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The first half of the 2012 MLB season was filled with surprises. The New York Yankees have the AL's top record (52-33). Surprise, suprise in the NL. Washington Nationals baseball has everyone taking notice leading all NL teams with a 49-34 record. Get ready for some major mid-season trades as teams take aim at playoff action - or sell off looking to regroup for 2013.
Here's how the first half finished up and what to expect the rest of the way.
New York Yankees (52-33) Yanks live and die with long ball style play. Yanks bats finally starting coming thru with RISP in June. Starting rotation took a major hit when Andy Pettitte was injured. Expect Yanks to make a move for Hamels. SP upgrade coming - how much are they willing to spend?
Baltimore Orioles (45-40) O's turned heads in April and even managed to take hold of 1st in AL East. It's been downhill since early June. Orioles need starting pitching to remain in the hunt. They recently added slugger Jim Thome who figures to destroy AL East hitters parks if he gets regular playing time. Orioles fans finally have something to cheer about in July!
Tampa Bay Rays (45-41) It's amazing Tampa is in 3rd. Lack of offensive production is staggering. Ranked 28th of 30 teams with a team .232 batting average (.689 OPS is 25th). Starting pitching has been shouldering the load. Longoria limited to 23 games taking a huge toll. He's not expected back until mid-August. Not expecting to see any moves here except for a cheap hitter.
Boston Red Sox (43-43) Who hasn't been injured? Bobby Valentine's debut season in Boston is ugly. Fans weren't won over by an "outsider" at the helm. A 1-5 and 4-10 start didn't help matters. Key players injured. A riff with fan favorite Kevin Youkilis eventually led to him getting shipped off to Chicago (he's now red hot at the plate). It's been Boston's most turbulent season in a long time. Somehow they're still in striking distance. Good news is injured players returning soon.
Toronto Blue Jays (43-43) Toronto's front office better be figuring out which pitchers they want to lead the 2nd half charge. Jays 127 home runs are 2nd only to the Yankees (134). However, their starting staff has been extremely inconsistent all season long. Pitching, pitching, pitching. Who's it going to be?
Chicago White Sox (47-38) Rookie manager & former Sox star Robin Ventura has his team energized. ChiSox baseball holds a 3 game lead and eager to pull away from the pack. It's been a team effort so far. Dunn rebounding nicely after an embarrassing 2011. Jake Peavy looking great after injury riddled years. Their only weakness - 3B. Plenty of options. Chicago needs to make a move.
Cleveland Indians (44-41) Surprising to see Cleveland 3 games over .500 when studying their stats. 28th ranked pitching staff & 4.50 is a drag on wins. Don't expect Cleveland to remain in the hunt much longer.
Detroit Tigers (44-42) Are the Tigers ready to roll? 5 straight wins heading into All Star break. Tigers under achieving in 1st half. Verlander is the only exception to a struggling pitching staff. All Star break is exactly what these guys need.
Prediction: 2nd (wild card #2)
Kansas City Royals (37-47) Royals fans will have to keep on waiting. 2012 was supposed to be the year this young talented team started competing. Not yet. Offense has 5 regulars with sub-.304 OBA's. Only 1 starting pitcher with ERA below 4.50. It's been ugly. Time for talent to produce or Kansas City will be stuck at the bottom for years to come. I really wanted to see this team do well in '12.
Minnesota Twins (36-49) Another franchise with a new home field not tailored to their strengths. Pitching staff is horrendous. Hitters inconsistent although a few surprises turning heads (Plouffe, Willingham, Mastroianni).
Texas Rangers (52-34) Nolan Ryan really knows how to run a baseball organization. The Rangers are a fun bunch to watch. They may or may not fine tune their roster down the stretch. My guess is two near World Series title misses leads to these guys snagging the best bang for their buck should an opportunity to improve arise. No room for error down the stretch of Texas aims to make their 3rd time a charm.
Los Angeles Angels (48-38) LA is 40-23 after a dismal 8-15 start to 2012. Albert Pujols found his stroke in mid-May. Trumbo's explosive bat has been vital. New rookie sensation Trout is turning heads. Pitchers getting the job done. Look out Texas, LA is moving up. Plenty of cash on hand suggests Angels will be big buyers.
