Braves, Ohtani and De La Cruz highlight MLB’s 1st half

By Chris Siers ~
Posted 7/13/23

As of Sunday afternoon, it’s officially the half-way point of the 2023 MLB season. There’s been plenty of highs and lows along the way. Here’s a look at the highlights from the …

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Braves, Ohtani and De La Cruz highlight MLB’s 1st half


As of Sunday afternoon, it’s officially the half-way point of the 2023 MLB season. There’s been plenty of highs and lows along the way. Here’s a look at the highlights from the first half of the 2023 season:

MLB’s Best - Atlanta
There’s not been a team as consistently dominant as the Atlanta Braves through the first half of the season.
As of Sunday afternoon, the Braves are the first and only MLB team to reach 60 wins and they’ve looked every bit as a World Series favorite as any club in the game.
With a balanced roster, complete with threats 1-9 in the battery and a stellar rotation led by Spencer Strider, the Braves have decimated the opposition on the road to the All-Star Break.
Ronald Acuna has been consistently excellent at the plate, slugging his way to a .331 batting average and mashing 21 home runs to go along with 55 RBIs.
Matt Olsen has been the top run producer for Atlanta, driving in 72 runs on just 87 hits. He also has a club-leading 29 home runs.
Balancing out the potency of Atlanta is the three-headed monster in the pitching rotation.
Bryce Elder has a club best 2.97 ERA in 18 games started, with 106 innings pitched.
Strider and Charlie Morton have a 3.44 and 3.45 ERA, respectively, but it’s been Strider who has dazzled on the bump.
He’s struck out 166 batters, while Morton isn’t far off the mark with 111.
While questions certainly exist concerning the quality of the NL East, Atlanta got a big indicator of how good the Braves are in 2023 with a series win over Atlanta leading up to the break.
Atlanta sits with an 8.5 lead over Miami and barring a massive onset of injuries or complete collapse, in no way looks willing to give up the division lead.
The path to the NL East runs through Atlanta.

MLB’s worst - Oakland
There’s no bigger mess in professional baseball than the Oakland Athletics. With fans actively boycotting the ownership and rumors of the club relocating to Las Vegas, there’s not much going for the A’s through the first half.
In fact, fans organized a “reverse boycott” in which a protest of ownership saw A’s diehards packed the stadium against the Tampa Bay Rays on the same day the Nevada Senate passed a measure to proceed with the new baseball project.
But just how bad have the A’s been?
They’re a MLB worst 27.5 games behind AL West-leading Texas and are a -248 run differential.
Oakland has just a 25-67 record, and there’s not a whole lot to suggest much will change through the next three months.
Esteury Ruiz has a team-best .257 batting average and Brent Rooker has a club-best 16 home runs, as well as 44 RBIs.
The one bright spot on the pitching staff has been JP Sears, who in 99.2 innings pitched, has accumulated a 3.88 ERA with 93 strike outs and just 43 earned runs .
Being 27.5 games off the division lead, the rest of this season might be a mail in for the front office and it might be time to not just consider cleaning house, from coaching staffs to the front office, but the ownership selling as well.

Biggest surprise - Cincinnati
Just a year ago, the sky was falling in Cincinnati with a paltry effort that landed the Reds a 100-loss season.
The front office had moved virtually all the talent to other teams and simply wouldn’t invest in the club.
After clearing out many big names, aside from 19-year veteran Joey Votto, and losing 100 games, there wasn’t much faith in this club being a competitive player in the NL Central, let alone making a run at the division lead.
But as of Sunday, the Reds have a one-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers and have won an astounding 50 games.
Since mid-May, the front office has steadily called up young talent and the youth movement in Cincinnati has been highlighted by the electric Rookie of the Year candidate Elly de la Cruz.
Just two weeks after being called up, De la Cruz hit for the cycle and firmly established himself as arguably the most electric rookie in Reds’ history.
At virtually every turn, he’s making history, including being the first Red in over 100 years to steal every base in an inning.
He’s got a club best .325 ERA and has been nothing short of electric on the base paths.
But it’s not just been De La Cruz that’s led the Reds to their first division lead by the All-Star Break in over a decade.
The steady leadership of 19-year veteran Joey Votto, who has been big for the Reds in key moments, coupled with the youthful influx of talent from Spencer Steer, Jake Fraley and Matt McLain has been excellent for the Reds.
Virtually every win has had a different player step to the plate at key moments.
At one point this season, Cincinnati won 12-straight games—a feat not even the great “Big Red Machine” club from the 1970s was able to accomplish.
One area of concern has been an inconsistent pitching staff, marred by lingering injuries to three different Reds starters.
Still, the Reds have been the comeback kids and have 32 comeback wins this season.
This club will be one to watch and if they can get healthy on the mound and stabilize what’s been a lackluster ERA from the pitching staff, Cincinnati could be a National League contender in October.

