While the All-Star break might not be the literal halfway point of the MLB season, it does act as the bridge between what are commonly referred to as the first and second halves. Although the first half might be the most intriguing, the second one is far and away the most exciting, as the season culminates into what will go into the record books and what fans will remember for years to come.
Whereas the team races are obviously the most exciting, the constant competition among players also reaches a boil in the second half, as players put all they have into ensuring that this season is one for their resumes and even for the history books.
So without further ado, let's take an early look at who's starting off the second half the strongest.
Clayton Kershaw, Clay Buchholz, Hiroki Kuroda, Wade Miley, David Price, Paul Maholm, Mike Fiers, Justin Verlander and Madison Bumgarner.
Yoenis Cespesdes, Jose Reyes, Ryan Ludwick, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Andrew McCutchen, Prince Fielder, Aramis Ramirez, Matt Holliday, Miguel Montero, Alex Gordon, Matt Kemp*, Nick Markakis*, A.J. Pierzynski*, and Neil Walker*.
And there are more, many more players having great starts to the second half. Every one of these honorable mentions deserves their own write-ups, as they've been spectacular so far. Still, digital ink is not cheap, so we can only write about the best of the best.
When a list starts with Albert Pujols, you know this is going to be good. Indeed, Prince Albert has done his best to turn his disappointing season around by starting the second half with a bang. Well, 10 bangs to be exact.
Ten home runs in 26 games is pretty swell, but combined with his 10 doubles, it's abundantly clear that The Machine has found his power stroke. Given the historically great career already under his belt, this might very well be the most sustainable of these hot starts.
Still, with the new wild-card system, the Angels are going to need every ounce of his .321/.381/.698 production to continue if they want to catch up to the A's, not to mention the mighty Rangers, who sit pretty at seven games above the all-in Angels.
When you shut out the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, people are going to notice. Of course, by now, Felix Hernandez is quite used to being noticed, as he has seemingly been the Mariners' only connection to the ESPN crowd.
Still, overall, Hernandez has been lights out in the second half, as he leads baseball with 47.1 innings in the second half (averaging almost eight innings a start!).
His 1.71 ERA and 4-0 record are pretty spiffy as well, and although his strikeout numbers haven't quite been up to par (6.46 K's per nine is a far cry from his overall season rate of 8.53), he has been way too good not to mention here.
Although the consistently dominating production from King Felix is nothing new, the Mariners actually playing good baseball is. Their 16-12 record in the second half and modestly improved offense (a .670 OPS might not be good, but it's significantly better than the .649 OPS from the first half) could be a sign of things to come.
That would be huge to Hernandez, whose Cy Young-caliber production has gone somewhat wasted on a waning Mariners franchise.
Like Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Headley knows how tough it is to distinguish yourself as a hitter while playing half of your games at the cavernous Petco Park. Still, like Gonzalez, Headley has managed to keep a sizable, statistical distance between his impressive batting numbers and most of his teammates, as the Padres' overall line of .237/.311/.369 provides the proper context in which to appreciate Headley's production.
Headley's first half started off well enough, as his eight homers stood among plenty of singles, doubles and walks, making him the far-and-away best-hitting Padre. Headley has gone on to prove that his modest, underrated production from the first half was mere child's play.
His doubles have turned to home runs, as he has gone on to club a NL-leading 10 home runs (Jason Kubel of the D'backs shares the lead with him) in his first 28 games, which is an impressive enough total for anyone, nonetheless a Padre.
Combined with his always excellent contact, plate discipline and fielding abilities, it's no wonder Headley finds his way onto this list.
Like Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez started the season merely modestly, hitting .283/.329/.416 in the first half. Unfortunately, for a veteran first basemen in his prime being paid $21 million in Boston, that's highly disappointing.
Fortunately, A-Gon has turned it around in the second half, already matching his first half's home-run total in only 27 games. The home runs have only been part of his monster start to the second half, as his .385/.423/.635 sums up the consistent balance and power Gonzo has been able to keep in his stroke.
Still, the 32 RBI that he's accumulated, good for first in the AL over the second half, might be coming a bit too late, as the Red Sox somehow find themselves below .500, in fourth place in the uber-competitive AL East.
After missing the entire World Series run of 2011, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright has eased his way back into full form, getting better and better as the season has gone along. Well, here we are in August, and it appears that Wainwright is as strong as ever, starting the second half off with nearly half of his first-half ERA.
