The bases circle as the baseball approaches its center point

The all-star break was typically used to split the first and second halves of baseball. While that’s always been misleading — teams often play about 90 games in the first half and only leave 72 for the second half — it’s even more extreme this season, with the All-Star game not happening until July 19 , at the latest It has been played in an entire season since 1977.

With teams set to hit their actual 81-game midpoint early next week, it’s a good time to turn to the majors for the most intriguing storylines from a season that as early as March seemed in danger of not being played.

A look at this season’s ERA leaders shows a bright future for the game. Tony Gonsolin, 28, a breakout star for the Los Angeles Dodgers in his fourth season, led the majors with a 1.54 ERA through Friday. Shane McClanahan, 25, a sophomore for the Tampa Bay Rays, led the AL with a 1.77. Eight of the top 10 were under 30, the youngest of whom, Alek Manoah of the Toronto Blue Jays, is a serious contender for the American League’s Cy Young Award at 24.

And then there’s Justin Verlander. Verlander, the 39-year-old Houston Astros ace, came fourth in the majors with a 2.03 ERA after two seasons in which he pitched six innings due to injuries and was the first pitcher to reach it 10 wins. Perhaps most impressively, the second-oldest active player finished seventh in the majors innings. That would come as a surprise to most aging pitchers after a long absence, but somehow makes perfect sense for Verlander, a throwback starter who has surpassed 200 innings 12 times.

Aaron Judge just keeps hitting home runs. Judge, the Yankees’ oversized hitter, placed a huge bet on himself this offseason, turned down a $213.5 million contract extension, and has continued to have what looks like a career season. Through Friday, he was hitting .286 with 29 homers and 59 runs hit while leading his team to the best record in the majors. Barring a disaster, it looks like the judge’s bet is about to pay off.

The question is how much better things could get from here. As of Thursday, he had kept pace with Babe Ruth’s 1927 season (29 homers in his first 75 games) and was just behind Roger Maris’ 1961 season (30 in 75). Whether you consider Maris a legitimate single-season record holder or not — anyone with more than 61 home runs in a season has been linked to performance-enhancing drugs — the fact that Judge has a shot at breaking the Yankees’ franchise is a mark Reason enough to be happy.

The Albert Pujols Farewell Tour is wreaking havoc in the record books and some smiles, even as the aging slugger batted just .193 through Friday.

Pujols had scored 23 and passed Eddie Collins and Paul Molitor to move up to ninth on the career list. He had added a total of 39 bases and passed Willie Mays for third place. And with 41 games played, he had successively overtaken Dave Winfield, Barry Bonds, Cal Ripken Jr. and Mays to move into eighth place. If he added at least 22 more games in the second half of the season, he would also skip Stan Musial, Eddie Murray and Ty Cobb and finish fifth on that career list.

Unfortunately, Pujols’ goal of becoming the fourth player to hit 700 home runs seems unattainable. He’s 17 years old and doesn’t have the playing time or consistency to be realistic.

Baseball’s most valuable helper isn’t his team’s closer — at least not officially. As of Friday, Clay Holmes, a breakout star for the Yankees, had compiled a .49 ERA in 36⅔ innings with 38 strikeouts, and he was leading all major league reliefs with 2.0 wins over the reserve. Still, he could soon lose his interim gig because Aroldis Chapman, a fiery left-hander whose salary is 16 times that of Holmes, was activated from the injured list on Friday.

With Chapman, 34, eligible for free agency this offseason, and Holmes, 29, just entering his league years, the Yankees appear to have a succession plan — which worked well when Mariano Rivera played in the waning days of John arrived wetland. But the next few months could be awkward if Holmes continues to outscore Chapman but does so during the eighth inning.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt had 4.3 wins over the reserve through Friday. The Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani each had 4.0s, while the San Diego Padres’ Manny Machado had 3.9s. Those superstars all looked up to Tommy Edman, a Cardinals midfielder who inexplicably led all position players with a 4.4 WAR, according to the Baseball Reference.

Edman’s stats line doesn’t pop out. He hit .268 with a .340 on-base percentage and .397 slugging percentage. He was 19th of 22 in stolen base attempts, had seven homers, and led his league in only one standard category: 58 runs hit.

But WAR involves defense, and Edman put on a show, leading the majors with 2.1 defensive WAR thanks to a pretty incredible 11 defensive runs saved in 43 starts at second base and another 5 of 30 starts at shortstop.

Athletics has been building and tearing down teams for generations. Since 1901, they have won 100 or more games 10 times and won nine World Series titles, but lost 100 or more games 16 times.

This year’s club appear destined to endure 17 100-loss seasons and while that’s hardly surprising given the off-season bailout, the way they’re doing it is remarkable. As of Friday, they were 8-28 at home and on track to lose 63 games at the Oakland Coliseum, which would break the 59 home loss record set by the 1939 St. Louis Browns and the 1939 Detroit Tigers Share 2019. Even the 1962 lowly Mets lost only 58 at home.

Softening the blow – or possibly being a cause of it – is the fact that not many people were there to see those losses. The A’s are last in the majors with an average attendance of 8,358 fans per game. That would be the lowest majors average since 2001 and nearly 1,000 fewer per game than Oakland’s Grade AAA team, the Las Vegas Aviators, in 2019.

The Yankees were the best team in baseball that season in both record and run differentials, and for much of the year they were joined at the top by the Mets, who, despite pitcher Max’s injuries, ranked as the best in the National League team were Scherzer and Jacob de Grom.

However, a recent downturn on offense has left the Mets fading. They’ve already been passed by the Los Angeles Dodgers for best record in the NL, and the Atlanta Braves are looking to sneak up and steal the NL East title again.