Biggest bust - Mets
For the past few years, Mets owner Steve Cohen hasn’t been shy about his willingness to spend money in the hopes of fielding a competitive roster to male a run at the NL East division and dethrone the Braves.
What he’s got in 2023 is the highest payroll in baseball and a club struggling to even find its way to the .500 mark, let alone the division lead.
The Mets have plenty of star power, but for whatever reason, the wins just haven’t come.
From names like Fancisco Lindor, Pete Alonso and Starling Marte, the Mets should be contenders off the potential alone.
But the big three in the Mets’ battery are batting a collective .235 and haven’t really been much of a threat at any point this season.
Like the batting order, Cohen has poured a ton of money into the pitching staff and with names like Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Carlos Carrasco, the pitching just hasn’t delivered this season.
Scherzer has just a 7-8 overall record and a 4.31 ERA with 87.2 innings pitched; Verlander, though battling injury at points, has a 3.60 ERA in 70 innings, while Carrasco is limping by with a 5.16 ERA.
By Sunday, the Mets are 18.5 games out of first place and are six games under .500.
While not mathematically eliminated, it’s a long road for the Mets to find their way to the playoffs in a division with the Braves, Phillies and Marlins.

CY Young candidates
With still an entire half of the season to play, there are a handful of pitchers who have firmly put themselves in the Cy Young conversation for the NL and AL.
For the NL,
Zac Gallen has been consistent across the board in virtually every stat kept for the Diamondbacks.
He’s got an 11-3 record and sits with a 3.04 ERA in 118.1 innings pitched.
He also has 125 strikeouts.
Spencer Strider has also been right in the mix at the top of the NL leaderboards with nearly identical numbers.
Strider has an 11-2 record with 104.2 innings pitched, but has struck out a staggering 166 batters to go along with a 3.44 ERA.
These two will continue to battle for the mantle of the NL’s top pitching honor.
On the American League side, Shane McClanahan has led Tampa Bay, who leads the AL East, with an 11-1 record and a 2.53 ERA in 96 innings pitched.
Nathan Eovaldi has been a key component for the Texas Rangers’ resurgence and has a 2.83 ERA with a 10-3 record.
No matter how the second half shakes out, all four of these pitchers will have a say in the Cy Young voting.

MVP candidates
By the 2023 All-Star Break, it really seems clear-cut who the AL and NL MVP front runners are.
Since his MLB debut in 2018, there’s not really been a comparable player to Shohei Ohtani—the man can literally do it all.
As virtually the MLB’s only two-way player, Ohtani has been at the top of the AL stats, both at the plate and on the mound.
On the mound, Ohtani is 7-4 with a 3.32 ERA and has 132 punch outs. While those are respectable in their own right, he’s been just as effective at the plate.
he’s batting a respectable .302 and has 32 home runs with 71 RBIs to his credit.
If there’s a challenger to Ohtani’s 2023 MVP, he’s not made himself known, yet.
On the NL side, it’s been the hottest player on the hottest team that’s firmly the front runner for MVP.
With the Braves being the MLB’s first team to 60 wins, it’s been the consistency from Acuna, who is batting .331 with 21 home runs and 55 RBIs that has led an excellent Braves roster.
Acuna has consistently been a hot commodity for the Braves’ roster, but his 2023 campaign is by far his best of his career so far.
He’s already got 79 runs scored and 41 stolen bases, four-better than his 37 swiped bags in all of the 2019 season.
As long as these two frontrunners avoid injury, the MVP awards are theirs for the taking.

Rookie of the Year
Corbin Carroll has been the hottest name in the Rookie of the Year conversation—that is until Elly De La Cruz was called up by Cincinnati.
Carroll has been stellar for the first-place Diamondbacks with 18 home runs, 48 RBIs and a .289 batting average.
But like Carroll, De La Cruz has planted himself in the Rookie of the Year conversation and his club is in first place of its division—it’s really no coincidence.
While Carroll does have a bigger sample size, having played in 86 games, De La Cruz has been arguably more dynamic.
De La Cruz has appeared in just 30 games, but in his second week in the MLB, he hit for the cycle in just six innings against Atlanta, has a .325 batting average with nine doubles, two triples, four home runs and 16 RBIs.
He’s also stolen 16 bases as well, including becoming the first Cincinnati player in over 100 years to steal all four bases in one inning.
It’s no secret De La Cruz has been a key piece of the Cincinnati turnaround, who sits with a one-game lead for control of the NL Central over the Brewers.
The thing about picking Rookies of the Year is trying to gauge the effectiveness over a bigger sample size.
While Carroll certainly has a more experience, it’s clear De La Cruz was the top prospect in all of baseball for a reason and should help not only give the Rookie of the Year race an exciting finish, but also impact the NL Central and shakeout of the NL playoffs come October.