Red Sox — David Ortiz basically didn’t hit for 2 months. Dice-K has 1 win, an ERA over 8.00, and no one knows when he’ll be off the DL. Somehow, Boston is still right at the top of the AL. All things considered, the Red Sox have to be happy with where they are at the halfway point.
Yankees — A-Rod missed a month. Posada spent time on the DL. Chien-Ming Wang is barely recognizable as the pitcher who won 19 games in both 2006 and 2007. Still, if any team should be expected to cope with setbacks, it’s the team with the nearly $200 million payroll.
Rays — The Rays were everyone’s popular pick to return to — and possibly win — the World Series. After an incredibly slow start, Tampa has come on of late, and should still be a very dangerous team in the second half. But the Rays will have to play better on the road to overtake either the Red Sox or Yankees.
Blue Jays — Toronto has come back to earth after its torrid start, so much so that the team looks willing to trade Roy Halladay, possibly the majors’ best pitcher. If that happens, don’t expect much from the Jays in the second half, but at least give them credit for keeping their heads above water in baseball’s best division.
Orioles — It’s probably no consolation to Orioles fans to hear about all the young talent coming up through the farm system and the bright days ahead for Baltimore. But for a team predicted to finish last in the AL East, you can’t exactly fault the O’s for meeting expectations.
Tigers — With the talent the Tigers have, they should run away with the Central. Yet as the All-Star game approaches, the division is still a very close three-horse race. Justin Verlander is back in form, but Dontrelle Willis can’t throw strikes. Miguel Cabrera is pulling his weight, but no other starting field player is near the .300 mark. The Tigers’ first half has been a tale of inconsistency.
Twins — It almost doesn’t matter how the Twins are expected to do, or what their talent level is. They seem to always be in a fight for the Central title come September. This year is no different. And if Minnesota can add a hitter like second baseman Freddy Sanchez to the lineup, the Twins will no doubt be playoff contenders once again.
White Sox — No one hitter had a huge first half for the South siders (Jermaine Dye is the closest), though the lineup has had balanced production. The starting rotation’s been solid, led by Mark Buerhle, the team’s at-times spectacular lefty. Still, the White Sox have basically lingered between second and third in the division without really challenging Detroit in the standings. That being said, in a division that could be won with 86 or 88 victories, Chicago may have enough to reach the postseason. And if the team can pull off one big trade, as it tried to with Jake Peavy, the Central is there for the taking.
Royals — Kansas City got off to a great start with new ace Zack Greinke leading the way. But as Greinke cooled a bit, the Royals cooled off royally and the team has plummeted in the standings. Expectations were limited entering the season, so even in their current state the Royals aren’t a total disappointment. If Greinke can rekindle his early-season form, K.C. fans will have a fun second half rooting for him in the Cy Young race.
Indians — Yes, they’ve had injuries, none bigger than Grady Sizemore’s. But this team was supposed to contend. They have the reigning Cy Young winner and what everyone thought was a stacked lineup. Guess we were wrong. Now the AL cellar dwellers could be in full-on sell-mode by the trade deadline — not exactly what Tribe fans had in mind.
Angels — All things considered, the Halos should be pretty darn happy to be where they are in the West standings. The Angels’ season has been a mix of tragedy and bad injury luck. The death of pitcher Nick Adenhart in April was a major blow. When you factor in DL trips by Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey and Ervin Santana, it’s amazing the Angels are where they are and seemingly on the verge of making a major deal or two to cement their contender status. Torii Hunter’s huge first half (17 HRs and .305 average) was a big help. But the All-Star CF is now on the DL. With a little luck in the second half, the Halos will capture yet another West crown and be a force in the playoffs.
Rangers — There was a quiet buzz about the Rangers before the season, but precious few expected Texas to be showing the way in the AL West at the break. The Rangers can thank contributions from their youngsters for the surge in wins. Ian Kinsler, despite what the All-Star vote said, has been a force. So has super rookie Nelson Cruz, who powered his way to a reserve spot on the All-Star team. It should be his first of many berths. Kevin Millwood is finally giving the team the ace presence it wanted when he was brought aboard in 2006. Youngster Scott Feldman has given the club a solid No. 2. The Rangers appear to be one deal away from completing the job in the second half.
