Sunday, June 30, 2013

Interesting First Half Storylines

Most teams have surpassed their 81st game by now, which is the halfway point of the baseball season.  Pretty soon it will be the All-Star Break, and from then on the summer goes by super fast, as we all know.  Here are the top 10 first half stories I will be keeping an eye on the rest of the year.

1.  Pittsburgh Pirates - for real this time?
The Pirates have stormed out of the gate the last two seasons, only to fall to a combined 30+ games below .500 after the trade deadline.  On this day, they own the best record in all of baseball at 50-30, and are the first team to reach 50 wins this season.  The NL Central has three of the top 5 teams in the game right now, so despite their great record they are still only one up in the division.  Most amazingly, they're doing it with a lot of solid contributions, but no one star leading the way.  Can Mark Melancon and Jason Grilled Cheese keep it up?  Will they finally break the longest consecutive losing season streak in all of professional sports?  Will fans still be at PNC in September after football starts?

2.  Josh Hamilton is latest Angels albatross contract
Josh Hamilton has a meager .221 average, .665 OPS, and 21 RBI in the first year of his 5 year/$125 million contract with the Angels.  The Angels have already made the mistake of giving long-term deals, or taking on the big contracts, of several players into their 30s the past few seasons, including CJ Wilson, Vernon Wells, Albert Pujols, and the aforementioned Hamilton.  This certainly isn't a trend confined to the Angels, but it is always more prevalent with big payroll teams with lots of stars on paper.  It is absolutely ridiculous that the free agent system basically rewards big money for past production to players at or past their peak.  Can the Angels get it together and put together a 2nd half like they did last year, and what will this team be like in a couple years?  After all, there can only be one DH in the lineup per game.

3.  Race for Triple Crown in AL
Miguel Cabrera is having yet another superhuman season with a .373/25/82 line, and Chris Davis leads the league in homeruns with 30.  Davis had come on the last year to become a legit force in the AL and is the first players with 30 HRs before the end of June since Barry Bonds in 2001.  Can Davis hit 60?  Can Cabrera repeat as Triple Crown or will Davis catch him?

4.  Man-Bear-Puig
22-year old Cuban defector Yasiel Puig has managed to become the star player and talk of the town in Los Angeles, a city already filled with both.  Since being called up on June 3rd, he has set a Dodgers rookie record for hits in a month with 44, and he hasn't even played the entire month.  Puig trails only Joe DiMaggio's 48 in 1939 for the all-time record.  It's completely within the realm of possibility with the way he's been playing to bang out 5 more hits today.  He is hitting a ridiculous .417 with an OPS of over 1.000.  It seems like every year there is a rookie or two that bursts onto the scene and energizes a club, and Puig is certainly in that category this year.  Can he keep it up, and is he worthy of an All-Star selection?  Note: I just checked the Dodgers box score from today, and Puig did in fact notch 4 hits to tie the record, and raise his average to .437.  Unbelievable.

5.  Jean Segura a bright spot in dismal Brewers season
The only thing I don't like about Yasiel Puig's rise to stardom is that he has taken the attention off of Brewers SS Jean Segura, who has been doing it all year.  He's 3rd in hitting, 2nd in steals, makes highlight reel defensive plays nearly every night, and leads shortstops in many categories.  He has a very realistic chance of being the Brewers lone all-star representative.  Can he also win the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove in the National League?

6.  OK Blue Jays
For no particular reason, I can never help but root for all things Canada.  In fact, if it weren't for the high cost of living and the recent economic troubles, I'd probably have been living in Toronto for awhile now.  So I was super excited with the flurry of moves they made in the offseason.  It seemed to coincide perfectly with the Red Sox identity issues and the Yankees roster being a living Old Timers' game for them to make a run.  It didn't start off good, but they stormed back recently to win 11 in a row and get right back into the race.  Clearly the roster revitalization and the 1990s retro uniforms coming back has residents of Canada and myself excited about Blue Jays baseball again.  Can they win the AL East?

7.  Matt Kemp and the Dodgers are garbage, I called it
I like to see teams with a lot of big names and large contracts struggle just like everybody else, it's the American way.  Excluding Puig, the Dodgers just have a lot of guys that are too old and/or are making way more money than they deserve.  Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are way past their prime.  Andre Ethier is like 32 now and can't hit lefthanded pitching.  Hanley Ramirez is a punk.  And don't even get me started on Matt Kemp, I just think he's absolute garbage, has there ever been a contract so big based on potential with little production, other than maybe JD Drew?  The man has had 1 1/2 good seasons and people forget that when Torre was managing, he was platooning and hitting 7th.  And now they're going to give Clayton Kershaw 7 years and $200 million, or in other words, nearly $1 million per start.  I love Greinke, but you throw his antics into the mix and you've got a good old fashioned soap opera brewing in the City of Angels.  How will this all unfold and will any of these players play out their contracts with the Dodgers?

8.  Royals going for broke?
Kansas City put it all on the table this offseason, trading one of the top prospects in baseball and a pitcher with great potential (Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi) for James Shields and Wade Davis this offseason.  The AL Central is one of the worst divisions in baseball and is very attainable.  Will they make more trades at the deadline since they've already committed so much to win now, or will they stick with their young hitters?

9.  Trade Deadline
Speaking of trades, who is most likely to move at the break?  I could easily see the Brewers trading a lot or players, I would not be at all surprised if Gallardo and K-Rod are traded, and Aramis Ramirez if he stays healthy, possibly even Weeks too.  I've got to believe Justin Morneau and The Willinghammer are gone from the Twins.  Somebody will probably will want The Big Donkey because nearly all of his hits are homeruns these days.  Alfonso Soriano's name always comes up, and his contract is actually finally, sort of, nearly over so maybe it makes sense this year.  And no doubt the Marlins shed whatever payroll is left.  The problem is with the 10 playoff teams, not a lot of sellers.

10.  Is Erik going on our Kansas City trip?
As always, game-time decision.  I've already paid for the hotel, so screw it I'm going.  Those ribs aren't going to eat themselves.

Brewers 32-47, -17.5 (4 @ Nationals, 3 v. Mets)
Reds 46-36, -5.0
(4 v. Giants, 3 v. Mariners)
Twins 36-42, -6.0 (4 v. Yankees, 3 @ Blue Jays)

Erik - 8 (+12 worked)

Peter - 20

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