There will be no All-Star Game, nor even a sampling of games extensive enough to truly determine the best half-season – let alone full-season – players in 2020’s version of Major League Baseball.
Yet it would also seem an oversight to let the halfway point of the season – such as it is, at 30 games – approach without some acknowledgment of the feats of strength and derring-do unfolding across the game.
If you’ve partially checked out on this season – and who can blame you, really? – you haven’t missed too much, save for an alarming number of pitching injuries and the verification of a true superstar. The impact of the novel coronavirus and its outbreaks on multiple teams has wrought a season so disjointed that by close of business Monday, eight teams had completed 30 games of their 60-game schedule, while another four played just 18 to 24 games.
Still, more than a few individuals deserve a little shine, so let’s give it to them, in the form of 2020’s Third-Season Half-Season All-Stars:
Fernando Tatis Jr. watches the ball after he hits a grand slam home run against the Rangers. (Photo: Jerome Miron, USA TODAY Sports)
First base: Jose Abreu, White Sox. The kid sluggers get all the attention on the South Side, but Abreu, 33, is your AL leader in home runs (11) and RBI (28) while posting a 1.035 OPS. These expanded playoffs could provide Abreu his first exposure to October baseball.
Second base: Brandon Lowe, Rays. They may win the World Series this year and you may not be able to name a single Ray. So keep Lowe’s name in your pocket at cocktail parties (wait, do those still exist?) if anyone tests you – he may be the AL MVP. For what it’s worth at this early juncture, Lowe leads AL position players in WAR (1.8) and his .304/.398/.676 slash line nicely captures a player with a diverse skill set. The cog on a 19-11 team mixing and matching elsewhere.
Shortstop: Carlos Correa, Astros. “Karma!” screams the Big Mad crowd in pointing at the career-worst start for Jose Altuve and the injury suffered by Alex Bregman. Yet that doesn’t explain Correa’s fine start – he’s healthy and getting on base at a .381 clip – coming off a spring where he was the most ardent defender of he and his Astros teammates in the wake of their sign-stealing scandal. Honorable mention to Bo Bichette, off to an MVP-caliber start before suffering a knee injury.
Third base: Anthony Rendon, Angels. Shrugged off a slow start with his usual nonchalance and now is slashing .319/.451/.560. Will battle Oakland’s Matt Chapman for AL West third base superiority for three more years, after which Chapman may receive a deal somewhere in the neighborhood of the $245 million the Angels lavished on Rendon.
Catcher: Austin Nola, Mariners. Teammate Kyle Seager once wore a Players’ Weekend jersey that read, “Corey’s Brother” on the back, a nod to his All-Star younger sibling. Nola may be playing his way out of merely being known as “Aaron’s Brother.” Nola, three years older than the Phillies ace, didn’t debut until he was 29 last year, but now ranks no worse than second among AL catchers in homers, RBI and batting average and has an overall .344 OBP.
Outfield: Aaron Judge, Yankees. A brief detour to the injured list can’t keep Judge off this squad, not with the big fella hitting a home run every seven at-bats and posting an 1.101 OPS. Besides, we want the biggest stars to shine in our nonexistent game, leading us to…
Outfield: Mike Trout, Angels. A permanent locker in the AL All-Star clubhouse until someone displaces it. While Trout’s OBP (.342/.438) and OPS (.952/1.083) are far off his 2019 MVP paces, his batting average on balls in play (.270) also suggests poor luck. Tough to construct a team based on 20-30 games; we’re confident this choice will age well.
Outfield: Kyle Lewis, Mariners. There’s little joy in a 19th consecutive playoff-less season – but watching a potential cornerstone emerge is no small consolation. Lewis, 25, is running away with AL Rookie of the Year honors, batting .368 and leading the AL with a .456 OBP. He’s slugged seven homers and, after hitting six last September, is averaging 45 per 162 games in his short career.
