MLB's 10 Biggest Surprises of the 1st Half
It's amazing to think that we've already been through half of the MLB regular season. We've already watched new faces emerge into stars, teams with low expectations lead their division, encountered unusual circumstances and much more. The season is still young, but in this slideshow, I will reveal the top 10 biggest surprises in the first half of the 2012 MLB season.
10. Miami Marlins
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One of the biggest spenders in the off-season, the Miami Marlins were projected by many analysts to be the team to beat in the NL East. I was not on the Marlins bandwagon pre-season and correctly predicted them as one of the most overrated teams in baseball.
Their winter spending spree was headlined by former Mets shortstop, Jose Reyes. The Marlins signed Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle for a combined $191 million.
Reyes has been average at best, hitting .264, with 41 runs, 38 walks and 20 stolen bases in 341 at bats. Mark Buehrle has been the best of the three, pitching to a 3.25 ERA, 1.13 Whip, with an 8-8 record in 113.2 innings. The most disappointing new addition to the Marlins has been closer Heath Bell. Bell has blown a major league leading six saves in 25 chances, with a 6.75 ERA in 34.2 innings pitched.
Their best player, Giancarlo Stanton, who has 19 home runs on the season, just received knee surgery and will be out four-to-six weeks after the all-star break. Emilio Bonifacio has been out since May 15th with a thumb injury but is on track to return later this week.
The Marlins have some good players and shown flashes of greatness, but their offense and bullpen are too inconsistent to catch the Washington Nationals in the National League East.
9. Five No-Hitters in the First Half
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Aren't These Suppose To Be Rare?
There aren't many feats more impressive than pitching a no-hitter or a perfect game in Major League Baseball. However, the feat is starting to become less and less rare.
From 2000 to 2009 there were 15 no-hitters thrown (two perfect games), and in the past three years alone, there have been 14 no-hitters (four perfect games). In the recent years, pitchers have become more dominant, and hitters tend to swing for the fences fairly often.
Philip Humber of the White Sox threw the first perfect game of the year on April 21st vs. the Seattle Mariners. The White Sox won the game 4-0 at Safeco Field.
The same umpire who called Humber's perfect game was also behind the plate for the Mariners six-pitcher-combined no-hitter of the Los Angeles Dodgers, which took place on June 8th. Kevin Milwood left after six innings with an injury, leaving the rest of the game up to Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen. They closed the door, and the Mariners won the game 1-0.
Jered Weaver became the second player to throw a no-hitter in the 2012 season when he no-hit the Minnesota Twins in a 9-0 victory on May 2nd. The third player to accomplish the amazing feat was Johan Santana. He became the first Mets' pitcher to ever throw a no-hitter, in a 8-0 blowout of the St. Louis Cardinals on June 1st.
The last no-hitter to occur in the first half was also the second perfect game of the year. On June 13th, Matt Cain became the first San Francisco Giant to ever throw a perfect game. Gregor Blanco made an amazing catch in the 7th inning to preserve perfection, and the Giants won the game 10-0.
8. Closer Turnover
There are always a few closer changes around the league each year. However, this year there has had more closer turnovers than usual.
Half of the teams in the league have had to use a different closer than they had on opening day at one point of the season. 12 of those teams are still using a different closer than they had on opening day: Yankees(Rivera), Blue Jays(Santos), Twins(Capps), White Sox(Santiago), Angels(Walden), Mariners(League), Athletics(Balfour), Mets(Francisco), Nationals(Lidge/Rodriguez), Reds(Marshall), Dodgers(Guerra) and Giants(Wilson).
The Marlins(Bell), Padres(Street) and Cubs(Marmol) have used a different pitcher at closer at one point but have returned their opening day pitcher to the role.
This also does not include the Royals' Joakim Soria, and the Reds' Ryan Madson, who both had to receive Tommy John surgery during spring training.
Curent closing situations:
Yankees: Rafael Soriano
Orioles: Jim Johnson
Rays: Fernando Rodney
Red Sox: Alfredo Aceves
Blue Jays: Casey Janssen
White Sox: Addison Reed
Indians: Chris Perez
Tigers: Jose Valverde
Royals: Jonathan Broxton
Twins: Glen Perkins/Jared Burton
Rangers: Joe Nathan
Angels: Ernesto Frieri
Athletics: Ryan Cook
Mariners: Tom Wilhelmsen
Nationals: Tyler Clippard
Braves: Craig Kimbrel
Mets: Bobby Parnell
Marlins: Heath Bell
Phillies: Jonathan Papelbon
Pirates: Joel Hanrahan
Reds: Aroldis Chapman
Cardinals: Jason Motte
Brewers: John Axford
Astros: Brett Myers
Cubs: Carlos Marmol
Dodgers: Kenley Jansen
Giants: Santiago Casilla
Diamondbacks: J.J. Putz
Padres: Huston Street
Rockies: Rafael Betancourt
7. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers couldn't have had a better start to the 2012 campaign. After a disappointing 2011 season, where they struggled both on the field and off the field, the Dodgers have put themselves in a position to become relevant again.
In late March, the Los Angeles Dodgers were sold to Guggenheim Partners, which is represented by former Lakers' point guard Magic Johnson and longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten for 2 billion dollars.
Since the new ownership took over, the Dodgers have already signed Andre Ethier to a five year $85 million extension, attempted to trade for Carlos Lee and promised to be big players at the trading deadline. A lot of people are speculating that the Dodgers may be targeting Cole Hamels in free agency after the season.
