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Inside Baseball

Taking stock of the season at the All-Star break

The All-Stars will convene in Cleveland for the Home Run Derby on Monday night and the big game on Tuesday and it's a tough first half to ponder. Six teams are already completely out of playoff contention and as many as 11 others seem to only have hopes of a wild-card berth.

The Dodgers and Yankees are in complete control of their divisions while the Braves, Astros and Twins would need to slide back quite a bit to lose the grip on theirs.

It's really not a good thing to be in early July and have only one division up for grabs. And the Brewers (47-42), Cubs (46-42) and Cardinals (44-42) entered Saturday in a turtle race for the top with a combined mark of of 12-18 over their last 10 games.

Some random thoughts on what we've seen in the first half:

Too many home runs, not enough action: The game's all-or-nothing trend remains disturbing. Went to a Red Sox-Rangers game at Fenway Park during the Stanley Cup final and there were 84 at-bats in the game. It took 3 hours, 40 minutes to play and 42 of the at-bats – exactly half – ended in a strikeout, walk or home run. It was classic baseball, circa 2019, and it wasn't fun.

Flamethrower: Max Scherzer's numbers continue to be mind-boggling for the Nationals. He entered Saturday with 170 strikeouts and 22 walks in 18 starts and will likely became the 19th player to 3,000 whiffs for his career next season. Justin Verlander is at 2,859 and could become No. 18 this season.

Scherzer had 14 strikeouts and no walks last Sunday in Detroit and in his two starts against the Tigers since he left them in 2014 he has allowed three runs and struck out 34 in 17 innings.

In the dugout, AL: It will be fascinating to watch how the Manager of the Year race plays out. Will it be Minnesota newcomer Rocco Baldelli for helping the Twins take the AL Central by storm and potentially win it for the first time since 2010, or will it be Aaron Boone for navigating the Yankees' monumental injury woes?

In the dugout, NL: Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Roberts is bringing a Marv Levy quality to the Dodgers where perseverance is the buzzword. Two straight World Series losses are usually enough to leave a team mentally beaten and leave a pitching staff ragged. Roberts has been able to keep his team's motivation up and the front office has kept tinkering. It would be a big upset come October if the Dodgers aren't back for a third straight try.

Most surprising teams: Twins, White Sox, Rangers, Reds, Nationals of last 37 games (26-11 after 19-31 start).

Biggest disappointments: Red Sox, Mariners (25-52 after a 13-2 start), Phillies, Mets, Cardinals.

Biggest studs: Clay Bellinger, Dodgers; Mike Trout, Angels; Christian Yelich, Brewers; Nolan Arenado, Rockies; Verlander, Astros; Scherzer, Nationals. How are voters going to choose an NL MVP between Bellinger and Yelich?

Biggest surprises: Josh Bell, Pirates; DJ LeMahieu and Domingo German, Yankees; Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil, Mets; Lucas Giolito, White Sox; Mike Soroka, Braves; Kirby Yates, Padres; Brad Hand, Indians.

Best bets for AL playoff teams: Yankees, Twins, Astros with the Indians and A's in the wild-card game.

Best bets for NL playoff teams: Braves, Brewers, Dodgers with the Phillies and Nationals passing everyone in the Central to meet in the wild-card match.

Hendriks gets All-Star call

Former Bisons starter Liam Hendriks has found a home as Oakland's closer and got a huge reward over the weekend when he was added to the All-Star team as an injury substitute. That makes Hendriks the third Australian in the game, joining former A's reliever Grant Balfour (2013) and former Milwaukee catcher Dave Nilsson (1999).

Hendriks is 3-0 with four saves, all of them since Blake Treinen went on the IL last month, and his 1.27 ERA is the best among major-league relievers. He has 62 strikeouts and 17 walks in 49 2/3 innings.

"It’s cool,” Hendriks told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It’s such an honor, trying to gain credit for the Australian Baseball League and get the momentum going over there. Anytime an Australian guy does anything over here, it positively impacts the game there.”

Hendriks was the International League starter in the Triple-A All-Star Game in 2014 as he was 8-1, 2.33 in 18 games for the Bisons (16 starts). He's been mostly a reliever since in 247 big-league appearances with Toronto and Oakland.

The A's designated him for assignment last year and he cleared waivers before going to Triple-A Nashville. He worked his way back to the big leagues as an opener and started the wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

“Twelve months and three days ago, I accepted my outright assignment to Triple-A,” Hendriks said. “It’s been a whirlwind, for sure. But it was almost necessary for me to go down there and gain perspective, get rid of the ego and be like, ‘OK, it doesn’t matter, regardless of how I’m pitching, I don’t deserve to pitch in whatever role, I’m just going to go out and pitch whatever inning they want me to, if it’s opening, if it’s the second inning, if it’s long relief.’ Just that change of mindset has helped me to become what I am now.”

Hot-hitting Heim

Amherst native Jonah Heim has been red-hot with Las Vegas of the Pacific Coast League in his first call-up to Triple-A. Heim is batting .446 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 18 games for the Aviators, who are in their first year as an Oakland affiliate.

Heim, 24, was at .285-4-31 at Double-A Midland was he was promoted last month. A former 2013 fourth-round choice of Baltimore, Heim was acquired by Oakland as a player to be named in a 2017 trade with Tampa Bay for utility man Joey Wendle.

Around the horn

• Quick thought I: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the Home Run Derby? How about waiting until he's an All-Star caliber player first. And this corner isn't big on a 20-year-old potentially wrecking his swing for weeks afterward either.

• Quick thought II: Didn't the two Yankees-Red Sox games in London come off as jokes? It was a stadium issue with too much foul territory, too easy to hit a home run, pitchers complaining the sunken-in nature of the field prevented their breaking pitches from moving much. Fifty runs in two games was too much. When that opener was 6-6 after the first inning, you wondered if the game was going to end 30-25.

• Nice touch by MLB to decide to honor retiring CC Sabathia at the All-Star Game at the park where his career began in 2001. Would be better if he was actually in the game. It's time for MLB to add the option of a legacy pick for each league to the rosters for exactly these circumstances.

• The Blue Jays called up Guerrero and Cavan Biggio because they had needs at their positions. Unless they trade Freddy Galvis at the deadline, they should leave Bo Bichette with the Bisons for the season.

Bichette is young (21) and missed weeks with a broken hand after getting hit by a pitch. Let him rake down here and call him up in September. I never would have imagined that perhaps only one of the three star prospects would get a full year in Triple-A when the Jays aren't in playoff contention, but that looks to be the case.

• Tim Tebow entered the weekend batting just .163 in Syracuse but it's interesting to see him finally finding a power stroke in Triple-A. Tebow took Bisons' pitcher Conor Fisk deep Friday night for his third homer in the last six games and second against Buffalo. Tebow entered Saturday's game against the Herd batting .286 over his previous six outings.

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