The MLB season hits the halfway mark this week for most teams, and there are MANY surprises across both leagues. This week, we will take a look at the AL by division, reviewing the most surprising and disappointing teams/players. We will look at the NL next week.
Division Leader: Oakland (47-30, 4G ahead of LA Angels)
Most surprising team: Seattle Mariners (42-36, +52 run differential after going 71-91 with a -130 RD in 2013)
Most disappointing team: Texas Rangers (35-41, -54 after going 91-72, +94 in 2013)
Most surprising players: Dallas Keuchel (SP Astros, 8-5 with a 2.78 ERA and solid peripheral stats); Scott Kazmir (SP A’s 9-3 with a 2.66 ERA, allowing about one runner per inning); Derek Norris (A’s C, batting .302/.405/.509)
Most disappointing players: David Freese (batting .226 with no power); Prince Fielder (.247 with only three HRs before a season-ending injury); Raul Ibanez (batting .157, at age 42 he’s most likely done)
Overview: It’s no surprise that the A’s are leading the division – they were great last year and many of us expected them to dominate again this year. I look for them to cruise to a division title. The Angels are hanging in this race thanks to the marginally resurgent Pujols (16 HR despite a low .252 batting average), the continued excellence of Mike Trout (17 HRs, 10 SB, .307 average…the best player in the game today), and their top-3 starters. The bullpen is kind of a mess and will have to be addressed if the Angels are to win a wildcard slot.
The Mariners are the most surprising team in the AL – most observers felt they were still a bat or two short even after adding Robinson Cano – and despite their hot start, I still feel that way. Their offense is nothing special, even allowing for their cavernous home park. Their starting pitching has carried them, especially Felix Hernandez (9-2, 2.28 ERA, 19 BB and 128 K in 120 IP). They definitely have the pitching, but they need to make a move for a bat.
The Rangers are an aging team that missed their chance the past five years, and now need at least a partial rebuild. The offense has been decent-to-good, but the starting pitching has been awful after ace Yu Darvish. Closer Joakim Soria has been absolutely lights-out, and should be traded for prospects at the deadline (PERFECT solution to Pittsburgh’s late-inning bullpen woes!) Houston is better – especially on the mound – but they still are building towards 2016. They should avoid another 100-loss season, though – their starters keep them in most games.
Conclusion: The A’s will win the division, the Angels will move aggressively via trade in July and win a wildcard, the Mariners will fade as their lack of offense comes home to roost, and the Rangers and Astros will fight it out for last place as the Rangers sell off tradeable assets.
Division leader: Detroit (41-32, +13 RD)
Most surprising team: Minnesota Twins (36-39, -18 RD after going 66-96, -174 in 2013)
Most disappointing team: None, although Detroit has been less dominant than expected
Most surprising players: SP Phil Hughes (8-3, 8 BB and 82 K in 95 IP), 2B Brian Dozier (15 HR and 15 SB), 1B Jose Abreu (22 HR as a rookie!), 3B Lonnie Chisenhall (.353 batting avg.), SP Jason Vargas (7-3, 3.16 ERA in 108 IP)
Most disappointing players: 1B Nick Swisher (batting .197 with only 5 HR), 2B Jason Kipnis (.247 with 3 HR), SP Justin Masterson (5.03 ERA with 50 BB in 93 IP), Justin Verlander (4.82 ERA, 42 BB and only 77 K in 104 IP – I’m thinking he’s hurt), RP Joe Nathan (6.18 ERA, 31 H in 27 IP)
Overview: The Tigers are barely getting by on offense, and they are completely reliant on Cabrera and Victor Martinez now to carry the offense. An injury to either would be devastating. The team has a HUGE hole at SS that they must address before October. Detroit has a good rotation as usual, but Verlander’s ineffectiveness leaves them more vulnerable than usual – and the bullpen still has issues.
