The year is flying by, and in the time it takes Elly De La Cruz to swipe a base, we have made it to the halfway point of the 2024 season. 

While some narratives are coming together just like we had expected (looking at you, Orioles and Dodgers), there are more than a few storylines that aren’t panning out as we hoped or thought. We were robbed of an encore from reigning National League MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. We were looking forward to a big year from Mike Trout, but he hasn’t played since April. Mets ace Kodai Senga has yet to throw his patented ghost fork this year. Baseball always has a way of surprising us.

With that said, let’s take stock of the season’s first half by highlighting the top 20 things we’ve learned leading up to the All-Star break.  

1. The Phillies, not the Braves, look like the NL East’s most complete team
Who saw that coming? Atlanta, of course, was hit with tons of injuries to their star players, but the club’s remaining key bats who are used to leading the league’s offensive categories are not even in MLB’s top 50. Veteran Chris Sale has exceeded expectations in his first year with the Braves, helping to make the pitching staff one of the best in the league. But the Phillies are firing on all cylinders, with a top offense, rotation and bullpen. Philly’s wide gap in the division is giving Atlanta a taste of its own medicine. 

2. Elbow surgery isn’t slowing down Shohei Ohtani’s production
Ohtani is still doing Ohtani things even while he continues to rehab from a second-career elbow surgery. Nobody would have blamed him if he didn’t look like himself at the plate this year, adjusting to a designated hitter-only role and being cautious of his healing arm. Alas, this is the unicorn we’re talking about. He ranks second in the majors in home runs and OPS, fourth in batting average, and his 5.1 fWAR is tied with Juan Soto for fourth-best in MLB. He’s distancing himself as the National League’s favorite to win the MVP. It’s been a tremendous start to Ohtani’s 10-year Dodgers pact. 

3. Aaron Judge and Juan Soto are the most dynamic duo in the sport … but the Yankees have the same problems
These losing streaks and long stretches of poor play on both sides of the ball seem to be a part of the Yankees’ identity, with or without Judge and Soto raking at the top of the lineup. New York has fallen into the same patterns it’s displayed in recent years — particularly with an all-or-nothing dependency on a few players to perform. This rough stretch came after roster holes were mostly addressed this offseason, too. But the Yankees are still dealing with a lack of urgency and seem to have displaced the edge they had earlier in the season. 

4. Tough road ahead for last year’s World Series competitors
The Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks aren’t dead yet, but each team has plenty of work to do to convince us they belong in the Fall Classic again. The D-backs are on the cusp of a wild-card spot, and injured reinforcements are on the way. The right trade deadline moves from general manager Mike Hazen could vault them into a strong position. But the Rangers need a decent winning streak to boost their chances of leapfrogging over the four teams ahead of them in AL’s wild-card race. There is pressure on Bruce Bochy’s reigning champions to even resemble a good team right now, let alone make a push for October.

5. Surprises at the top of the Central
Cleveland is proving its hot start to the season was no fluke. Milwaukee has spent 82 days in first place after trading away Corbin Burnes and parting ways with Craig Counsell. Both of these results would’ve been unthinkable just six months ago. The Guardians were barely projected to capture 80 wins, with only a 33% chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs’ preseason outlook. Now they’re on track for 90-plus victories. The Brewers, too, were projected to finish third in the division, yet they’ve dominated the NL Central. Both of these top Central teams still have to prove they’re the real deal with a strong second half and, more importantly, a deep playoff run. But the first half was a welcome surprise for both of their fan bases.

6. The White Sox are the worst team in MLB — but could take a contender over the top
Alright, the first part of that sentence is the furthest thing from a surprise. (Still, that Chicago would be lucky to register 30 wins before the All-Star break is eye-popping no matter how you slice it.) The roster is relevant, though. This last place White Sox team could be the difference for a contender with guys like Garrett Crochet (the flashiest name), Luis Robert Jr. (raking after returning from injury) and Tommy Pham (annually on the move) likely on the trading block. Chicago is expected to put a premium rate on these key players, and it will be interesting to see which contenders are desperate enough to meet the asking price.

7. Offense is significantly down 
Offense across MLB is on track to finish with all-time lows, featuring huge drops not seen in decades. The league-average OPS at this point last year was .730; it’s currently .708. Hitters had amassed 3,151 home runs through July 10 in 2023; they entered Thursday with 3,020 homers (despite the season beginning sooner). There seem to be several theories for why this could be happening, including a possible dead ball, or that pitching is so elite that it’s currently the hardest it’s ever been to hit a baseball. Furthermore, pitchers might be adapting to the advanced technology and data that they’re given to significantly improve their output on a day-to-day basis. It’s certainly a trend worth keeping an eye on.

