With the coming-and-going of the All Star Break, today we being the second half of the season that naturally brings plenty of story-lines along with it–specifically the trade deadline. Let’s recap the first half and its stories that carry over as well:
American League West
The American League West has had an interesting first half of the season. Actually, interesting is the wrong word, dominate is more appropriate. The Oakland Athletics are the best team in baseball with a 59-36 record. Having already added Jeff Samardzija and John Lannan, expect the A’s to add a few pieces to complete this team. The A’s finished the first half having won seven of their last ten but the only team hotter in the American League is just behind Oakland: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels–1.5 back–wrapped up the first half on a five-game winning streak. Ranking first in the bigs in both runs scored and on-base percentage, it’s hard to think the Angels are only in second place. With mortal-lock for AL MVP Mike Trout anchoring this lineup, you almost forget about Albert Pujols and his 20 home runs and 64 runs batted in. Sitting eight games behind the A’s are the Seattle Mariners. At 51-44, the Mariners hold the second wild card by a game-and-a-half over the Blue Jays. Many people weren’t sure if the addition of Robinson Cano was enough to make this Mariner team a playoff contender. But with King Felix pitching his best season ever, Seattle is giving the fans some entertainment until the Seahawks start defending their title. Ranking in the bottom-five in both batting average and on-base percentage, expect the Mariners to try to add a bat before the July 31st deadline. The Houston Astros and Texas Rangers sit in fourth and fifth, respectively. The Astros are playing just as everyone expected while no one saw the Rangers dismantlement that occurred about a month ago. Even with Jose Altuve and George Springer playing fantasic baseball, the Astros won’t be making moves out of the basement just yet. The Rangers are the coldest team in baseball and now need to think about either selling at the deadline or holding onto their assets and trying again next year. The latter did work for the Angels this year and considering Texas ranks in the top half of baseball in runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, that may be the right call.
American League Central
The AL Central has gone pretty much exactly the way everyone thought it would. The Detroit Tigers are in first place by six-and-a-half games and shouldn’t give that lead up as the season goes on. With so many offensive weapons, the only negative thing to say about Detorit is that Justin Verlander hasn’t been Justin Verlander this season.. yet. If the former MVP can turn it on, which he certainly has the ability to do, Detroit may run away with the Central by the start of September. The Kansas City Royals sit in second place only six-and-a-half games behind the Tigers and two-and-a-half behind Seattle for the second wild card. The Royals added right-handed reliever Jason Frazor from the Rangers yesterday and should be looking to fill in some of their missing holes as July 31st approaches. If they can afford it, KC may try to go after a power hitter as Salvador Perez leads the team with 11 home runs and Omar Infante leads the team with 46 RBI. The potential Wiggins-for-Love trade isn’t the only deal the city of Cleveland needs (there’s my opinion Matty D). The Cleveland Indians trail the Roayls by a game and need pitching. The team ranks in the top-ten in most offensive categories but in the bottom-ten in most pitching categories. Cleveland needs to make a move for a solid starter but they’ll need to put together the right package for him. The Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins are both ten-and-a-half back in AL Central with the White Sox having a better winning percentage and thus taking fourth place. Chicago’s season as a team has gone pretty much the way everyone expected it would have but their real story is rookie phenom Jose Abreu. The 27-year-old Cuban first baseman batted .292 with 29 home runs (most in baseball), 73 RBI, and a .342 on-base percentage. The debate coming down the stretch will be who deserve the AL Rookie of the Year award, Abreu or Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka; depending on how Tanaka pitches once he returns from injury that is. For the Twins, starting pitching has been abysmal. Their team leader in ERA is Phil Hughes, 3.92. Expect the White Sox to separate themselves from the Twins, but don’t expect them to move out of fourth.
American League East
The AL East has been interesting this season. The Toronto Blue Jays had a monster lead on the division but much like the Rangers in the west, the Jays went cold and now sit four games behind the Baltimore Orioles. Despite a pitching staff ranked in the bottom half of baseball, the O’s offense has been spectacular, and it has been led by Adam Jones and the resurgent Nelson Cruz. The team will definitely be buyers at the deadline and there rumors that the team could go after anyone from Justin Morneau to Jonathan Papelbon. Toronto’s cold streak into the All Star break began with a trip to the West Coast where they were swept by the A’s in a four-game set and couldn’t recover against the Angels or the Rays, losing two of three in both series. The offense is still statistically ranked amongst the best in baseball and should be back on track after a few days off. Edwin Encarnacion leads Toronto’s power game with 26 homers and a .560 slugging percentage but look for AL Home Run Derby captain Jose Bautista to at least double his 17 home runs. Bautista has a .502 slugging percentage meaning his power is there, the ball just needs to leave the yard. It’s amazing to think the New York Yankees are .500 considering their starting pitching has been gutted from injuries. Their biggest story is the Derek Jeter farewell tour but pitching needs to be addressed. The Yankees were an arm away from having one of the best staffs in baseball before the injuries, so GM Brian Cashman will certainly obtain at least two pitchers before the deadline. New York is one of the frontrunners for David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa’s season hasn’t been exactly where they would have hoped but Price has been their star. With 9 wins, 164 strikeouts, a 3.23 ERA, and 1.07 WHIP, David Price will be the biggest star on the block for the next two weeks. Debatably, Tampa could hold on to Price and try to regroup, but their offensive stars–Evan Longoria, Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, and James Loney–will need to step up to provide Price and the other pitchers some run support. The biggest disappointment of the 2014 season so far has been the title defense from the Boston Red Sox, however they have not given up just yet. Sitting nine-and-a-half games back, Boston will need to put together an impressive winning streak immediately if they don’t won’t to be sellers at the deadline. Outfielder Shane Victorino played well with AAA Pawtucket last night and can hopefully return to Fenway soon. Without Victorino, the Red Sox outfield is very inexperienced and unproductive.
My original AL Champ was the Boston Red Sox but I don’t think they can overcome their deficit in the AL East. I’d like to see the Blue Jays take the division but I don’t think they’ll reach the American League Championship Series. I’m buying into Billy Beane and taking the Oakland Athletics to defeat the Detroit Tigers in six games.
Check out the NL Recap here
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