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In Midseason Form

Which doesn't mean All-Star form.

By 7.15.14

UPI
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With the 85th MLB All-Star Game set to be played tonight at Target Field in Minneapolis, we have reached the midway point of the 2014 baseball season. Actually, we’re well into the second half of the season as MLB teams have played nearly 100 contests in a schedule of 162 games. In any case, here is my assessment of the 2014 season thus far and how my predictions have fared.

AMERICAN LEAGUE
AL East                   W   L    PCT      GB
Baltimore Orioles     52   42   .553      ___
Toronto Blue Jays     49   47   .510      4.0
New York Yankees    47   47   .505      5.0
Tampa Bay Rays        44   53   .454      9.5
Boston Red Sox         43   52   .453      9.5

I expected the Orioles and Blue Jays to be at the bottom of the division. Instead they are at the top of it. The Jays have spent most of the season playing like they were expected to in 2013. Toronto spent 39 consecutive days in first place. At one point, the Jays were up by 6 and 6½ games on the Yankees and Orioles, respectively. But since June 6, the Orioles have gone 21-13 while the Jays have been in freefall. going 11-23 over the same period.

The Yankees have been treading water the entire season. The only reason the Yankees have stayed in the mix is Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka, who led the AL with 12 wins until he was joined by the Tigers’ Rick Porcello. However, a partially torn UCL has put Tanaka on the disabled list and may require surgery. Tanaka now joins fellow Yankee starters C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda on the DL. You know the Yankees are desperate when they feel the need to rely on Chase Whitley and acquire the services of journeymen Brandon McCarthy and Jeff Francis. But who knows? Maybe Steve Greene will make everyone forget about Tanaka by September. Stranger things have happened.

Like the Yankees, the Rays have been plagued by injuries to their starting rotation. Matt Moore is out for the year while Jeremy Hellickson only made his season debut last week. Alex Cobb has also missed significant time. The Rays anemic offense didn’t help matters much. On June 10, the Rays were 24-42, 15 games out of first place. Since then, the Rays have won 20 of their last 31 games. Although the Rays are tied for last place with the Red Sox, they have gone from being 15 games to 9½ games out.

The defending World Series champion Red Sox are arguably the most disappointing team in all of MLB. They have a chance to go from worst to first to worst. Their offense has tanked and they sorely miss Jacoby Ellsbury, who is now patrolling center field at Yankee Stadium. The loss of Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks to injury has also affected their production. Rookie Xander Bogaerts, who shone brightly in the post-season, has struggled mightily since being moved from shortstop to third base to make room for Stephen Drew and his .151 batting average.

The one bright spot has been rookie Brock Holt. A second baseman by trade, Holt has played every position except pitcher and catcher. In his very first appearance in centerfield at any level, Holt made a sensational catch when Jonny Gomes lost the ball in the evening sky. Holt is also hitting over .327. Unfortunately, he’s been the exception in what has been very disappointing season at Fenway. And getting rid of unpopular personalities such as A.J. Pierzynski doesn’t address the team’s fundamental problems.

AL Central               W   L     PCT      GB
Detroit Tigers           53   38   .582      ___
Kansas City Royals    48   46   .511      6.5
Cleveland Indians      47   47   .500      7.5
Chicago White Sox    45   51   .474      10.5
Minnesota Twins       44   50   .468      10.5

I picked the Royals to win the AL Central. For three days last month they were at the top of the division, following a 10-game winning streak in which they went from worst to first. But now the Royals are just above the .500 mark. Meanwhile, the Indians are right at .500. The Chisox are getting spectacular campaigns by ace starter Chris Sale (who is my pick to win the AL Cy Young), shortstop Alexei Ramirez and his fellow Cuban countryman Jose Abreu. The 27-year old rookie is leading the AL with 29 homeruns and a .631 slugging percentage. As for the Twins, aside from ex-Yankee pitcher Phil Hughes regaining his form the only exciting thing happening in the Twin Cities this summer is hosting the All-Star Game.