8. The Royals are relevant again
After finishing with 106 losses just last year, Kansas City is on the right side of .500 again with a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since their 2015 World Series title. Just seven teams have a better run differential than the Royals, who sit 0.5 games back of a wild-card spot. Much of the success of their immediate future could depend on whether they go all-in on improving at the trade deadline. But that’s a tricky balance for Kansas City’s front office, because it still has an eye on building for the long term, with an expected reluctance to let go of the prospects it worked so hard to gain amid a very recent rebuild.

9. Steven Kwan leads Cleveland’s offensive resurgence
The All-Star left fielder is this year’s Luis Arráez. He’s unofficially on .400 watch after briefly reaching the hallowed mark a few weeks back before he had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title (he enters Thursday with an MLB-leading .361 average). Kwan’s impressive .416 OBP ranks fourth in the majors, and his 23 strikeouts are tied with Arráez for the fewest in the league among qualified hitters. Kwan could be a potential thorn on the side of Judge, who is vying for the Triple Crown (the Yankees slugger currently leads MLB in home runs and RBIs). The season that the 26-year-old is putting together is nothing short of magical, particularly when we consider that he missed four weeks with a hamstring strain. 

10. The Cubs, after entering the year with promise, are in last place
It was not long ago that Chicago was feeling optimistic about its future, having re-signed Cody Bellinger and brought Counsell’s managerial track record to center stage. But now … they’re struggling to eclipse .500 with no clear indication that they’re capable of a winning streak, and former MVP Cody Bellinger looks more and more likely to be on the trading block. And yet, thanks to the crowded mess that is the NL wild-card race, the Cubs still have a shot at playoff contention if they can quickly, in the next few weeks, turn it around. If they do decide to sell, Jameson Taillon and Nico Hoerner are attractive names joining Bellinger ahead of the deadline. But that the Cubs still appear to be rebuilding is a surprise, to say the least.

11. Paul Skenes is as good as advertised — and maybe better 
Skenes couldn’t have entered this year with much higher expectations. The No. 1 overall pick was coming off a national championship at LSU and drawing comparisons to Stephen Strasburg. He was called up on May 11, less than a year after the Pirates selected him with the top overall pick, and has somehow exceeded the already massive expectations. Despite the late start, he became the first top overall pick to be named an All-Star the following season — and he has a strong case to start in next week’s Midsummer Classic. Skenes is already the front-runner for National League Rookie of the Year after compiling a 2.12 ERA in his first 10 outings. His biggest challenger might be San Diego’s Jackson Merrill, who’s making his own history as the Padres‘ first rookie All-Star. The 21-year-old former shortstop has thrived in the San Diego outfield. 

12. This is the year of the young shortstop
At 23, 24 and 22 years old, respectively, Gunnar Henderson, Bobby Witt Jr. and Elly De La Cruz all rank in MLB’s top six FanGraphs’ version of wins above replacement as we near the All-Star break. Henderson and Witt rank in the top three in both fWAR and bWAR among all major-leaguers. It’s within the realm of possibility that they could form the first shortstop duo ever to post a 10-WAR season in the same year. Henderson already has 27 homers before the break. Witt leads the majors in hits and ranks first at his position in outs above average, followed by Yankees 23-year-old Anthony Volpe. Meanwhile, Nationals 23-year-old C.J. Abrams has made the jump to stardom as a first-time All-Star. Five of MLB’s top 20 qualified OPS leaders are shortstops. There are so many good shortstops that Francisco Lindor, in a year in which he already has 15 homers and 15 stolen bases before the break, did not make the All-Star team (though he still could as a replacement).

13. Elly De La Cruz is putting it all together 
De La Cruz burst onto the scene last year as one of the most distinctive talents the sport has ever seen. The self-proclaimed “fastest man in the world” was a unicorn. No one had seen that combination of speed, power and arm strength all in one package before, but he finished his first season as a below league-average hitter. Though he hit a ball 119.2 mph — the third-hardest hit ball by any player last year — he didn’t hit enough or reach base enough to use his dynamic skills. This year, that’s changing. De La Cruz’s teammate Tyler Stephenson compared him to a create-a-player. Though EDLC is still prone to strikeouts — he leads the majors in the category — he has upped his walk rate enough to steal an MLB-leading 45 bases through 93 games while developing into one of the best defensive players at his position. He ranks seventh among all qualified shortstops in OPS, and while he’s no longer on a 100-steal pace, MLB’s first 30-homer, 75-stolen base season is still within reach. 