Mariners — Compare this year’s first half to last year’s and Seattle fans are in heaven. Under the direction of new skipper Don Wakamatsu the Mariners have been a pleasant surprise as they battle with the Angels and Rangers in the West. Ken Griffey Jr. has has had a positive effect in both the clubhouse and stats column. Meanwhile, Russell Branyan is in the midst of a career year. The career .230 hitter is hitting over .280 and pacing the offense. The staff has gotten good performances from Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez. Even if things don’t work out in the second half, this has been a nice rebound to last year’s 61-win performance.
A’s ¹ Many pundits liked the A’s chances in the West this season thanks to a high-upside pitching staff and some big free-agent signings. Well, most of the youngsters in the rotation clearly weren’t ready and the signings of Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera have failed to ignite the offense. In a division of surprises, the A’s have been one, but in a bad way. The good news is several young arms are getting valuable experience. The bad news is that another sell job by GM Billy Beane may be forthcoming later this month.
Phillies — For as good as the reigning world champions’ offense has been, that’s how inconsistent their pitching is. Jamie Moyer’s ERA has ballooned and Cole Hamels looks downright hittable. Still, the Phillies lead a surprisingly weak NL East and, if they make the playoffs, you have to like their chances now that the team is battle-tested. Raul Ibanez has been the pleasant surprise of the first half.
Marlins — Josh Johnson is a stud. Ricky Nolasco is on the way back. Hanley Ramirez may turn into the Red Sox’s biggest regret since Babe Ruth. Picked by most to finish a distant fourth behind the Phils/Mets/Braves triumvirate, Florida is close to making Miami residents actually attend a baseball game.
Mets — On the bright side, things can’t get much worse for the Mets. Their list of injuries include All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, All-Star center fielder Carlos Beltran, starter John Maine, setup man J.J. Putz, first baseman Carlos Delgado — and that’s just some of them! The bad news is that New York may not get many of its stars back for some time, and the season is slipping away. At least they won’t have the chance for a September collapse.
Braves ¹ Their PR took a hit when they released Tom Glavine rather than pay him a roster bonus. But with no real injuries to speak of, the Braves’ bigger problem has been on the field. A dark horse to win the division, Atlanta is woefully underperforming. A recent Jeff Francoeur for Daniel Murphy trade with the Mets is unlikely to change much.
Nationals — Yes, we all expected the Nats to be bad. But they went out and got Adam Dunn and hoped to make some improvements over last year. Now 100 losses seems a foregone conclusion and a run at the ’62 Mets’ record futility is not out of the question.
Cardinals — The Cards lead the way in the NL Central but we have a feeling things could be even better were it not for some disappointing performances by key members of the lineup. Sure, Albert Pujols is putting up another MVP-worthy campaign. And Adam Wainwright has been the ace most people expected. But imagine what the Cards’ record would be if Ryan Ludwick, Khalil Greene and Rick Ankiel weren’t disappointing in myriad ways. But so far, so good for St. Louis. Although the injury to recently acquired 3B Mark DeRosa is somewhat ominous.
Brewers — Not too shabby considering the Brewers were written off by just about everyone after they lost CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets to free agency. But thanks to Yovani Gallardo’s Cy Young-worthy performance so far, the pitching staff hasn’t been the wreck many thought it would be — though the rest of the rotation is starting to show signs that a bad second half could be forthcoming. No matter what happens in the coming months, the power combo of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder should keep fans on the edge of their seats. It remains to be seen if the Brewers’ front office can (or should) pull off another CC-like deal.
Cubs — Forget about winning the NL Central, the Cubs were favored by many to be the NL representative in the World Series. Well, both look like they’ll be a major struggle. Chicago’s rotation has been choppy at best. Ryan Dempster surely hasn’t come close to his ’08 form and Rich Harden has already spent time on the DL. The offense has been an even bigger disappointment with Milton Bradley not earning the money the Cubs signed him for and Alfonso Soriano appearing more lost than usual at the place. Aramis Ramirez spent a hefty amount of time on the DL, but he’s back. Derrek Lee is starting to mash. So maybe, just maybe, Chicago could live up to the billing after all with a strong second half.
