Skip to content

Looking ahead to the second half of the season

Jul 16, 2014, 11:03 AM EDT

The All-Star Game is over and, though nearly 100 games of the 162-game season have already been played by most teams, we refer to what happens next as baseball’s second half. And we traditionally take this day — maybe the slowest sports day of the year — to look forward to that second half and see what it holds.

Some contenders are pretenders and some teams which claim to be buyers at the trade deadline probably actually won’t be. Let’s sort it all out.

THE DIVISION RACES — A BEAUTIFUL MESS

  • American League East

The Orioles sport a four-game lead and look to be the least-poorly-put-together team in a division in which every team has a flaw. The Rays are hot right now but they dug themselves a pretty big hole. Plus, as I’ll note below, winning could actually complicate their trade deadline plans. Trades will probably loom larger here than anywhere, as either the Orioles, Jays or Yankees getting a starting pitcher could change the complexion of the race. Well, maybe the Yankees could use three starting pitchers with the way things have gone for them, but the fact is that there is no dominant team here and anything could happen.

  • American League Central

This is the Tigers’ division. Everyone else is just living in it. The Royals dropped three of four to Detroit at home leading into the break and lack the consistency on offense, it seems, to mount any kind of sustained challenge. Not that the Tigers are invincible. The rotation seems more vulnerable than it has in recent years, particularly Justin Verlander‘s slot, and as always, Detroit will use the second half to try to figure out the best way to deploy its bullpen resources.

  • American League West

The A’s are the best team in baseball and they sent more All-Stars to Minnesota than anyone. But, there they sit, only a game and a half up on the Angels, who have been fantastic this year to much quieter fanfare. And despite the fact that the Angels have a large lead as the top wild card team and a 90%+ chance of reaching the playoffs, they have a big incentive to actually win the division here. That’s because, if the season ended today, they’d play the Mariners in a one-game wild card playoff. The Mariners have Felix Hernandez, and if you have to win one game to survive you do NOT want to face Felix Hernandez to do it.

  • National League East

The Braves and Nats are in a virtual tie for the lead and no one else is particualrly close, but it sorta feels like the Braves have already lost their best chance to win this thing. The Nats were hurt and often looked confused in the first half, but Atlanta didn’t put any distance between them. Now the Nationals are getting healthy and, one feels anyway, like they’ll slowly start to build distance between themselves and Atlanta. One key to all of this, of course, is how hurt Jordan Zimmermann is. He missed the All-Star Game due to a bicep strain. Is that a cause for concern or wass it one of those “get me out of the All-Star-Game free” cards?

  • National League Central

This is gonna be crazy. The Brewers jumped out to a big lead and then slowly surrendered it, skidding into the All-Star Break. The Cardinals, Pirates and Reds started poorly and then righted their respective ships and now all four of these contenders are separated by only three and a half games. The key here is probably going to be health. The Brewers may have less overall talent than the other three teams, but they’re healthier. Yadier Molina, Michael Wacha, Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Aroldis Chapman are all key parts of the two most-talented teams which will be out of commission for a while. The Pirates probably have the division’s best player in Andrew McCuthen, but they have the biggest deficit too. If you were trying to properly weigh these teams like they were Pinewood Derby cars in an effort to create a total toss-up of a race for the second half, it’d be harder to do a better job than the fates have done here. Sit back and enjoy it as this chaos unfold.

  • National League West

A one game lead looks close, but these are teams heading in different directions. The Giants’ big early lead was built on a lot of unexpected power that didn’t seem sustainable and wasn’t. The Dodgers’ rotation is frankly ridiculous and, if they want to be total jerks about it, they have the talent and financial resources from which to trade and get more pitching. Or, if you’re the suspicious type, to keep pitching from going elsewhere. They could use the bullpen help, actually. If 2010 and 2012 meant anything it meant that you can never count out the Giants, but I sorta feel like counting out the Giants at the moment.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR AT THE TRADE DEADLINE

  • Gridlock

Don’t expect a lot to happen until the 11th hour before the trade deadline, as parity and the second wild card have created a situation in which far more teams believe they can win than in years past and are thus looking to be buyers. Or at least wanting to appear like they’re buyers for as long as possible so as not to signal to their fans that they’re throwing in the towel, thus leading to a drop in ticket sales.

