We are halfway through the season and as happens every year, it doesn’t quite go exactly as we all thought it would.
Right before the season started, I wrote up my preseason predictions of how I thought the playoffs and awards would go:
Correct so far: New York Yankees
Incorrect so far: Boston Red Sox (Tampa Bay Rays), Minnesota Twins (Chicago White Sox), Seattle Mariners (Texas Rangers)
Correct so far: None
Incorrect so far: Philadelphia Phillies (Atlanta Braves), Chicago Cubs (Cincinnati Reds), Los Angeles Dodgers (San Diego Padres), St. Louis Cardinals (Colorado Rockies)
League Leaders at the Half
Batting Average: Miguel Cabrera (DET) and Josh Hamilton (TEX) – .346
Runs: Carl Crawford (TAM) – 70
Hits: Martin Prado (ATL) – 121
Home Runs: Jose Bautista (TOR) – 24
Runs Batted In: Miguel Cabrera (DET) – 77
Stolen Bases: Juan Pierre (CHW) – 32
Wins: Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) – 15
ERA: Josh Johnson (FLA) – 1.70
Strikeouts: Jered Weaver (LAA) – 137
Saves: Joakim Soria (KC) – 25
The Top Stories
The Year of the Pitcher Again?
The pitchers look like they may have gained back some of the advantage again versus the hitters, as we’re seeing a lot of amazing performances out of both elite and non-elite pitchers.
Starting Pitchers with an ERA under 3.00: 17
Starting Pitchers with 10+ wins: 12
Starting Pitchers with a FIP under 3.00: 6
Starting Pitchers with a WHIP under 1.10: 14
And of course, there’s the no-hitters:
Let’s not forget Armando Galarraga either, and his near-perfecto on June 2nd.
Ken Griffey Jr Abruptly Retires
Almost randomly, Ken Griffey Jr. announced his retirement on June 2nd. I wrote up my thoughts on his career shortly after the announcement, but the long and short of it remains that Griffey always seemed to be having more fun than anyone else on the field, and was really a joy to watch play, no matter what he was doing. I have no doubt in my mind that he’s going into the Hall of Fame at first opportunity.
Sadly, the story was lost among the Armando Galarraga near perfect game, as it happened about an hour after the announcement. Hopefully the Mariners will have him back at some point before the end of the season to really give him a great sendoff.
The Cliff Lee Sweepstakes
The Mariners were widely predicted to win the AL West on the strength of the arms of Felix Hernandez and offseason acquisition Cliff Lee. Unfortunately, the team has floundered quite a bit, to the point where it became only a matter of time for the Mariners to start selling off the pieces, including their newly acquired ace Lee. The trade discussions centered around the unlikely competitors of the Reds, Twins, and Rangers, along with the usual suspects (Yankees, Red Sox, Rays). Nearly every top prospect in their systems was mentioned as the potential trade pieces in return. It was even stranger when the Mariners had come to a deal with the Yankees, only to have that one fall apart and be replaced by a trade with the Rangers. I wrote up what I thought of the trade, and really liked it for both teams involved.
Break Up the Reds and the Padres!
Completely unexpectedly, the Reds and the Padres are both leading their divisions as we approach the All-Star break. The Padres are doing it with the best pitching in the Majors, led by young phenom Mat Latos (10-4, 2.45) and top power hitter Adrian Gonzalez (.301, 18 HR, 56 RBI). The Reds are being led by MVP candidate Joey Votto (.315, 22 HR, 60 RBI, 1.014 OPS), and a resurgent Scott Rolen (.292, 17 HR, 57 RBI). I honestly think that barring some unexpected injuries or other unusual circumstances, both teams have the talent available to hold on to their leads throughout the rest of the season.
3 Teams, A Maxiumum of 2 Spots
The AL East continues to improve every single year, as the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees have been trading 1st through 3rd in the division back and forth all season. Through Friday’s games, all 3 teams have the 3 top records in the American League. Clearly, this presents a problem, as only 2 of them can make the playoffs. Someone is going to have to separate themselves at some point, but I’m not sure when that is going to happen. The Rays got off to a hot start, but have struggled of late. The Yankees got off to a slow start but have come on strong and now lead the division. Even the Red Sox are only 5 games back despite having suffered an unusually high amount of injuries. Someone is going to be sitting at home unhappy despite potentially winning 90+ games in that division.