Designated hitter: Nelson Cruz, Twins. Can they re-name the DH award after this guy? At 40, he’s belted 11 home runs, is batting .340 and his adjusted OPS is a mere 205.
Starting pitcher: Shane Bieber, Indians. You get the sense half the Indians’ pitching staff could go out for a rollicking night on the town, be banished to the alternate site – and Bieber somehow keeps it all afloat. He has a 43.3% strikeout rate – 65 whiffs in 40 2/3 innings – and the Indians have won all six of his starts. Bieber leads the AL in every meaningful pitching stat, from ERA (1.11) to fielding independent pitching (1.74) and his 65 strikeouts to six walks. Probably the AL MVP, given the innings he’s absorbed amid the loss of protocol-flouting rotation mates Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac.
Closer: Liam Hendriks, Athletics. Has cashed in nine of 10 save chances with a 0.72 WHIP.
First base: Freddie Freeman, Braves. After missing the start of summer camp due to a trying bout with COVID-19, Freeman has recovered and resumed his standard level of production. He leads qualified first basemen in average (.326) and OPS (1.029), helping the Braves average more than five runs per game.
Second base: Wilmer Flores, Giants. GM Farhan Zaidi’s penchant for invigorating itinerant veterans has the Giants contending again, but who could have imagined Flores, the erstwhile Mets folk hero, producing a 139 adjusted OPS while playing all over the diamond? His seven home runs in 26 games are nearly halfway to his career best of 18, in 110 games in 2017.
Shortstop: Fernando Tatis, Padres. Too bad there’s no All-Star Game, as there’d almost certainly be a Tatis-Cam, to capture every movement from this nascent talent. If his major league-leading 12 homers and 29 RBI weren’t enough, his occasionally absurd feats afield and MVP-caliber presence for a club on the rise are worthy of a much bigger stage.
Third base: Manny Machado, Padres. The past two weeks were exactly what the Padres envisioned in signing Machado to a $300 million deal: A four-time All-Star providing elite production surrounded by a potent young core. With eight homers and an .890 OPS, Machado would be a worthy centerpiece on any team. In San Diego, he’s happily overshadowed by Tatis.
Catcher: J.T. Realmuto, Phillies. Increasingly able to name his price as a free agent this winter, regardless of the industry’s temporary financial state. Realmuto’s eight home runs and .960 OPS outshine any major league catcher, and his adjusted OPS of 152 is 41 points above his career mark.
Outfield: Juan Soto, Nationals. An off-season, half a spring training, a four-month shutdown, two weeks of quarantine and then another couple weeks on the COVID-19 IL – nothing stops this man's dominance. Soto has multi-hit games in eight of his 18 appearances, a .400 average, seven home runs, a 1.302 OPS. The MVP year is now a matter of when, not if.
Outfield: Mookie Betts, Dodgers. Significant apologies to Mike Yastrzemski and Charlie Blackmon, the latter still batting .405. Betts, meanwhile, leads NL position players in WAR (2.4), is second with 11 home runs and setting sail on a long, lucrative marriage with L.A.
Outfield: Bryce Harper, Phillies. He’s hammering most of the pitches he gets to hit and getting on base at a .453 pace, leading the NL with a 1.119 OPS while, once again, waiting on a reputable Phillies bullpen to coalesce.
Designated hitter: Jesse Winker, Reds. A happy byproduct of Cincinnati’s splurge on veteran bats Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos: They were well-equipped for the NL’s adoption of the DH for 2020. Rather than an ad hoc DH approach, the Reds have turned largely to Winker, who has hit five of his six home runs as DH and has an overall 1.060 OPS.
Starting pitcher: Yu Darvish, Cubs. A command performance so far for Darvish, who has struck out 44 and walked just six, giving him the slight nod here over Trevor Bauer and Max Fried. Darvish has pitched six or seven innings and given up one or no runs in five of his six starts.
Closer: Josh Hader, Brewers. Yet to give up a hit nor an earned run in 8 1/3 innings, with 13 strikeouts and six saves.
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