With Independence Day in the rear-view mirror and the midway point of the season upon us, we can determine which teams are bound to rise and which teams are bound to fall in the second half of the season.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have had two shortstops (Jed Lowrie and Julio Lugo) miss most of the season due to injury.
Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have not been their usual dominant selves, Dice-K has been awful and is now on the DL, and David Ortiz decided to wait until the last week in June to start hitting.
Yet, the Red Sox still own a 49-32 record (tops in the AL) and are one game ahead of the surging New York Yankees. Few would argue that the Red Sox have yet to hit their stride.
Second Half Evaluation: (Rising) With the deepest and best bullpen in baseball and a strong starting staff, this team should continue to get better as the season continues.
New York Yankees
The Yankees have had their fair share of difficulty, needing to overcome a slow start by Mark Teixeira, Chien-Ming Wang’s horrendous (and that’s putting it delicately) pitching, and a hip injury to Alex Rodriguez that will hamper him for the entire season.
Yet, they will wake up at the midway point of the season leading the Wild Card and well within reach of the Red Sox.
Second Half Evaluation: (Rising) The Yankees should get better pitching from free agent signings A.J. Burnett and C.C. Sabathia.
If Phil Hughes can lock down the eighth inning for Mariano Rivera, the Yankees will be very tough to beat in the second half.
Tampa Bay Rays
Last year’s defending AL Champion Rays have not enjoyed the success that their rivals to the north have enjoyed, but they are beginning to right the ship.
B.J. Upton is hitting again after a slow start, and J.P. Howell has brought some stability to the bullpen as the new closer.
Second Half Evaluation: (Rising) The Rays seem like they are a pitcher short, but that can be remedied by the tremendous talent they have in the minor leagues with Wade Davis and Jeff Neimann.
If Scott Kazmir can return to form, there is no reason to think this team will not challenge the Yankees and Red Sox for AL supremacy.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have experienced very little turbulence other than Manny Ramirez’s 50 game suspension on their way to the best record in baseball.
The only real issue the Dodgers had to face in the first half of the season was the lack of a consistent five man starting rotation. Chad Billingsley, Randy Wolf, and Clayton Kershaw were the only three pitchers who started more than 10 games.
Second Half Evaluation: (Falling) The Dodgers enjoyed one of the easiest schedules in baseball in the first half, playing more home games than any other team and 23 games against two of the worst teams in baseball in Arizona and San Diego.
Bullpen studs Roland Belisario, Ramon Troncoso, and Jonathan Broxton have been lights out, but are all on pace to set career highs in innings pitched.
The Dodgers do not have a lot of depth in their bullpen, and there is plenty of evidence to show that Joe Torre tends to wear down his relievers.
Good, But Not Great
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have been one of the best stories in baseball during the first half. They have been led by a scrappy offense (third in the AL in BA, and sixth in runs) and a surprisingly good starting rotation anchored by All-World Roy Halladay.
Second Half Evaluation: (Falling) As of this writing, the Jays are seven out of the Wild Card and 4-11 against the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays.
With 39 games remaining against those three teams, the Blue Jays are a prime candidate to fall back to the middle of the field.
The Tigers have joined the Blue Jays among baseball’s big surprises as they lead the mediocre AL Central at the midway point of the season.
A surprisingly good pitching staff (sixth in the AL in ERA and Batting Average Against) led by fireballer Justin Verlander has been the secret to the team’s success.
Second Half Evaluation: (Rising) The Tigers are 11th in the AL in average and OPS, and Miguel Cabrera has been their lone source of offense.
With guys like Curtis Granderson, Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco, and Magglio Ordonez the offense should only improve in the second half.
It seems like every single year the Twins are written off in spring training, and every single year they contend for a division title.
The Twins roll into the midway point two games out of the division and six games out of the Wild Card. They have been led by a steady and consistent staff, which leads the American League in quality starts with 45.
Second Half Evaluation: (Staying Put) The Twins do not seem to be overly good or overly bad. They are 11-13 against Detroit, New York, Boston, and Tampa Bay, which suggests that they fit the profile of a good but not great team.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Mike Scioscia’s crew began the season with heartbreak as rising star Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver.
They have since recovered and lead the AL West by half a game. Their hitting has been outstanding (first in the AL in BA, fifth in runs), while their pitching has been mediocre (12th in ERA, BAA, and WHIP).
Second Half Evaluation: (Rising) Their hitting has been as good as expected, but, with guys like John Lackey, Jered Weaver, and Ervin Santana in the rotation, Angels fans expected a better performance.
Look for the Angels to get their pitching back on track and cruise to another division title.
The Phillies struggled to pitch in the first half (15th in the National League in ERA, BAA, and WHIP) while hitting just about everything that came their way (first in the NL in Runs, SLG, and OPS).
