7 reasons this has already been a season for the ages

June 30th, 2023

We’ve only reached the halfway point of the baseball season, but it already feels like so much more than that, as if we’ve crammed a whole season’s worth of action and excitement into the first 81 games, before we even reached the Fourth of July. Because of everything that’s happened and because of the way the rule changes have worked, it feels like this might be the best first half we’ve ever seen.

The games have gotten faster, infield shifts no longer dominate the conversation on broadcasts, and the stolen base has come out of hiding. It seems as if there is a big story almost every day. It’s already happened this week. The night before Domingo Germán threw MLB's first perfect game since 2012, Shohei Ohtani hit two home runs for the Angels and struck out 10 batters.

Here are just some of the things that have happened so far -- and trust me, this is the short list -- less than two weeks away from the All-Star Game in Seattle:

1. Shohei Ohtani continues to make history
He continues to be a once-in-a-hundred-years talent. He leads baseball in home runs with 29 and has an OPS of 1.058 with 66 RBIs. Oh, and as a starting pitcher? He has a 7-3 record and has struck out 127 batters in 95 1/3 innings. He isn’t just a force of nature. He’s a magnum force, as the Angels have finally become a legitimate playoff contender, for him and for his wingman Mike Trout, who has 17 home runs this season and seems to be getting back on track after dealing with injuries the past few years.

2. Ronald Acuña Jr. is chasing 40/40
Acuña is back to being fully healthy again, which means he's fully back to reminding us why he was as much the Next Big Thing as anyone when he hit the big leagues in 2018, the same season Ohtani showed up in Anaheim. The Braves speedster has 19 home runs, 51 RBIs and a .331 batting average through 80 games. He is the best player on what looks like the best team, at least so far: He has stolen 36 bases, scored 71 runs and has an on-base percentage of .408.

(While you were reading the previous paragraph, I’m pretty sure Acuña just stole second.)

3. Meanwhile, Luis Arraez is chasing .400
The Marlins second baseman is still flirting, big time, with .400 at the halfway point of the season. He came out of the Marlins' sweep in Boston on Thursday at .392. Wouldn’t it be something if he hit enough between now and the All-Star Game to be at .400, or better, when he shows up in Seattle? Oh, and the Marlins are exceeding everyone’s expectations, and they would be in the playoffs if the season started today.

4. Elly De La Cruz is making us say “wow”
De La Cruz, the No. 2 prospect in baseball, is so talented and so much a streak of light, that it’s sometimes easy to forget that he’s only played 20 games in the big leagues. But he is the hot kid on what has been such a hot Reds team -- another surprise club -- and a big one. De La Cruz has already hit for the cycle, and he is batting .301 with three homers and 11 RBIs. He is getting a lot of help in Cincinnati, a great baseball city coming back to life.

5. Corbin Carroll is a rookie and an MVP candidate
Carroll's D-backs are one more surprise team, and they're in first place in the National League West, a division that is every bit as interesting right now as the NL East. In his rookie year, Carroll has 17 homers with 44 RBIs and a batting average just south of .300. If not for Acuña, Carroll might be a frontrunner for the NL MVP Award.

6. The Rays and Orioles are setting up a great division race
These two are still 1-2 in the American League East. Coming into the season, who saw these two clubs locked in a hot divisional race? Only the Braves are on a roll similar to the Rays, who somehow continue to do all these Tampa Bay things with a modest payroll. But as we head into the holiday weekend, the Orioles are right there with them, just 5 1/2 games behind.

7. The Rangers are the new team in Texas
If you had the Rangers being the best team in the Lone Star State coming into the season -- and five games ahead of the Astros at this point in the season -- you’re smarter than the rest of us. Not only are the Rangers, who can really mash, playing this way for the great Bruce Bochy, they are doing it without Jacob deGrom, who is out for the season after Tommy John surgery.

The Reds are back. The Marlins are back. The Angels are all in for Trout, who’s only played three postseason games in his career. The Giants, who won 107 games in 2021, are on their way back. And did I mention that the games are faster, along with what feels like the whole sport?