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.
Oct 2, 2014, 12:18 AM EDT
The game was pretty much wrapped up at this point for the Giants, but watch Pablo Sandoval go over the Pirates’ dugout railing to make a catch in foul territory in Wednesday night’s NL Wild Card Game …
Oct 1, 2014, 11:54 PM EDT
After Wednesday’s 8-0 loss, it’s time for the Pirates to start thinking about next year.
Oct 1, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
Madison Bumgarner dominated over nine shutout innings and Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam as San Francisco cruised to an easy 8-0 victory over the host Pirates on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
Oct 1, 2014, 10:22 PM EDT
The Dodgers’ workout Wednesday afternoon in Los Angeles was closed off to the media, so we’ll have to trust the club’s own reporting on injured left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu …
Oct 1, 2014, 9:38 PM EDT
The Giants are out to a 4-0 lead in the National League Wild Card Game at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park courtesy of a fourth-inning grand slam by shortstop Brandon Crawford.
Oct 1, 2014, 9:08 PM EDT
Marlins ace Jose Fernandez picked up a baseball on Wednesday for the first time since undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery on May 16.
Oct 1, 2014, 8:13 PM EDT
The procedure went as planned and d’Arnaud is expected to be fully recovered by the start of spring training next February.
Oct 1, 2014, 7:19 PM EDT
Punto hit just .207 with two homers and a .589 OPS in 73 games.
Oct 1, 2014, 6:33 PM EDT
Jason Vargas, who spent last season in the Angels’ rotation before signing with the Royals as a free agent, will start Game 1 for Kansas City.
Oct 1, 2014, 6:19 PM EDT
The Angels have announced their rotation for the ALDS against the Royals.
Oct 1, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT
Tony Cruz gets the nod as Yadier Molina’s backup.
Oct 1, 2014, 5:12 PM EDT
Welp, there’s two reasons he’ll never accept an invitation to my house.
Oct 1, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
ALDS manager drama!
Oct 1, 2014, 4:34 PM EDT
The Tuesday wild card game got ratings 14% higher than last year’s Tuesday wild card game.
Oct 1, 2014, 4:04 PM EDT
Not a ton of surprises. Gaby Sanchez in at first over Ike Davis because of the lefty on the hill. Otherwise, play ball.
Oct 1, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
Ron Gardenhire was fired Monday after 13 seasons, the last four of which have seen the Twins lose 90 or more games.
Oct 1, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
Somehow, it all seemed to tie this strange 2014 season together in one fitting package, though the end result wasn’t what anyone in green and gold wanted.
Oct 1, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Thanks for sharing, Aubrey.
Oct 1, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT
Adam Wainwright will start Game 1 against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
- Madison Bumgarner delivers a shutout as Giants roll past Pirates in NL Wild Card Game 5
- Angels announce ALDS rotation: Jered Weaver in Game 1, Matt Shoemaker for Game 2 2
- The beauty of belief 42
- MLB to test new pace-of-play rules in the Arizona Fall League — including a pitch clock 44
- Playoff Reset: The National League Wild Card Game 15
- Video: Salvador Perez walks off Royals in Wild Card Game 3
- Small ball prevails … in a 9-8 game 25
- Royals complete thrilling comeback to defeat A’s in the American League Wild Card Game 75
- Hunter Pence dropped a bunch of F-bombs in his postgame speech. Good. (116)
- Barry Bonds discovered to be “glassing” — it’s just as bad as you think (90)
- And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights (85)
- Ned Yost on the sixth inning and his bullpen usage: “its just one of those things” (81)
- Previewing the 2014 Playoffs (80)