Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The 2015 MLB Midseason Slant - Speed Demons

Change is good. That is all--I have to say--about that.

For the better part of three months, we have seen a bunch of twists and turns occur in Major League Baseball. We've seen a number of suspensions, another unnecessary chapter in the story of Milton Bradley, the return of A-Rod, a new commissioner, a possible reinstatement of Pete Rose until he ultimately screwed it up for himself again, alleged "hacking" between St. Louis and Houston, more "this will be my final MLB season" announcements, and new implemented rules regarding the pace of the game.

We also got to see a new style of the Home Run Derby on Monday night. Each player was under a four-minute time limit instead of being given 10 "Outs" to work with, and my goodness, that was one of the most exciting things I had ever watched. If you didn't watch it, go find a replay. You won't be sorry.

It seems like just yesterday that the Super Bowl ended and baseball fans everywhere were counting down the days to the report of pitchers and catchers to Spring Training. And now, the day I am posting this, it's the day of the All-Star Game in Cincy. Time flies when you're having fun, doesn't it?

Let's take a look at some of the hits (and misses) that have been going on in Major League Baseball. You can take as long as you want--there's no time limit here.



Eastern Division

Overview: Don't ask me why, but I feel like over the past couple of seasons, the NL East has looked like a super weak link for the past couple of seasons. The race may usually be tight, but its against two teams that have "okay at best" records, and the rest sort of drop off.

Washington Nationals (48-39) – Patience is a virtue, as these guys are far gone from their rotten seasons and now in the cruising lanes of great talent, first place finishes, and pennants. Bryce Harper is a viable candidate for NL MVP this year, and you have Max Scherzer making a decent run for the CY. With good influences, all things will fall into place. It especially helps when you’re the only team in your division without a sub-.500 record away (albeit being AT .500).

New York Mets (47-42) – For a team that has dealt with injury (Hi, David Wright) and who has the lowest team batting average in the National League (third to last in team OBP), you can obviously tell that the pitching staff has been eating their Wheaties with these guys. Their rotation of Bartolo Colon, sophomore Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Jonathon Niese, and Noah Syndergaard (in Dillon Gee’s absence) have been absolutely tight and kept the team in contention. More plate discipline could give them a run at a Wild Card spot in late September.

Atlanta Braves (42-47) – Injuries have not been very kind to this team at all. A lot of games have slipped away from them on the road, and even some of their seasoned vets are looking a bit shaky from the turn of events. The one big guy to look at is Nick Markakis, who has been the most consistent, hard-hitting force on the team. Pitching has been steady, but the bullpen is kind of scary in the bad way. This second half could be rough.

Miami Marlins (38-51) – Everybody hop on the Stanton Express! WOO-WOO. No, but really, if you care to know, the guy to really watch on this team is Dee Gordon (he’s Flash Jr for a reason, gosh dang it) because this bro is absolutely DANGEROUS at the plate and on the bases. I mean, c’mon, Ichiro dropped off—someone has to pick up the pace. Wait, I’m supposed to talk about the team? Oh. The team is middle of the pack in all stats, but they’re so disgustingly inconsistent on all fronts that it becomes hard to watch them at times.

Philadelphia Phillies (29-62) – Imagine that. My hometown team is this year’s basement squad. They kind of deserve it too. Poor management all across the board, and the inability to get disciplined players that aren’t their veterans (even Chase Utley is having a horrible year) has been a real thorn in the team’s side. On pace to lose 115 games this year? Yep. (Phillies fans are already waiting for the Eagles season to start.)

Central Division

Overview: This division never fails to impress. While there might be newer teams making a strong showing, the bottom teams are still making a run to make this a scramble for the entire division. A knock-down, drag-out brawl is always welcome, and this could be a division for the ages.

St. Louis Cardinals (56-33) – Injuries haven’t slowed this team down one bit. With the lowest team ERA in the National League, they’re backed by a starting rotation consisting of Jon Lackey, Michael Wacha [WAKKA WAKKA], Lance Lynn, and Carlos Martinez. The offensive threesome of Jhonny Peralta, Kolten Wong, and Jason Heyward (with a consolation prize always going to Yadi and Holliday) have been providing fireworks that are clearly seen from the archways. As usual, they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with from here on out this season.

