Five observations from the first half of the 2021 MLB season

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As Major League Baseball resumes after the All-Star breaks, here’s a look at what has happened and what might happen moving forward:

Whither the Padres?

Last year, in their first postseason appearance since 2006, the San Diego Padres played six postseason games. They added Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, signed shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. to the longest contract in major league history, and proclaimed this as their 2021 slogan: “Hungry for More.” At this rate, they might play one postseason game this year. They’re in position for the last playoff spot in the National League and, like the Dodgers, they have slipped from “What do we do with all these starting pitchers?” to “Where can we find some starting pitchers?” The Padres hope Darvish and Snell can return from the injured list soon, but Snell and Chris Paddack have two of the three highest earned-run averages of NL West starters to pitch at least 70 innings, and Dinelson Lamet and Ryan Weathers are hurt too.

Golden state

In 2014, for the first and only time in MLB history, four California teams made the postseason, with the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series. In 2021, four California teams are in playoff position, and all five teams are over .500, with the Angels a modest 5 1/2 games out of a postseason spot. The Oakland Athletics are on pace to make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season for the first time since the “Moneyball” years, and they are celebrating by … oh, wait, commissioner Rob Manfred threatened Tuesday that the A’s could be on their way out of town if the Oakland City Council does not vote July 20 to move ahead with a waterfront ballpark project. Viva Las Vegas?

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Bronx Bummers?

The Wednesday morning headline on the back page of the New York Post: “Second half will show if Yankees can get off mat or are just an expensive joke.” The New York Yankees have posted a winning record every year since 1992, but that streak is in serious jeopardy of expiration. The Yankees are three games above .500, and they have scored fewer runs than any American League team, other than the ones in last place (Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers). Gerrit Cole is the Yankees’ only reliable starting pitcher, closer Aroldis Chapman has career worsts in ERA (4.55) and walk rate, and a franchise built on left-handed power hitters has none.

Trade deadline

It’s July 30 this year, not the traditional July 31, and the surprise sellers are the Chicago Cubs. Kris Bryant is Chris Taylor with more power. Javier Baez offers power, speed and flashy defense in the middle infield. Zach Davies would fortify the back end of a starting rotation. Craig Kimbrel might be the best available reliever. Beyond the Cubs: Nelson Cruz and Joey Gallo, who hit 11 home runs in 12 games leading into the All-Star break, offer power. Few contenders need a shortstop, so the poorly-run Colorado Rockies might be faced with trading Trevor Story now for a paltry return or letting him walk in free agency for draft picks. Everyone wants pitching, where demand exceeds supply — by a lot.

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Kris Bryant of the Cubs hits a home run off Tony Gonsolin of the Dodgers on June 25.

(Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

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Labor daze

Beyond the July 30 trade deadline, another date looms large on the MLB calendar: Dec. 1, when the collective bargaining agreement expires. After the Dodgers lost the 2020 All-Star game to the pandemic, they couldn’t possibly lose the 2022 All-Star game to a work stoppage, could they? MLB has not had a work stoppage since 1995, and Manfred, players’ union chief Tony Clark, and their lieutenants have wisely toned down the rhetoric as negotiators discuss a new deal. The owners would be happy to cut younger players a bigger slice of the revenue pie, as analytics make younger players more valuable. The players would prefer a larger pie, since revenues have risen but salaries have not. Settlement likely rests somewhere between payroll evolution and revolution.

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