This division belongs to Detroit until further notice. Cy Young winners Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer have taken a back seat to Rick Porcello. You know the Tigers are good when back to back AL MVP Miguel Cabrera has played second fiddle to Victor Martinez. However, a back injury recently sidelined the Tigers’ DH. Luckily, ex-Ranger Ian Kinsler plus Astros castaway J.D. Martinez’s .346 batting average and ex-Blue Jays outfielder Rajai Davis’ 24 stolen bases more than pick up the slack.

The Achilles’ heel of the Tigers is their bullpen. Closer Joe Nathan, ex-Yankees Joba Chamberlain and Phil Coke as well as Al Albuquerque have all struggled, particularly between mid-May and mid-June when the Tigers lost 20 of 29 games and temporarily lost the division lead to the Royals. Since then, however, the Tigers have gone 17-6 and enjoy the biggest divisional lead in all of MLB.

AL West                   W     L     PCT      GB
Oakland A’s              59   36   .621      ___
Los Angeles Angels   57   37   .606      1.5
Seattle Mariners        51   44   .537      8.0
Houston Astros         40   56   .417      19.5
Texas Rangers          38   57   .400      21.0

The AL West has supplanted the AL East as the best division in MLB. The back-to-back AL West champion A’s have the best record in all of baseball while the second place Angels, after two straight underachieving seasons, have the second-best record in all of baseball. To give you an idea of just how good the AL West is, the Mariners would be 1½ games out of first in the AL East and a game out of first in the NL East. But because they play in the AL West, they are eight games back. If the season were to end today, the Mariners would still win the second AL Wild Card spot. I honestly didn’t think the Mariners would be any better with Robinson Cano. While I don’t see Cano staying in Seattle for 10 years, their offense has dramatically improved.

Speaking of the second AL Wild Card spot, I picked the Texas Rangers for that one. How the mighty Rangers have fallen. After winning back to back AL pennants in 2010 and 2011, the Rangers now find themselves 21 games behind the A’s with the worst record in baseball. The Rangers have been plagued with injuries. Starting pitchers Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Tanner Scheppers and Alexei Ogando as well as catcher Geovany Soto are out indefinitely while second base prospect Jurickson Profar hasn’t played an inning. Season-ending injuries to ex-Tiger Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland have complicated matters considerably.

You know things are bad when the Rangers are looking up at the Houston Astros. While the Astros aren’t ready for prime time they have some exciting players like George Springer. Although only hitting .233 and striking out an AL-leading 112 times, Springer has 19 HR and 50 RBI in his rookie season. Meanwhile, second baseman Jose Altuve is leading the AL in hits (130), batting average (.335), and stolen bases (41). Starters Dallas Keuchel and Jarred Cosart have 9 wins apiece. It might not be this year or next, but things are definitely looking up in Houston.

But Houston is looking a long way up to Oakland. Despite the A’s modest payroll, you know you have an embarrassment of riches when you can afford to send a pitcher of Tommy Milone’s caliber to Sacramento after acquiring Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs. So far it’s been enough to hold off the Angels’ power triumvirate of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton. But the A’s and Angels still have 10 games to play against each other in the second half. The plot has scarcely begun to thicken.

NATIONAL LEAGUE
NL East                      W     L     PCT      GB
Washington Nationals  51   42   .548      ___
Atlanta Braves             52   43   .547      ___
New York Mets            45   50   .474      7.0
Miami Marlins             44   50   .468      7.5
Philadelphia Phillies    42   53   .442      10.0

This is exactly how I envisioned the NL East. The Nats followed by the Braves, Mets, Marlins and Phillies. O.K., the Nats and Braves are tied for first, but the Nats have first place by a single percentage point. But I don’t like the Nats’ odds. Washington is 3-7 against the Braves this season with 9 more games to play.

I made a point of stating the Mets would be “the most pleasant surprise of MLB,” adding that they wouldn’t “reach the post-season, but they will make a run for it in the NL East.” The Mets have now begun to do this. They just swept the Marlins to climb into third and have won 8 of their last 10 games.