Pittsburgh Pirates (53-35) – This team is definitely one for contention. In fact, they have been for a while, but they have more chutzpah than in years’ past. Andrew McCutchen is having yet another amazing year,  and it should also come as no shock that the pitching staff is looking as terrifying as ever, led by the immortal AJ Burnett in his final Major League season. Filled with a slough of veterans and young dudes alike, this is a great formula to take a playoff spot and hold it ransom for some Pirate booty. See what I did there? The injury bug is always one to worry about, but as usual, health is key to keep going into the summer.
[NOTE: They’re currently atop the Wild Card Standings.]

Chicago Cubs (47-40) – While they’re not as green as they once were, there are still a couple of things they need to work on if they want to make a strong run for October. Health and consistency is a huge thing here. Some guys aren’t playing enough, and even though they make good showings, sometimes “hot and cold ball” isn’t the best thing to immerse oneself in. That aside, the starting rotation gets a gold star, with strong pitching from Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, and a gold star for Anthony Rizzo. That kid’s gonna go places. I’d like to see the Cubbies make the playoffs, that’s for sure. They’re due. Actually, they’ve been due since 1908, but that’s beside the point.
[NOTE: They’re currently Team #2 in the Wild Card Standings.]

Cincinnati Reds (39-47) – Outside of the big names on the team (Toddfather, Votto, Bruce, Phillips), there haven’t been very many big showings from the rest of the offense. The backups need a lot of work.  And outside of the starting rotation plus Aroldis Chapman, there’s much left to be desired. It’s rather obvious that the crowd is one of their biggest strengths, as they haven’t been faring well outside of The Great American. At this rate, there might not be a lot of cheering when it comes to playoff baseball. Then again, at least they cheered for something… After all, Todd Frazier won the Home Run Derby Monday night.

Milwaukee Brewers (38-52) – This team can be very sloppy at times. Defensively, there are a lot of holes (almost literally), and the pitching staff isn’t necessarily helping matters very much on that front. The one thing keeping the team afloat is some timely (and often powerful) hitting from guys like—yeah, you guessed it—Ryan Braun. The Brew Crew certainly isn’t what it used to be, and its best that the second half is used for rebuilding purposes, especially on the front of the starting rotation.

Western Division

Overview: This team is pretty much like if "The Heavy" of a mob had a baby with a bunch of ninjas. We have some of the best hitting, pitching, and plate discipline here, but not all teams in this division have the luxury of harnessing all three qualities. We all have that one clumsy ninja in the group. C'mon, Beverly Hills Ninja should have taught you that.

Los Angeles Dodgers (51-39) – Evidently enough, money does buy you happiness…or does it? Clayton Kershaw and clear CY candidate Zack Greinke certainly can. Their patience at the plate is also a key aspect of the team, as they don’t take much crap from opponents, and it ultimately works in their favor. The team appears to be clicking on all cylinders at home, and they’ll certainly be buyers for more workhorses now that the trade deadline is upon us. Don’t expect a slowdown or an early exit for these guys. Slow and steady may win the race, but swift and tactful also wins the pennant race.

San Francisco Giants (46-43) – According to the Twitterverse, this team is doing horribly. I don’t understand it. In fact, while there are some issues here and there, the team is getting its strength back in offense (Hunter Pence, duh) and the pitching is looking stronger than ever. Plus, the plate discipline is as equally precise as their Southern Californian brethren. If you expect anything less from Joe Panik and Buster Posey, you may have a problem. There has been a lot of changing of the guard in the rotation, but that shouldn’t be a source of panic. Their bullpen has remained consistent and healthy, that’s gotta mean something, right? They’re champions, for Pete’s sakes—they’ll always find a way to win.

Arizona Diamondbacks (42-45) – Holy crap, Paul Goldschmidt. He is obviously at the helm of a team that is still trying to find its footing not only in a consistent offense, but a hunched-over pitching staff. In fact, that’s actually been a rough problem for the former green-and-purples since Dan Haren was traded off to the great beyond. And the kicker is, once they get that settled, they can be clear contenders. Once the days get hotter in Arizona, so should the pitching arms. Consider them a dark horse for the Wild Card.

San Diego Padres (41-49) – For what it’s worth, they try. They really do. However, the team is a bit older, and their plate discipline is pretty much poo-poo. The pitching staff isn’t doing a terrible job—in fact, they’re keeping up as best as possible; however, there really shouldn’t be any excuses for management to find decent coaches to enhance the talent. They’ve had these issues in the past, and they’ve been unresolved. I think it’s time for an overhaul at Petco Park.

