It’s Memorial Day and that means you, the baseball fan, are now free to check the standings in a long-standing tradition. The 2022 season is nearly two months long (we got a late start due to the owners lockout, remember) and contenders are starting to part ways with contenders, and those hot and cold starts are settling.
Now that summer has unofficially begun, let’s take stock of the baseball landscape. Come with me, won’t you?
MLB has a new 12-team postseason format and there is some separation between the six postseason teams and the rest of the league in each league. These would be the post-season brackets if the season ended today (based on winning percentage):
BYE: Yankees (.688) and Astros (.625)
WC1: Angels (.551) at Twins (.604)
WC2: Blue Jays (.574) at Rays (.596)
BYE: Dodgers (.702) and Mets (.653)
WC1: Giants (.543) at Brewers (.625)
WC2: Cardinals (.553) to Padres (.638)
The White Sox (.500) are the first team out of the AL playoff field and they are 2 1/2 games behind the Angels. The Braves (.479) are the best away team on the NL side, and they are three games behind the Giants. There’s still plenty of time to close those gaps, although I’m surprised there’s so much distance between the post-season teams and everyone else.
Best team: Yankees. Although injuries are on the rise and the Astros aren’t too far behind. New York’s pitchers have been great all year (3.10 points allowed per game, the second-lowest number in baseball) while the offense has been more of a boom or bust. Gleyber Torres has nine homers in 164 plate appearances this season after hitting nine homers in 516 plate appearances last year. The 25-year-old rediscovering his power shot was a welcome sight for the Bronx Bombers.
The biggest surprise: the twins. They lost 89 games a year ago but weren’t really this wrong. That said, the rotation didn’t look impressive on paper heading into the season, but Minnesota is in the top five in baseball for run prevention (3.65 runs allowed per game). Additionally, 10 of the 11 players on the roster with at least 85 plate appearances have no worse than a 103 OPS+. The offense is deep and diverse.
Biggest disappointment: the White Sox. Kudos to the Mariners here, although the White Sox are the defending AL Central champions, but here they are at 23-23 while being outscored by 49-49! — short. They also just lost Tim Anderson, their best player,. Congratulations to the ChiSox for instead of keeping it just because it pays well. Obviously though, this team is falling short of expectations.
MVP: Mike Trout. My hunch is that Aaron Judge would win MVP if the vote happened today. He’s the best player on the best team in the league and he’s hit four more homers than any other player in baseball.. That said, Trout was once again the best player in the sport, and the Angels are a postseason team right now, so the “he’s not playing for a suitor” crowd doesn’t have a leg to go on. stand.
Cy Young: Justin Verlander. It’s been impossible to tell that Verlander has missed most of the past two seasons with Tommy John surgery. The 39-year-old has a 2.03 ERA and 0.83 WHIP with 55 strikeouts in 57 2/3 innings. Part of me wonders if Yankees left-hander Nestor Cortes, who has 1.70 ERA and beat Verlander in WAR (2.2 to 1.9), could win the Cy Young in an “unconventional RA” way. Dickey beats Clayton Kershaw”. Cortes will have to maintain that for a few more months, of course.
Rookie of the Year: Jeremy Peña. Easy call here. Maybe Julio Rodríguez or Bobby Witt Jr. (or Adley Rutschman) make it a run before the end of the season, but so far Peña has been the league’s top rookie and it’s not close. Carlos Correa’s replacement has been so good he could get MVP votes, not just Rookie of the Year votes.
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Best team: Dodgers. The Dodgers are so good it’s odious. They lead baseball in runs scored per game (5.57) and in fewest runs allowed per game (3.04), and their plus-119 point differential is more than double the second-best in the NL ( Set to plus-54). The best team in the league and the best team in baseball. I’m not sure there’s an argument to be made otherwise.
Biggest Surprise: Padres. By default, I guess. There really isn’t an outstanding surprise team in NL. San Diego had such an awful finish last year (12-34 in their last 46 games!) Then Fernando Tatis Jr. injured his wrist during the lockout, continuing the bad vibes. Rather than starting slow, the pitching was excellent and the offense did just enough without Tatis. There was reason to believe that this team would stumble through the door. This does not happen.
The biggest disappointment: the giants. I’m ready to give the Braves and their 23-25 record a bye seeing how they are the defending World Series champions. The Giants are only four games above .500, and while some regression is expected seeing how well everything went last season, the regression has been harder than expected. Still a very good team, but not quite the power they were a year ago.
MVP: Manny Machado. Mookie Betts had a monster May to make it a close race, although Machado was excellent from opening day and didn’t slow down at all. He leads the league in WAR by a decent amount and was the best player on the third best team in the league. That and consistent excellence from start to finish will earn him a lot of MVP love, as well as my Memorial Day MVP vote.
Cy Young: Sandy Alcantara. It’s an extremely tight race with Pablo López and Corbin Burnes. I’m comfortable with Alcantara, which had a masterpiece 14 strikeouts over the weekend and leads baseball in innings (67 2/3) and batters faced (262). I’m still a sucker for guys who chew up sleeves at an elite pace (I would have given my Cy Young vote to Zack Wheeler over Burnes last season) and Alcantara does it better than anyone in the game right now.
Rookie of the Year: MacKenzie Gore. After a few years that saw his lead supply drop dramatically, Gore boasts a 1.71 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 42 innings this year, and looks very much like the player who ranked as the game’s top prospect. not so long ago. Good reminder that development is not linear. There are often bumps in the road, and the best persevere.