Prediction: 2nd (wild card #1)
Oakland A's (43-43) .500 first half baseball kept Oakland in the hunt. Moneyball isn't working as planned (.301 team OBA - 29th, and last with .225 team BA). They'll need a big 2nd half if they're to have any hopes of making the post-season. Injuries and lack of hitting stymied their chances early in the year. A recent 21-14 run provides optimism. 1B was a sore spot offensively and defensively. Problem solved? 1B platoon of Brandon Moss (10 HR, .644 VLG) and Chris Carter (.941 SLG) jump started the offense. The return of rookie Cepedes from the DL and 20 HR from OF Josh Reddick means this team shouldn't be taken for granted. A's bullpen can use a shot in the arm for the stretch drive. Oakland has a legit shot to make a 2nd half run while the baseball world stays focused on NY, Texas, LA, ChiSox, TB etc. 3rd best MLB ERA 3.38. Don't count them out yet!
Seattle Mariners (36-51) Dead in the water. Very few of moves Seattle's front office makes works. Outside of SP Hernandez, these guys stink! MLB worst .291 OBA. No infielder batting over .243 - only regular starter over .260 is Ichiro who sports a career low .261 BA. Only question in my book is how quickly will M's get to 100 loss plateau?
Prediction: Dead last
Washington Nationals (49-34) Davey Johnson once again proving he's one of baseball's best field managers. Nationals playing great team baseball. Pitching, hitting, fielding. It's all come together in the first half. Can they hang on? Southpaw Gio Gonzalez and flame throwing Stephen Strasburg keep opposing hitters off balance. Strasburg is on a "strict" pitch limit in '12. Does this mean he's to be benched in late September if/when Washington is in a playoff battle. Hard to imagine benching their top star with a playoff slot on the line. Nats better bulk up on pitching if they're still considering this crazy move. Either way, Washington figures to be in the thick of things thru game 162!
Atlanta Braves (46-39) Atlanta is very much alive heading into the 2nd half. Starting pitching remains a big problem. Atlanta will do their very best chasing after upgrades. Middle infield is another sore spot. Uggla cold all season. SS a revolving door. Braves need to bust a move.
New York Mets (46-40) David Wright NL MVP? Not quite yet but he is Mets MVP. Terry Collins has done everything within his power to keep New York afloat. Funny thing... everyone (including me) wrote these guys off before the season began. Guess what? If the Mets bullpen was "decent" then they might have been in 1st place at the break. Bullpen is terrible. Injury riddled lineup bailed out by outstanding contributions by fill in players. Jason Bay remains one of the biggest free agent busts in Mets history. RA Dickey and Santana leading the staff. Mets must find a way to re-shape bullpen - quickly.
Prediction: It was fun while it lasted, 4th.
Miami Marlins (41-44) Talk about a team not living up to potential. Was it really potential - or hype? Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez headlining under achievers. Gaby Sanchez putting up career low numbers. Slugging RF Stanton is lost for an extended period. Closer Heath Bell's pitches are connecting beautifully with opposing hitters bats (6.75 ERA). Bullpen mates not fairing much better. Starting rotation talented but very inconsistent. The only good news here is it isn't over 'til it's over. 2012 might be one season and done for manager Ozzie Guillen.
Philadelphia Phillies (37-50) One word describes Philadelphia's first half - UGLY! C Carlos Ruiz, RF Hunter Pence and SP Cole Hamels represent the only bright spots for a team many predicted to run away with the East. Their demise goes well beyond Chase Utley & Ryan Howard opening the year on the DL. Phillies predicted to be big 2nd half sellers. Hamels name being floated as trade potential on a daily basis. Phillies better beware not to mortgage the farm too quickly.
Pittsburgh Pirates (48-37) Pirates taking dead aim at 1st winning season since losing NLCS in 7 games to Atlanta way back in 1992! My pick for 1st half NL MVP is Andrew McCutchen. Most players are contributing. Rotation slots 3-5 need to step up. James McDonald (9-3, 2.37) and AJ Burnett (10-2, 3.68) baffling hitters. Bullpen getting the job done too. This could be the first time in 20 years Pittsburgh looks for late season additions vs fire sales. Pirates one of the feel good stories of 2012 - so far.