He’s obviously the biggest name rumored to be on the block, but the Rays are always a bit hard to figure. They are winning an awful lot lately and, at least publicly, are talking like a team which thinks it can contend. If so, they may not be so eager to trade their best player. But that may be bluster, of course — I tend to think it is — and the Rays may very well be trying to shoot the moon in a deal. The Cubs got a tremendous prospect in Addison Russell when they traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics. Given that example the Rays will likely want one — or, more likely, two — top prospects for Price. In an age where prospects are valued insanely highly — probably too highly — it may be difficult for another team to pull the trigger on that kind of deal. This one likely goes to the wire.

  • Bullpen arms are the most likely things to move

Well, the bodies attached to them too. Everyone could use a bullpen upgrade, always. Even teams with great bullpens. There are never enough arms to go around, it seems, but bullpen arms are reasonably priced enough that they tend to get traded often. I would expect most of the moves we see happen be the shuffling around of relief pitchers, most of whom aren’t household names.

  • Teams likely to be the most aggressive buyers

Yankees, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Braves and Giants. All of them either are or, in the Yankees case, think they are, contenders with a flaw or an injury which needs to be addressed and all of them are teams which have shown in the past that they will make a big deal if they need to. The Royals and Mariners, on the other hand, are teams that could use a player but which, historically, have not been too eager to add payroll or enter into blockbusters.

  • Players besides David Price most likely to move

Cliff Lee, Chase Headley, Josh Willingham, Adam Dunn, Erik Bedard, Matt Joyce, Dexter Fowler, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jake Peavy. Bats are in short supply and Headley and Willingham are talked about as candidates to move every year it seems. Eventually they have to be moved, right? The rest of the guys are either playing for losers or are close to walking in free agency.

It’s a two and a half month sprint to the finish, folks. Check back to HardballTalk every day between now and the end of the season for help in sorting out this wonderful, beautiful and unwieldily mess of a baseball season.

 

 

Latest Posts
  1. Jose Abreu joined select company with his 162nd career game

    Apr 26, 2015, 11:05 PM EDT

    Jose Abreu Jose Abreu

    Jose Abreu, one might say, is good at hitting baseballs.

  2. Max Scherzer thinks the National League should adopt the DH

    Apr 26, 2015, 10:15 PM EDT

    Max Scherzer Max Scherzer

    Max Scherzer made an argument for bringing the DH to the National League.

  3. The market for Cole Hamels is getting bigger

    Apr 26, 2015, 9:25 PM EDT

    Cole Hamels Cole Hamels

    Perhaps Phillies GM Ruben Amaro was right to hold onto Cole Hamels.

  4. Alex Rodriguez hits 659th career home run, now one shy of tying Willie Mays

    Apr 26, 2015, 8:39 PM EDT

    Alex Rodriguez Alex Rodriguez

    Alex Rodriguez hit his 659th career home run on Sunday night against the Mets, leaving him one shy of tying Willie Mays.

  5. Video: Alex Gordon dives into the stands to make the catch

    Apr 26, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT

    Alex Gordon Getty Images

    Alex Gordon made an exceptional catch to help Edinson Volquez in Sunday’s game against the White Sox.

  6. Orioles score 18 runs against the Red Sox, setting a new club record

    Apr 26, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT

    Manny Machado, Rey Navarro Manny Machado, Rey Navarro

    The Orioles set a club record for runs scored and the Red Sox starting rotation continues to falter.

