AL MVP Candidates Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis
Now that the All Star Game is in the books the season turns to the second half. The trading deadline is fastly approaching and the pennant races are heating up. Many teams are in the hunt right now, but the serious contenders will start pulling away in the next couple of months. Here's a few things to look for.
With the second wild card, many more teams think they are in the hunt and that makes them reluctant to make deals. Some teams are ready to commit to selling, like the Chicago teams. The White Sox already traded reliever Matt Thornton to the Red Sox and could put Armando Rios, Jake Peavy, and others on the market. The Cubs traded away pitcher Scott Feldman and are looking to move Matt Garza, Kevin Gregg, Nate Schierholtz, and possibly Alfonso Soriano if they can move that contract. The Brewers could trade away Yovani Gallardo and the Astros are shopping Bud Norris.
There are a few other struggling teams that could be sellers, but there are some teams on the fence. The Phillies are the most intriguing team. They sit at 48-48, an even .500. They have an aging team, but there is still some major talent that could help some teams. Phillies management seems to think they still have a chance to contend, so they might hold on to what they have. However, they could pick up some prospects if they put Chase Utley or Cliff Lee on the market. Lee would be the best pitcher on the market, but carries a hefty contract. He is owed $25 million a year for the next two years. Still, Lee is a true ace and could be a difference maker for any team that acquires him. He pitched very well when joining the Phillies in 2009 and the Rangers in 2010 in their postseason runs.
It will be interesting to see what John Mozeliak does at the trading deadline. He has the prospects to deal, but I don't expect him to make a major deal unless it's for a shortstop. There isn't much on the market right now for a shortstop. The Indians will likely hold on to Asdrubal Cabrera, since they are contending this year. Cabrera would be a major upgrade, but Cleveland's asking price last fall for Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn was unreasonable. I think the most likely trade would be low key, like a reliever or a bat of the bench.
Mariano's Last Waltz
Strangely, Mariano Rivera was chosen to pitch in the eighth inning in a set up role in the All Star Game, a role he hasn't pitched in since 1996. At age 43, Rivera will retire at the season's end. The all time saves leaders has had a nice comeback season after tearing his Achilles heel in Kansas City last year. The Yankees have been devastated with injuries this year and their core players are aging. Still, they have a respectable 51-44 record. That is good for fourth in the AL East, a very competitive division this year. It remains to be seen if Rivera's Yankees rally to make the postseason this year or if they will miss the playoffs for only the second time since 1995. The Red Sox, Orioles, and Rays will have a lot to say about that.
Cuban defector Yasiel Puig has turned around the Dodgers season. The Dodgers struggled out the gate and languished in last place in mid-May. With Puig in the lineup, the Dodgers have a 23-15 record. They have evened their record to 47-47, but are only 2.5 games back of the Diamondbacks for first place in a weak NL West. The Padres and Rockies have fallen off, and the defending champion Giants have slumped badly and have many key injuries. The Dodgers are in the thick of the mix again and calls for firing manager Don Mattingly have disappeared in the last month. Puig has played in only 38 games, but has been the Dodgers best hitter since being called up. Puig is batting .391 with a .422 OBP, .616 slugging pct., 8 home runs, 19 RBI's, and 5 steals. He is a dynamic player who can do a lot of things.
Besides Adrian Gonzalez, the Dodgers big stars have been slumping or injured much of the season. Carl Crawford missed some time, and Hanley Ramirez has just recently got healthy. Matt Kemp's shoulder has been ailing him this year and has hampered his production. Andre Ethier has been a big disappointment this year and giving him a 5 year, $85 million dollar extension last year looks like a huge mistake. Still, there's plenty of talent on this team and they have a strong rotation. Clayton Kershaw is one of baseball's best pitchers, and Zack Greinke, Hyun-ji Ryu, and newcomer Ricky Nolasco is a formidable rotation. The Dodgers have the highest payroll in the league and ownership expects to win.
