Wednesday, July 17, 2013

MLB Second-Half Storylines

This is Mariano Rivera's last season. But how will it end?
By Bennett Corcoran

As we leave the All Star-break behind, there are plenty of storylines to follow during the second half of baseball season. Plenty of teams are vying for playoff spots, and there have also been some outstanding individual performances of note so far; records could be broken by the end of September. Let’s look at a few situations worth monitoring as we approach the second half of the season.

The Trade Deadline
With the second Wild Card in effect, more and more teams have a legitimate chance of making the postseason, resulting in an unusually quiet trade deadline. However, plenty of names have surfaced as potential targets for contenders looking to make a splash heading into the final stretch. The biggest name likely to be moved is Chicago Cubs pitcher Matt Garza, who has come alive recently to really help his stock, posting a 1.66 ERA in his three starts in July. A team like the Texas Rangers, who are locked in a tight race for the AL West division with the Oakland A’s, could realistically make a move for Garza, and they possess the prospects to do so. Yovani Gallardo is having one of the worst seasons of his career with a career-worst 4.83 ERA, but could still be had at the deadline due to the struggles of the Milwaukee Brewers this season. Bud Norris of the Houston Astros is another pitcher on the market, who is quietly having one of the best seasons of his career. For teams that need outfield help, Alex Rios of the Chicago White Sox is an option, but his hefty contract might force teams to shy away from him. If the Cleveland Indians decide to blow things up, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera could become available, but given the fact that they are merely 1.5 games back from the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central, a move would seem unlikely.

Wide Open AL East
The Boston Red Sox have gotten off to a hot start - their 58 wins are most in the majors. However, they do have some serious competition in the AL East. The Tampa Bay Rays are the hottest team in baseball right now and have taken advantage of their recent soft schedule, leaping into second place and just 2.5 games back of the Sox. If their pitching can revert back to the consistent force they have been in previous years, they could be a serious threat to take home the division title. The Baltimore Orioles are only 4.5 games back, and the Yankees are merely six games back despite being hobbled by a plethora of injuries. And at just four games below .500, the Toronto Blue Jays aren’t an easy out despite their underachieving nature throughout the course of the season. Given how the Red Sox collapsed two seasons ago, this is no time to get complacent.

Chris Davis Chases Home Run Record

Crush Davis has been an absolute monster during the first half of the season, recently tying the first half home run record with a whopping 37 to go with 93 RBI. Davis has been nothing short of phenomenal this season, and could potentially continue this historic pace in the second half and propel the O’s to the playoffs. Can he continue this ridiculous hot streak? Only time will tell.

Miguel Cabrera Pursues Second Triple Crown
Unfortunately for Davis, Miguel Cabrera has garnered most of the attention for AL MVP as he pursues his second consecutive triple crown. He leads the AL in batting average (.365), and second place in that category Mike Trout (.322) isn’t all that close to catching him. Cabrera is second in home runs with 30, trailing only Davis, and is first in RBI with 95. If Davis simmers down, Cabrera could be the first player in MLB history to accomplish this prestigious feat in consecutive years.

Will the Pittsburgh Pirates Finally Make the Postseason?
The Pirates haven’t made the playoffs since 1992, and after last season’s second half collapse, one might think that they will follow suit this year as well. But this Pittsburgh team feels different. Their bullpen has been exceptional, and they are currently sporting five All Stars, including outfielder Andrew McCutchen, closer Jason Grilli, third baseman Pedro Alvarez, reliever Mark Melancon and starter Jeff Locke. They’re only a game back of the St. Louis Cardinals, but with the Cincinnati Reds close behind, a playoff appearance is no certainty. However, this could be the year that the Pirates finally play in the postseason again.

Will Yasiel Puig Continue His Hot Streak?
Puig has created quite the buzz with his hot start for the Los Angeles Dodgers, propelling them to an improbable run from last place in the NL West to 2.5 games back of the Arizona Diamondbacks for the division lead. Puig is currently hitting an astounding .391 with 8 homers and 19 RBI in just 38 games. But in the second half, as pitchers adjust to facing him multiple times, they could begin to figure him out. It’s unrealistic to think he will continue at this pace, but how he performs in the second half will certainly be worth keeping an eye on.

Biogenesis Drama

With names such as Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun getting linked to steroid allegations (again) it will be interesting to see how Bud Selig deals with the situation. A-Rod hasn’t played all season, and his already tarnished reputation continues to plummet with yet another link to performance enhancers. Braun’s credibility has certainly taken a hit with these reports, as he was suspended in the 2012 but the ban was controversially lifted after an appeal process. How many names, and which names, are linked to this scandal will be an underlying focus of the second half as the MLB attempts to rid itself of performance enhancing substances.

Mariano Rivera Closes Out Final Season

What better way to close out an article than by paying homage to one the greatest closer to ever play the game? I’m certainly by no means a Yankees fan, but any baseball fan has to respect Rivera both as a person and as a ballplayer. Similar to Chipper Jones last year, a bona fide Hall of Famer will undergo a farewell tour throughout the rest of the season. Rivera is the MLB’s all time leader in saves, and his cutter is widely regarded as one of the best pitches in baseball history. The dominant Yankees teams throughout the late 1990’s certainly wouldn’t have been possible without a lights-out closer like Rivera to rely on so consistently. It’s hard to believe that we will be hearing “Enter Sandman” for the last time before you know it.

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