MLB: Buster Posey's Brutal Injury, the 10 Biggest Storylines of the First Half

Dan MoriCorrespondent IJune 28, 2011

MLB: Buster Posey's Brutal Injury, the 10 Biggest Storylines of the First Half

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    The 2011 season has had some amazing storylines both on and off the field.

    We have seen some outstanding baseball, some bad injuries and several bizarre occurrences in the first half of the season. Some teams have surprised, while others have disappointed. 

    Let's take a look at the top 10 stories thus far in Major League Baseball from 2011.

10. Jim Riggleman Quits the Washington Nationals

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    The Washington Nationals have been a doormat for several years. Although they were picked by many to again find the bottom of the NL East, the Nationals have been a big surprise.

    They are currently above .500 with a 40-39 record in the tough NL East. Manager Jim Riggleman had led the Nationals to 11 wins in their last 12 games when he abruptly resigned.

    Riggleman wanted the Nationals to pick up the 2012 option on his contract and took a stand with GM Mike Rizzo. Unfortunately, Rizzo would not commit to that, so Riggleman quit.

    This was a big surprise, as the Nationals were playing good baseball under Riggleman, who was well-respected by his players. But perhaps the bigger surprise was that Rizzo refused to agree to pick up his option or extend his contract.

    Riggleman did not want to be a lame duck manager and felt he deserved an extension for what he had accomplished in Washington. In my opinion, Riggleman was right. 

    However, Rizzo did not like being backed into a corner, so he delayed. When Rizzo refused the extension, Riggleman felt he had no choice but to leave.

9. Manny Ramirez Retires

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    In his prime, Manny Ramirez was one of the most feared hitters in baseball. Controversy and weirdness has followed the mercurial slugger for his entire career. He will be remembered both for his outstanding hitting and his often bizarre behavior.

    Ramirez failed a drug test during spring training, his second offense. The positive drug test would have resulted in a 100-game suspension, and so rather than deal with that, Ramirez abruptly retired.

    Ramirez leaves the game as one of the best RBI men in history. He played 19 seasons in the majors and finishes with a career batting average of .312, 555 home runs and 1,831 RBI.

    Ramirez led the league with 165 RBI in 1999, and in 2004 with 43 home runs. A 12-time All-Star, he was also the American League batting champion in 2002, hitting .349.

8. The Collapse of the Florida Marlins

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    At one point in the season, the Florida Marlins looked like one of the best teams in baseball. They had just completed a three-game sweep of the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants and stood at 29-19.

    Then the bottom just dropped out of the Marlins' season. The Marlins inexplicably forgot how to win games and have won only five of their next 30 games. The team currently stands 34-44 and trails division-leading Philadelphia by 14.5 games.

    Their biggest star, Hanley Ramirez, is having an awful season, hitting only .218. Star pitcher Josh Johnson is currently on the 60-day DL with just three wins on the year.

    Manager Edwin Rodriguez has resigned and the Marlins are a team in disarray. The cash-strapped Marlins may be sellers as the trade deadline nears.

7. Feel-Good Stories in the Midwest

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    The Central divisions in each league have featured several feel-good stories in 2011. Four teams that have not been in the hunt for several years are currently making some noise in the Midwest.

    In the NL Central, the Milwaukee Brewers are nine games over .500 and lead the division by three games. Prince Fielder is putting up MVP-type numbers with a .305 batting average, 21 home runs and 68 RBI in the first half of the season. 

    The Brewers have also received some excellent starting pitching from Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcom, Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf. Closer John Axford was shaky to start the season but has settled down and is pitching well. He has 20 saves on the season.

    The Pittsburgh Pirates are 39-38—one game over .500—which was totally unexpected. The Pirates have some good young players in Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata. They are only four games out of first place at this point in the season.

    Joel Hanrahan has emerged as a top closer in the National League and deserves an All-Star selection. He has 22 saves to go along with an ERA of 1.24 and WHIP of 0.936.

    In the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers have arguably the top pitcher in the American League in Justin Verlander. He is the ace of the staff with a 10-3 record, a 2.38 ERA and WHIP of just 0.83. Max Scherzer has also emerged as a solid young starter with a 9-3 record.

    The Tigers offense is led by Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Brennan Boesch.  They currently lead the AL Central by one game over Cleveland.

    Cleveland is our other feel-good story of the Midwest. They currently sport a 41-36 record, after dropping three straight to the Giants. The Indians have a relatively young team and I expect them to fade in the second half, but they have been a good story thus far in 2011.

6. The Financial Woes of the New York Mets

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    The New York Mets have battled against injuries to top players David Wright, Jason Bay and Johan Santana.  Nonetheless, for a team expected to occupy the lower rungs of the NL East, the Mets have held their own on the field and currently stand at .500.

    Jose Reyes is having a spectacular year, hitting .341 and leading the league. He has 28 stolen bases and has also added 32 RBI, which is excellent for a leadoff hitter.

    The Mets have also received strong pitching from rookie Dillon Gee, who leads the New York pitching staff with an 8-1 record. 

    Unfortunately for the Mets, their play on the field has been overshadowed by some severe financial woes. The exact numbers are unclear but it appears that the Mets are in debt by more than $600 million. 