KC briefly took over first place last week, and their pitching is excellent top to bottom – but this team has a HUGE power problem. They have hit only 43 home runs, far and away the worst in the majors. They need some of their younger guys to find their power stroke, particularly Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler. Cleveland has similar issues, Swisher and Kipnis are really hurting this team right now, but I expect both to have strong second halves – the question is – does Cleveland have the pitching to contend?
Minnesota’s first half has been mostly a mirage and I expect a very poor second half from them. Chicago is better, but still has WAY too many holes on offense.
Conclusion: The division is still Detroit’s to lose, but the gap is closing. One major injury and this is a real dogfight to the end. KC needs to trade for a power bat (good luck with that) while the Indians need a starter (Price would be an excellent fit here). Minnesota and Chicago will be sellers at the trade deadline, and I do not expect a wildcard from this division.
Division leader: Toronto (44-35, +31 RD)
Most surprising team: Toronto (74-88, -44 RD in 2013)
Most disappointing team: Tampa (31-48, -47 RD after going 92-71, +54 in 2013). Honorable mention to the Red Sox (35-43 after 97-65 a year ago, but some regression was generally expected)
Most surprising players: SP Masahiro Tanaka (11-2 2.11 ERA 119 K in 116 IP), Nelson Cruz (.295 with 23 HR), Edwin Encarnacion (24 HR, .598 slg%), Melky Cabrera (15HR, .301 avg.), SP Mark Buehrle (10-4, 2.52 ERA)
Most disappointing players: IF Ben Zobrist (.242 avg, .363 slg%), Dustin Pedrioa (.265 avg, 4 HR), OF Daniel Nava (.210, 2 HR, benched), SP Clay Buchholz (7.02 ERA, 75 H in 50 IP, injured), CC Sabathia (5.28 ERA, injured), Carlos Beltran (.216 avg), Brian McCann (.223 average, .284 on-base%)
Overview: The list of disappointments is MUCH longer than the list of surprises in this division, and a quick look at the disappointing players quickly reveals why the Red Sox and Yankees have struggled thus far. In fact, if it were not for the sheer brilliance of Tanaka, the Yankees would be in serious trouble. Their offense is stagnant, their rotation is average after Tanaka, and their best feature is the back end of their bullpen. They are a .500 team as currently constructed.
The Blue Jays have had the most surprising players and hence the best record. The offense is legit, but that was true a season ago – the question is the starting pitching, and I have concerns. Buehrle is off to a GREAT start, but there’s nothing to suggest he’s any more than he’s always been – a finesse control lefty. I look for his ERA to end up at or near 4.00 when the season is over, which suggests a rough second half for him. RA Dickey is now an average starter at best, and the rest of the rotation is highly questionable. NO true contender needs to trade for a starter more than Toronto, and with Price unlikely to be traded within the division I expect the Jays to be heavily in on the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija. If they get an ace, they should win what is now a very mediocre division – but if they stand pat, they could easily fall by the wayside.
Baltimore is in a similar spot – good offense, average rotation. I see room for growth with their bats – Chris Davis still isn’t back to form, for example – and I think Jimenez should have a better second half in the rotation. Like so many others, though, they could use a starter if they want to win the division.
Boston and Tampa are both done. Boston was likely to decline in any case, but the ineffectiveness of their outfield, combined with injuries to the pitching staff, has decimated their season. I look for them to be big-time sellers at the deadline. Tampa is already in selling mode, and they can expect a HUGE return for Price. They might also look to move a player like Zobrist, or perhaps a bullpen arm or two. They are better than they’ve shown thus far, but when they trade Price and others they likely will guarantee themselves last place this year.
Conclusion: This is too close to call, and much will depend on injuries/trades in the second half. Most times, a rental trade is overrated, but in this division one decisive move could well make all the difference. Toronto has the lead and the proven willingness to make a big trade, so I’m going to say they end up hanging on to the division. NY should end up second if some of their big guns return to form, with Baltimore close behind.
We’ll take a peek around the NL next week.
Dave Glass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.