Cincinnati Reds (47-38) It's been a win some, lose some season so far for Dusty Baker's Reds. Starting rotation beginning to gel. Young outfielders aren't and must contribute if Cincy wants to reach playoffs. This team is ready for a big win streak - long losing streak - or more of the same. It's anyone's guess as to when Cincy lives up to potential. The sooner the better.
Prediction: 3rd (wild card #2)
St. Louis Cardinals (46-40) Cards faultering after beginning 14-8. Hitters on fire most of the year. Top NL squad hitting .275, 2nd with .340 OBA and .434 SLG. Beltran leads NL with 65 RBI. Pitching is their problem. Lohse (9-2) & Lynn (11-4) are the two lone bright spots. Every other pitcher needs to step up. Expect Cards to bolster roster for 2nd half push.
Prediction: 2nd (wild card #1)
Milwaukee Brewers (40-45) Banged up Brewers limp into 2nd half will probably become late season sellers again. Brew Crew front office has gotten rid of All Star talent in recent years so first to go might be Zack Greinke. CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets & Fielder are just a few of the big names to be sent packing. Milwaukee's lineup has too many holes. Bullpen blows leads. Brewers organization will prove - once again - they're not committed to winning.
Chicago Cubs (33-52) All a loyal Cubs fan can hope for entering a new season is a competitive team to cheer. That isn't asking too much, right? Wrong. Chicago Cubs brand of baseball is terrible. They're about to trade their best players too. Manager Dale Sveum has to go - quickly. Dempster & Soriano on trading block. Cubs prospects offering false hope for 2013. Double bubble or double trouble in Wrigley-land.
Prediction: 100+ years and still waiting, 5th.
Houston Astros (33-53) Houston's farewell NL season is dismal all the way around. First of all, MLB should have sent Milwaukee packing back to AL action. Guess former owner Selig knew Brewers couldn't compete in AL. Why send NL's worst team into slugging league? Baseball politics screwed Houston but if they were too stupid to resist.... Astros young talent desperately needs a proven winner at the helm. Brad Mills is not the answer. Astros must find a former successful player or manager to take over and gel this team. One bad manager after another only hurts player development. Penny wise, pound foolish.
Los Angeles Dodgers (47-40) Don Mattingly had LA off to a flying start. 32-19 after two months of baseball was just what the doctor ordered after a tumultuous '11 campaign. But then... injuries to key personnel (Kemp, Ethier) slowed down the Dodgers attack. Both player due back from DL stints momentarily. 3B sore spot all season. Rumored to be aggressively chasing Hamels & anyone with 3B skills. Dodgers will fight to the finish.
San Francisco Giants (46-40) Where would the Giants be if former Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum was at least decent? He's completely out of sorts sporting a dismal 3-10, 6.42 ERA. Timmy needs to study films because it's really easy for me to figure out his mechanical problems - stop tilting your head kid! Giants poised to be big buyers. Players needed at 1B, SS & RF. One key bat can lift this team into the playoffs.
Arizona Diamondbacks (42-43) 'Zona hasn't found their stride yet. Missing has been clutch hitting from a year ago. Front office has decisions to make. Don't count these guys out of the wild West just yet.
San Diego Padres (34-53) Cold hard facts. NL's worst offense (.234 BA). Baseball's lowest scoring team (305 runs). Powerless lineup (53 HR). Y'all think it's time for San Diego to reconfigure ballpark dimensions? Closer Hudson Street is Pads most sought after trade material. San Diego is not a good club and will challenge for 110 losses.
Colorado Rockies (33-52) Rockies 5.26 team ERA says it all. Decision time for Colorado's front office. Pack it in and sell off offensive talent? Or, hold steady and concentrate on revamping pitching staff for 2013? No easy financial decisions here. Many inquiries for CarGo, Cuddyer & Tulo. Time will tell. 2012 is a lost cause.
Stay tuned for 1st half award nominees...