standings.
The pitching staff has an MLB-best 2.28 ERA in July, and with Robbie Ray rounding into form alongside budding ace Logan Gilbert, veteran workhorse Marco Gonzales and rookie standout George Kirby, the rotation is a legitimate strength.
Offensively, rookie Julio Rodriguez rebounded from a slow start to earn a place on the AL All-Star team and is batting .293/.351/.535 with 14 doubles, 16 home runs, 46 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 71 games since May 1. He also nearly won the Home Run Derby on Monday.
First baseman Ty France is also an All-Star, and the under-the-radar move to acquire Carlos Santana from the Kansas City Royals has paid off nicely. He has a 130 OPS+ and four home runs in 17 games.
Count on president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto to get creative before the trade deadline as he looks for ways to improve a roster on the rise without mortgaging the future.
Can the M’s finally reach the postseason for the first time since 2001?
9 out of 10
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No one expected this year’s Chicago Cubs to be title contenders after last summer’s fire sale, but they were at least expected to be competitive after the front office added Japanese star Seiya Suzuki, right-hander Marcus Stroman and other complementary pieces to the roster.
It was meant to be more of a retool than a rebuild, but the North Siders entered the All-Star break with the fourth-worst record in baseball at 35-57.
All-Star catcher Willson Contreras is a safe bet to be traded by the deadline, robbing the roster of its best player and one of the few remaining holdovers from the World Series core, and a long second half awaits.
That disappointment pales in comparison to what’s happening on the South Side of town.
The Chicago White Sox needed a 7-3 stretch just to pull to .500 at the break, and they sit third in the AL Central behind the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Guardians.
Time and again, 77-year-old manager Tony La Russa has looked out of touch with today’s game, yet the front office continues to stick by him, unable to acknowledge that his hiring was a mistake.
What was expected to be a high-powered offense ranks 18th in OPS (.696) and 15th in runs per game (4.4), and the pitching staff has done little to pick up the slack with an ERA that ranks 19th (3.98) despite a breakout season by Dylan Cease.
The wide-open nature of the division means the Sox are still very much in contention, but there’s a strong case to be made that they are the most disappointing team in baseball.
10 out of 10
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The New York Mets went all-in this offseason, signing Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar while also swinging a deal to acquire Chris Bassitt from the Oakland Athletics.
With a $259.1 million payroll that trails only the Los Angeles Dodgers’, expectations were sky-high, and after years of disappointment, they finally look like a viable title threat.
Despite the fact that Scherzer and Jacob deGrom pitched only 69 combined innings during the first half—none of which came from deGrom—the Mets weathered their injuries to go 58-35. Now, they are poised to have a healthy rotation for the stretch run.
Could that put us on course for another Subway Series?
The New York Yankees have been the best team in baseball for most of the first half, leading the majors in OPS (.776), home runs (157) and runs (497) while also landing third in ERA (3.08) and fifth in strikeouts (846).
The injury bug that has plagued the lineup in recent years has taken up residence elsewhere, and despite the absences of Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Loaisiga, the bullpen has been a major strength behind breakout seasons from Clay Holmes and Michael King.
With the best record (64-28) and run differential (plus-199) in baseball, the Yankees are the team to beat.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.