Now that the post-All-Star-break portion of the season is under way, it’s time to take into consideration what the second half of the season will bring us. Here are the ten most intriguing stories for you to keep an eye on the rest of the way.
#10. The Miami Marlins: An Exercise in Futility – just one year after having the 7th highest payroll in baseball ($118 million), to go along with their new $634 million stadium, the Marlins have unloaded nearly all of their talent, and are sitting at the bottom of the National League with a .365 win pct. But, that’s not even the worst of it. This team is historically bad at scoring runs. They’re on pace right now to score 516 runs this season. That would be the worst total in more than 30 years (the ’72 Padres scored just 488 in their 4th year of existence).
#9. The NL West: The Not-So-Wild West – there’s no doubt that it is the tightest division in baseball right now. But, the Diamondbacks are currently leading the division, and are only 4 games over .500, possessing just the 13th best record in baseball. The Dodgers are only a 1/2 game out of first place, despite their negative run-differential. All this in spite of the fact that the Dodgers & D’backs have played a couple of the easiest schedules in all of the National League. If the Dodgers were to win the division with a negative run differential, it would be just the 6th time in history that has ever happened – but, oddly, the 3rd time it’s happened in the last 9 years . . . every time in this same division. Weird.
#8. The Cleveland Indians: Not My Pick – if you remember, I picked the Indians to finish a distant 3rd in this division before the season started. I predicted a 79-83 record. But, instead of 4 games under .500, they’re on their way to a season 10 games over .500. And, in spite of how little I hear about them, I believe they have to be the surprise team of the American League. They’re only 1.5 games behind Detroit for the division lead, and just 3.5 games out of the Wild Card. I love the fact that they’re being led by a 26-year-old second baseman that few have ever heard of (Kipnis leads the team in avg., runs, HR, RBI and SB), along with a bunch of cast-offs from the free-agent market (Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Michael Bourne), and a coach who was unceremoniously dumped 2 years ago because of some bad apples in the clubhouse who were removed just a year later (Francona).
#7. Alex Rodriguez: To Play or Not to Play – it seems as though there’s something new in the A-Rod saga almost every week. One week, he’s on a list of potential suspension candidates for PED’s, the next week he’s getting cursed by his GM via Twitter, and this week it appears he has a “strained quad.” Do you think he’ll ever play another game in a Yankees uniform? That’s a tough call. The current season is pretty much a wash (since he could very well be slapped with a 100-game suspension as soon as he is declared ready to return by all parties involved), and that likely will extend into the 2014 season as well. But, the problem for New York is that he’s signed through 2017 for another $86 million after this season is over . . . 2017!!!
#6. Mariano Rivera: The Farewell Tour – it’s not often that we get to say goodbye to one of the all-time greats who is still playing at the top of the game. But, after 19 seasons, Rivera will retire as the greatest closer in the history of baseball. And, consider this: with just 11 more saves, he will eclipse 650 for his career (almost 50 more than 2nd all-time, and over 170 more than 3rd!); he will easily finish with the best ERA+ in the history of the game (206, right now – Pedro Martinez is 2nd at 154!); and if he were to manage to go on a nice streak of innings, he could finish with the 2nd best WHIP in baseball history (he’s already 3rd all-time at 1.0048, behind Ed Walsh’s 0.9996); and, unless he allows something like 10 more earned runs in his last 25+ innings, he will finish with the 13th best ERA in history (2.20 right now).
#5. Harvey & Kershaw: A Dynamic Duo – these two pitchers are putting up some ridiculously good numbers. Both are on their way to well over 200 K’s, and ERA’s well below 2.50. But, what might be historic is the rate at which they are (or aren’t) allowing walks and hits. The top 50 all-time season WHIP’s list is littered with guys from the dead-ball era (pre-1900 up to about 1920), and plenty of guys from the mid-1960’s (another pitcher-dominant era). In fact, since the lowering of the mound in 1969, only 4 of the top 35 WHIP’s in a single season have been achieved: Greg Maddux (’94 and ’95), Pedro Martinez (’00 – the all-time record of 0.74), and Roger Nelson (’72). But, right now, Kershaw and Harvey are both on pace to crack that list.
#4. The AL Playoff Race: 4 In, 5 Out – there are currently 9 teams in the American League that I would consider in contention to make the playoffs. In order by record, they are the Red Sox, Rays, A’s, Orioles, Rangers, Tigers, Indians, Yankees and Angels. All of these are within either 3.5 games of their division, or within 3.5 games of the Wild Card, with one lone exception – the Angels. But, LA has won 18 of its last 30, a trend that could push them to 86 wins or more by season’s end. Every division is tight, and there are plenty of trades available for these teams to be making in order to improve themselves. It’ll be great to watch!
3. Chris Davis: Legit Power – could we be seeing the first legit approach to 60+ home runs since the PED-era? Ryan Howard hit 58 in 2006, which is the closest anyone has gotten in what we think to be a legitimate way in a long time. Right now, Davis is on pace for 61. I hope he’s able to crack 60, and (possibly more importantly) I hope he’s clean.
2. Miguel Cabrera: Legit . . . Everything – right now, Cabrera is on pace for a season that looks like this: .360 avg., 52 HR, 160 RBI, 1.120 OPS. Those are, quite literally, Ruth-ian numbers. In fact, a combination of stats that good (from a non-PED player) hasn’t been seen since Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown in 1956 (.353, 52 HR, 132 RBI, 1.169 OPS). And, the only others to achieve such lofty numbers across the board like that have names like Ruth, Gherig, and Foxx.
1. The Pittsburgh Pirates: It Ends Now – the team that has the longest streak of losing seasons in baseball (and American sports) history . . . the team that hasn’t made the playoffs in over 20 years . . . the team that has finished in last or next-to-last place in 12 of the last 18 seasons . . . will finally, at long last, have a winning season. And, most likely, the Pirates are headed for the playoffs as well. Though, under the new format, they might only play one game, and be out. But, what a celebration it will be in Pittsburgh sometime in September when they win #82 for the first time since 1992.