14. The pitch clock is no longer much of a hot topic 
Among last year’s revolutionary changes to the game, MLB restricted the infield shift, made the bases larger, limited pickoffs and, most obviously, implemented a polarizing pitch clock: a 15-second timer with the bases empty and 20 seconds with players on base. After some grumbling early on, players adapted. Violations decreased. Game times were shaved by 24 minutes on average, dipping under three hours for the first time since 2015. The average nine-inning game was the shortest it had been since 1985. This year, the time of game is even quicker — 2:38, the lowest since 1981. Infractions, of course, aren’t going to entirely disappear. But they’re down again from last season, and the clock generally seems to be an accepted part of the game, mostly only coming to the forefront when people want to blame it for the uptick in pitching injuries. 

Speaking of which …

15. Pitcher arm injuries are as big a problem as ever
On April 12, Guardians pitcher Shane Bieber underwent Tommy John surgery, cutting short his sensational start to the season on the same day that Braves ace Spencer Strider underwent a season-ending internal brace procedure on his elbow. The two standouts had their surgeries four days after 21-year-old Marlins sensation Eury Pérez was lost for the year to his own Tommy John surgery. According to extensive research by Jon Roegele, about 35% of MLB pitchers last year had undergone Tommy John surgery at some point in their careers, up a tick from the previous year. According to the same research, 24 pitchers on an MLB roster have already undergone Tommy John surgery since the start of March. Another five (Strider included) have undergone the internal brace procedure. When velocity dominates, it’s an unfortunate reality that MLB’s star power will take a hit with it. 

16. The Padres are pushing in. Again.
Never underestimate the boldness or willingness of GM AJ Preller. After last year’s all-in experiment — which included handing out nine-figure deals to Xander Bogaerts, Yu Darvish and Manny Machado — ended in a cloud of smoke, the bill came due this year. The Padres needed to cut payroll and traded away Juan Soto in the process. But that didn’t mean they were throwing the towel in on 2024, and Preller made that abundantly clear when he traded for Luis Arráez in May. Don’t be surprised if more buying is ahead for the Padres, who have five All-Stars and would have a wild-card spot if the season ended today. 

17. The NL is especially mediocre, leaving few obvious sellers nearing the deadline
The Padres have a winning record, which basically makes them elite in the landscape of the middling National League. There are currently seven NL teams above .500, while five others are five or fewer games below .500 — meaning there are few obvious sellers. The D-backs and Giants both made moves this offseason to try to compete immediately, and at less than three games back of a wild-card spot, they could still view themselves as contenders. Other than the Marlins and Rockies, everyone is technically still in it, which could create a nice haul for any team that decides to sell. It might not be long before the Nationals and Cubs look to 2025 and beyond. 

18. You can compete with a low payroll, but it still pays to pay 
Last year, an Arizona team with a bottom-10 payroll managed to prudently work its way to a World Series appearance. Meanwhile, the Marlins made the playoffs for the first time in a full season since 2003, the Orioles reached the dance for the first time since 2016, and the low-budget Rays made it in for the fifth straight year. Ultimately, though, all those teams fell short. Corey Seager, the Rangers’ $325 million man, helped Texas to a title. This year, the Marlins and Rays have taken a sizable step back, and though the Guardians, Orioles and Brewers are demonstrating how teams can still be top contenders without spending heavily, it still pays to pay. The Astros and Mets are surging back into contention after brutal starts to the year, while the Dodgers, Yankees, Braves and Phillies should all waltz to the postseason. 

19. The Mariners are mostly who we thought they were. Is that enough to hold on?
Before the season, all of us at FOX Sports picked the Mariners as our American League World Series dark horse club. The reasoning was simple: They had arguably the best rotation in baseball, even if their offense might hold them back. Well … they have arguably the best rotation in baseball, and their offense is holding them back. Seattle has the lowest rotation ERA in the American League and the lowest batting average in baseball. But in the surprisingly dismal AL West, the Mariners’ pitching has done enough to sit atop the division. Holding on won’t be easy, though, the way the Astros have come on of late. The Mariners need — and will probably look to — add some bats. 

20. The AL East is no longer just a two-team race
On June 10, the Yankees and Orioles had already established themselves as not only the elite of the East but the entire American League at 47-21 and 43-22, respectively. The Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays each sat at least 13 games back of New York’s division lead. Fast-forward a month, and another team is emerging as a threat. Since dropping to 33-34 on June 11, Boston has gone 17-7. Pitching coach Andrew Miller and chief baseball officer Craig Breslow have turned the pitching into a strength, and now the offense is starting to follow suit. The Yankees, meanwhile, have plummeted. The Red Sox are now one of six AL teams with at least 50 wins and sit just 4.5 games back of the Yankees and 6.5 games back of the division-leading Orioles. 

Deesha Thosar is an MLB reporter for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

Rowan Kavner is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the L.A. Dodgers, L.A. Clippers and Dallas Cowboys. An LSU grad, Rowan was born in California, grew up in Texas, then moved back to the West Coast in 2014. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.

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