The first half of the 2010 MLB regular season was like stepping into a 1990's time warp - with usual bottom-feeding teams such as the Cincinatti Reds, Texas Rangers and San Diego Padres leading their respective divisions - but the second half promises to bring a dose of reality back to the normal MLB landscape. However, it is possible that one of those teams can make a run deep into the playoffs and, if everything goes as planned, should be playing in late October. Just one of the many reasons why the conclusion of the 2010 MLB regular season guarantees to be one of the most exciting in recent years.
My top 5 reasons for you to be excited about what is yet to come --
(5) SOMEONE REALLY MIGHT WIN THE TRIPLE CROWN.............
Already this has been a crazy year of statistics and record breaking games. Despite the fact that most have been dominated by pitchers with ERA's sub-3 and perfect games being thrown (2 according the MLB HOF, but in reality we all know 3!) the possibility of having the first legitimate triple-crown batting winner since Carl Yasztrzemski did it for the Boston Red Sox (all the way back in 1967 with a .326 AVG, 44 HR and 121 RBI) truly does exist.
In the past few years, the great Albert Pujols has briefly flirted with achieving the feat. So far it has been another strong showing for Pujols in the 1st-half of the season and he is once again a solid contender as a triple-crown candidate. But this season, there are at least four others that have a good chance of pulling off history with the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero and Joey Votto (all currently ranking in the top 10 in all 3 najor offensive categories respectively).
-- A look at their numbers:
Albert Pujols - StL (.311 7th, 21 2nd, 64 t-4th)
Miguel Cabrera - DET (.346 2nd, 22 t-2nd, 7 1st)
Vladimir Guerrero - Tex (.325 7th, 20 t-4th, 76 2nd)
Josh Hamilton - Tex (.347 1st, 22 t-2nd, 65 4th)
Joey Votto - Cin (.314 5th, 22 t-1st, 60 t-8th)
-- Some other possible contenders:
Justin Morneau - Min (.345 3rd, 18 t-8th, 59 t-14th)
Ryan Howard - Phi (.297 17th, 20 t-5th, 71 1st)
Corey Hart - Mil (.293 20th, 22 t-1st, 66 2nd)
** On a side note for trivia buffs - the triple crown is achieved with a little more frequency for pitchers. The last triple crown winner for a pitcher was Jake Peavy for the Padres in 2007, but the list includes the likes of Sandy Koufax (3x), Roger Clemens (2x), Dwight Gooden, Randy Johnson - not too mention, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson among others.
(4) ANOTHER PERFECT GAME WILL HAPPEN........
Alright, so I know I may as well be predicting that someone will be hit with lightning as predicting yet another perfect game to be thrown this season (the odds are something like 2 million to one) but I really feel it in my bones that another el perfecto is coming on the horizon. Don't all good things come in 3's anyway? We had Braden, Halladay and almost-Gallaraga (he was royally screwed by the way, but a class act all the way). So in order for this things in 3 theory to work out, we need another brilliant pitching performance.
Are you reading this Stephen Strasburg??
(3) THE CONTINUANCE OF ROOKIE STAR POWER.................
Everyone and their momma has heard the name Stephen Strasburg. He is the second coming it would seem, at least in terms of MLB pitching prospects. The last time I can really remember that much hype for a rookie in MLB, had to have been when Ken Griffey, Jr. was a rookie in the league. However, with Strasburg the hype is at a whole other level - a King James 'Decision' special type of level if you will. With major media at every minor league appearance he made, a special countdown press conference weeks in advance to announce his arrival, and even a baseball card that was recently priced as high as $500,00 on an Ebay auction - this Strasburg kid has had nothing but high expectations to live up to. And it appears he may be the real deal........
