July 4th weekend marks the halfway point in the season and I wanted to look at the top stories of the first half and going into the second half and reveal my first half awards.
- The division races are not close. The American League East is the only division that is separated by less than 5 games. Two division already see the leaders with at least an 8 game lead. I believe the second half will see two more races become close like the A.L East. I would be surprised if the American League East did not come down to the final week of the season because every team in the division has a serious flaw. Right now the Nationals have a 5.5 game lead in the National League East but both the Nationals and the Mets have been streaky this season. The Mets have a dynamic pitching rotation that has not quite clicked this season and are due to make a run. The other division that I think is still up for grabs is the American League Central. The Indians used a 14 game win streak to propel themselves into first place but Detroit and Kansas City are still in striking range to make a push at the division.
- Clayton Kershaw’s health. This week Kershaw went on the disabled list with a herniated disk in his back and will likely be out until after the all-star break. Kershaw may be the most valuable player in all of baseball. When he pitches, the Dodgers are 14-2. When he is sitting in the dugout, the Dodgers are 33-35. I do not like their rotation besides Kershaw. Kenta Maeda has had a strong first half with a 2.82 ERA but the more games he pitches, the more scouting reports teams can build against him. In my opinion, their rotation is full of 4 and 5 starters. If Kershaw is not healthy in the second half, the Dodgers could easily find themselves out of the wild card race.
- The trade deadline will be interesting. This year there are so many teams that are already out of contention. That means that there could be more teams that are willing to trade some of their trade chips than most seasons. There will not be any aces on the trade deadline but guys like Rich Hill, Julio Tehran, and Sunny Gray could help some rotations if teams are willing to part with prospects. A lot of chips will depend on the New York Yankees and if they decide to become sellers at the deadline. Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman could help bolster some bullpens like the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers. Some hitters that could be dealt are Melvin Upton, Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy, and Carlos Beltran. I also think the Minnesota Twins would be smart to listen to offers on Eduardo Nunez. Nunez is having a huge season and is hitting .322/.348/.491 with 11 home runs and 18 stolen bases. The Twins are having a disappointing season and should be trying to restock for the next few seasons.
- 1st half Award Winners:
A.L. ROY: Nomar Mazara: .287/.337/.433
A.L. CY: Chris Sale: 14-2, 2.93 ERA, 8.9 K/9
A.L. MVP: Jose Altuve:
N.L. ROY: Corey Seager: .303/.362/.536
N.L CY: Clayton Kershaw: 11-2, 1.79 ERA, 10.8 K/9
N.L MVP: Kris Bryant: .277/.367/.564, 23 HR
In my pre-season picks, I took the Giants over the Rangers in the World Series. I feel pretty confident about that pick at the midway point in the season.
In today’s game, there are so many young players who have entered the big leagues in the last five years and have seen immediate success. Players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, and Noah Syndergaard have all seemed to dominate since day 1. But for some players, it just isn’t that easy. For some guys, it takes time for them to get accustomed to the everyday grind and either being pitched to completely different than in the minors or having to face an entire lineup without easy outs. The game is not as easy as some of these youngsters have made it look. Sometimes, patience is needed.
Sometimes teams bring up young players to fill a hole in a team to try and make a potential contender a complete team. That was the case with Detroit Tiger’s Nick Castellanos. Castellanos’s first full big league season was in 2014 when Detroit made it to the ALDS before getting swept to the Baltimore Orioles. Castellanos got a lot of playing time but struggled as he played in 148 games but only produced a stat line of .259/.306/.394. Rookie seasons are a grind for a lot of new players as learning to play a 162 game season is an adjustment. Like many, I thought Castellanos was going to have a huge 2015 campaign. His stat line looked something like this in 154 games .255/.303/.419. There was not a huge improvement for Castellanos in his sophomore season. He won the job again this season and the patience has shown in the results. He is having a breakout season for the Tigers as his stat line is impressive .378/.405/.640. He is currently leading the American League in batting average and has become a force in the Tiger’s offense.
Jackie Bradley is another example of a team being patient with a young player. Bradley Jr. broke into the big leagues in 2013 as he made the Opening Day roster. I am not sure if he was quite ready for that though as quickly major league pitching found the flaw in his swing. He was unable to hit the down and in pitch and did not show good plate discipline. The Red Sox were patient as they stuck with him in 2014, playing him in 127 games and giving him 423 plate appearances but he only produced a stat line of .198/.265/.266. It appeared as if the Red Sox were moving on with Jackie Bradley Jr. as they signed Rusney Castillo to a huge deal. The best thing for Bradley Jr. may have been that the Red Sox were awful in 2015 and it gave Bradley Jr. another opportunity. Late last year, he flourished. In the month of August, he produced a .354/.429/.734 stat line, proving he could indeed hit big league pitching. He has taken off this year hitting .322 and is currently riding a 17 game hit streak. The patience that the Red Sox have shown with Bradley Jr. over the past couple of seasons is finally paying off.
Castellanos and Bradley Jr. are examples that not every young player is going to have an immediate impact in the big leagues. They join the list of players like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer who played through growing pains in the big leagues. The Royals were loyal and patient to these players and both of them were at the core of the Royals 2015 World Series title. It is only May, but both Castellanos and Bradley Jr. look like they have made the necessary adjustments to be solid everyday players in the big leagues. Sometimes, a little patience is all that is needed.
One of the big highlights of baseball from yesterday was the collapse of the Detroit Bullpen. It is well documented that the Detroit bullpen has been a weakness over the past 5 seasons, since Jose Valverde saved 49 games 2011. Yesterday, in the midst of a 5 game losing streak, Justin Verlander delivered an ace-like performance. He shut out one of the best offenses in all of baseball going 7 innings and striking out nine. He looked like the Justin Verlander of old as he left with a 2-0 lead. Unfortunately for Detroit, they had to use their bullpen. They needed 3 pitchers just to get through the 8th inning. It looked something like this:
Justin Wilson: 0 outs recorded, 2 hits, 2 ER
Mark Lowe: 2 outs recorded: 3 hits, 1 BB, HB, 5 ER
Kyle Ryan: 1 out recorded, 1 hit
This is not a winning formula for any team and what made matters worse is their closer, Francisco Rodriguez was brought in for mop-up duty and gave up 3 hits and 1 run to raise his ERA to 5.06. This is a game that Detroit desperately needed to win and failed miserably.
For a team that has been very competitive for the past 5 or 6 years, it is unbelievable that they refuse to fix a problem that has held them back from being an elite team. They spent millions of dollars on their starting rotation this past off-season signing Jordan Zimmerman. They spent millions of dollars on their offense this past off-season signing Justin Upton. They tried to sign an old closer just like they did with Joe Nathan and the results have not been pretty. What they continue to forget is that the last 6 outs are extremely important and they refuse to change their method.
- Jake Arrieta showed that he is indeed human as he only lasted 5 innings and gave up 2 runs. If that is Arrieta on a bad day, that is still pretty good. Arrieta has not taken a loss since last July.
- The Cubs were able to complete the sweep of the Washington Nationals in 13 innings as Javier Baez hit the game winner. The Cubs became the 10th team in MLB history to win 24 of their first 30 games and the first team since the 84’ Tigers. The Cubs will be fun to watch this season.
- David Ortiz continued his dominance against the Yankees last night as he hit his 51st and 52nd career home run against the Yankees.
- Bryce Harper played thirteen innings on Sunday and did not record 1 official AB. It was evident that Joe Maddon was not going to let Harper beat the Cubs. Sunday he walked 6 times and was hit by a pitch. For the entire series, Harper walked 13 times. Maddon may have revealed a secret to beating the Nationals.