The MLB season is fast approaching its midway point, and the first of the All-Star voting ballot returns have reached the public. Which teams and players have been picking up momentum, and which teams and players are playing themselves out of playoff or All-Star contention?
The Oakland Athletics have had national discussion surrounding them the entire year, but certainly not for their play on the diamond. Over the past couple of weeks, though, they have completely shifted the narrative.
The A’s won their first series of 2023 against the Braves to end May. Then, they won their second series against the Pirates and swept the Milwaukee Brewers. Upon welcoming the best team in the league, the then 48-20 Rays, to Oakland on Monday night, the A’s won the first two games of the series to make it a seven-game win streak.
The A’s win streak, the longest in the American League at that point and longest for the A’s since 2021, was powered by a combination of fiery batting and solid pitching. During the win streak, they outscored opponents 41-20 with an OPS of .810 and an ERA of 2.67. Both starting and relief pitchers were wheeling and dealing, while hot bats such as Jace Peterson and Ryan Noda were exploding at the plate.
Following the A’s trend of defying expectations as of late, the New York Mets have been doing just that, but for all the wrong reasons. Despite the highest payroll in the MLB, the Mets are 33-36 and have lost nine of their last 12 games.
Across the 11-game stretch where the Mets were swept by the Blue Jays, the Braves, lost a series to the Pirates and split a series with the Yankees both their offense and pitching have been abysmal. A .671 OPS resulted in scoring five or fewer runs in eight of the games, while a 5.40 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP explain the Mets allowing more than six runs in six of the games.
The Atlanta Braves have been faring much better than their NL East rival, but not without their top pitcher struggling. Even though he maintains his lofty strikeout numbers, Spencer Strider’s other stats have been subpar for his standards.
Strider held a 1.80 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP at the end of April, reflective of his All-Star-level finish to 2022. However, since the beginning of May, Strider has given up two or more runs in all but one of his nine starts, culminating in an eight-run disaster against the Mets last Thursday and a five-run explosion against the Tigers on Wednesday.
The biggest indicator for Strider’s struggles is his fastball — Strider’s best and most-used pitch averaged 98.2 MPH last year. However, his fastballs averaged just 95.9 MPH in the Mets game and 96.6 MPH in the Tigers game.
One duo that feasted on Strider and every other pitcher in the league hails from downtown Los Angeles: Freddie Freeman and J.D. Martinez. The Dodgers first baseman and designated hitter have been raking for the entirety of the year and don’t seem to be slowing down.
Freeman’s OPS of .975 is the third-best in baseball and Martinez’s .897 OPS isn’t too far behind at 11th. Freeman is also second in the league in extra-base hits and fourth in total hits. Martinez, on the other hand, is fifth in XBHs to go with 16 home runs, good for 12th.
Freeman has always been one of the best in the league, but Martinez’s resurgence after a rough few years to end his stint in Boston has been astronomical.
The A’s, Freeman and Martinez will look to keep wowing the world for as long as possible, while the Mets and Strider likely need the All-Star break to come as soon as possible to get a full reset.
Last edition’s mentions since print: Giants 8-5, Guardians 8-6, Francisco Alvarez .689 OPS, Nestor Cortes injured.