Managers Available for Hire
We could be looking at potentially having nearly half the teams in the Majors change managers by the start of the 2011 season. 4 teams have already gotten the ball started, with Fredi Gonzalez (Marlins), Trey Hillman (Royals), Dave Trembley (Orioles) and A.J. Hinch of the Diamondbacks. In addition, major skippers like Joe Torre of the Dodgers and Lou Piniella of the Cubs are both in the final year of their contracts, and it appears that more and more that neither man is likely to return. And of course, there is the expected retirement of the Braves’ Bobby Cox and Blue Jays’ Cito Gaston after this season as well. Invariably, there will be some other managers that could lose their jobs before the start of next year, and my own speculation leads me to think that potentially teams like the Brewers, Pirates, Athletics and even the Mariners could all potentially see new managers as well.
The Rookie Class of 2010
It seems like this year’s rookie class is by far one of the best in many years. The season started out with Atlanta Braves’ OF Jason Heyward making the team out of Spring Training, and has not let up ever since. 13 of Baseball America’s Top 20 prospects have already made their debuts, and many of them are seeing a lot of success.
- Carlos Santana of the Indians is hitting .284 with 5 HR and 16 RBI since being called up on June 11th.
- Buster Posey of the Giants is hitting .333 with 6 HR and 20 RBI while playing both catcher and first base.
- Tyler Colvin of the Cubs has hit 12 homeruns in part time playing time so far this season.
- Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch of the Tigers have been going back and forth for the AL Rookie of the Year award. Jackson got off to a hot start, but Boesch has passed him at this point. Boesch is leading all rookies with 12 homeruns and 48 runs batted in, and also is hitting .345.
- Gaby Sanchez of the Marlins is quietly hitting .299 with 9 homeruns and 38 runs batted in.
- Jaime Garcia of the Cardinals has exceeded all expectations, posting an 8-4 record with a 2.17 ERA and 80 strikeouts so far.
- Mike Leake of the Reds surprised everyone by coming up without playing a single game in the minors and has a 6-1 record with a 3.53 ERA.
- Neftali Feliz of the Rangers has stabilized the back end of their bullpen, recording 23 saves and earning himself an All-Star appearance.
Other top prospects that have come up as well: Pedro Alvarez of the Pirates, Mike Stanton of the Marlins, Alcides Escobar of the Brewers, Ike Davis of the Mets, and Justin Smoak of the Rangers… er Mariners.
Clearly though, the most anticipated debut didn’t come until June 8th…
June 8th was the Major League debut of the phenom, Nationals’ top prospect Stephen Strasburg. His starts in the minors were selling out every time through. He was sent down to the Minors after Spring Training to work on his performance with runners on base. As if he was actually allowing any of those down there. His minor league numbers (AA and AAA): 11 starts, 7-2, 1.30 ERA, 65 strikeouts to 13 walks in 55 1/3 innings pitched. At times, his stuff looked absolutely dominant, but the concern remained: Could he repeat this performance at the Major League level?
For the most part, the answer to that question is a resounding Yes. His debut against the lowly Pirates: 14 strikeouts, 0 walks, and a victory in 7 innings. So far, he has a 3-2 record with a 2.32 ERA and 61 strikeouts in just 42 2/3 innings pitched. He has had some games where his control has been less than stellar, including the 5 walk performance against the Indians. I have to admit, I thought that he would have some struggles when he got up to the Majors, but I didn’t anticipate the excellent performance overall that he has given to this point. The longer that Jason Heyward stays on the disabled list, the more likely it becomes that Strasburg will win the Rookie of the Year award for the National League. He simply looks dominant out there in nearly every start, and the stuff he throws is simply amazing. I hope he can stay healthy long term, as he is really going to be something special if he can.
After so many games being played, it has been a really good season to this point. As it seems to happen every season, there are some things that don’t go the way everyone expects, but it definitely makes it more interesting when there are new stories that emerge over the span of the season. It looks like it’s going to be a good race in many of the divisions, and could go down to the wire.
No post on Tuesday this week, and I’ll be back with a new post on Wednesday.