Here are 6 slow starters poised to bounce back

July 10th, 2019

Everybody has a bad half of a season every once in a while. Stan Musial once hit .221 for a half. (Sure, it was his final season and he was 42. But still.) Great players aren’t always great; they’re just ultimately great, once you’ve had a large enough sample size -- whether it’s a year, a decade or a career -- to put it all in perspective. No one can be the best every half of the season.

That might not feel like much solace for some of the traditional stars who have struggled for the first half of the 2019 season, but generally speaking, players do not just fall off a cliff. If you’ve been great for a long time, your greatness has not vanished from you. This is not "Space Jam"; talent is not just taken away.

Will that help these players who are desperate to put their rough first halves behind them? It should: They are too skilled, and have been too outstanding for too long, to be kept down for long. Here are six players who seem primed for return to normalcy in the second half.

Lorenzo Cain, OF, Brewers (age 33)
Cain finished seventh in the National League MVP Award voting last year, and third for the American League MVP Award in 2015. This has been one of the best players in baseball for a half-decade. But thanks partly to a right thumb injury, Cain has just not been able to get it going this season. His on-base percentage is down nearly 90 points from 2018, and while his defense has mostly been unaffected, he’s still 33 years old: His stolen-base totals are down, too.

But Cain's thumb seems to finally be mostly healed, and he may have single-handedly won a game for the Brewers the weekend before the break. Milwaukee has had a disappointing first half, but it is still in the thick of the pennant chase: If Cain is Cain, the Brewers could have a second half not unlike last year’s, when they ended up with a division title.

Robinson Cano, 2B, Mets (age 36)
This might seem like a stretch. Cano has not only been awful in the first half, but he has served as the avatar for a franchise that seems helplessly adrift and chaotic. But as rough as Cano has been so far, it’s worth remembering that even after his suspension last season, he was an excellent hitter, and he’d made seven of the previous eight All-Star Games before that. He has shown signs of coming around in the last week, raising his average almost 20 points; if anything, the break is coming at the wrong time for him. The Mets have a lot of decisions to make before the Trade Deadline, but Cano isn’t one of them: He’s not going anywhere. So having him start hitting again could make things look a lot more respectable in Queens.

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Cardinals (age 31)
The six-time All-Star hit three homers in his second game for the Cardinals and got their fans excited that they had their new Pujols. But Goldschmidt has put up the worst numbers of his career, by far, since, with a pedestrian .769 OPS. But seeing his old NL West rivals, the Giants, before the break revived his bat with a couple of homers, and he seems more comfortable in the cleanup spot than when he was batting second.

The Cardinals’ offense has imploded over the last month, and Goldschmidt is central as to why. The Cards need a Goldschmidt tear badly. (And Matt Carpenter, who could have made this list as well, returning to form would come in handy, too.)

Rougned Odor, 2B, Rangers (age 25)
Odor has never been an All-Star, but there have been stretches when he has looked like one. Few have come this year, though: He’s hitting only .193 and he is striking out in nearly one-third of his plate appearances. There have been some worries about his attention and dedication, but he, like Cano, has shown some signs of breaking out in the last week or so, with three homers already in July. Odor has all the talent in the world, and he is still only 25. The Rangers are still floating around the AL Wild Card chase; Odor, if he can get it going, could be the spark their lineup desperately needs.

Jose Ramirez, 3B, Indians (age 26)
Oh, poor Jose. Ramirez transformed himself into an AL MVP Award candidate over the last few years and he looked for all the world as a building block for the Indians for years to come. But he has fallen off a cliff this year; his .344 slugging percentage is somehow 200 points below what it was last season. (And 250 behind what it was in 2017!) June was his worst month (.620 OPS), and while theories are abound as to what might be going on, he’s still hitting the ball hard. He’s also Jose Ramirez and he won't hit .218 forever. When the breakout finally happens -- and it has to -- it could carry the Indians into the AL Wild Card Game.

Joey Votto, 1B, Reds (age 35)
Yasiel Puig was another potential choice here, but since his breakout as a rookie in 2008, our Canadian hero has never had a season like this. His OBP is only .360, nearly 100 points below where it was just two years ago, when he should have won his second NL MVP Award. Now Votto is not even the best hitter on his own team. But even his down year has picked up of late, and it’s also worth noting the power is up from what it was last year. Votto has always been a better second-half player, with a career .919 OPS before the break and .992 after it. The Reds, who are better than people think, surely aren’t worried: They know August and September Votto better than anyone.