12 fantastic second-half performances

July 13th, 2023

The popular adage states the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. But as the season leaves the All-Star Game in the dust and the pennant chase heats up with the weather, the race for the postseason takes on a different pace. And some players pick up their pace with it.

Dozens of players throughout baseball history have all but carried their teams to October on the back of an exceptional second half. Here are 12 of the most notable performances after the All-Star break -- going back to the first Midsummer Classic in 1933 -- that led to a postseason berth.

Aaron Judge, OF, 2022 Yankees
The record books will show that the Yanks won the AL East in 2022 by a comfortable seven-game margin. But it's fair to wonder where they would have been if not for Judge's incredible second half. As the Yankees were besieged by injuries and saw their 15 1/2-game lead dwindle to 3 1/2 by early September, Judge did everything he could to keep the Bronx Bombers atop the standings. Even as New York's lineup crumbled around him, Judge slashed an outrageous .349/.502/.785 following the All-Star break. He led all players in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs, RBIs, walks, extra-base hits, and trailed only the eventual batting champion Jeff McNeil in batting average. The record books will also show that Judge hit his record-setting 62nd dinger of the year against the Rangers in his final game of the season. Twenty-nine of those 62 occurred in the second half.

Jack Flaherty, SP, 2019 Cardinals
On June 25, 2019, Flaherty allowed seven earned runs in 4 2/3 innings against the A's. That matched the total number of earned runs he proceeded to allow that August and September. Flaherty's star turn was sudden, as he entered the All-Star break with a 4.64 ERA and a .744 opponent OPS. In the second half, those numbers plummeted to a scant 0.91 and .424, respectively. His .142 opponent batting average and 0.71 WHIP during the second half are each second-best in AL or NL history. And Flaherty's rise mirrored his team's. The Cardinals were 44-44 at the break and then went 47-27 the rest of the way, resulting in an NL Central title. Appropriately, Flaherty threw seven scoreless innings for the win in the clinching game on the regular season's final day.

Christian Yelich, OF, 2018 Brewers
There was nothing wrong with Yelich's first half; a 292 average with an .823 OPS are perfectly solid. But Yelich transformed into the NL MVP winner on the strength of a second half in which he recorded a .367 average and a 1.219 OPS. He hit for the cycle against the Reds on Aug. 29 and Sept. 17, becoming the fifth player in AL or NL history to achieve that feat multiple times during a season -- and the only one to do it against the same team. Yelich crushed 25 homers after the break, and five of those blasts came during an eight-game, season-ending winning streak that boosted the Brewers past the Cubs for the division crown.

Jake Arrieta, SP, 2015 Cubs
You can make an argument that Arrieta authored the best post-All-Star break performance from any starting pitcher in AL or NL history. No one has posted a lower second-half ERA (0.75) or opponent OPS (.431) than Arrieta. He gave up two earned runs in nine starts to close the regular season and just two home runs in 107 1/3 innings. This dominant run was underscored by Arrieta's 12-strikeout no-hitter at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 30. Arrieta's brilliance earned him the NL Cy Young Award and was enough for the Cubs to grab the second NL Wild Card spot. Their ace delivered in the win-or-go-home Wild Card Game as well, tossing a shutout against the Pirates.

Manny Ramirez, OF, 2008 Dodgers
On the whole, Ramirez's second half in 2002 looks fantastic. He turned in a .388/.485/.723 slash line with 61 RBIs in 63 games. But the magic didn't really start until July 31, when Ramirez was traded from the Red Sox to the Dodgers, who were 54-54 and two games back in the NL West. Ramirez quickly turned Los Angeles into "Mannywood," as he recorded multiple hits in each of his first five games. Through his 53-game stint to the end of the regular season, Ramirez posted a 1.232 OPS and lifted the Dodgers, who went 16-8 in September, to an NL West title.