Colorado Rockies (39-49) – Here is the team with the highest team batting average in the National League. But the pitching staff is the pits with loads of injuries and well…yeah. John Axford’s been pretty consistent, and Jorge de la Rosa hasn’t been TOO shabby, but the rest is rather laughable. Outside of that trainwreck, the usuals of Blackmon, Tulo, LeMahieu, CarGo, and Arenado have been leading the fronts on offense. In fact, they’re the “one side of the field” wrecking crew. But offense doesn’t always win games…


Eastern Division

Overview: We tend to see a lot of good matchups from this division, but so far, we've also seen a lot of "tripping up the steps," as it were. while there's a lot of promise from each squad, everybody still has a long way to go, no matter whether they're above or below the .500 mark.

New York Yankees (48-40) – The impressive part about this is, is they’re doing this without Jeter. But A-Rod has also returned to the squad, and he has been a valuable part of this offense. However, this hasn’t entirely been an offensive show; in fact, it hasn’t even been much of a pitching spectacle, either. What’s happening here, ladies and gentlemen, is a sweet case of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Things have been fair and well in the Bronx, but dodging close calls only lasts for so long. This second half is one of separating the men from the boys.

Tampa Bay Rays (46-45) – Unlike the Yanks, the Rays’ pitching staff is a little more polished, especially in the realms of strikeout pitchers. While they may give up the big hits more often than not, the stellar defense makes up for a less-than-promising and inconsistent offense. This does not mean that they don’t have a snowball’s chance in Chris Berman’s basement, but the more promising and patient at-bats everyone gets, the better off they’ll be. Look at Evan Longoria. He knows what’s up.

Baltimore Orioles (44-44) – O my. That’s a lot of different guys that love to swing the bat and miss…and miss a couple of games at that. It’s rough too, because the starting rotation isn’t doing a shabby job—who’d have thought that Bruce Chen still had it in him after all these years? Being at .500 isn’t a bad thing at the All-Star Break, but when you’re in a heated division like the AL East, your crap has to get together, and silly at-bat mishaps can’t happen. The decent rotation can’t be wasted at a time like this.

Toronto Blue Jays (45-46) – With a few injuries here and there and a case of star-power from guys like Josh Donaldson and Mark Buerhle, they’re not in a rough enough spot to worry. However, the lack of run support during games (especially since RA Dickey has officially been figured out) doesn’t mean that the hitting is poor—in fact, it’s one of the best in the AL. The bullpen and some of the rotation has been rocky. They may be dealing soon enough for a stronger rotation—that is, if that can afford to in a tight race like this.

Boston Red Sox (42-47) – Oh, Bahhstin, what happened? While small ball tends to win games, the pitching staff hasn’t been keeping up their end of the bargain. The days may be gone of seeing David Ortiz as a consistent man at DH in favor of young blood that have been fighting to make a name for themselves in Beantown. Heck, even Mike Napoli is under the Mendoza line. We might need a new breath of life here before things ultimately get worse.

Central Division

Overview: What is usually a one-man division has now become a source of possible Wild Card fever. While there may be a bit of a lead going on, it's still anybody's division, and that says a lot for a division that is mostly quiet throughout the season compared to the others.

Kansas City Royals (52-34) – With the way they’ve been playing, you’d think they want to go back to the World Series, eh? From the looks of things, they have the magic to do it again this year. Despite minor hiccups here and there, especially with minor injury issues, this team has the consistent hitting power, and the bullpen is also pretty strong at times as well. Every team is going to lose once in a while, but this team won’t quit and won’t give up stupid victories to the opposition. Oh, and one last thing… MOOOOOOOOOSE.

Minnesota Twins (49-40) – This is a welcoming sight to see, considering the numerous problems that plagued the team and the front office over the past several years. Joe Mauer has found his home at first base, and because of his adjustment, the offense and plate discipline have returned via leadership. With that noted, they’ve been going pound-for-pound in run differential, and even though they’ve had their share of streaks, they’re making a name for themselves as a scrappy team that won’t settle for less. It has been a while for them, and they want to make these slugfests count.
[NOTE: They’re currently atop the Wild Card standings.]

Detroit Tigers (44-44) – While this shouldn’t be seen as something to panic about, the Tigers appear to be cooking a bit slower than usual. I mean that in the pitching department. Oh, trust me, there’s nothing wrong with the disgustingly powerful hitting staff that has the highest team average in the AL; the only problem is, aside from David Price, the team hasn’t been very strong pitching-wise. Even Justin Verlander looks like half of the pitcher he was in previous seasons. Defense wins games, but you need good, precise pitching to carry on to a possible fifth AL Central title.

