Circle the bases as the baseball approaches its midpoint

The All-Star break has typically been used to separate baseball’s first and second halves. While that’s always been misleading – teams often play around 90 games in the first half, leaving only 72 for the second half – it’s even more extreme this season because the All-Star Game doesn’t will not take place until July 19, the last it has been played in a full season since 1977.

With teams expected to reach their actual midpoint of 81 games early next week, it’s a good time to look around the majors for the most intriguing storylines from a season that had seemed in danger of not being played no later than early March.

A look at this season’s ERA leaders shows a bright future for the game. Shane McClanahan, 25, a sophomore starter for the Tampa Bay Rays, led all starters with a 1.77 ERA until on Thursday. Miami Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara finished second at 1.95 – he’s just 26 years old. Seven of the top 10 were under 30, the youngest of whom, Alek Manoah of the Toronto Blue Jays, is a strong contender for the American League’s Cy Young Award at 24. .

And then there’s Justin Verlander. After a two-season streak in which he pitched a total of six innings due to injury, Verlander, the 39-year-old Houston Astros ace, finished third in the majors with a 2.03 ERA and was the first pitcher this season. to reach 10 wins. Perhaps most impressively, the second-oldest active player in the majors finished fourth in innings pitched. That would come as a surprise to most aging pitchers after a long absence, but it kind of makes perfect sense for Verlander, a retrograde starter who’s topped 200 innings 12 times.

Aaron Judge keeps hitting home runs. Judge, the Yankees’ oversized hitter, placed a huge bet on himself this offseason, turn down a $213.5 million contract extension, and proceeded with what feels like a career season. Through Thursday, he was hitting .286 with 29 home runs and 59 RBIs while leading his team in the best record in the majors. Barring disaster, it seems that the judge’s bet will pay off.

The question is how much better things could get from here. Until Thursday, he was keeping pace with Babe Ruth’s 1927 season (29 home runs in his first 75 games) and just trailing Roger Maris’ 1961 season (30 in 75). Whether you choose to consider Maris the rightful single-season record holder or not — everyone with more than 61 homers in a season has been hooked up to performance-enhancing drugs — the fact that Judge has a chance to break the Yankees’ franchise mark is reason enough to get excited.

Albert Pujols’ farewell tour wreaks havoc in the record books and inspires a few smilesthough the aging slugger was only hitting 0.198 through Thursday.

Pujols had 23 hits, passing Eddie Collins and Paul Molitor to move up to ninth place on the career list. He had added 39 goals in total, passing Willie Mays for third place. And with 40 games played, he had successively passed Dave Winfield, Barry Bonds, Cal Ripken Jr. and Mays to move into eighth. If he were to add 40 more games in the second half of the season, he would also pass Stan Musial, Eddie Murray and Ty Cobb, finishing fifth on that career list.

Unfortunately, Pujols’ goal of being the fourth player with 700 home runs seems to remain out of reach. He’s 17 short and doesn’t have the playing time, or the consistency, to make that realistic.

Baseball’s most valuable reliever isn’t the closest to his team — at least not officially. Through Thursday, Clay Holmes, a Yankees star, had put up a .49 ERA in 36⅔ innings, with 38 strikeouts, and he led all major league relievers with 2.0 wins in the above the replacement. Despite that, he could soon lose his interim gig ending games as Aroldis Chapman, a fireball southpaw whose salary is 16 times that of Holmes, was activated from the injured list on Friday.

With Chapman, 34, eligible for free agency this offseason, and Holmes, 29, just entering his officiating years, the Yankees appear to have a succession plan in place — which worked well when Mariano Rivera arrived in the last days of John Wetland. But the next few months could be awkward if Holmes continues to outplay Chapman, but does so in Round 8.

Paul Goldschmidt of the St. Louis Cardinals and Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels both had 4.2 wins over substitution through Thursday, while Manny Machado of the San Diego Padres and Shohei Ohtani of the Angels each had 3.9. Those superstars were all watching Tommy Edman, an infielder for the Cardinals, who somewhat inexplicably led all position players with 4.5 WAR, according to Baseball Reference.

Edman’s stat line does not jump. He was hitting .271 with a .341 on-base percentage and .401 hitting percentage. He was 19 of 22 in stolen base attempts, hit seven homers, and led his league in just one standard category: runs scored, with 58.

But WAR includes defense, and Edman put on a show, leading the Majors with 2.1 defensive WAR thanks to a pretty incredible 11 defensive points saved in 43 starts at second base and another 5 of 30 starts at shortstop.

Athletics has been building and destroying teams for generations. Going back to 1901, they have won 100 games or more 10 times, winning nine World Series titles, but have lost 100 games or more 16 times.

This year’s club seem destined to make it 17 100-loss seasons, and while that’s hardly surprising given their off-season sellout, the way they do it is remarkable. Through Thursday, they were 8-28 at home, putting them on pace to lose 63 games at Oakland Coliseum, which would break the home losing record of 59, which is shared by the 1939 St. Louis Browns and the 2019 Detroit Tigers. Even the lowly 1962 Mets only lost 58 at home.

Softening the blow – or potentially being the cause – is the fact that few people have been around to see these losses. The A’s are dead last in the majors with an average attendance of 8,358 fans per game. That would be the lowest average at the majors since 2001 and is nearly 1,000 less per game than Oakland’s Class AAA team, the Las Vegas Aviators, drew in 2019.

The Yankees were the best team in baseball this season, both in record and run differential, and for much of the year they were joined at the top by the Mets, who had sailed as as the best team in the National League despite injuries to pitchers Max Scherzer and Jacob de Grom.

However, a recent downturn in offense has wiped out the Mets. They have already been passed by the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the NL and the Atlanta Braves are trying to sneak in and steal the NL East title once again.