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What baseball would be talking about if the first half didn’t exist

Baseball’s second half never gets as much attention as the first half. Let’s fix that.

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Welcome back to another installment of “If the First Half Didn’t Exist,” an annual tradition that serves two purposes. The first is to remind you that we pay far, far too much attention to everything that happens in the first half of the season. The other is to acknowledge that we might not pay enough attention to what’s been happening in the second half of the season. The first half of every season disproportionately shapes our opinions of the entire season.

This is a way of pointing out what would seem important to us if the season started on July 13. Who would be the MVP front-runners? Which teams would be building an insurmountable divisional lead? What would baseball be talking about, and how easy would it be for this information to color how we look at the entire season?

Well, let’s find out.

Sample headline if the first half didn’t exist:

The AL West is the best divisional race in baseball, but the Angels could run away with it

I want to sit here and plead caution and restraint. I want to remind you that we’ve played just under a couple of months, and we don’t know anything yet, really.

Except that the Angels are the best team in the AL West.

Sure, they’re just 1½ games ahead of the Rangers and two games ahead of both the Astros and Mariners, and the Pythagorean record suggests that’s absolutely correct. The Angels have allowed far fewer runs than anyone in the division, and they’re on pace to win 91 games. That can change in a bad week, or even with one bad series, but ask yourself these questions:

Is C.J. Cron for real?

Was Luis Valbuena the sneakiest great signing of the offseason?

Is Andrelton Simmons able to keep his .759 OPS up?

If you can answer all of those in the affirmative, you have to be curious about just what this Angels team can accomplish, considering that their starting pitching has been an obvious weakness that they can improve at the deadline. The bullpen has been dominant, with Yusmeiro Petit and Blake Parker forming an unlikely shutdown core, and there’s already good news for the rotation with Garrett Richards coming back.

Sample headline if the first half didn’t exist:

The Cubs and Indians are still the best teams in baseball, just like we expected

We were spoiled with one of the greatest World Series ever last year, a mash-up of the logical and illogical, but there was just one tiny problem. The Cubs were at full strength, and the Indians were not. That’s not to cheapen the Cubs’ accomplishment, but a simple fact that reminds us that the transcendent World Series could have been something even more. The Indians at full strength, with a deep arsenal of starting pitching that’s the envy of baseball, were as terrifying as the Cubs at full strength.

And it looks like those two teams are on a collision course again.

The Cubs aren’t much of a surprise. They were the best team in baseball last year; they’re the best team in baseball this year (unless you’re partial to those FanGraphs projections that had the Dodgers being three games better, which lol). The Indians, though, were never a guarantee to get their pitchers back healthy.

They did, though, and they brought all of their hitters along. Both teams have the best records in their respective leagues, and here we go again. There are some other teams that will have something to say about that, of course. The Nationals have the same record as the Cubs, for example, and the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Diamondbacks aren’t too far behind. But it sure feels like we’re heading for a repeat of last year’s amazing Fall Classic.

I’m OK with that.

Sample headline if the first half didn’t exist:

The world owes us a Giancarlo Stanton/Rhys Hoskins Home Run Derby

Aaron Judge Rhys Hoskins is the flavor of the month, the rookie who looks like two Mark McGwires in a trenchcoat trying to sneak into an R-rated movie, a generic slugger out of central casting, and I can respect why everyone is excited. He’s new and he’s fresh, and he looks like someone was screwing with the sliders in the create-a-player setting.

Giancarlo Stanton seems like the Aaron Judge Rhys Hoskins of Christmas past, the T-800 to Judge’s Hoskins’ T-1000. That almost rings true, except Judge Hoskins is just two three years younger. Stanton is also an admittedly a much larger ogre, who is just as eager to flay and skin baseballs so that they will tell the other baseballs what happened to them. Stanton has done what Hoskins Judge is doing, but for much longer.

If there is justice in the universe, Stanton and Judge Hoskins will meet in the Home Run Derby final, and they’ll be responsible for folktales that are told after the collapse of civilization. Both of them consume whole goats as villagers throw stones at them, and it’s only fair if we get to watch them in the Home Run Derby, sending ball after ball into the spinning-marlin wormhole while kids run into each other below. Let this be one of your baseball wishes for the 2017 season.

Sample headline if the first half didn’t exist:

The Yankees should trade for Khris Davis

The Yankees are rolling again, seemingly ahead of schedule on the great reload-and-rebuild plan that has tripped up so many other franchises along the way. They’re pitching, which means they’re contending, and they’re even getting contributions from Chase Headley, who’s leading the team in OPS. Gary Sanchez is raking, Didi Gregorius continues to be a star ... it’s hard to be mad at the franchise when they pull this stuff every year.

There’s one problem, though: Their outfield is a light-hitting mess. Jacoby Ellsbury is doing fine, but his defense is slipping. Brett Gardner’s defense is fine, but his bat is slipping. And Aaron Judge is a mess who’s almost certainly going to be sent down.

The answer is right in front of them. Khris Davis is predictably thumping again, with 15 homers in a park that usually isn’t the most hitter-friendly. He fits the new Yankee Stadium like a glove, and Gardner’s arm is probably strong enough for right field. He’s under contract for two more years, too, which would help the Yankees as they ease into the future with prospects like Clint Frazier.

As to what the A’s would want, it seems like there’s a natural fit, here. If Aaron Judge’s ultimate ceiling is as a Khris Davis clone, why not agree to a one-for-one swap? The A’s get the extra years of team control, while the Yankees get the power they covet from Judge, but they don’t have to spend the rest of the season waiting for it to arrive.

Sometimes a trade comes along that makes too much sense. This is one of those times.

Sample headline if the first half didn’t exist:

Is Odubel Herrera the best player in the National League?

One of the oldest, purest questions in baseball has been effectively ruined by Mike Trout. “Who’s the best player in baseball?” has given way to “Who’s the second-best player in baseball,” and that’s no fun.

Except we have a challenger this year in Giancarlo Stanton, who has 27 home runs in just 186 at-bats, good for a 1186 OPS. That’s a performance that’s outstanding enough to start the conversation, at least. Has Stanton caught Trout?

And that’s where I sneak in with a surprise hot take: I’m thinking even Odubel Herrera might be better than Stanton.

It’s a bold call, considering the power surge that Stanton has been using to melt the NL. But consider Herrera’s defense, his position, his speed. Now look at his .381/.444/.673 line and parse just what that means. It’s a slash line that offers contact, patience, and power, all in the complete package of a player who can zip around the bases and the outfield.

It’s early. Charlie Blackmon has a similar line (albeit in Coors Field), and what Stanton is doing can’t be dismissed that easily. But no one would click on an article titled “Odubel Herrera Is On Another Level,” so this will have to do. The answer to the question posed in the headline is probably “no,” which would make Ian Betteridge happy, but I’m keeping an eye on this one. The Phillies have been looking for an offensive cornerstone, and early in this season, it looks like they’ve found two. Herrera just might be the best of them all.

Sample headline if the first half didn’t exist:

Man, the Giants suck

The Giants have had an awful start to the season, but here are 43 different reasons why everything should go much better for them soon:

1. Their players are mostly underperforming according to ZiPS, and that should ...

Remember this as we head into the postseason. The players we thought were magic might not be. The teams that looked impervious might not be, and the teams that look impervious right now still had their rough stretches, which is why they’re not threatening the 2001 Mariners.

And, really, what is the postseason but baseball’s third half? I’ll see you in a month to write up “What baseball would be talking about if the first and second halves didn’t exist,” except I’ll call it “writing about the postseason.” Can’t wait.