At the half-way point, the Dodgers sit at 47-40, which is a half-game ahead of the Giants in the National League west. Matt Kemp was a big part of the strong 16-7 start to the season, hitting .417 with 12 home runs and 25 RBIs in April. Unfortunately, he was shelved with a hamstring injury and re-injured himself right after coming off the disabled list. Kemp will be back soon after the All-Star break.
The Dodgers rotation has been very solid with Chris Capuano looking like a great off-season signing, Clayton Kershaw having another very strong season and Chad Billingsley having his own ups and downs.
Los Angeles needs to improve its offense at the trading deadline if they want to keep up with the San Francisco Giants.
6. Baltimore Orioles
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The Buck Stops Here
One of the most surprising teams so far in 2012 has to be the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles showed some potential when they eliminated the Red Sox from playoff contention at the end of the 2011 campaign. To start of this year, the Orioles are proving that they are here to stay.
Their offense has improved a nice amount this year and is third in the American League in home runs. A big reason the offensive has been clicking is two-time All-Star, Adam Jones. Jones is hitting .289 with 20 home runs and 11 stolen bases so far this season.
Another big cog in the lineup is Chris Davis. Davis is showing promise with a .271 batting average, 14 home runs and 40 RBIs.
The pitching has been impressive so far in 2012. Jason Hammel easily could have made the All-Star team with his 8-5 record, 3.47 ERA and 101 Ks in 106.1 innings pitched. Wei-Yin Chen has also been a huge surprise, pitching to a 7-5 record, 3.93 ERA and 78 Ks in 103 innings pitched. Jim Johnson has been lights out as the closer, going 26 for 27 in save opportunities.
The O's finished 45-40 at the All-Star break, leading one of the two wild-card spots. They could look to trade for another proven starter at the deadline, like Brewers' ace Zack Greinke or Astros' lefty Wandy Rodriguez.
5. Philadelphia Phillies
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The Phailing Phillies
The Phillies have really struggled to start off the season. They finished the first half with an NL East worst 37-50 record, 14 games out of first place.
The main reason for Phillies' struggles is a lack of offensive production. Carlos Ruiz and Hunter Pence have been the only bright spots in the lineup. If the Phillies had a better record, Ruiz might have been considered a front-runner for the NL MVP.
Chase Utley and Ryan Howard both recently returned from their injuries, but the hole the Phillies buried themselves into is most likely too far to dig out of.
Roy Halladay has missed a lot of the season with a shoulder injury, Cliff Lee didn't win his first game until his last first half start and the Phillies' bullpen has the second worst ERA in baseball.
With too much money already on the books, the Phillies can't really afford to give Shane Victorino or Cole Hamels extensions. Because of this, there are a lot of speculation that either could be moved at the trading deadline.
4. Rookie Production
19 is the New 25
The 2012 rookie class has been one of the best in years. Mike Trout has burst onto the scene, helping spark the Angels to a 48-38 record. He's batted .341 with 57 runs, 12 homers, 40 RBIs and 26 stolen bases. He is one of the front runners for the AL MVP and a shoo-in for rookie of the year.
Another one of the hyped rookies was Bryce Harper. Harper has helped the Nationals to a 49-34 first half record, leading the NL East by four games. Harper is hitting .282, with 43 runs, 8 home runs, 25 RBIs and 10 steals. He's also brought great hustle, defense and toughness to the Nationals team.
Along with the Trout and Harper, Wade Miley, Yu Darvish and Ryan Cook also made the All-Star team. These five rookies making the mid-summer classic is a Major League record.
3. R.A. Dickey
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There is no better first-half story than R.A. Dickey. The Mets' knuckleballer had pitched fairly well in both 2010 and 2011, but the first half of 2012 has been special. A journeyman a few years back at the break, Dickey has a 12-1 record with a 2.40 ERA, 0.93 Whip and 123 Ks in 120 innings.
Dickey is one of the leaders for NL Cy Young and has helped the Mets to a 46-40 record so far.
Hopefully he can keep up this production and be in line for a big payday when he is eligible for free agency after the 2013 season.
2. Tim Lincecum
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The Freak is Freaking Out
No single player has been more disappointing in 2012 than Tim Lincecum. An owner of a career 3.27 ERA, this season Lincecum has almost doubled that. He has a 3-10 record with a 6.42 ERA, 1.58 Whip and 50 walks in 96.2 innings pitched.
The Giants are still playing extremely well without Lincecum pitching like himself. They are 46-40, and only a half game behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong have been terrific, all deserving of trips to the All-Star game.
The only player to fall from superstar to a below average pitcher this quickly was Dontrelle Willis. Hopefully Lincecum can get back on track very soon.
1. Pittsburgh Pirates
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Raise the Jolly Roger
For the second year in the row, the Pirates are leading the National League Central late into the season. The difference is this year's club is a much better team. At the halfway point, the Pirates are 48-37 and have a one game lead over the Cincinnati Reds.
Andrew McCutchen is one of the leaders for the NL MVP and has been crushing the ball all year long. The speedy outfielder has a .362 batting average, 58 runs, 18 home runs, 60 RBIs and 14 stolen bases. Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones have also had solid first halves. The Pirates may look to add a bat at the trading deadline as they have already been linked to players such as Justin Upton and Carlos Quentin.
The starting rotation has also been strong this season. James McDonald was considered an all-star snub by many with his 9-3 record, 2.37 ERA, 0.97 Whip and 100 Ks in 110 innings pitched. Another surprise has been A.J. Burnett, who the Pirates picked up from the Yankees in the off-season. Burnett has won 10 of his last 11 games and has been lights out for the majority of the season.
Things are looking up for the Pirates as they look to make the playoffs for the first time since 1992.