This sounds all too familiar to Phillies fans who have been crying out to their General Manager Ed Wade to go out and trade for some pitching.
Second Half Evaluation: (Rising) The Phillies are currently locked in a tight race in the NL East with the Braves, Mets, and Marlins who are all within four games of them.
Cole Hamels should rebound from his horrendous start, and the Phillies should win this division easily.
St. Louis Cardinals
While Albert Pujols has done everything but walk on water in the first half, the real credit has to go to pitching coach Dave Duncan.
The Cardinals are third in the NL in ERA and second in WHIP with a starting rotation that features Joel Pineiro, Kyle Lohse, and Todd Wellemeyer.
While Pujols deserves all the credit in the world for his absurd line of .336 BA/.460 OBP/ .739 SLG, the reason the Cardinals are in first place in the NL Central is because of their pitching staff.
Second Half Evaluation: (Staying Put) They are 3-10 against the Phillies, Dodgers, Giants, and Rockies (all teams with equal or better run differential), but 21-16 against their own division.
They should compete for the NL Central but will probably fall short of the Wild Card.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants have dominated the NL with their pitching (first in ERA, second in BAA and OPS, third in WHIP), but couldn’t get a hit if you gave them 36 outs in a game (15th in OBP and SLG).
These results are not surprising to anyone with the lone exception that they are leading the Wild Card at the mid-point.
Second Half Evaluation: (Staying Put) They should continue to pitch well and that will keep them in the race, but they cannot hope to win the Wild Card if Pablo Sandoval is their best hitter all season long.
The Rockies were 18-28 when they fired Clint Hurdle, and since Jim Tracy took over they are 24-11 and sit two games out of the Wild Card.
They were left for dead early in the season but since have been one of the best teams in baseball, going an impressive 11-4 against the AL.
Second Half Evaluation: (Rising) They played more road games than any team in baseball in the first half and should look to take advantage of their 46 remaining home games.
If they can add a bullpen piece or two, this is a team to be reckoned with.
At the midway point, they sit half a game back of the division leading Angels and have a surprising plus 31 run differential.
Second Half Evaluation: (Falling) This team is not as good of a hitting team as people give them credit for. They can only hit for power (12th in BA, third in SLG).
Their pitching is not overly impressive either as they are 10th in ERA and BAA, and 11th in OPS and quality starts.
Texas seems like a prime candidate for a second half collapse.
The second youngest team in baseball has refused to show its age this season, somehow forcing their way into contention (one back of the NL East, two back of the Wild Card).
They have done so through strong starting pitching and with help from one of the best players in baseball in Hanley Ramirez.
Second Half Evaluation: (Staying Put) They will hang around longer than people expect them to because of their rotation.
Ultimately, they will break down due to a very thin bullpen and a lineup that features only one player batting over .290 (Hanley Ramirez).
The Cubs have been baseball’s most entertaining soap opera this season. Meltdowns by Milton Bradley, Carlos Zambrano, and Lou Pinella have exposed cracks in a team that cannot hit (15th in the NL in runs scored) and a shaky bullpen (10th in ERA).
Second Half Evaluation: (Falling) People keep waiting for this team to right the ship, but the problem is that the ship that they are on isn’t very good.
Even the return of Aramis Ramirez cannot relieve any of the pressure on the lineup, and, with half of their remaining games on the road (16-25 road record), the future does not look promising for the Cubs.
With the exodus of C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets, the Brewers were supposed to return to mediocrity this year.
Someone forgot to tell the Brewers as they sit 1.5 games out of the Wild Card and a game out of the division.
Yovani Gallardo has stepped up and led a surprisingly solid pitching staff while Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder have supplied the runs.
Second Half Evaluation: (Staying Put) The Brewers have a plus seven run differential, are .500 on the road, and four games over .500 at home.
This all suggests that they are a decent team with little downside, but also very little upside.
The bullpen in front of the ageless Trevor Hoffman is of extreme concern and should be the reason they ultimately fall out of the playoff race.
Too young and not enough hitting to compete for the NL Central.
New York Mets
Other than David Wright, Johan Santana, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Francisco Rodriguez, is there any player on this team that is any good?
The lineup is too weak to catch the Phillies.
Their pitching staff features Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, and three guys who work at Home Depot.
No lineup + No bullpen + overachieving starting pitching = not a very good team.
Horrible defense, no contact hitting, and a suspect bullpen.
Predictions for the Second Half
AL East: Red Sox NL East: Phillies
AL Central: Tigers NL Central: Cardinals
AL West: Angels NL West: Dodgers
AL Wild Card: Rays NL Wild Card: Rockies