For much of the season, the NL East was a three-team race between Washington, Atlanta, and Miami. As recently as June 8, there was a three way tie for first place. However, the Marlins have gone 11-20 since and are now into fourth place. The Marlins do not play well away from Miami and they miss their ace Jose Fernandez, who was lost to Tommy John surgery. Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton is struggling. Although he has 21 HR and will be playing in the All-Star Game, Stanton has batted .135 (5 for 37) with only 2 RBI and has struck out 13 times in his past 10 games.

As for the Phillies, while second baseman Chase Utley is having a resurgent year they are a shadow of the team that won five straight NL East titles.

NL Central               W    L     PCT      GB
Milwaukee Brewers   53   43   .552      ___
St. Louis Cardinals    52   44   .542      1.0
Cincinnati Reds         51   44   .537      1.5
Pittsburgh Pirates      49   46   .516      3.5
Chicago Cubs            40   54   .426      12.0

Not only did I think the Brewers would finish dead last in the NL Central, I thought manager Ron Roenicke would be out of a job. The Brewers have led the division for nearly the entire season. At the end of June, the Brewers had a 6½ game lead over the Cardinals. But the Brewers have lost 10 of their last 12 games. Over the weekend, the death of Brewers shortstop Jean Segura’s infant son cast a pall over the team. They blew a 6-0 lead late against the Cardinals on Friday night. St. Louis even managed to get into a first place tie with Milwaukee on Saturday before the Brewers salvaged the final game of the series.

Milwaukee’s setback has also helped the Reds and Pirates get back into the race after slow starts. The Cardinals will have a challenge staying in contention with catcher Yadier Molina injured. The platoon of Tony Cruz and journeyman George Kottaras simply won’t make up for Molina’s absence. Then again the Reds have got back into the swing of things despite losing the right side of their infield in Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. The Pirates have proved that last year’s winning season wasn’t a fluke.

Then there are the Cubs. To quote George Will, “The Cubs are in their 106th year of their rebuilding effort.” Well, make it 106 years and counting. The Cubs gave up on this season when they dealt their two top starting pitchers, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, to Oakland.

NL West                     W    L     PCT      GB 
Los Angeles Dodgers  54   43   .557      ___
San Francisco Giants   52   43   .547      1.0
San Diego Padres        41   54   .432      12.0
Colorado Rockies        40   55   .421      13.0
Arizona D’Backs          40   56   .417      13.5

The Giants started out strong, winning two out of every three games over the first two months of the season. On June 8, the Giants were 42-21 with a 9½ game lead over the Dodgers. Since then they’ve gone 10-22 while the Dodgers have gone 21-12 over the same period. While not as spectacular as Dodgers’ 42-8 run in 2013, it was enough to get them into first place.

The Giants key offensive player isn’t Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, or even Hunter Pence. As with last year, the Giants aren’t the same without Angel Pagan at the top of their order. The other key for the Giants in the second half is Tim Lincecum. After two disappointing campaigns in 2012 and 2013, The Freak has only surrendered one run in his past 301/3 innings. This good fortune began after Lincecum threw his second career no-hitter against the Padres.

To give you an idea of how bad the Padres are, they haven’t been above .500 since Opening Day. The Rockies, on the other hand, got off to a good start. On May 7, they were 22-14 and tied for first with the Giants. They’ve gone 18-41 since then and it appears Troy Tulowitzki is on the trading block.

I picked the Arizona Diamondbacks to win the World Series. Well, so much for that prediction. The D’Backs own the worst record in the NL. If Kirk Gibson isn’t fired before the end of the season, he will surely be gone at the end of it. The hiring of soon to be Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa as Chief Baseball Officer is putting heat on both Gibson and D’Backs GM Kevin Towers. Since winning the NL West in 2011 the D’Backs have been underachieving and something will have to give.

Here’s a final thought for the All-Star Game. I believe Derek Jeter, who will be retiring at season’s end, will win the All-Star Game MVP just for showing up.

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About the Author
Aaron Goldstein writes from Boston, Massachusetts.