Reds — The Reds were the chic team in spring due to what looked like a formidable pitching staff and an offense with unlimited upside. Well, it hasn’t worked out, to say the least. Youngsters like Jay Bruce and Joey Votto have struggled for different reasons. Bruce just has no approach at the plate and is watching his average dip toward .200 because of it. Votto has been great when he’s in the lineup, but spent time on the DL due to emotional issues. The rotation hasn’t lived up to the hype and you can thank Edinson Volquez for that — 3.21 ERA in ’08 compared to 4.35 this season. Despite their woes, time hasn’t run out on the Reds. A big second half and they can claim the Central crown that nobody appears set to run away with.
Astros — Nobody expected much from the Astros this season, so a ho-hum first half that was finished with a semi-bang is nothing to cry about. The bottom line is that Houston is terribly flawed in certain areas, but stacked in others. Trouble is the stacked areas don’t make up for the flaws. But could that change if Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee light it up in the second half and the team adds another quality starter to the rotation? You bet it could. Whether it happens is another story.
Pirates — Once again, the Pirates aren’t winning many games. But let’s give some credit to the organization for doing some things right. First off, they’re playing Andrew McCutchen every day and that will pay dividends in the future. They’re presumably going to deal 2B Freddy Sanchez for parts that may help in the next decade. They’ve done their best to cut bait with Ian Snell. They’ve gotten Zach Duke straightened out. Oh screw it, things are bad, but they’re not as bad as you thought. Therefore they get a “B” for Bucs.
Dodgers — The Dodgers were favored to win the West, but nobody expected this. L.A. rode a hot start to quick ownership of the league’s best record despite losing slugger Manny Ramirez to a 50-game suspension. The Dodgers’ astute offseason signing of 2B Orlando Hudson has paid off as has their patience with youngsters Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Clayton Kershaw, who have all contributed in big ways. With Ramirez back, the Dodgers need to only make a couple smart moves at the deadline to stay in this grade range in the second half.
Giants — Most people thought the Giants’ offense was too weak to produce a contender despite some of the league’s best pitching. Well, it’s break time and the Giants are leading the NL wild card standings with a record well over .500. The rotation has been dominant, led by All-Stars Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. The offense still isn’t putting up much in the power numbers, but hitters like Pablo Sandoval are making up for it with averages well over .300. One more power stick makes this team scary.
Rockies — The Rox appeared headed toward another disappointing season after a tough first-month schedule had Colorado buried in the standings entering May. But since June 1, the Rockies are one of baseball’s hottest teams and threatening to make a run at the wild card, if not the NL West. Todd Helton’s had a great comeback season as evidenced by his strong average and solid power numbers. Youngsters like Ian Stewart and Dexter Fowler have contributed as well. But this Rockies resurgence has been led by All-Star OF Brad Hawpe whose huge first half helped ease the blow of losing Matt Holliday.
Padres — The Padres made a mild run in the West standings in May, but it flickered out due to injury. Both ace Jake Peavy and Chris Young are on the DL, with Peavy likely out for most, if not all, of the season. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been bright sports. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez has put on a dazzling power display despite playing in a terrible park for sluggers. Closer Heath Bell has been nails, too, leading the NL in saves and earning an All-Star berth in the process. The Pads should spend the second half getting a better of idea of how youngsters like Everth Cabrera and Kyle Blanks fit into the new ownership’s plans.
Diamondbacks — The season had an ominous beginning with the shoulder woes of co-ace Brandon Webb. He’s thrown just four innings this year, but remains determined to pitch again this season for whatever reason. Without Webb, the D-backs were in trouble from the start with an offense that lacked any consistent hitting. The early struggles cost manager Bob Melvin his job in May. He was replaced by the 34-year-old A.J. Hinch. Third baseman Mark Reynolds has been terrific, mixing good power with some speed. Pitcher Dan Haren has been the lone highlight as he challenges for the NL Cy Young. Haren ranks among the league leaders in ERA and Ks. He was rewarded with an All-Star selection. Perhaps things would’ve been very different with Webb healthy, but you could also say his absence has exposed just how much work this franchise needs.
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