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MLB: Top storylines from before the All-Star Game break

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The first half of the year has come and gone. Just like that we are already midway through July and now is the time when people not only start to look at the MLB division standings, but also what’s happening in the Wild Card race. It’s also when people want to drastically go out and either trade their entire team or get everyone who is available in a trade.

It’s also a good time to take a look back on the action from the first half and take a look at what caught our eye, and what may be expected for the remainder of the season.

The Cubs Were Hot, Now They’re Not

If there has been one constant in the first three and a half months of the season, it’s that talk of the Chicago Cubs has been relentless. Since the start of spring training right up until the MLB All-Star game all the coverage has been about one team.

It’s for good reason too: they had a busy offseason that led into lots of early success to start the campaign. The Cubs needed just 29 games to reach a +100 run-differential, becoming the second-fastest team to do so trailing only the 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates.

On June 4 they were easily the best team in baseball, sitting with a record of 39-15 (.722 win percentage) with a +142 differential. After sweeping the Pirates at home in the middle of June, the Cubs have gone 6-15 since then including three-game sweeps by St. Louis and the Mets.

They’ve allowed an average of 6.10 runs per game in that time compared with a 2.88 average prior to that. While going on that 6-15 run, the Cardinals and Pirates have gone from being 12.5 and 15 games behind in the division to now only sitting 7.5 back.

In the month of July, the Cubs bullpen has put up the second-highest ERA in the National League at 5.85 while also allowing 27 runs and nine long balls, both the most of any NL team. It’s an issue that they really have to address at the trade deadline otherwise more and more teams are going to take advantage.

Will David Ortiz Retire?

If you’ve been living under a rock for the first few months of the year, it’s possible you may have missed the news that Red Sox legend David Ortiz will retire at seasons end. He might’ve said that, but the numbers will tell you otherwise. The 40-year-old became an All-Star for the 10th time in his MLB career and is on track to claim his seventh silver slugger award.

In the first half, ‘Big Papi’ leads all of baseball, combing a .426 on-base percentage with a .682 slugging percentage to tally a 1.107 OPS. He also has 34 doubles, 22 homers, 72 RBIs and a .332 batting average. He may well have his best season since 2006 when he was in the prime of his career at 30 years of age. Depending on things fall in the American League, he might also pocket a fourth World Series ring.

Whether these brilliant numbers could convince Ortiz to go around for one more season seems unlikely, but it’s certainly worth asking the question particularly if the second half of the year is as good as the first.

Storytime in Colorado

The Colorado Rockies don’t usually get too much attention. They’ve historically been one of the worst teams in the National League and are renowned for having lots of issues with pitchers because they play all of their 81 home games at the altitude of Coors Field.

This time last year they traded away their franchise shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, and though at the time that may have seemed to be a big loss, the Rockies have quickly found a long-term replacement by the name of Trevor Story.

Story’s start to the 2016 campaign was well publicised as he hit 10 homers in April which included six in the first 19 at-bats of his big league career. He’s cooled off since then though he does still have 21 bombs, 20 doubles and 57 RBIs at the break, all the while putting up a reasonable .260 batting average.

Don’t put this power surge down to playing at Coors Field either: the first four homers of his career came in the confines of Chase Field and he has 11 long balls on the road at the break.

For a while, this 23-year-old was right up there in the National League Rookie of the Year conversation though he’s since been surpassed by the likes of Corey Seager, Aledmys Diaz and Kenta Maeda.

The Resurgence of Ian Desmond

In 2012, Ian Desmond was an All-Star shortstop with the Washington Nationals, finishing the year with 33 doubles, 25 home runs, 73 RBIs and a .292 batting average. At 26, Desmond was in the prime of his career and looked headed for a big payday when he reached free agency at the end of 2015.

That time arrives and the only thing Desmond was doing was waiting. After hitting only .233 in his final year with the Nationals teams had become rather disinterested in the former All-Star. All the shine of 2012 was gone and what was left was a player who barely looked like a league-average shortstop.

Desmond didn’t receive news of a new job until the end of February, by which time all 30 major league teams had begun their spring workouts. After turning down a qualifying offer that would have netted him $15.8 million, Desmond signed with Texas for almost half that.

With the job of everyday shortstop belonging to Elvis Andrus, the now 30-year-old Desmond was going to have to find another way to break onto the Rangers roster. A lack of depth in the outfield meant that he spent all of spring training trying to learn how to play a position he’d never even considered before.

Fast-forward to the break and Desmond has become an MLB All-Star center fielder who hit .322 with 22 doubles, 15 home runs, 55 runs batted in and 15 stolen bases. He looks like that player fans fell in love with back in 2012, only positioned in a completely different spot of the field.

Marlins Flying Under the Radar

Everyone pretty much knows who this season’s contenders are. We’re pretty familiar with most of those teams because of how much national attention they demand. One team much of the country has probably forgotten about though is the Miami Marlins.

If I asked the average fan to name seven Marlins players, could they do it? You’d probably hear a lot of Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez, maybe Ichiro and maybe Marcell Ozuna, but I doubt they’d be able to do it. Being down in Florida, Miami don’t get much attention and they’re almost never on national TV. That allows the team to really fly under the radar.

Believe it or not, they’ve actually been pretty good this year. Miami are locked in a battle with the Mets for the second place in the NL Wild Card with a record of 47-41. They also are well positioned in the NL East, six games back of Washington. If the Nationals happen to slip up at all down the stretch, the fish could be right there to pounce.

They’ve also proven they can win without Stanton playing at his peak, with the three-time All-Star batting only .233 at the break. Miami’s success has been a real team effort, with five regulars hitting over .300. As a team they have the highest batting average (.273) in the National League and also have the fourth-lowest strikeout rate of anyone on the senior circuit.

Center fielder Marcell Ozuna has put offseason trade speculation behind him to be awarded with his first All-Star selection. He’s hit .307 with 17 homers, 12 doubles, 47 RBIs and an .892 OPS in 85 games.

Their success hasn’t all been about the offence though: their bullpen and rotation have the sixth and seventh-lowest ERAs respectively in the NL. Jose Fernandez has been the best starter, going 11-4 with a 2.52 ERA and 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings average.

A.J. Ramos and David Phelps have formed a formidable back-end duo in the bullpen, combining for a 2.41 ERA in 82 innings. They both also average more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings. Combine that with the newly acquired Fernando Rodney (0.31 ERA, 17 saves in 28.2 innings with San Diego) and the Marlins could make a reasonable case as having the best bullpen in the National League.

There’s just five of the many storylines from an exciting first half of the season. What was your highlight?

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com