News and Notes From Around MLB

morgan spoknyContributor IJanuary 26, 2010

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 09:  Starting pitcher Josh Beckett #19 of the Boston Red Sox on the mound against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Game Two of the ALDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Angel Stadium on October 9, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

The 2009 All-Star game has come and gone and with that said it seems like an appopriate time to take a look back at the first half of the season at who has been a stud, who has been a dud and who has been just plain whack.

1.”Which teams are Studs?”

The Red Sox and Dodgers are without question, unanimously the two best
teams in baseball and in my opinion the only studs in the league.  Each
club shares in common, strong pitching, balanced lineups and a great
defense. Neither organization has any glaring holes and both organizations
have a superb bench and minor league system that can fill a hole if an
injury does occur in the second half.

Boston has a stellar staff led by Josh Beckett and Jon Lester and a
first-rate supporting cast of veterans who have each won a ring (Brad
Penny, John Smoltz, and Tim Wakefield). Beckett and Lester have been
dealing recently, particularly Jon Lester who started the year slow due to
some issues with the long ball, but hasn’t given up more than 3 earned
runs in his last 8 games, lowering his era to 3.87 and improving on an
already impressive K/BB ratio which now sits at 131/35. Boston is
currently holding a 3 game lead over the Yankees and a 6.5 game lead in
front the Devil Rays. What makes this year even more impressive is that
their reign atop the AL East has transpired even though two of the
franchises best players going into the season have had little success.
“Big Papi”, David Ortiz has struggled in a season long slump and star
Japanese import “Dice K” has battled lingering injuries and control
issues. “Papi” has recently showed signs of his power returning entering
the all-star game on a high note with 12 hrs, but Dice K has continued to
have zero impact in Boston so far this season.

The Dodgers also have a very potent 1-2 in their staff. Billingsley and
Kershaw are young, hard throwers with wicked stuff and unlimited
potential. Wolf, Kuroda and whoever happens to be the 5th flavor of the
month (Eric Milton, James McDonald, Jeff Weaver, and maybe even Jason
Schmidt in the second half) have surprisingly done a great job holding
down the fort. Juan Pierre has offered a solid and unexpected
contribution, filling the void left when Manny was suspended for women’s
fertility drugs.  The Dodgers will continue to run away with the West in
the second half.

2.” Which teams are duds?”

There are a bunch of  well qualified candidates but the biggest duds in my
opinion have to be the Cubbies, and Mets. Both of these teams were
pre-season favorites to at the very least contend for the playoffs, but
now they are fighting to stay out of the cellar.

The Cubbies and Mets have been decimated by injuries, inconsistent
pitching and hitting. The Mets have seen Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran
and Jose Reyes all land on the DL for extended periods of time and they
are sure feeling the losses. Their lineup without the big guns is just
plain bad, featuring very little punch. Schneider, Murphy, Castillo, Cora,
and Reed are journeyman, and while Sheffield has played far better than
expected, one cannot overlook the fact that he is 40 yrs old and cannot
adequately play the field.That leaves the team filling out the lineup card
with one good player, David Wright. Not to mention that Citi Field has
turned out to be a pitchers park and Wright can’t seem to find his power
stroke at home.

The Cubbies on the other hand were without Aramis Ramirez for most of the
first half. Saw their two biggest off-season acquisitions Milton Bradley
and Rich Harden completely implode, Geovany Soto test positive for
marijuana, and now will have to enter the second half without Ryan
Dempster who fractured his big toe. Only a season removed from racking up
the best records in the big leagues, this team is a complete mess and will
not be making the playoffs this year.

3. “Which teams are just straight whack?”

Obviously the Nationals immediately come to mind. They are still the only
team stuck in the win column in the 20’s. They currently sit 22.5 out of
the east! But hey, if they keep it up they are going to end up with
Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, so I say keep up the tanking. With
that said I’m also going to have to crown the D-backs and the Indians the
kings of whack.

In the D-backs defense they were essentially out of the race the first
week, when their staff ace Brandon Webb went down with a serious case of
shoulder bursitis.  An injury that may end up sidelining him all year. Dan
Haren, Mark Reynolds, Justin Upton and Max Scherzer have been absolute
beasts this year but without that elite sinker from Webb they are
scrambling to stay ahead of the torn down and rebuilding Chernobyl Padres.

The Indians went into the season with question marks at almost every
position but no one expected them to be this bad. It has been a terrible
year for the tribe who seemed to be on the verge of becoming a contender
only a few seasons ago. Grady Sizemore has struggled with injuries, Fausto
Carmona was demoted to low A ball,  Matt Laporta was rushed to the big
leagues. The Indians have somehow managed to fall behind the Royals in the
standings and have the worst record in the AL, which is downright
shameful! However, on the bright side, Travis Hafner seems to have
overcome his shoulder injury, Cliff Lee has continued to pitch well and
Victor Martinez did make his third straight all-star game!

4.”Who is on a hotter seat, “J.P. Ricciardi, or Mark Shapiro”?

Hate to take the easy way out, but I am going to have to say that neither
guy is on the hot seat. They are both highly respected baseball guys who
have a superb body of work and either guy would be a hot commodity if
their services were not retained. Both Ricciardi and Shapiro may have
losing products this year but their lack of success is not entirely their
fault. In my opinion the losing can be attributed to both franchises
request to maintain a low payroll and of course costly injuries.

5. “Who is your Stud MVP, and Dud Player of the year?

Stud MVP- Albert Pujols

No brainer, forget the triple crown! We are going to need to start
thinking up new awards for King Albert. He is the only guy in the league
with more than 30 hrs!
He is currently leading the league in almost every category, including
runs, home runs, total bases, RBI’s, walks, OBP, slugging, and OPS.

DPOY-Dice k

Reports are out there that while he’s listed on the DL with shoulder
fatigue,  he really isn’t injured, and that the Red Sox’s were forced to
place him on the DL, because he refused to be sent down to the minors and
takes too long to warm up to be an effective reliever. The 100 million
dollar prodigy has been a complete bust this year and what is even more
shocking is that among all American League pitchers with at least 30
innings, Matsuzaka ranks 13th in average run support, which means that the
Red Sox have put him in an opportunity to win and he is still faltering.
Only time will tell if Dice K has a hurt shoulder, has lost his confidence
or has merely been figured out by the rest of the league.

6. “Who are the division/wildcard winners For the AL/NL?

American League-It is going to be a tough race all year between the
Yankees, Rangers and D-rays, with the Yankees coming out on top.

National league- I am going to make a surprise move and take the Braves.
Full second half with McClouth. I love the staff and think Lowe, Jurrjens,
Vasquez, Kawakami and Hanson will start to push their way to the top after
the All-Star break.

By: Morgan Spokny

Scouting The Sports Contributor

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