Although his first start after the break didn't go terribly well, Wainwright has more than made up for it by absolutely dominating in his five starts since then. In his tremendous start to the second half, he has accumulated a 1.5 WAR, which ranks first among NL pitchers.
With 42.2 innings of 2.32 ERA and 2.19 FIP ball, it's a wonder the offensively gifted Cardinals have only managed to give him a 3-2 record in the second half.
Still, if this production continues, the Cardinals should have no problem supporting Wainwright with a win nearly every time he starts, which they'll desperately need if they have any shot of catching the dominant Reds in a surprisingly elite NL Central.
Despite never being an innings eater, Jordan Zimmerman has always excelled at efficiency, maintaining a career BB/9 below two, which is incredibly impressive for a still-developing, young pitcher like Zimmermann.
He has truly taken his control to Cliff Lee levels, as he has only walked three batters in his first six starts of the second half. In comparison, he's struck out 36, giving him a ridiculously high K/BB of 12.
Still, his short outings have hurt his chances to really compete with the top dogs, as he hasn't managed to pitch into the seventh in any of them, despite his ridiculously strong stats. His miniscule 1.82 FIP over the first half is the lowest in the bigs, while his 2.68 xFIP ranks second, behind only Madison Bumgarner.
However, it's worth noting that Zimmermann has benefited from pitching against some lousy-hitting teams, as he has only faced the Marlins, Mets, Astros and Brewers in the second half. That obviously shouldn't dismiss what he's done, but merely give an explanation for the pure lunacy of his stats.
With two Zimmerman(n)s playing like MVPs, it's no wonder the Nats have been on an absolute tear to start the second half.
Unlike Jordan Zimmermann, however, Ryan has needed this torrid start to the second half to rejuvenate what was a disappointing season. Just when things were looking their worst with an ice-cold June, Zimmerman turned it around with a blistering July to bounce back.
So far in the second half, Zimmerman boasts an all-around ridiculous slash line of .362/.437/.655, culminating in 2.0 WAR and 190 wRC+, both of which rank second-best in the NL. For a Gold Glove-quality third basemen like Zimmerman, this is a return to his pre-injury WAR-whoring days where he reigned as one of the most valuable players in the game.
If he can keep this up, the Nationals should have no problem solidifying what is becoming the best season in Washington history.
When Doug Fister came over to Detroit for the second half of the 2011 season, he was entirely too good, spoiling Tigers fans with a ridiculous 1.79 ERA, 2.49 FIP and an unreal .64 BB/9.
Well, after an injury-delayed start to his follow-up season, Fister has slowly come around again to prove that those career-best numbers were an indication of what's yet to come.
So far to start the second half, Fister has been even better than last year, already accumulating 2.0 WAR in only six starts, a total which is far and away the best among pitchers. His 1.79 ERA and 1.95 FIP attest to the ridiculous quality of his 45.1 innings (tied for third-most in the game).
Combined with reigning MVP Justin Verlander and the powerhouse offensive trio of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and the surprisingly elite Austin Jackson, Fister is leading the Tigers to the top of the AL Central, where they were expected to be all season.
So yeah, this Trout kid is pretty good at the whole baseball thing. At this point, what is there to say?Mike Trout is far and away the best player in baseball this year. And he's a rookie. And he's 21 years old...
Instead of cooling of after his torrid start to the season, Trout has only gotten better, hitting an insane .351/.426/.685 with nine homers and 10 steals (without being caught) to start the second half. When you factor in his ridiculous defense, we're looking at one of—if not the best—starts to a career ever.
While his season could very well lead the Angels to the postseason, the bigger intrigue at this point is how long Trout can keep up his unreal level of production, as we're going to be looking at this season for a long time to come. This is the start of a second half that will undoubtedly find its way into the record books.
It might not look like it, but that's a home run
Seriously, how is Mike Trout not No. 1? The dude is literally Superman, and his brilliance has peaked (so far) in the second half. Well, if Trout is Superman, then Buster Posey has been Dr. Manhattan, as he has been inhumanly good to start the second half.
In only 97 at-bats (for reference, Trout has 111), Posey has accumulated 32 RBI and 43 hits, both of which rank first in the game. His .449 batting average, .521 on-base percentage and .796 slugging all rank first in the game by a considerable margin. His OPS stands at an unfathomable 1.317, which is miles ahead of the second-place Trout, who has a merely mortal OPS of 1.111.
Seriously, Posey is putting up video-game numbers with the bat, all while providing exquisite defense at the toughest position in the game. It's only a question at this point of how long this can continue, because nobody can or ever will consistently play this well.