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Nine things we learned in MLB's first half

Now it was a first half. Couldn't ask much more, could we? Standing encrypted. Homer's flies. Another wave of young talent. Things also go fast.
One day you track up the ballpark for the opening day, and it looks like 20 minutes later, the stretch is almost here. So was a first half. Couldn't ask much more, could we? Standing encrypted. Homer's flies. Another wave of young talent. Things also go fast.

One day you run into the ballpark for the opening day, and it looks like 20 minutes later, the stretch is almost here. So it's a good time to take stock of an All-Star break, where 11 out of 15 National League teams are within 2 1/2 games in a playoff berth and eight AL teams are within three games.

Here are nine things we have learned so far.


. Dodgers are the best team

They play on a 106-win clip and have a 13 1/2 game division lead, thanks to a grate that is ridiculously deep and a pitching staff who have been excellent. There is also a sprinkling of magic with five walk-off wins in the three weeks leading up to the All-Star break. When they acquire a relief or two at the trading deadline, they will be nicely placed for a seventh straight division title and a race by winning the World Series for the first time since 1988. (Note caution: As we often see, best team doesn't always win the World Series .)

2. You want parity you have parity

National League has 15 teams. Eleven of them – that is 11 out of 15 – are within 2 1/2 games of a postseason berth. Yes, it is an era of unprecedented parity, with 17 teams playing at least one posteason series in the last three seasons. In the last decade, 14 franchises have been at least once in the world series. But this season has taken the great openness of the races to another level. Throw in eight AL teams within three playgrounds, and that's 19 out of 30 in the mix. This means that leaders face a great deal of pressure on how to handle the trading deadline, whether they add or withdraw, start in 2019 or start planning for 2020. Or, in the case of a team like the Indians, they could try to do both, trade, Trevor Bauer and still find a way to win AL Central.

3rd Home ground is one thing. What's the problem?

Yes, homework is again hit on a record clip. Christian Yelich Pete Alonso and Cody Bellinger is already in the 30-homer club this season, and another 31 players have hit at least 20. In all, we had 3,691 of them and can break the all-time record of 6.105, set in 2017. Yes, the starting point is underlined and finish speed studied. Yes, the baseball seems to have something extra for it. To worry about baseball in 2019 is to ignore that baseball has always evolved over the years and will do so again, as the same smart front offices that got us here find out where we are going next. Bottom line? Is the game entertaining in 2019? Absolutely. Is it exciting? You can believe that. This is not a bad thing.

4th Mike Trout is as good as ever

Bellinger has had the kind of first half that could start defining him as a generation player. Yelich is even better this season than he was last season when he was NL MVP. Young people like Ronald Acuña Jr. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Josh Bell are reminders that there may never have been a better time to be a baseball fan. But we are blessed to be a generation of fans who can say they saw one of the five or six best players in all-time performance and that is Mike Trout . He already has 28 homers, a 1,098 OPS, and per. Steamer the projection system, he is expected to finish the season with 10.4 WAR, which would constitute a career best.

5th Don't take your eyes off citizens and Indians

Remember what we thought of them on the opening day? Many of us figured they would win their divisions and maybe make some noise in October. Then both began to break, and the tale of both clubs was about dismissing leaders, trading stars and rebuilding. And then both began to play well. In fact, really good.

The Indians are 21-8 since June 4 and have reduced their deficit in AL Central from 11 games to 5 1/2 since June 15. If the season ended today, they would play in St. Petersburg in the wild card game. The nations are 28-11 since May 24 and will host the Phillies in the Wild Card Game as the positions are now. Both teams have some work to do at the trading deadline, but they have made an already interesting season even more interesting.

6th NL Central race could be nuts

Parity is a thing. Chaos is another. We love chaos. So here we have five teams separated by 4 1/2 games. Cubs are at the top of the division at 47-43. The roots are no later than 41-46. But here's what makes Cincinnati dangerous: pitching. Its 3.77 ERA is NL's second-longest. In the past month, Reds has swept Astros and won series against Brewers and Cubs, the two teams that were expected to slug it off first place. Suddenly, the division can be determined by how five teams can strengthen their list within the trading deadline.

7th Rangers could have a transforming few weeks

They are in a great place for a season that they thought could be one of reconstruction and experiment. But their record is surprisingly 48-42, and they are only three games out in the second AL Wild Card quay. Suddenly, general manager Jon Daniels has a hard call: Buy or sell? If he continues to take a long time, he will listen to offers for Mike Minor and perhaps Lance Lynn if the starting pitching market is as competitive as many believe. Or does he see a small window opening and adding to his team hoping to return to the playoffs?

8 thereof. The start-up market is thin.

This will be a nervous day as challengers – and Blue Jays – await medical reports of right hand Marcus Stroman who has been sidelined since June 29 with a breast stem. If he is healthy, he may be the most sought after starter on the market, as he is under team control during the next season. The other notable names that are likely to be moved are Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner and Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler but both are free agents this winter. By pitching so scarce, the three could bring an impressive number of prospects to a team – and there are many of them – looking at one arm from winning a World Series.

ninth There have been some real breakout players

Almost every player spends months and months before the opening day focused on customizing his game – changing his swing or his pitching mechanics and changing his mental approach. Each player thinks he can get better. It is true for the great – Trout, Max Scherzer etc. This is especially true for the young. So let's hear it for Bellinger, Ketel Marte Lucas Giolito Marcus Semien Walker Buehler Shane Bieber ] DJ LeMahieu and others who have found a new level this year.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice .

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