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Gary Armida's Blog
The FullCount: AL Second Half StoriesPosted on July 13, 2012 at 07:40 AM.
Major League Baseball played a cruel trick on us yesterday. Traditionally, we only had to endure the Wednesday after the All-Star Game. One night without baseball or any other sport is actually a good cleansing of the sports psyche. It allows for a free night to do other things. But, two nights of no baseball? Well, that’s just downright nasty and uncalled for. Many likely woke up yesterday, checked the schedule and were shocked that there wasn’t at least one game. That left another night of not having any sports to tune into unless you were interested--or more like desperate enough--to watch the USA vs. The Dominican Republic in a hoops “contest”.
But, Baseball is back today with a full slate of games. With two really good pitching matchups for day one, post ASB, fans can see Jordan Zimmermann square off with Josh Johnson and James McDonald face Zack Greinke. The excitement of the second half is more than just the matchups, especially in the American League. The Yankees hold the largest division lead in Baseball with their seven game lead over the Orioles, but given the quality of the entire division, it is reasonable to believe that the Yankees will be challenged by the Rays and even the Red Sox. If the Blue Jays can get their pitching healthy, even they can contend. The AL Central has the White Sox leading by three games, but the Tigers seem to be coming together after a two month malaise. The West is a two team race with the Rangers and Angels, although both seem destined for the playoffs. With the two trade deadlines on the horizon and yet to be written chapters of the 2012 Major League Baseball season novel, the second half in the American League promises to exciting.
Pitch One: Will the Yankees cruise to another AL East title?
The Yankees’ offense is powerful as it leads the league in homeruns. It also leads the league in walk percentage, demonstrating just how difficult of a lineup they truly are. They’ve found a way to utilize the designated hitter spot to keep their aging veterans in the lineup, but giving them some rest in the process. The bullpen has been solid and the rotation went through a stretch where each pitcher was firing a gem. But, the second half will be about two things: health and the rotation. They’ve dealt with injuries, but they haven’t lost any of their key offensive players for long. Joe Girardi will have to keep his DH rotation in order to keep Rodriguez, Jeter, and Teixeira fresh. The pitching staff is the real concern. CC Sabathia will be back next week and should be ready to resume his role as elite innings eater. Phil Hughes has pitched well enough recently. Hiroki Kuroda has been more good than bad. Ivan Nova wins and actually has good peripheral statistics this season. Freddy Garcia could give league average results, but their rotation is far from a lock. Hughes and Nova are combustable and Kuroda is a veteran who has, at times, illustrated that he is a better for the National League. These issues will make the AL East race much closer.
That leaves an opening for the rest of the division. The Orioles have already begun to fade. They are the only team with a negative run differential in their division and most of their rotation is now in triple-A. They shouldn’t fade to the point where they become irrelevant, but even a .500 season would be a huge leap forward.
The Blue Jays finished the first half with a 43-43 record. Their rotation is decimated and Ricky Romero evidently loves to give up five or more runs per start. Their offense can compete with any team and if they can get some pitching help, the second Wild Card is well within reach. Considering that the AL Central doesn’t project to have more than one 90 win team and the two AL West teams will be the only two on the positive side of .500 in their division, the Blue Jays have a legitimate chance. They won’t compete for the division, but they will be in the playoff hunt. Ricky Romero and the return of Brandon Morrow are paramount for their ultimate success.
The Red Sox have become a punchline this season. After their terrible finish in 2011 and their even worse off season, many have taken to just beating up on the Sox. But, that would be a mistake. Despite all of the drama, all of the injuries, and all of the nights surrounding Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz with a triple-A lineup, the Red Sox are tied with the Blue Jays with a 43-43 record. Jacoby Ellsbury will be back tonight. Carl Crawford re-started his rehab and should be back in a week or so. Jon Lester pitched terribly in the first half, but his track record gives real hope for better. Adrian Gonzalez is an elite hitter who hasn’t put it together because of a slump and then the need to have to play left field before the Red Sox traded Kevin Youkilis. There is just too much talent on the roster and too much talent coming back. And, the Red Sox can always add some payroll. Bobby Valentine thrives in this situation, which should propel the Red Sox into the playoff mix. They likely fall short, but the Red Sox are going to be a dangerous team.
