The 86th Major League All-Star Game is this coming Tuesday in Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park. With the season approaching its annual midway point, here are my thoughts on underachieving teams and players as well as top performing teams and players.
Houston Astros: No one, including myself expected the young Astros to lead the AL West at midseason or their young core be consistent on an everyday basis. Second baseman Jose Altuve and shortshop Carlos Correa provide stability to an otherwise changing infield alignment. Furthermore, outside of Dallas Keuchel and a bullpen stacked with veterans (Luke Gregerson and Tony Sipp, come to mind). I believe the team’s youth will be tested in the second half. Specifically, the middle of the team’s starting rotation (Lance McCullers, Vincent Velasquez and Collin McHugh) are three inexperienced starters who are in the middle of the playoff hunt and it will be interesting to see how the team as a whole performs in the second half and if October baseball is indeed in their future.
Minnesota Twins: As a Twins fan, the combination of first year manager Paul Molitor and a young roster (highlighted by Bryon Buxton and Miguel Sano) the team was expected to finish at the bottom of the standings this year. The team will be tested by how consistent their veteran pitchers can be throughout the second half, notably Phil Hughes and Ervin Santana.
Chicago Cubs: The signing of Jon Lester and the hiring of Joe Maddon are the storylines everyone was talking about in the 2014 offseason. However, rookies Kris Bryant and Addison Russell as well as the rise of starter Jake Arrieta have been in season storylines which have led to the Cubbies’ solid first half (second place in the NL Central behind a dominant Cardinals’ squad). Keep an eye on in them second half. I do not see them fading fast, anytime soon.
San Diego Padres: Yes, new General Manager A.J. Preller’s spending spree in the offseason is looking dubious now. However, with the dramatic roster turnover I have to give him a little bit of a break here (just a little one). The team was expected to contend with the Dodgers and Giants or at least finish close to .500 with the improvement on offense with the additions of Melvin Upton Jr. and Justin Upton as well as Derrick Norris.
Detroit Tigers: In my AL Central preview, I picked the Tigers to run away with the division practically. However, with an inconsistent season from Justin Verlander and the bullpen this hasn’t happened. To make things worse, first baseman Miguel Cabrera was lost for six weeks due to a left calf strain. On the plus side, J.D. Martinez (.289 AVG, 24 home runs 16 doubles and 58 runs batted in) and Yoenis Cespedes (.292 AVG, 12 home runs, 25 doubles and 46 runs batted in) have followed up their quality 2014 campaigns with just just as good 2015 first halves, respectively.
Boston Red Sox: With the signings of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, expectations were high once again at Fenway Park. Unfortunately, only the signing of Ramirez has worked out for Boston to this point. Sandoval’s now infamous Instagram activities during a game between Boston and the Atlanta Braves put the three-time World Series champ in the spotlight for violating the league’s social media policy. Shortshop Xander Bogarts (.304 AVG, three home runs and 40 runs batted in) and outfielder Mookie Betts (.279 AVG, nine home runs, 41 runs batted in and 13 stolen bases) have shown flashes of an oncoming youth movement that is imminent for the Red Sox. On the pitching side, I have to say the pitching of Wade Miley (eight wins) and Clay Buchholz (seven wins) has provided some consistency to an otherwise shaky starting rotation.
All these are on the positive side of things.
Alex Rodriguez, DH, New York Yankees: Yes, he was suspended for a year by the league for his involvement in the Biogenesis Drug Scandal. However, even I have to admit what A-Rod has been doing this season to this point (.280 AVG, 16 home runs and 47 runs batted in) is beyond expectation. Furthermore 3,000+ hits and 2,000+ career RBIs is nothing to frown at, no matter the circumstances.
Albert Pujols, First Baseman, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: What Pujols did in June (an Angels team record 13 home runs) was something to watch (or in my case to listen to via MLB At Bat). This has continued not so much for Pujols into July but the Halos’ offense as a whole (43 runs scored in their five July games) for an average of 8.6 runs per game.
Bryce Harper, Outfielder, Washington Nationals: The former first overall pick of the 2010 amateur draft looks to finally be having the season (.343 AVG, 25 home runs and 60 runs batted in) where his health and his play on the field finally can coexist.