MLB 2012: 6 Storylines That Will Last Through All Star Break
As we move closer to the midsummer classic, we also move closer to the "dog days of summer." This is the time of the season when baseball fans begin to learn a lot about their teams.
With the new postseason format, one more team will make the playoffs in each league. This could very well change the shape of MLB this summer, which could lead to some unexpected teams becoming buyers at the trading deadline.
With each day that passes, we're that much closer to the excitement of baseball during the stretch run. Here are some of the biggest storylines that are sure to last through the All-Star break and into the "dog days of summer."
Will Albert Pujols Show His Worth?
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Albert Pujols has not been himself since the beginning of the regular season. Pujols has struggled to hit the ball consistently following his move to Los Angeles.
His numbers are hardly reminiscent of his Hall of Fame career. He is batting a measly .259 with just 11 HRs and 43 RBIs. These are by far the worst numbers of his career. It's extremely perplexing because Pujols has never really struggled in his entire career.
The Angels have $240 million invested in Pujols. So far, he is a major question mark heading into the second half of the season.
Will Bryce Harper Be Even Better in the Second Half of the Year?
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Bryce Harper has been a sensation since his promotion to the major leagues. The 19-year-old phenom has had little trouble adjusting to major league pitching.
In 49 games, Harper is batting .281 with 7 HRs and 20 RBIs. Even more surprising is his team. The Washington Nationals are 41-29 and hold a 3.5 game lead in the NL East.
Before the season, most analysts believed the Nationals were on the rise but still a few years away from truly contending. If Harper can improve during the second half of the season, they will have a legitimate opportunity to win their division.
Harper is well on his way to an extremely successful career. It might even start with a NL Rookie of the Year award and surprise trip to the postseason.
Can the Phillies Turn It Around?
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The Philadelphia Phillies have been a disaster thus far. Expectations were high this season with the Phils' massive payroll and talent on paper.
Unfortunately, paper doesn't win you baseball games. The Phils are in last place in the NL East and are nine games out of first place—certainly an unexpected situation for the team that won 102 games last season.
Cliff Lee is winless, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have yet to play a single game and Roy Halladay is still weeks from returning from the disabled list.
According to Phillies.com, it's possible that Utley could get activated this Wednesday. Nobody knows exactly what to expect from Utley when he does return. He hasn't truly been healthy since the 2009 World Series.
One has to wonder if the injuries have become too much to overcome and if this just isn't their year.
Can Underdog Teams Keep Pace?
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Multiple teams have already played above their expectations in 2012. With the extra team added to the postseason in each league, this may be the season that one of these teams breaks through.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles are all within 3.5 games of first place in their respected divisions. The Chicago White Sox and Washington Nationals both sit atop of their divisions.
It's very possible that one or more of these teams could find their way into the postseason.
A team like the Pirates might be willing to make a trade to get them over the top. The White Sox already did with their acquisition of Kevin Youkilis. It's good for the teams, and baseball in general, that there are more clubs competing for a spot in the playoffs.
Will Tim Lincecum Get "Freaky" During Stretch Run?
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Tim Lincecum has had a poor season thus far. He has a 2-8 record with a 6.07 ERA. The Giants have continued to put him out there to pitch, even though he has accounted for 40 percent of the Giants losses this season.
The Giants and Lincecum have adamantly stated that he's healthy, but his performance dictates otherwise. Jim Bowden of ESPN had an interesting point regarding Lincecum:
"I can’t tell you how many pitchers during my career as a general manager said they were healthy and were even backed up by the trainers, but tests revealed they were really hurt."
The Giants would be very wise to take every single precaution with their ace. They need him healthy if they are going to make another trip to the postseason.
Can Anyone Stop Josh Hamilton?
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Josh Hamilton has been a force throughout this season. So far, he's batting .320 with 22 HRs and 64 RBIs. If he keeps it up, he may be adding to his collection of MVP trophies.
When Hamilton is locked in as he is, he's virtually unstoppable. The biggest problem for him in his career, besides his personal struggles, have been injuries.
Every time it seems Hamilton is going to dominate MLB for an entire season, he gets injured and misses time.
When it comes down to it, the only person who can stop Josh Hamilton is Josh Hamilton. He needs to play smart during the second half of the season.