MLB mid-season review: who's best placed at the All-Star break?
There is only one thing certain about what's left of the 2014 Major League Baseball season – the American League will have home-field advantage in the World Series. That's thanks to a 12-year-old policy that provides the winner of the annual All-Star Game in the Fall Classic. Since the National League lost 5-3 , the NL's representative could wind up playing the biggest game of the year on the road in October.
It's nothing less than farcical, and such a system becomes even more unfortunate after we learn that in the All-Star Game Adam Wainwright may have served up the soon to be retired Derek Jeter , to help provide yet another signature career moment. Keep that in mind if, when the fall chill arrives, the fate of a franchise hinges on the shenanigans of a July exhibition game.
That is certainly part of the legacy of the soon to be gone MLB commissioner Bud Selig, but so is the parity that has defined the first half of the 2014 season. Under the leadership of Selig, , the postseason has expanded from from four teams to 10, and today there are 23 teams within eight games of either first place in their divisions or the wild-card spots. That makes races for playoff positions more inclusive, and allows fans of teams on the fringe to daydream a bit deeper into the schedule. Unlike the silliness surrounding the All-Star Game, there's certainly nothing wrong with that.
On Friday, the second half of the season begins with all 30 teams regrouping, signifying the start of a stretch run that will reveal which ballclubs play for a championship. For now, however, fans of the game suffer through the darkest days of the calendar, 72 hours without any baseball whatsoever. It gives many of us the shakes, but let's use the power of distraction to help get through it. Here's a quick whip around the league, a review of the first half.
American League East
The Boston Red Sox left spring training bidding to repeat as World Series champions, but they have played much closer to the model that crashed to a last-place finish in 2012. The Bosox are 9.5 games out of first place in the AL East, and have the lowest scoring line-up in the American League. Jackie Bradley and Xander Bogaerts disappointed and , who was demoted to make way for the return of Stephen Drew. The bullpen was mostly great, the starters were uneven. But after winning an unlikely title, they entire franchise gets a pass.
The win-now Yankees never get such allowances, but after the loss of four starting pitchers to injuries, even their demanding core of fans are reduced to shrugs. What can you do when you lose , who was competing for a Cy Young award in his first season? How do you make up for CC Sabathia stinking it up yet again before heading to pasture? When your big money free-agent catcher, Brian McCann, puts up minor-league stats, and Carlos Beltran's age finally catches up with him? Nothing. The Yankees are a .500 team at the break and that sounds about right. There will be no playoffs for the second consecutive season, the first time we've seen that in the Bronx That means even more time to focus on the , which may not be such a bad thing for Yankees fans.
The second-placed Toronto Blue Jays and the first-placed Baltimore Orioles are in it for the long haul. The O's have Nelson Cruz, who has every other team wondering why they didn't take a flyer on the outfielder/designated hitter. A 28 first-half home runs and a ticket to the All-Star Game the next, Cruz is carrying Baltimore's offense, and if Chris Davis snaps out of his slump they could become a juggernaut, even without injured catcher Matt Wieters. Still, to take it to the next level they must trade for pitching. The same can be said for the Jays, who are in desperate need for arms to back up boppers Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, who have combined for 43 jacks. Ten-game winner Mark Buehrle can't do it on his own, and the team must bring consistency to the Rogers Centre. At one point they went 18-4, and followed that run by going 11-17. In Tampa, the biggest question is how much longer David Price will stay .
American League Central
The Detroit Tigers have an arms length lead , and that's mostly thanks to the one-two punch of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Despite their own issues with consistency, Detroit likely cruise to another central crown. They must be concerned with Justin Verlander (who spent his All-Star break re-focusing and decompressing ) and Joe Nathan, both of whom sport ERAs way north of their norms. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians are somewhat disappointing, still trying to figure out whether or not they will be buyers or sellers at the upcoming 31 July trading deadline. Perhaps the most noise in the division is coming out of Chicago, where lashed 29 home runs in the first half. Like Cruz, he's a player anybody could have had last offseason.
American League West
There's a lot of fun out in the West, but none of it is happening in Texas, where the last-placed Rangers are about to see their four-year streak of at least 90 wins snapped. Like the Yankees, they have seen their by injuries. Adding to their misery, Prince Fielder arrived via a blockbuster offseason deal but is now out for the season after undergoing neck surgery.
The Oakland A's have no such issues, stunning baseball by recently , shoring up what was already the best pitching staff in the AL. Oakland are the most complete team in MLB, but the Angels are closing in, just 1.5 games behind - Los Angeles are on a tear, winners of 19 of 23 games, playing like a team keen on avenging four seasons of disappointing baseball. is leading the way again, while Albert Pujols' bat returns to respectability if not its former greatness. Like so many other teams, the Angels need pitching to help the surprising Garrett Richards in the rotation.
The Seattle Mariners currently occupy the second wild card slot in the AL, which is somewhat remarkable considering the state of their franchise over the previous decade. Robinson Cano and are All-Stars but have little help in the lineup. So far that hasn't mattered, because Felix Hernandez putting together a career season while Hisashi Iwakuma and the surprising Chris Young make a formidable top three starters. The bullpen has an ERA of 2.39, the best in all of baseball, and that will keep them hanging around until the end. Last but not last in the West, thanks to the Rangers, are the Houston Astros, who make headlines for not being last. After three consecutive seasons in the basement, Houston are fun again, debuting prospects such as and Jon Singleton, while All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve boasts a .335 batting average.
National League West
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