Johan Santana, SP, 2004 Twins
Say what you will about the value of the pitcher win, but any time someone goes 13-0 over a 15-start span, that seems pretty noteworthy. That's what Santana accomplished after the break in '04. His second-half ERA (1.21), WHIP (0.75), opponent batting average (.155) and OPS (.443) all rank among the top 10 in AL or NL history. And take a gander at what he did across four starts from Sept. 3-19: 39 innings, no runs, two walks, 41 strikeouts. Santana won his first of two Cy Young Awards, and his efforts helped the Twins blow by the White Sox to take the AL Central.

Barry Bonds, OF, 2002 Giants
It's frankly difficult to comprehend Bonds' second-half stats in 2002. They are the epitome of "video game numbers." Thanks to his absurd 19-to-89 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- including 30 intentional passes -- Bonds' .608 on-base percentage after the All-Star break is the best in AL or NL history. No one since has topped his 1.432 OPS or 256 wRC+. That OPS nearly matched what he produced during the second half of 2001, when he broke the single-season home run record. Bonds took home his first batting title and his fifth NL MVP before guiding the Giants to the 2002 World Series.

Albert Belle, OF, 1995 Indians
Belle bashed 50 homers and drove in 126 runs during the strike-shortened 1995 season as the Indians clinched their first pennant and 100-win season in 41 years. Most of Belle's production came during the second half, which included 17 September home runs, tying Babe Ruth for the AL or NL record. Belle's 61 extra-base hits after the break are the most all-time, and his 36 homers rank second. Belle also accounted for the two highest second-half slugging percentages between 1958-1998. His .787 in '95 was bested only by his .816 mark for an also-ran White Sox team three years later.

George Brett, 3B, 1980 Royals
On June 10 that year, Brett tore a ligament in his left foot, causing him to miss a month of action. When he returned on July 10, the first day of the season's second half, Brett set off on a prodigious hot streak. Over the next 46 games, he batted .470 and raised his average to a season-best .407 following a five-hit performance on Aug. 26. Although the 1980 AL MVP would ultimately fall short of the illustrious .400 mark, his second-half slash line is still something to marvel at: .421/.482/.696. That's the third-best batting average after the All-Star break in AL or NL history. The Royals went on to the World Series, with Brett posting a .343 average and a 1.178 OPS during the postseason.

Sandy Koufax, SP, 1965 Dodgers
Koufax struck out 187 batters during the second half of this season, the most in AL or NL history. His 0.77 WHIP and .460 opponent OPS rank among the top 10. He recorded four shutouts in his final eight starts, highlighted by his perfect game against the Cubs on Sept. 9. But the legendary Koufax, who was the MLB Cy Young winner (there was only one award then) and NL MVP runner-up, was otherworldly over his last three outings. During that stretch, he allowed one run across 27 innings and struck out 38, all while battling chronic pain in his throwing arm. His complete-game victory over the Milwaukee Braves on Oct. 2 locked up the pennant for the Dodgers, who triumphed over the Twins in the World Series.

Lou Brock, OF, 1964 Cardinals
The deal to acquire Brock in June 1964 paid off for the Cardinals as quickly as Brock himself could run. When he was sent from Chicago to St. Louis as part of a six-player trade, the Cards were two games under .500 and sitting in eighth place in the National League. Brock was hitting just .251 at the time, but he went on to hit .348 for the rest of the season and registered a .350/.392/.540 slash line with an MLB-best 118 hits during the season half. As Brock surged, so did the Cards, who won 65 percent of their games after the break en route to defeating the Yankees in the Fall Classic.

Joe DiMaggio, OF, 1937 Yankees
There was no shortage of stars who put up eye-popping numbers in the second half of the 1937 campaign. Hank Greenberg drove in 110 runs for the second-place Tigers, and DiMaggio's teammate Lou Gehrig posted a 1.110 OPS after the break. But the Yankee Clipper outshined the Iron Horse for the '37 champions as DiMaggio scored the most runs (89) and tallied the most total bases (248) after the All-Star Game in history. He also ranks third in second-half extra-base hits (59) and tied for third in RBIs (99). DiMaggio set the tone for his second half in his first game out of the break as he became just the second AL or NL player to record a two-homer cycle