The AL MVP Race
Miguel Cabrera might end up having an even better season than last year, but not win the Triple Crown. Cabrera has 30 home runs and 95 RBI's at the break, but is competing with Chris Davis, who has 37 home runs and 93 RBI's. Davis is having a breakout season, already at a career high in home runs. Davis was up and down with the Rangers, but has blossomed since being traded to the Orioles two years ago. I would say Cabrera's chances of winning a second straight MVP is good, but Davis could give him a run. Mike Trout, Manny Machado, and Robinson Cano are also having standout seasons.
The Biogenesis Rulings
There will be some controversy coming when baseball announces suspensions for the Biogenesis PED scandal. Reportedly, the suspensions will be for next season and the Players Association will most certainly challenge them. However, the Players Association says it doesn't want to protect PED users. It is rumored the suspensions could be up to 100 games. Up to 20 players could be suspended, including Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, and Bartolo Colon.
The NL Central Race
It's very possible that the NL Central will have 3 playoff teams this year. The Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds have 3 of the 4 best records in the National League. The Cardinals have the NL's best record at 57-36. The Pirates are only a game behind at 56-37. The Reds sit at third at 53-42 and at 5 games back. While the Reds are in third place in the division, they have the lead for the second wild card spot. In fact, they have a 5 game lead over the Nationals. There is still plenty of baseball to be played, but there's a good chance of a NL Central showdown in the wild card game this year.
The Cardinals have been the class of this division for years and have a stacked team with very few weaknesses. There is some concern about shortstop and relief pitching. Another concern is if Miller and Lynn will hold up for the stretch run. I think the Cardinals should win the division, but they will have to earn it. I don't think the Pirates are going to fade down the stretch again this season. They are a much deeper team this year, and I think Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and company would like to redeem themselves this year. The Reds are also a very strong team and would be in first place in the NL West. They have a good offense led by OBP machines Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto, and have a solid pitching staff. It will be a interesting race.
A's/Rangers Redux in the AL West
The Angels were the preseason favorite to win the division after signing Josh Hamilton away from the Rangers. Instead, they have been a major flop, sitting five games below .500 at 44-49. The Angels were expected to have a Murderer's Row type of offense with Hamilton, Albert Pujols, and Mike Trout leading the way. Trout has had a All Star season to follow up his great rookie season, but the other two-thirds of the trio have disappointed. Pujols has been dealing with several injuries and is only batting .249 for the season. He still hits for power, but not at the level he used to, and isn't as patient of a hitter as he used to be. Even worse, Hamilton is only batting .224 for the season and it's looking like the Rangers made the right move not re-signing him. The Angels still are sixth in runs in the American League, so that's not all the problem. Their pitching has been a culprit this season. Ace Jered Weaver missed some time to injury and some other pitchers have pitched poorly. They rank 11th in the AL in ERA, which is the biggest reason for their underachievement.
Last year, the Rangers led the AL West all season until the final series with the Athletics. The A's tied the Rangers in Game 161 and won the division on the season's final game. Hamilton had a brutal series and missed a fly ball in the outfield. The A's came from nowhere last year, but they are proving they are not a fluke this year. They currently have a two game advantage on Texas. It looks like this year race will come down to the A's and Rangers again this year, unless the Angels can make a miracle run.
Baseball's Young Arms
There has been a lot of young, talented arms come up in the last few years. The Cardinals seem to have an endless supply of young hard-throwers. Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller have cemented their spots in their rotation. Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez look to have bright futures with the Cardinals. Elsewhere, there is Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler with the Mets, Patrick Corbin with the D-Backs, Jose Fernandez with the Marlins, and Stephen Strasburg with the Nats. The Diamondbacks also have several other top pitching prospects. Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner have already accomplished a lot, but are only age 25 and 23. That's just in the National League. The White Sox Chris Sale, the Rays Matt Moore and Alex Cobb, and the Rangers Yu Darvish have emerged on the scene the last couple of years. The Rangers, Athletics, Rays, and Orioles all have younger pitching staffs. There has understandably been a lot of buzz about young phenoms like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Yasiel Puig, and Manny Machado, but there is a bunch of young pitchers to get excited about, too.