3 MLB Teams Poised for a Second-Half Letdown
The first half of the MLB season is in the books, and while most division races are shaking out as expected, there are a few surprise teams that have managed to contend through the midway point.
It's tough to get a good idea of how things are going to play out for the stretch run until the dust has settled on the July trade deadline, but it never hurts to speculate.
Given what they have accomplished to this point, and the strengths and weaknesses of their clubs, here are the three teams that I feel are poised for a second-half letdown and why.
Colorado Rockies (39-41)
The Rockies opened the season with a blistering 13-4 start, as they were among the best teams in baseball not only offensively as many expected them to be, but on the mound as well.
Since then, however, they've gone 26-36, and while they are just four games back of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West race, they're clearly trending in the wrong direction.
Offensively, they'll likely remain among the best teams in baseball. They currently rank second in the NL in runs scored (382) and batting average (.272) and first in home runs (99).
The trio of Troy Tulowitzki (.347 BA, 1.048 OPS, 16 HR, 51 RBI), Carlos Gonzalez (.297 BA, .970 OPS, 21 HR, 58 RBI) and Michael Cuddyer (.351 BA, .999 OPS, 13 HR, 45 RBI) has been as good as any threesome in baseball. Tulowitzki is currently shelved with a broken rib, but he should be back shortly after the All-Star break.
Meanwhile, youngsters Nolan Arenado and D.J. LeMahieu have stepped up to plug holes at third base and second base, respectively, and should only get better with more at-bats.
Pitching is a different story though, as the starting rotation has fallen off drastically after an impressive start to the year, and their 4.51 staff ERA ranks 22nd in the MLB.
Their top two starters, Jorge De La Rosa (8-4, 3.19 ERA) and Jhoulys Chacin (6-3, 3.92 ERA), have been solid, but the rest of the starters have gone a combined 14-18 with a 5.17 ERA on the year.
If they needed just one starter they may be inclined to pull off a deal at the deadline to try to make a playoff push, but with three holes in the rotation, trading for a starter come July has the Band-Aid-on-a-bullet-hole feel to it.
They'll make things difficult for the rest of the NL West with their offensive firepower, but their slide down the standings will likely continue in the weeks ahead and their starting pitching will be to blame.
Cleveland Indians (40-38)
Much like the Rockies, the Indians got off to a phenomenal start this season, though they were able to maintain their hot play for a little longer as they opened the year 26-17 for a 2.5-game lead in the AL Central.
Also like the Rockies, however, they've crashed back to earth with a 14-21 record since their hot start and it has been a matter of regression across the board. What looked like a vastly improved offense early on now sits in the middle of the pack in runs scored (360, seventh in AL) and batting average (.254, eighth in AL).
Mark Reynolds looked like one of the best signings of the offseason with a .301/.368/.651 line, eight home runs and 22 RBI in the first month of the season. He's hit just .198/.296/.311 with six home runs and 22 RBI since.
He's far from the only one to blame; he's just the most dramatic example, as Jason Kipnis (.876 OPS) and Carlos Santana (.842 OPS) are the only everyday players with an OPS over .800.
On the pitching side of things, they've had some solid individual performers, but collectively they rank 26th in ERA (4.24) and combined pitcher WAR (3.6), according to FanGraphs. To put that into perspective, Tigers pitchers have the best WAR at 16.1, and Adam Wainwright has a better WAR by himself at 4.0.
Justin Masterson (9-6, 3.76 ERA) has accounted for 2.0 of that 3.6 WAR, as he has emerged as a legitimate staff ace and managed avoid slumping after a hot start.
Zach McAllister (4-5, 3.43 ERA) has decent-looking numbers but has been the beneficiary of some good luck with a 4.20 FIP. On the flip side, Corey Kluber (6-5, 4.16 ERA) has pitched better than his numbers may indicate with a 3.34 FIP and .347 BABIP, according to FanGraphs. The rest of the starting staff has been more hit than miss.
The bullpen has struggled as well with a 4.03 ERA to rank 11th in the AL. The injury and legal troubles of closer Chris Perez have caused a ripple effect and undermined what should have been a strength.
Many expected the Indians to be sellers this past offseason and to start to rebuild. Instead they bought aggressively, and while it looked like the right move early on, it now looks as though the franchise will continue to be stuck in the limbo that is near-contention.
New York Yankees (42-36)
With seemingly their entire starting lineup opening the season on the disabled list, the Yankees turned to a rag-tag group of veteran cast-offs to hold down the fort and were one of the biggest surprises of the season's first month.
They were 16-10 at the end of April, and it was Vernon Wells (.300 BA, .911 OPS, 6 HR) and Travis Hafner (.318 BA, 1.104 OPS, 6 HR) who were leading the offense alongside Robinson Cano.
Those two fell off quickly from there, but the team still managed to go 15-13 in the month of May, thanks in part to the ongoing momentum of their terrific first month.
June has not been nearly as kind to them, however, as they're currently 11-13 this month, and it looks like the team's many holes have finally caught up to them.
Pitching wise, Hiroki Kuroda (7-5, 2.77 ERA) has been a stud. No other starter has an ERA under 4.00 though, and the rest of the rotation has gone a combined 22-24 with a 4.23 ERA. Not terrible numbers by any means, but likely not good enough to hang around in the AL East.
The Orioles have a dominant offense and may be one arm away from making another legitimate run at the postseason.
Who will finish with the worst record?
The Rays will only benefit from the returns of David Price and Alex Cobb to the rotation, and Wil Myers looks like the impact bat most expected him to be when the team acquired him.
The Red Sox may be the most complete team in baseball, as they've managed to do a complete 180 this season after a 93-loss campaign last year. As long as Clay Buchholz returns to the high level he was at once he comes off the DL, they should be in prime position to contend for the division title.
Finally, there's the Blue Jays, who have been baseball's hottest team over the past few weeks and have pulled themselves right back into the thick of things. They entered the season with a tremendous amount of hype, and they're finally beginning to show what all the fuss was about.
That's what the Yankees have to contend with in their own division, and for a team trending down right now things don't look great for them. Help is on the way, but it doesn't look like it will be enough help to contend with the talent in the AL East, and I expect them to continue their slide.
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