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
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.
- The David Price Drama
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.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:35 PM EDT
The Blue Jays added an outfield bench bat, picking up John Mayberry, Jr. from the Phillies on Sunday.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT
The Brewers tried but ultimately failed to acquire David Price from the Rays in July because they refused to part with pitcher Jimmy Nelson.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
Bryce Harper entered August with numbers far below expectations. He’ll enter September with much better-looking stats thanks to a decent showing in August, including a spectacular finish on Sunday.
Aug 31, 2014, 9:35 PM EDT
Aroldis Chapman has had a great season, as usual, but he could do something no pitcher has done since the implementation of pitch-tracking technology in 2006.
Aug 31, 2014, 8:40 PM EDT
Is it really a good thing if one’s team is one of only two teams in the last 113 years to have four relatively old players accrue a significant amount of playing time?
Aug 31, 2014, 7:45 PM EDT
The Yankees picked up Chaz Roe on the cheap from the Marlins on Sunday, just ahead of the waiver deadline.
Aug 31, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
Adam Dunn is ready to call it a career, he told the media on Sunday after he was traded from the White Sox to the Athletics.
Aug 31, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT
Kolten Wong hit his head on the ground pursuing a ball hit by Chris Valaika in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game against the Cubs. He was helped off the field, and he’ll undergo testing after the game.
Aug 31, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT
Rusney Castillo made his debut in MLB-affiliated ball on Sunday afternoon with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox, singling through the left side of the infield in his first of two plate appearances and striking out looking in his second.
Aug 31, 2014, 4:17 PM EDT
Watch as Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista leaves the yard for the fifth time in five games Sunday afternoon against the Yankees …
Aug 31, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT
Derek Jeter’s retirement tour continued Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre in Toronto, where the Blue Jays presented him a $10,000 check for his Turn 2 Foundation and this really cool trip …
Aug 31, 2014, 2:33 PM EDT
Hyun-Jin Ryu is back in the Dodgers’ starting rotation after missing a little over two weeks with a strained glute and Juan Uribe is back at third base after sitting out 15 days with a strained hamstring.
Aug 31, 2014, 1:48 PM EDT
The National League Central-leading Brewers just made a pretty significant upgrade to their bullpen. From Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com comes word that Milwaukee has acquired right-handed reliever Jonathan Broxton in a waiver trade with the Reds.
Aug 31, 2014, 12:55 PM EDT
Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera had to leave the second half of Saturday’s doubleheader against the White Sox after struggling to make it down the first base line on a fourth-inning groundout. He’s been battling a right ankle injury for several weeks, and it seems only to be getting worse.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT
The A’s announced Sunday morning that they have acquired veteran designated hitter Adam Dunn from the White Sox for minor league reliever Nolan Sanburn.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:37 AM EDT
Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is sitting out a second consecutive game after injuring his left ankle on a slide into home plate Friday night …
Aug 31, 2014, 10:53 AM EDT
Jay Bruce finished 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Saturday’s loss to the Pirates and is now batting .217/.292/.369 with 130 strikeouts in 114 total games this season. He’s sporting a career-worst .661 OPS and it looks like he’ll finish with fewer than 20 home runs for the first time since breaking into the major leagues in 2008.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:01 AM EDT
White Sox veteran slugger Adam Dunn appears willing to waive his no-trade clause and join a contending team for his first taste of postseason baseball …
Aug 31, 2014, 9:34 AM EDT
Check out Alexi Amarista guiding the Padres to their third consecutive extra-innings walkoff victory with an RBI single to shallow left-center field Saturday night against the visiting Dodgers …
Aug 31, 2014, 8:58 AM EDT
This weekend has been a nightmare for the A’s. They headed into Anaheim on Thursday for the start of a four-game series with the goal of recapturing the lead in the American League West standings, but runs have been difficult to come by and now the Angels enter play Sunday looking for the sweep.
- Reds trade setup man Jonathan Broxton to the Brewers 14
- Miguel Cabrera sits Sunday with nagging ankle injury 11
- A’s acquire veteran slugger Adam Dunn from the White Sox 53
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 18
- Orioles acquire Kelly Johnson from the Red Sox 15
- Orioles acquire Alejandro De Aza from the White Sox 6
- Bryce Harper is 15th player in MLB history to reach 50 career homers before age-22 season 31
- The Dodgers took the shift to the extreme last night 51
- Forgiveness for Pete Rose? Not in this lifetime (146)
- Albert Pujols plays the “you never played the game!” card (104)
- Great Moments in Drug Testing and Punishment: The NFL Edition (101)
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights (75)