As we hit the 81 game mark over the Fourth of July weekend, I started thinking about the season so far. It has certainly been interesting. There are plenty of new developments in the 2010 Major Leagues: Parity is at an all-time high and pitching is more dominant than ever. Meanwhile, the Yankees have the best record in baseball and the Red Sox aren't too far behind them. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I have a few random thoughts on the current baseball season:
The interleague is alive and well. Some don't like it, but I love it. In an American League market, I got to watch my team go against Ubaldo Jimenez and Tim Lincecum in a span of less than a week. That can only happen with interleague games.
Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga remain two of the classiest people in baseball. One of the biggest stories of the year has been Joyce's blown call on the 27th out of Galarraga's potential perfect game from June 2nd. More importantly, the reactions by both parties have resonated throughout the league. Although we could argue back and forth all day long what should have been done, no one can argue how great the two handled the situation.
Finally, it's a pure game again. By far the most important development in baseball as the game enters a new decade is the fallout of the new performance enhancing drug policies. The power numbers may be down, but the pitching is more exciting than ever to watch. More teams are allowed to compete. There is a level playing field, giving way to new super stars. Baseball is fun to watch again, and I'm excited to be a fan again.
With that said, let's look at a few predictions for the second half of the season.
Why not? Pitching is dominant right now. It may be due to the current performance enhancing drug testing policies. It could also be due to the plethora of talented young pitchers around the Majors. Either way, there has been a seismic shift in the dichotomy of baseball; it is no longer a hitter's game. When Ubaldo Jimenez (pictured) tossed a no-no back in April, most of us thought we had reached the season's quota. Little did we know that we would see two perfect games the following month, followed by another no hitter at the end of June. These pitchers have another one in them before September is over.
Although Srassburg has been the poster boy of dominant pitchers in the last month, he is still young. And young athletes will always suffer setbacks. I’m thinking of a sub 5 inning outing with about nine hits and seven earned runs. Luckily for Strasburg, the Washington Nationals, and the state of baseball itself, it will be the exception and not the rule.
For a man who many already consider the greatest in Red Sox history, he may be doing his best work this year. After a poor start and a spring season riddled by injuries, it would be easy to admit defeat, call it a year, and start looking ahead to 2011. That’s not Tito’s style. He just worked harder, though given the circumstances he didn't have much of a choice. He has only four members of his opening day lineup playing on a consistent basis, and his everyday outfield is a sea of anonymity led by a guy who didn't make the majors until he turned 27 years old. Yet Boston ended the first half of the season on pace to win 100 games; with the second best record in the American League, the Red Sox will only get better as they get healthy. They will make the postseason, and for keeping his team alive in the first half, Francona will take home the hardware as Manager of the Year.
My favorite part of the current baseball season is the NFL-esque parity. Texas, San Diego, and Cincinnati, who combined to win exactly one playoff game last decade, are all leading their respective divisions. While I love this, I’m afraid it will not last. Cincinnati should be the first to fall, and by no fault of their own. The Cardinals are just too good and they will show it. The Padres have a chance to stay alive in the West, but the Dodgers and Giants have talented rosters, and the Rockies are notorious for second half surges.
Meanwhile, the Rangers seem to be rolling. They have always been known for their lineup, and this year is no exception. Josh Hamilton is a legit MVP candidate, and Vladimir Guerrero is enjoying a career renaissance.
What is different this year is the pitching. The Rangers are tied with the Yankees with the fourth best team ERA in the American League, and that is what will finally get them back to the post season.
It's no secret that the Mets and Tigers have not enjoyed the best success in the month of September. The New York National Leaguers produced back to back epic meltdowns in 2007 and 2008. The Tigers blew a three game lead to the Twins with three games remaining to close out the 2009 season. Even in 2006 when Detroit went to the World Series, they blew the division in the final month and had to settle for the Wild Card.
This trend will continue. The Twins will continue to be the class of the division, and the Phillies will end up winning the National League East. Like the Cardinals, they are simply too good not to. While the Mets are not in first place right now, they will fall further back in the division, missing out on the Wild Card to the Braves.
In an era of baseball marred by the ugliness of steroids, where yesterday’s heroes become today’s disgraces, Hamilton’s story of redemption is a much needed change. When the former top draft pick fell into a well documented downfall of drugs and alcohol, many believed his career was over. Instead, he found faith and got clean.
He is in the third year of his baseball comeback and is having his most productive season yet. He currently sits second in the AL in average, tied for first in home runs and fifth in RBI, all while leading Texas to one of the best records in baseball. He may not be the first man since Carl Yastrzemski to win the Triple Crown, but he will go to the post season as the American League MVP.
The two time defending NL Pennant winners and 2008 World Series Champions have found that a third time is not a charm. The team full of All-Stars in their line up found themselves unable to score runs in the months of May and June. This cannot and will not keep up.
They currently sit five games out of first place and two-and-a-half games out of the Wild Card. This line-up will heat up after the All Star break, and the pitching staff will keep them going. Look for them to finish with the best record in the National League.
After Jimenez kicked off his season with a no-hitter, he plowed through the first two months on a pace few have ever seen. We knew his sub 1.00 era wouldn't last, but he should not get much higher than his current number of 2.2. Add that with the fact that he could have 20 wins by mid-August and you have a clear cut winner for the NL award.
In the American League, Lester struggled in April, but he is arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now. In addition to Francona, he is the man keeping the walking wounded Red Sox above water. Just imagine what he'll do when he has his friends back in the field and giving him run support.
Tim Kurkjian won't be as busy in the last few days of July. The parity in the game has allowed most teams to still be in it. The big boys like the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies used to pray on the lesser teams like Texas, San Diego and Cincinnati, giving them wannabe prospects for quality players on the brink of stardom. That is not the case this year, as the kids' and adults' tables have been merged for this season at least.
The only big name that may be moved is Cliff Lee, but I'm still not counting on that.
Okay, I’m making the homer pick. Say what you will, but a team needs good pitching, timely hitting, and great coaching to win. The Red Sox has all of those. They are playing great baseball with utility players and lifetime minor league players. Imagine what will happen when their slew of All-Stars come back.
If the bats come back to at least partial strength, and Beckett can show any signs of the dominant post-season pitcher he's been in the past, these guys will be the team to beat in October.