  7. A’s sign Ryan Roberts to minor league contract

    Apr 26, 2015, 5:17 PM EDT

    ryan roberts getty Getty Images

    As first reported by Jeff Hem, the play-by-play announcer for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, the Athletics have signed veteran infielder Ryan Roberts to a minor league contract.

  8. A’s option fifth starter Kendall Graveman to AAA

    Apr 26, 2015, 4:22 PM EDT

    kendall graveman getty Getty Images

    Graveman allowed six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings Saturday in a loss to the Astros, falling to 1-2 on the season with an 8.27 ERA and 2.02 WHIP in 16 1/3 total frames (four starts).

  9. Pitchers batting is dumb and the DH should be universal

    Apr 26, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT

    adam wainwirght getty Getty Images

    And no, I don’t say that just because Adam Wainwright has been lost for the season due to an injury sustained while hitting.

  10. Dodgers place Yasiel Puig and Joel Peralta on the DL

    Apr 26, 2015, 2:58 PM EDT

    dodgers logo

    Two important Dodgers are now on the shelf.

  11. Max Scherzer doubtful for next start due to thumb injury

    Apr 26, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    scherzer getty Getty Images

    Scherzer jammed his right thumb during an at-bat Thursday afternoon against the Cardinals. It doesn’t sound like a serious injury, but the $210 million right-hander isn’t going to be rushed back.

  12. Jose Bautista hopes to return early this week

    Apr 26, 2015, 1:02 PM EDT

    jose bautista getty Getty Images

    Last week, it looked like Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista might be headed to the 15-day disabled list with a right shoulder strain. He has now missed five straight games, but the news Sunday was good …

  13. Navy lieutenant Mitch Harris made his MLB debut

    Apr 26, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT

    mitch harris getty Getty Images

    Cardinals right-hander Mitch Harris is the first graduate of the United States Naval Academy to appear in a major league game since 1921.

  14. Dodgers sign Mike Carp to minor league deal

    Apr 26, 2015, 11:29 AM EDT

    mike carp getty Getty Images

    The 28-year-old first baseman and outfielder will report to the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City.

  15. Brandon McCarthy left his start Saturday with tight elbow

    Apr 26, 2015, 10:40 AM EDT

    brandon mccarthy getty Getty Images

    Dodgers right-hander Brandon McCarthy called for a trainer immediately after serving up a three-run homer to Padres slugger Justin Upton in the bottom of the sixth inning Saturday night at Petco Park.

  16. Protesters converge on Oriole Park at Camden Yards

    Apr 26, 2015, 9:51 AM EDT

    ALCS - Kansas City Royals v Baltimore Orioles - Game One Getty Images

    It was a long, tense Saturday night at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, where the home team needed extra innings to beat the Red Sox inside the park and thousands of protesters angry over the death of Freddie Gray made their presence felt outside.

  17. It sure sounds like Adam Wainwright suffered a torn Achilles tendon on Saturday night

    Apr 26, 2015, 9:24 AM EDT

    adam wainwirght getty Getty Images

    The official word — for now — from the Cardinals is that ace right-hander Adam Wainwright left his start Saturday night against the Brewers because of a “left ankle injury.” But watch the video for yourself …

  18. Settling the Score: Saturday’s results

    Apr 26, 2015, 8:37 AM EDT

    ryan braun getty Getty Images

    It’s getting uglier and uglier for the Brew Crew.

  19. Hisashi Iwakuma has a Grade 1 lat strain, will miss 2-4 weeks

    Apr 25, 2015, 11:05 PM EDT

    Hisashi Iwakuma Hisashi Iwakuma

    Hisashi Iwakuma could miss up to a month after being diagnosed with a Grade 1 strain of his right lat muscle.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. J. Hamilton (4313)
  2. A. Russell (3261)
  3. J. Bautista (3011)
  4. J. Maxwell (2950)
  5. D. Smyly (2880)
  1. D. Travis (2846)
  2. Y. Puig (2829)
  3. A. Guerrero (2810)
  4. M. Saunders (2803)
  5. B. Zobrist (2697)