That leaves the Rays as the one team in the division without a big offense. Without Evan Longoria, the Rays have struggled to score runs, ranking ahead of only the Twins, Orioles, Royals, Mariners, and A’s. Despite their inability to score, the Rays’ rotation makes them a threat to win the AL East even though they are 7.5 games out. They won’t add a big salary, but the Rays have a knack of getting hot with their elite pitching staff and scoring just enough. Of all the non-division leaders, the Rays are the biggest threat to win a division because of the strength of their team.
So, how will it turn out? Before the season, I picked the Rays to win the division with the Yankees as the Wild Card. I’ll stick with it even though the opposite could and likely does happen. The Rays pitching staff is too strong and, most importantly, too deep.
Pitch Two: Do the Tigers have a run in them?
Yes, they most certainly do. The offense ranks fourth in the league in wOBA at .324. Aside from Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Austin Jackson, every offensive player has been a disappointment. Brennan Boesch was every analyst’s favorite player for a breakout, but he is batting just .243/.277/.343. But, their offense has survived mainly because of their two elite power hitters. It is the rotation that will decide whether or not the Tigers can make up 3.5 games on the White Sox. Justin Verlander is still the best in the game, but Max Scherzer looks to be due for some better luck. His 4.72 ERA is a career worst for the 27 year old, but his 3.72 FIP and his league leading 11.2 K/9 indicate a much better pitcher. Everything else is around his career average so Scherzer looks to be in line for a much better second half.
The Tigers will also hope that Doug Fister can be somewhere in between the pitcher he was last season and the one he is now. Another victim of poor defense and two stints on the disabled list, Fister should also have a better second half. With a solid bullpen, the Tigers should be able to win the division even with Rick Porcello not taking a step forward in his development and the possibility of a Drew Smyly rookie fade as the season moves along. The defense has been a concern all season long, but some expected improvements by some offensive players like Jhonny Peralta and the pitching staff, the Tigers should be able to slug their way past the White Sox.
Pitch Three: Why will the White Sox Fade?
The Chicago staff is led by Chris Sale in his first full season as a starter. He’s already at 102 innings. The world is obsessed with Stephen Strasburg’s inning count, but Sale’s may be more important in that the White Sox are incredibly thin. Jake Peavy is pitching well, but he has already pitched more innings (120) than he has since 2008. Omar Quintanilla has been spectacular in 8 starts, but the White Sox face a very real possibility of having their top three starters regress in a big way or not be able to pitch at all. John Danks isn’t even close to coming back and Gavin Floyd as settled in to being a league average pitcher. With a thin bullpen, a rotation that has overachieved, and an offense that received some incredible production from AJ Pierzynski and Alejandro De Aza, they aren’t likely to win even 88 games.
Pitch Four: Is Mike Trout the AL MVP?
He’s definitely close in a race with Josh Hamilton, Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera, and possibly Jose Bautista. Even if Trout doesn’t win the award, he is having a historic season. He is hitting .341/.397/.562 with 15 doubles, 3 triples, 12 homeruns, 40 RBI, and 26 stolen bases. He’s on pace to hit over 25 homeruns, steal over 50 bases, and post an OPS close to .950. He’s only 20 years old. The one slight caution with Trout is his lack of plate discipline. He’s only walked 25 times and has struck out 52 times. He has, however, had a better walk rate in the Minor Leagues. His .392 BABIP is unsustainable so his batting average should fall. If he does maintain his current production, he will get heavy consideration for the award considering the Angels are a Major League best 42-24 since his call up.
Pitch Five: So, how does it all shake out?
The division winners: Rays, Tigers, Rangers
Wild Cards: Yankees, Angels
AL Champion: I predicted a Rays-Reds World Series before the season so I’ll stick with them here. But, the Rangers could just as easily make their third straight World Series appearance.
BORN: April 17, 1975 (38)
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