Cleveland Indians (42-46) – The team is neither here-nor-there. A player to definitely take a gander at is Jason Kipnis, who has been a viable piece of the offense. Unfortunately, whether there has truly been problems, has been run support, especially for last year’s CY winner Corey Kluber. While there haven’t been very many fireworks with this club for a while, there’s a slim chance we’re going to be seeing any come the end of September. There may be a slight problem in management, too, but any persisting issues remain to be seen.

Chicago White Sox (41-45) – While there are a lot of bright spots in the rotation and in the starting lineup like Sale, Abreu, Samardzija, and Cabrera, injuries and suspensions haven’t been very kind to this squad. They’re not floundering at all, but they’ve also been dealt a rough hand in the first half of the season. While they may not be contenders, they’re perfect candidates to play the spoiler. Whether they’re going to make a bigger impact than their NL brethren, well… I don’t think that’ll be the case this year.

Western Division

Overview: This division always surprises me in some way. You'll see why in a little bit. In my time of writing these, I've come to learn to expect the unexpected, especially in the AL West. And by golly, this time is no different at all.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (48-40) – Now, you might just be a straight-up silly person if you thought the Angels would be anywhere else in the standings. They’ve been riding a hot streak of good fortune for the past couple of seasons; however, this is the part in a timespan when the rubber meets the road and we see who the weak links are and who is helping the team grow. In his semi-older age, Pujols is still performing, and we’re still seeing MVP-like numbers from Mike Trout. We’re also seeing definitive strength out of the rotation. However, there are some patchy spots in the lineup, and it might be time to check up on them.
[NOTE: They’re technically in first place because they’ve played lesser games, and their winning percentage is higher due to that. Math.]

Houson Astros (49-42) – You know that scene in A Christmas Story when Schwartz’ mother starts screaming “WHAT?! WHAAAAAT?!” That was totally me. It’s been a long time coming for this organization, especially since they were basement material since almost the last time they went to the World Series (ten years ago, in case you didn’t remember). The obvious Achilles’ heel of the team is the offense, where Jose Altuve is the only guy who is performing extremely well on a consistent basis, and the team leads the AL in strikeouts which is no bueno. Even so, the pitching staff (and even the bullpen) looks really fresh and steady. Could we see a shocker and look at them in October? It’s been ten years too long, but this young team can’t afford to get big-headed in any regard.
[NOTE: They’re currently Team #2 in the Wild Card standings.]

Texas Rangers (42-46) – Prince Fielder is having arguably the season of his career, and well… It doesn’t look like anybody else on that team wants people outside of the fanbase to know. We’ve also seen a few hits and misses (literally) on the pitching staff, aside from starting rotation men like Yovani Gallardo, whose record doesn’t show what great material he’s been dealing. Granted, this team got hammered—and I mean HAMMERED—by the injury bug, but no amount of health can regain consistency once we see which player is actually the best fit for the lineup. It’s a sticky situation, but somebody’s gotta go through it.

Seattle Mariners (41-48) – While they have bright spots in the starting rotation and in the starting lineup, we can’t get away from the fact that we can’t get on base to save our lives most of the time. Big hits are great and all, but that tends to tire out more than you’d think. Just look at the pitching staff, for instance. They’re in the middle of the pack, but there are times when they need a little more rest or a little more time to warm up than usual. Basic stuff, really. But when the only thing going for you at times is King Felix himself, it should be a wakeup call for something. The call hasn’t been answered in quite some time, and it doesn’t look like it’ll get any better anytime soon.

Oakland Athletics (41-50) – It isn’t how you start, it’s how you finish. I have a feeling that the bullpen didn’t get that message this year. A lot of leads have not been kept by these guys, and it’s hurt them a couple of times. It also doesn’t help that the hitting hasn’t been as strong as it has been in seasons past. There are strong showings by Reddick, Vogt, and Lawrie, but with spotty injuries, we haven’t seen a whole heck of a lot of support outside of them. We could see a more fierce side to them after the All-Star Break, and we could very well hear those saxophones again with them as a come-from-behind Wild Card contender. Baby steps.


That about does it for me here. With the dog days of summer on our toes, it's almost time to start warming up for more hard-hitting sports action not just from baseball, but from other sports as well. But savor it now, it could speed by you in an instant.

No. Seriously. It should still be, like, March.

Until next time...

-- Stephanie