MLB first half: at a glance

Baseball All-Star Break Review By Sport Buffet MLB writer Andrew Parks With the All-Star break here, I figured it was time to take a look at my pre-season predictions and discuss what has transpired in baseball during the first half of the season. As always, there have been pleasant surprises and the usual fulfilled expectations. AL Divisional Races AL EAST: I had predicted that the AL East would produce three of the five play-off teams with the Orioles winning the division and the Red Sox and Rays grabbing the two A.L. Wild cards. With a late push, the Birds of Charm City have gone up two games on the Jays. They’ve done it with Chris Davis swinging at everything they throw in there (.205 13 HR, 95 Ks), Manny Machado yet to get it going (and throwing bats at opponents), Matt Wieters out, and J.J. Hardy only having hit two long balls all year. With the lurking news that Edwin Encarnacion could be out anywhere from ten days to three months, and with the Yankees in desperate trouble in the pitching area (so desperate that they traded for Brandon McCarthy and his 5.01 ERA, fourth worst in baseball), the Orioles look like they should seal the deal. The Rays and Red Sox have not been very good this year, and I don’t see that changing. The Sox can’t catch a cold (though Stephen Drew has helped), and the Rays will probably deal David Price. AL CENTRAL: I had said that in this division, it’s the Tigers and everyone else, and they haven’t disappointed. Although the Royals have shown flashes of spark and the White Sox have improved their offense with the emergence of Jose Abreu, the Tigers have taken a four game lead in the central. Cleveland, one of last year’s wild card winners, lurks in third place, one game over .500, and the Royals are three games over. However, Detroit clearly is the class of this division. With their pitching and Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez hitting everything in sight, the Tigers should continue their pace and win this one pretty easily. AL WEST: My pick here was the LA Angels to win it, but Billy Beane just continues to find players. The A’s have the best record in baseball and just landed not one but two of the best pitchers on the trading block in the Cubs’ Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija for prospects and draft picks. They lead the majors in runs scored and can now trot out five formidable starters every game along with Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez and Sonny Gray. But, the Angels would be either first or tied for first in any of Major League baseball’s five other divisions. This division will most likely produce one of the wild card teams or maybe both, but the questions still remain with Oakland’s starters. With the exception of Kazmir none of them has ever put together a season with 30 starts and a sub-3.80 ERA, and Kazmir has come back from arm trouble. Surprisingly, Seattle currently qualifies as the second wild card team in the AL with the Angels. Seattle? My First Half AL Award Winners AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: This race comes down to the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka who has been as good as advertised (12-3, 2.27 ERA, 130 Ks) and the White Sox’s Jose Abreu (.276 27 HR 69 RBI .616 SLG). I had predicted Jose Abreu would win it, but it’ll come down to the voters. Does the hitter or the pitcher deserve it? I say hitter. AL CY YOUNG AWARD: My pick was Yu Darvish, and he’s been awesome: 8-4, 2.63 ERA, 134 K’s. However, Tanaka wins the first half Cy Young Award as he’s first in wins (12), second in ERA (2.27), and sixth in K’s (130). AL MVP AWARD: I had picked Adam Jones to win, and he’s having a great year, starting in the All-Star game, but it’s been all Mike Trout. He leads the AL in OPS, second in SLG, second in OBP, third in runs, fifth in RBI and is even 10-for-10 in steals. Hard to argue with that. NL Divisional Races NL EAST: I really thought the Nationals were the class of the NL but they’ve disappointed me. Bryce Harper has only one home run and has spent considerable time on the DL, Stephen Strasburg has looked very hittable and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman can’t throw a ball 100 feet. With Harper coming back, Matt Williams has no other choice but to play Zimmerman at third and pray. It should be interesting as he tries to juggle Harper, Denard Span, Jason Werth, Adam LaRoche and Zimmerman. With that being said, the Atanta Braves only hold a half game lead over Washington. If Harper can turn it around, Williams plays his cards, uh, players right and Stephen Strasburg pitches like Stephen Strasburg, they’ll win the division. The Braves simply don’t have the fire power to stay with them. Aaron Harang has come back down to earth, Jason Heyward may never be the star they had hoped and what has happened to B.J. Upton? Look for Washington to deal LaRoche. NL CENTRAL: In what I and many called the most pitching rich division in baseball, lookie who seems to be running away with this thing. The Brewers? I had the Cards winning this one and the Reds getting one of the two wild card spots. However, the Brewers have a 4.5 game lead and the second best record in baseball. Who saw this coming? I surely didn’t. But, if you look closer and use one of my favorite stats that Bill James created, Pythagorean W-L, (which takes into consideration runs scored and runs allowed and figures out a team’s expected W-L record), it says the Brewers should have a worse W-L record by four games. I honestly don’t think Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta and Estrada will keep this team in it, so look for someone to overtake them. Whether it be the Cards, Reds, or Pirates, someone will. I stand by the Cards. NL WEST: I said Dodgers. I like the Dodgers. And it’s the Dodgers. San Francisco got off to a fast start, but the Dodgers have clawed their way to a half game lead. They have probably the best 1-2 punch in the majors in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, but they also have Josh Beckett looking as great as he ever did. I really think they’ll continue this success, and pull away from the Giants. Hudson is pitching outside his mind but he’s 38 years old, and I’m not buying Tim Lincecum yet. The rest of the division is just plain bad so this one’s going to be Dodgers or Giants. I said Dodgers. I like the Dodgers. And it’ll be the Dodgers. NL ROOKIE OF

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THE YEAR: I predicted Billy Hamilton, and it’s Billy Hamilton. Chris Owings has an argument, I guess, but Hamilton’s numbers are every bit as good as Owings, save SLG. However, it’s the 35 steals that jumps out at you, and he’s playing good defense for the Reds. NL CY YOUNG AWARD: I predicted Strasburg, but he’s been very hittable. This award is a race between Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. Kershaw is first in ERA, though he currently doesn’t qualify, having lost four starts to injury, but he will qualify very soon. He has 10 wins to Wainwright’s 11, a 1.85 ERA to Wainwright’s 1.89, but Kershaw is pitching out of his mind right now and is currently in a 36 consecutive scoreless inning streak. Then there’s the no-hitter of course. NL MVP AWARD: I said this was Bryce’s year, but he’s laid an egg. Troy Tulowitzi is leading the world in just about everything. He leads in BA, OBP, SLG, and runs and is second in HR.

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