Fans are back. Young stars are shining. Division races are tight. The 2021 MLB season has been a lot of fun.
2021 MLB season: Keys in second half
As of June 28th, four games is the biggest division lead. Even with Mike Trout hurt, the sport is not short on starpower. Fernando Tatis Jr. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.and Ronald Acuna Jr.are blossoming. The top prospect in the sport has been promoted. Shohei Ohtani is doing things that would make Babe Ruth blush.
There are surprise packages, both good and bad. Familiar faces are starring, and veterans have bounced back after 2020 provided respite from the gruelling journey of an MLB career. This season has lived up to all expectations after the unusual 2020 season, and it’s now doing so in front of packed ballparks.
We’re nearly at the halfway point – here are some key storylines to follow in the second half of the season.
Sho must go on
Durability has haunted Ohtani’s MLB career to date. His 11 starts in 2021 is almost double his career tally across 2018-2020. The Angels need him to keep pitching like an ace. Having Ohtani at this level on the mound and at the plate gives Los Angeles a chance of a second half push for a wildcard berth.
There’s the small matter of the AL MVP race to consider, too. Vlad Jr is doing wild stuff at the plate, but if Ohtani has 20+ starts and hits like an All-Star, the hardware is surely heading to the city of Angels.
It’s been Sho Time a lot in the 2021 MLB season so far. Ohtani’s production has been immense for most of his career in America, so it might just come down to health. If he puts in a second half like the first, it will immediately be one of the greatest campaigns in the history of the sport.
NL West race
Lots of division races should go to the wire. Many predicted that in the National League West, but not in this way. The San Francisco Giants are the best team in baseball. They have 3.5 games over the Dodgers.
A complete list of MLB teams with 50 wins:
San Francisco Giants
— Tylor (@thatguytylor) June 27, 2021
It’s easy to question the legitimacy of the Giants, but the underlying numbers suggest much of this is sustainable. They keep winning even as veterans are injured or carefully managed. Coaching changes and the front office mastery of Farhan Zaidi have paid dividends.
Still, though, it might not be enough as the Dodgers and Padres chase them down. It remains a Giant challenge for San Francisco to win the division – can they repeat their first half heroics?
Cardinals left behind
Picked by many as division winners, the St Louis Cardinals are at risk of falling way out of contention. Eight games back already, St Louis has got underwhelming production from Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong.
On the other side of the ball, Jack Flaherty‘s injury leaves a gaping hole in the rotation.
Cardinals lose 3 of 4 to the Pirates at home, get outscored 21-11 in the series. Sunday, another bad loss (7-2) and another “We fought our ass off” from the manager. Of course you did, Shildty. Of course you did.
— Bernie Miklasz (@miklasz) June 27, 2021
The Cubs have been better than expected. The Reds’ offense powers them on. Milwaukee has great pitching and could look to add a bat or two at the trade deadline.
St Louis is in a tricky spot. This isn’t a roster they can sell from, but they need something special in the second half of the season if they are to live up to preseason expectations.
Red Sox push on
Much like the Giants, the Red Sox weren’t expected to be at the top of the division at the end of June. That’s where they are, however, as the Blue Jays and Yankees sit down in third and fourth. Boston is riding the explosive bats of Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts. They’re getting just enough from their pitching.
451 feet, 113 mph off the beat. Rafael Devers with BIG BOY power off Gerrit Cole (who’s getting shelled today) pic.twitter.com/Ke9veUonqb
— Jordan Moore (@iJordanMoore) June 27, 2021
The trade deadline is a big question for Boston. Do they believe this team can go on a playoff run? Similar to the Giants, can they hold off their higher-regarded division rivals?
Boston has been must-watch. 80% of the AL East is going to be fun in the second half of the 2021 MLB season (sorry, Baltimore).
Yet more young stars on the way
Wander Franco has already arrived. Jarred Kelenic had a short stint in the Majors. This crop of thrilling young talent led by Vlad Jr, Tatis and Acuna is going to be accompanied by yet more mega-gifted prospects.
While we are bending this a little to include it as a storyline, it’s worthwhile just taking some time to appreciate the outrageous entertainment and skill level in the 2021 MLB season.
Others will follow Franco in the second half. MLB Pipeline’s top 100 is stacked with near-ready prospects, including the Padres’ C.J. Abrams, Baltimore’s Adley Rutschman, and Miami’s J.J. Bleday.
The Majors are already rich with talent. There’s even more en route.