So far it looks as if Stephen Strasburg may be worth all of the hype and anticipation. Since being called up to the majors, the kid has been superbly brilliant for a horribly subpar Washington Nationals team. He has simply broken records with massive strikeout totals and has been totally dominant in virtually every facet. He has been beyond impressive and his stats reflect that fact. In 8 career starts, Strasburg is currently 4-2 with a 2.03 ERA. Even more impressively, he has struck out 68 batters in just under 49 innings pitched, while only allowing 14 BB. He holds batters to just .203 overall and carries a WHIP barely over 1. Pure dominance.
But the field is incredibly tough this year and candidates such as Ja son Heyward and Buster Posey are serious threats. Heyward was a hands down candidate for ROY when he got off to a blazing start for the Braves, even winning the NL Rookie of the Month honors, but lately he has cooled considerably. Perhaps he is nursing lingering effects from some early season dings to his body, but he may not even receive a 1st place vote if he considers at his current clip. Heyward has been a huge plus and a nice cog for a resurgent Braves team, but his stats aren't as strong as his presence truly presents (.247, 11 HR, 45 RBI).
Buster Posey has been a huge surprise for the equally surprising Giants and definitely deserves a look at when it comes time to cast ROY ballots. He is limited in games played with 40 so far, but his .352 AVG, 7 HR, 26 RBI production merits consideration. If he continues at that pace, not only is this kid a star, but if he can help the Giants find their way to the playoffs, he may still the NL ROY for 2010.
Other NL rookie surprises not to be overlooked but some not quite ROY material yet:
Tyler Colvin - CHC (.262, 12 HR, 32 RBI, 31 R, 82 GP)
Mike Leake - CIN (17 GS, 6-1, 3.53 ERA, 70 K in 109.2 IP, 1.40 WHIP)
Ike Davis - NYM (.252, 11 HR, 40 RBI through 77 GP)
Mike Stanton - FLA (.225, 5 HR, 20 RBI through 29 GP)
The AL ROY race looks a little more interesting, but it will really be a two-man battle at most. Brennan Boesch may have the race all wrapped up with the monster stats he has put up for the Detroit Tigers so far this season. This kid is a beast. All he does is produce. Through 66 GP, he has hammered the ball with stats of .336, 12 HR, 50 RBI (247 AB's, 83 H, 19 2B, 3 3B and an astounding .974 OPS). About as close to a lock as you are going to get, well besides Strasburg of course.
Neftali Feliz has been outstanding so far this season and currently poses a serious challenge to Boesch's ROY aspirations. And if he leads Texas to *spoiler alert* what I envision them doing this season, and postseason, this kid should be a serious contender for the AL ROY award. So far this season, Feliz has been solid, commandering a respectable 3.72 ERA through 40 GP and converting 23 of 25 save opportunities for the first place Texas Rangers.
Austin Jackson has been an impact presence within the Tigers lineup so far this year as well. Like Heyward, and his teammate Boesch, he too has won a Rookie of the Month award (for the month of April in AL) and has also cooled considerably as of late. He has managed to stay above .300 through 79 GP, hitting .303, and he has 15 SB out of 18 attempts. Looking even further, he has produced some pretty impressive stats. Through 317 AB's, he has 96 H, 21 2B, 5 3B, 1 HR, 20 RBI and 53 R.
Other AL rookie surprises not to be overlooked but some not quite ROY material yet:
Carlos Santana - CLE (.278, 5 HR, 17 RBI in 30 GP)
Justin Smoak - SEA (.208, 9 HR, 36 RBI, 2 teams, 74 GP)
(2) WHAT GOES UP, MUST COME DOWN. SORRY CHW, SD, CIN, ATL.......
That's right, I said it. Well, I wrote it anyway. Although each of these teams have put up legitimate fights to earn their respective division leads, but for some reason it really seems as if all will end up wanting once October baseball rolls around.
Let's start with the White Sox. Without question, CHW is currently the hottest team in MLB. They were 25-5 in their last 30 GP, before splitting the first two games of a 4 game series with Minnesota in Minneapolis. This team is blazing hot. On June 8th, they were in 3rd place, 9 1/2 games back. Through July 16, they sit atop the AL Central by 1 game. It has been a remarkable turnaround. But short lived......
