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As the first half of the season draws to a close and the All-Star break finally upon us, players take the time to recuperate, while the fans are treated to some fun events: the Home Run Derby on Monday night, and the All-Star Game on Tuesday. The players representing their ball clubs get the recognition for outstanding performances in the first half, and like every year, this has opened some discourse as to who “deserves” to go -- but on the other side of the coin, the All-Star “break” also forces these deserving players to work even more, running the risk of injury in a game that holds no stakes. And as a result, some players have chosen to withdraw from either the Home Run Derby, the game itself, or both -- and it’s definitely valid for these players to do so.
On Monday evening, we’ll see eight superstars battle in the Home Run Derby. Pete Alonso of the Mets, Joey Gallo of the Rangers, Trey Mancini of the Orioles, Shohei Ohtani of the Angels (also the Major League Baseball home run leader), Matt Olson of the Athletics, Salvador Perez of the Royals, Juan Soto of the Nationals, and local favorite, the Rockies’ Trevor Story.
As for the All-Star game on Tuesday, the final roster is set as players have either voluntarily withdrawn, or gone on the injured list. Whit Merrifield, Tim Anderson, Joey Wendle, Chris Bassitt, Justin Turner, Freddy Peralta, Walker Buehler, Taijuan Walker, Max Scherzer, and Manny Machado were named as replacements this week. Some teams are sending over an expanded crew; now five Brewers All-Stars are heading to Colorado, as Omar Narvaez was added to the National League roster as a replacement for Yadier Molina.
The game will certainly be a showcase of the best talent that Major League Baseball has to offer. While it’s an honor to be selected to represent your team and your league, priorities will differ, and many players are taking the time to take the extra rest to refocus and prepare for the second half of the 2021 season. 162 games is, well -- a lot of games to play, and considering the uptick in injuries during the first half of the year, staying healthy for the second half is a noble cause.
As Shohei Ohtani has a permanent, recurring reservation for this section of the column, I’m required by a law I just made up to tell you that as of Sunday evening, he leads all of Major League Baseball in home runs, at 33. That’s a five-dinger margin in front of the following leaders, Fernando Tatis Jr., who leads the National League with 28, and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., who also has 28.
On Monday, Rafael Devers of the Red Sox went 3-for-5 with a home run and three RBI. Devers was my pick for Red Sox first-half MVP, and continues to impress. Devers’ two-run dinger off of Dylan Bundy in the fourth inning now brings him to 21 so far this year. He also drove in a run with a single and now has 72 RBI on the season, and is second in all of Major League Baseball, behind Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., who has 73.
The Rays very quietly threw a combined “no-hitter” in the nightcap of a doubleheader vs. Cleveland on Wednesday. Five Tampa Bay Rays pitchers combined to prevent the Indians from registering a hit. Collin McHugh started, and spun a hitless first two innings, followed by Josh Fleming, who went 2 2/3 frames. Diego Castillo got the final out of the fifth inning, then Matt Wisler and Peter Fairbanks worked the sixth and seventh innings. Major League Baseball does not officially recognize seven-inning no-hitters, nor do they recognize combined efforts, a lesson learned after Madison Bumgarner held the Braves hitless in a seven-inning complete game earlier this year. Still notable to mention, however.
On Sunday, Andrew Vaughn of the White Sox went deep twice, contributing to Chicago’s 7-5 win over Baltimore, and a three-game sweep of the Orioles. Vaughn started the year in an awkward place, having to learn left field on the fly after it was announced Eloy Jimenez would miss the start of the season due to a torn pectoral. Vaughn has made some fantastic plays defensively in the first half, considering he’s been playing out of position. He’s also able to hit well, too. In Vaughn’s last thirty games, he’s slashing .292/.330/.542 including six home runs, and 13 RBI. On the year, the 23-year-old holds a wRC+ of 105.
Robbie Ray took a no-hitter into the seventh inning on Sunday afternoon, fanning 11 Rays batters. Ray closed out the first half with a truly dominant performance, including an eye-opening 17 swinging strikes, contributing to an impressive 35 percent CSW (called strikes plus whiffs) on his entire arsenal. This is the fifth time he’s thrown a double digit strikeout total. The southpaw now has a 3.13 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 130 strikeouts over 100 2/3 innings pitched into the All-Star break.
Kevin Gausman reminded us all on Sunday as to why he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. He spun six-plus innings, giving up only one run, leading the Giants to a 3-1 victory, as well as a three-game sweep of the Nationals. At 57-32, San Francisco will head into the All-Star break with the best record in baseball. The 30-year-old righty now has a 9-3 record with a 1.73 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 114 2/3 innings pitched over 18 starts this season.
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Kwang-Hyun Kim (7 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 6 K on Monday), Max Kepler (2-for-3, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R on Monday), Jose Berrios (7.0 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 10 K on Tuesday), Bryce Harper (5-for-6, 2 R, HR (15), 4 RBI on Tuesday), Sonny Gray (7 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 7 K on Wednesday), Garrett Cooper (3-for-3, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB on Wednesday), Frankie Montas (6 2/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 10 K on Thursday), Brad Miller (3-for-5, 3 HR, 5 RBI on Thursday), Wade Miley (8 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 4 K on Friday), Patrick Wisdom (2-for-3, HR, 3 R, 2 RBI on Friday), German Marquez (7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K on Saturday), Brandon Lowe (2-for-3, 2 R, 2 HR (20), 3 RBI, BB on Saturday)
The Dodgers placed Clayton Kershaw on the 10-day injured list with left forearm inflammation.
Kershaw is working his way back from a forearm strain, and the good news is that an MRI revealed just inflammation. The Dodgers will be cautious with the veteran southpaw, but if the inflammation dissipates, he could return not long after the All-Star Break.
On Friday, the Giants placed Buster Posey on the 10-day injured list with a left thumb contusion.
Posey had missed three consecutive games after being hit on the left hand by a foul tip on Sunday afternoon. The X-rays came back negative, and he shouldn’t be sidelined for too much longer. The veteran catcher is having quite the comeback year, slashing, .328/.421/.547/.968, including 12 home runs, and 28 RBI, over 233 plate appearances.
In some rather devastating news, Ronald Acuña Jr. will undergo season-ending surgery after an MRI revealed a complete tear of his ACL in his right knee. According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, he’s expected to be sidelined for the next nine to 10 months. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for the Braves superstar.
Eloy Jiménez was assigned to High-A Winston-Salem on Friday to begin a rehab assignment after suffering a ruptured left pectoral tendon suffered during a March 24 Cactus League game. He hit a home run in his first rehab start, an excellent sign for White Sox fans who have been missing Jimenez’s bat in the lineup. Including that homer, Jiménez went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in the matinee game of a doubleheader on Saturday. Jiménez will have his rehab assignment transferred to Triple-A Charlotte, starting Tuesday.
Time appears to be a flat circle in the baseball world, often. Players leave, return, and some transactions will make you question the integrity of space and time itself. The A’s accomplished something like time travel on Sunday night. Max Muncy -- a shortstop out of Thousand Oaks High School in California was taken by Oakland, with the 25th overall pick in the 2021 draft. The A’s drafted the Max Muncy you’re more familiar with, in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, out of Baylor. Though they share no relation, there is another coincidence: they share the same birthday (August 25), though born 12 years apart. The A’s have now drafted two players named Max Muncy, without the aid of any experimental time travel technology.
And that's the last week of the first half of Major League Baseball, if you missed it. Have a happy and safe All-Star break, and we'll see you next time with more stories and updates.