We’re roughly midway through the 2012 MLB season, and there are still plenty of teams in the playoff hunt—especially with the extra wild-card addition to the postseason.
Many teams have suffered key injuries and a poor first half, but there are still 13 teams within seven games of a division leader entering Monday.
Whether those injured players are currently rehabbing, or struggling players are finding their way out of slumps, there are several clubs poised for a second-half surge.
Let’s examine some of these teams and figure out how they’re going to make their way back from the bottom or middle of the pack into contention.
The Philadelphia Phillies haven’t played near their capability this season.
Three of their most talented players have been injured. Ryan Howard just started rehabbing his torn Achilles' tendon, Chase Utley missed nearly the entire first half of the year with a bad knee and Roy Halladay is currently on the 15-day DL with a lat strain.
The Phillies have also had issues scoring runs when their better pitchers have been on the mound. For example, Cliff Lee should not be winless in 13 starts. The Phillies' offense has taken a hit with Howard and Utley out of the lineup, but they have to score runs when Lee gives them the opportunity to win.
Philly's disappointing season has come to the point where they have started to gauge interest in their star pitcher—and impending free agent—Cole Hamels, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The Phillies could still contend if they decided to deal Lee instead of Hamels with the aforementioned trio all healthy, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
The key to the Phillies' comeback in the NL East is their health. They can’t—and won’t—win if they can’t stay healthy for the rest of the season. Philadelphia is pretty far behind the division-leading Washington Nationals, but Phillies fans shouldn’t lose hope just yet.
Carlos Ruiz and Hunter Pence are doing their best to keep this team afloat, and Utley is already proving that he can still be a valuable member of the squad.
Watch for the Phillies to make a big push toward a wild-card berth once Howard and Halladay return.
The Tampa Bay Rays have been playing without All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria for a good portion of the season. It’s never easy to replace your lineup’s best hitter, but somehow the Rays are still in the AL East race—as are the other three teams behind the New York Yankees.
Over the past 30 days, the Rays rank among the worst in the AL at third-base production with 0.1 WAR. Longoria has stated that his rehab is moving in the right direction and that he hopes to return sooner rather than later, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
The Rays' pitching is what’s kept them in contention this year. David Price and James Shields have pitched well, and Fernando Rodney has been a nice surprise at closer. Without these three, the Rays have no chance at postseason action.
The Rays also haven’t gotten much help out of rookie hurler Matt Moore. Moore has only won in only four of his 15 starts this season, and, despite striking out 9.2 batters per nine innings, he’s also walked 4.3 per nine. If he can get hot, that would be a huge advantage for Joe Maddon and the Rays.
The AL East is a tough division to conquer and, even with a healthy Longoria, it’s not going to be easy. They will face an AL East opponent 35 times in the second half of the season, which could help them gain ground in the division and potentially take a lead.
We all saw what the Rays were able to do in the second half of last season; could they do it again?
For whatever reason, the Detroit Tigers just haven’t clicked this season like they did last year. You would assume that the addition of Prince Fielder over the offseason would help the Tigers, but they’re currently under .500 and one of the worst teams in the AL. I don’t mean worst talent-wise, but worst WAR-wise, according to FanGraphs.
What is surprising is that Fielder and Miguel Cabrera have played very well, yet the Tigers still can’t seem to figure it out. Austin Jackson, who had been pretty bad over the last few seasons, has been incredible for Detroit this year and leads the offense in WAR.
Outside of Justin Verlander, the Tigers' pitching staff hasn’t been very impressive either. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello—the team’s No. 2 and No. 3 starters—have been adequate at best this season. Even Jose Valverde, who was dominant last season, hasn’t been sharp.
The AL Central is still very up for grabs, which is a big part of the reason the Tigers aren’t close to being out of the division yet. They don’t have the easiest second-half schedule, but if the pitching can step up their game, the Tigers should be in good shape.
If GM Dave Dombrowski isn’t satisfied with the pitching by the trade deadline, look for the Tigers to make a move. As Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi tweets, Shaun Marcum could be an option for them. Detroit also might get a boost to their lineup if Victor Martinez can quickly recover from his torn ACL, though Chris Iott of MLive.com writes it wouldn’t be until late September.
Either way, I wouldn’t be too worried if I were a Tigers fan. There are plenty of games left to be played, and you can’t count out a team with Justin Verlander on it.
There’s recently been a lot of speculation as to whether the Milwaukee Brewers will become buyers or sellers this trade deadline. Rumors involving Zack Greinke have also started to spiral, and the Brewers could end up dealing him.
Greinke has easily been Milwaukee’s best pitcher this season as they sit in the middle of the NL Central pack. The Brewers have been decent at home this year but have really struggled on the road. Being able to win on the road will be essential for their playoff hopes, as they’ll end up facing a much easier road schedule down the stretch.
There’s no question that Prince Fielder leaving for Detroit has hurt the Milwaukee offense. Ryan Braun has still put on a show this season, but he can’t win a division all by his lonesome. I would suggest that Milwaukee go out and acquire another big hitter if they’re going to go all out and try to win the division this year. Another arm in the starting rotation wouldn’t hurt either.
The Brewers had a very good run differential by the end of last season when they won the NL Central, and this season it’s dipped into the negatives. It’s going to be very important to turn that number around in the second half.
Finally, we reach the Boston Red Sox. It’s been a very interesting first half of the season in Boston, for sure. They’ve accrued countless injuries to key players that have forced them to start players that some of you probably have never heard of.
Parts of the starting rotation have been a joke at times, and several key offensive pieces have had power outages. Mike Aviles has more home runs this year than both Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez. A logjam at third base forced Boston to ship veteran Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox. Nearly nothing has gone right for Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox.
The second half is nearly guaranteed to be a different story, though.
Boston will start to get some of those key missing players back from injuries. Last season’s MVP runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury should return shortly after the All-Star break, as will Carl Crawford. Also set to make a second-half appearance is reliever Andrew Bailey, their offseason acquisition.
David Ortiz has nearly single-handedly kept Boston in the race. Despite being in the cellar of the AL East for the majority of the season, they’re only a few games behind now.
Will Middlebrooks should continue to improve with more experience in the majors, and other struggling bats may come alive this summer. The AL East is wide open, and all five teams will have their opportunity to take the division crown.
With all of the injured players that Boston will start to get back—along with those who are already playing well this season—Boston is definitely poised for a second-half surge.