The CHW lineup is known to go into tailspin slumps and their bats will fizzle for a decent stretch of games, causing them to lose ground to the very tough Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins. The injury to Jake Peavy will hurt considerably as well, and that pitching staff will again fall short with the run support they receive.
Now to San Diego. This is a tough one. Every time I count this team out, they respond by getting stellar pitching and scoring runs. This team looks and seems unfadeable. But they are indeed fadeable and it is going to begin to show. The stifled sneeze of Latos may have been the first blow in a series of blows to this franchise's division title hopes. Mat Latos has been the Padres ace in the hole, going 10-4 with a 2.45 ERA through 17 GS. Even more impressive is his 0.966 WHIP in 2010 and his 99 K's in 106 2/3 IP. But the sneeze has put him on the 15-day DL.
I hate to say it, but that was also the beginning of the Padres playoff run ultimately going on the DL. They simply don't have enough in the lineup to keep up with a team such as the LAD. And despite the dominance of their pitching and the potential return of both Latos and Chris Young from surgery, it is hard to expect much more from such a young pitcher (Latos) and one returning from serious injury (Young). The Padres have hung strong so far and currently hold a 3 game lead, but in reality, it has merely been a good run.
In Cincinatti, the team has whipped up Reds fans into a frenzy. Finally, one of their crop of would-be MLB superstars has panned out into a pretty decent group major league wise. CIN is currently 9 games above .500 and they are clinging to a 1/2 game lead over STL in the NL Central.
Votto, Phillips, Leake, Cueto -- these are just a few of the budding superstars on this young team. Personal plea to the CIN management department, hang on to these kids. This is not going to be your year and we all know it. Be patient. This is a very good young team. But STL is built to win. And STL will win.....
Atlanta is the toughest to call. They have played well. They have been hot and dominant and have simply been winning game after game, currently holding a 5 game lead over NYM and 5 1/2 game lead over PHI. They look good. The lineup is strong. The pitching staff is young and strong. But Jair Jurrjens is back and apparently healthy and the pitching staff should only get stronger. Add to the fact that this is Bobby Cox's last year and fate is definitely on their side. But again, I just don't like it.
PHI not in the playoffs? I just can't see it. And I see a lot of surprise teams, like potentially even SFG making the playoffs in the wild card slot. It's possible. So PHI would have to win the division outright perhaps and I see ATL potentially stumbling. Sorry, I just do. But again, that is a toughie........
(1) TEXAS RANGERS WILL MAKE THE ALCS........
That's right, I said it again. And if they can get past NYY somehow, they could be a surprise World Series contender. Texas is currently a very impressive 52-38 and sits atop the AL West by 4 1/2 games over LAA. Obviously the pickup of Cliff Lee was huge at the trade deadline. He is the first premium, top notch, pitcher ever added to their inherently struggling rotation and immediately delivers a needed credibility for them to be a legitimate contender.
Don't get me wrong, their pitching staff is still incredibly suspect after Lee. Colby Lewis currently leads the team with a 9-5 record and has a respectable 3.42 ERA. CJ Wilson is a respectable 7-5 with a 3.35 ERA. Tommy Hunter is an intriguing prospect however, and has started the season off with a bang - going 6-0 with a 2.39 ERA through 8 starts. Add in Cliff Lee, and there is a possibility for potential........
But the lineup is huge! Vladimir will end the season as AL MVP. You heard it here first. Well, you read it anyway. But first, here. Vlad for MVP. He will continue to rake the pitchers for the rest of the season, enjoying all of the help provided by his supporting cast of Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Bengie Molina -- the list just goes on and on. They have, quite arguably, the best lineup in baseball. And that will help them secure the AL West crown and a berth in the playoffs. Where I fully expect them to flourish........
So there you go. That's the 2010 MLB second half in a nutshell. Well, from my nutshell anyway. At least that's the way I see it. VLAD for MVP!!