Texas Rangers

Memorable first half of 2016 baseball season comes to a close

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, left, celebrates with catcher David Ross after the final out of his no-hitter in a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds on April 21.
Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, left, celebrates with catcher David Ross after the final out of his no-hitter in a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds on April 21. AP

The official first half of the 2016 season came and went earlier this month when teams passed the 81-game mark, but the officially recognized first half comes to an end Sunday afternoon.

Five of the six teams who entered Saturday as division leaders are guaranteed to open the second half in first place, and five have a chance to enter the break with a winning percentage of at least .600.

The best team is up for debate. It’s an even-numbered year, so the San Francisco Giants have to be considered after the Chicago Cubs faded somewhat after a sizzling start. So do the Texas Rangers, despite their limp to the first-half finish line, and the pitching-happy Cleveland Indians and Washington Nationals.

There is no shortage of candidates for the first-half MVP in both leagues, though the National League’s front-runner, Clayton Kershaw, is on the disabled list with a herniated disc and an unknown return date.

Mike Trout is having another terrific year for the last-place Los Angeles Angels, but Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros could be the MVP over Trout and a Texas Rangers players who is the recipient of the first Star-Telgram midseason cap tip, Players Division.

Rangers manager Jeff Banister said that no one expected Ian Desmond to be an All-Star at the start of the year, but now he's and MVP candidate (video by Jeff Wilson).

Players

Biggest surprise: This one is easy. It’s Ian Desmond, a shortstop over the winter, a left fielder in spring training and now an MVP candidate as a center fielder for the Rangers. Desmond was said to be on the decline based on his final two seasons in Washington, but he is in the midst of what would be his finest season at the plate all while playing a new position as if he’s been there his whole career.

Biggest disappointment: Not as easy, because there are multiple candidates. This one goes to Shelby Miller, the Brownwood High product who has been terrible (2-9, 7.14 ERA) for Arizona. It’s not just that he’s been bad, but it comes after an off-season trade in which the Snakes traded the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. Dansby Swanson, by the way, is considered a top 10 prospect in the game for Atlanta. Miller, at 25, isn’t washed up, but he’s not delivering for Arizona.

Rougned Odor was forced to watch the previous seven Rangers' games at home on television while serving his suspension. It wasn't easy (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

Most memorable moment: Another loaded field, including Rougned Odor’s punch to Jose Bautista’s jaw, Bartolo Colon’s home run and 15-minute trot and Max Scherzer striking out 20 batters. Irving’s Trevor Story got off to an incredible start for Colorado. But it’s tough to beat a no-hitter, and the one former TCU star Jake Arrieta threw April 21 was part of one of the best stretches in history by an MLB pitcher. It was his 24th straight quality start, two shy of Bob Gibson’s record streak in 1967-68, and his second no-hitter in 11 starts.

Worst moment: Dee Gordon should be in the middle of a playoff race with Miami. Instead, he’s serving out the final days of an 80-game ban for using a performance-enhancing drug the year after he won the National League batting title and only months after he signed a lucrative contract extension. He’s not the only player popped so far the season and probably won’t be the last, but he’s the biggest name and the worst offender.

Teams

Biggest surprise: A case could be made that none of the first-place teams is a surprise, but how the Baltimore Orioles are leading is surprising. Their starting rotation, as a whole, is atrocious. Chris Tillman has been good, with a team-leading 3.55 ERA, but the rotation had a 5.14 ERA, next to last in the AL, and that was before Ubaldo Jimenez allowed five runs in 1 1/3 innings to raise his ERA to 7.38. But the Orioles had the most homers in the majors (131) and the AL’s third-best bullpen ERA (3.20).

Biggest disappointment: Arizona, the champions of the off-season are fighting with the headed-nowhere San Diego Padres for last place in the NL West, and the D-backs are losing. They signed Zack Greinke for mega-bucks, traded a fortune for Miller and have one of the best players in the game, Paul Goldschmidt. The offense is doing its share, led by Jake Lamb and Goldschmidt, but the pitching staff entered Friday with the fourth-highest ERA in the NL. Greinke, though injured, overcame a rough start. But the rest of the rotation has been Orioles-esque.

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