5 MLB Players Who Need to Produce Big in the 2nd Half

Ben Layman@@houtexmajorinCorrespondent IJuly 26, 2012

5 MLB Players Who Need to Produce Big in the 2nd Half

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    The only thing that can make up for an unproductive first few months of the MLB season is a big second half.

    While teams patiently wait for their star players to break out of slumps, fans and fantasy owners lose sleep waiting for consistency on the mound or in the batter's box from these players.

    A first-half slump can turn into a bad year in a hurry. That is why these five players need to produce big as the second half of the year begins.

5. Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox, SP

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    The Boston Red Sox ace has never had as unproductive a first half in his career as he did this year, and it hasn't gotten any better since the All-Star break. He's struggling to pitch past even the fifth inning this year, giving up walks and hits in bunches.  

    In fact, this year, Jon Lester has failed to pitch past the fifth inning six times. He did this only three times all of last year.

    Lester must regain his form as an ace if the Red Sox have any hopes of making the playoffs. He has given up six earned runs or more in each of his last two starts, so it might benefit the Sox to sit him down for a start or two to get his mind right.

4. Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves, 2B

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    Most Atlanta Braves fans, Miami Marlins fans or fantasy owners of Dan Uggla probably aren't too surprised to see the notoriously streaky hitter once again having a slow first half. But hey, for the glass-half-full Uggla fans, he's actually had a better first half this year (.221/.351/.746) than he did in 2011 (.185/.257/.621).

    To Uggla's credit, he's had five straight seasons of 30-plus home runs playing second base, which is very good consistency from any position, let alone second base. There's also reason to believe he can turn it around, as he's followed up poor first halves in the past two seasons with big halves in the second.

    The Braves could certainly use a big second half from Uggla as they pursue an NL playoff spot, and fantasy owners who made the investment in Uggla before the season will be looking for some serious return from him in the second half.

3. Michael Morse, Washington Nationals, RF

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    The late bloomer broke out last year, hitting .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBI, providing a pleasant bonus to fantasy owners and the Washington Nationals.  

    Heading into this season, Michael Morse was going to be relied upon to anchor the middle of the Nats lineup until a strained lat muscle in spring training kept him out for most of the first half.

    Morse has slowly worked his way back into the cleanup spot in the lineup, and now he finally appears to be healthy. He's hitting .320 since the break, and it couldn't come at a better time for the Nationals, as they lacked any serious lineup protection for Bryce Harper and the former All-Star, Ryan Zimmerman.

2. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays, SP

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    Matt Moore was expected by some to have a Stephen Strasburg-like arrival on the MLB scene this year, and it has been anything but that. There's no denying Moore has some of the best stuff in the game, but expectations should have been tempered in spring training.

    He has had his ups and downs throughout the 2012 season, and it's resulted in a 6-7 record and a 4.23 era on the year.

    Moore's production in June—when he made five starts, going 3-0 with a 3.16 ERA and a .224 BAA—should give hope that he can put together a consistent month of pitching.

    The Tampa Bay Rays are hanging close in the AL wild-card race, and if they plan to stay there, Moore needs to deliver in the second half like he did in June.

1. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals, SP

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    Truthfully, all of the players on this list need to come through for their teams if they want to play baseball in October. But no player needs a big second half for his team more than the St. Louis Cardinals ace.

    Adam Wainwright is similar to Moore in that he teased fans and fantasy owners in the first half with one solid month of pitching and many forgettable outings in between.

    Forget the first-half numbers; this is the Cardinals ace whether he has a 4.00-plus ERA to his name or a sub-2.50 ERA like he did in 2010 when he won the Cy Young.

    The Cardinals have been bailed out by Kyle Lohse's consistency and Lance Lynn's surprise emergence, but it hasn't been enough to seriously compete in the NL Central, where the Cardinals remain entrenched in third behind the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.  

    They still have wild-card hopes, however, and a string of quality of starts from Wainwright could give them the boost they need to take one of the spots.