    Team owner Fred Wilpon and his partners were involved in the Bernie Madoff scandal and they are currently being sued for $1 billion. Wilpon is trying to sell a minority ownership stake in the team to raise money, but he and COO Jeff Wilpon still want to run the franchise.

    These issues will likely cause the Mets to move some of their high-priced players. Reyes, who will be a free agent in 2012, Wright and Carlos Beltran are all candidates to be traded before the trade deadline. 

5. Albert Pujols Injured

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    St. Louis Cardinal first baseman Albert Pujols injured his wrist as he caught a throw and tried to put a tag on the runner. At the time of his injury, Pujols was hitting .279 with 17 home runs and 45 RBI.

    It appears Pujols will be out another four to six weeks, which is a major blow to the Cardinals.

    Pujols was injured June 19. In the six games the Cardinals have played since then, they are 1-5.

    There is no clear-cut dominant team in the NL Central, and the Cardinals trail the division-leading Brewers by only three games. Cincinnati is only one-half game behind St. Louis, in third place.

    If the Cardinals can stay within shouting distance of the lead while Pujols is out, they have a real chance to rally and win the division by the end of the season.

4. Jose Bautista Is Proving That 2010 Was Not a Fluke

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    Over the past couple of years, home runs—and offense in general—are down. Many will argue the diminishing offensive numbers are due to the more stringent testing for performance enhancing drugs. This is a theory that rings true.

    Offense is down across the board in 2011, and pitching has thus far dominated. 

    However, in the past two seasons, there is one man that has come out of nowhere and become a prodigious slugger. That player is Jose Bautista.

    When we think of American League sluggers, we think of players like David Ortiz, Josh Hamilton, A-Rod, and Paul Konerko. However, it is Bautista who led the league in home runs last year, and he is doing it again in 2011.

    Bautista plays in the relative obscurity of Toronto, so his exploits often go unnoticed by casual fans. In 2010, he hit 54 home runs and drove in 124 runs. In six prior seasons, Bautista had never hit more than 16 home runs or had more than 63 RBI.

    Many believed 2010 was a fluke.  However, Bautista is making believers out of people as he is following up his great season with another power-packed year.

    Bautista is currently tied with Mark Teixeira with an American League-leading 23 home runs. He is batting .328, which is especially noteworthy because he has never hit above .260 in his career. Bautista also has 49 RBI to lead the Blue Jays.

3. The Resurgence of the Boston Red Sox

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    The Boston Red Sox began the 2011 season in a terrible funk. They started out by winning only two of their first 12 games. 

    They amazingly righted the ship and won eight of their next nine. Currently, the Red Sox are 45-32 and trail the division-leading Yankees by only a half game. Although Tampa Bay also trails New York by only 2.5 games, I expect both the Red Sox and Yankees to make the playoffs this season.

    The Boston offense is led by MVP candidate Adrian Gonzalez as well as Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis and a resurgent David Ortiz at 35 years of age.

    Boston's pitching staff has three top starters in Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. The three currently combine for a 21-9 record. In order to pass the Yankees and stay there, they will need improvement out of John Lackey and a better fifth starter.

    This is a team that can put up big offensive numbers and overcome some shaky pitching. Barring an injury to one of their top three starters, I do expect the Red Sox to be a force to be reckoned with come playoff time.

2. Buster Posey Is Lost for the Season

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    In less than one full season Buster Posey became the face of the San Francisco Giants franchise. He won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2010 and became a team leader for the Giants.

    Posey came up in late May of 2010 and went on to hit .305 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI. He also handled the top pitching staff in baseball and earned the trust of stars like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Brian Wilson.

    Posey was off to a bit of a slow start but had begun to swing the bat better when got was hurt. At the time, he was hitting .284 with four home runs and 21 RBI over 45 games.

    We have all seen the hit by Scott Cousins on the play at the plate that resulted in Posey's injury. It was gut-wrenching to see Posey's leg get mangled as he fell backwards following Cousins' blow. 

    Although the collision could have been avoided, by the rules of baseball Cousins' play was legal. The ball was going to beat him home, and although Cousins could have slid to the outside of the plate, he felt his best chance to score was to dislodge the ball from Posey. 

    The throw actually short-hopped Posey and he did not make the catch. Posey tried to lean back to get a better angle on the bounce. This move of perhaps eight to 12 inches made him an easy target for Cousins.

    One thing that is rarely mentioned is the throw from right fielder Nate Schierholtz, who has a strong and accurate arm. It was a relatively shallow fly ball and Schierholz caught it flat-footed. I do not believe he expected Cousins to attempt to score. 

    Outfielders are taught to come in on the ball as they catch it to build momentum and get more on the throw. This is a fundamental skill that Schierholtz has displayed many times. However, on this play, he had no momentum toward the plate as he made the throw.

    The question in my mind is that if Schierholz expected Cousins to go and used better fundamentals, maybe his throw would have been stronger and would not have short-hopped Posey. This could have enabled him to catch the ball and avoid the collision, or at least brace himself for it.

    After the Posey injury, there were many calls to change the rule regarding home plate collisions. A few years ago, baseball did change the rules pertaining to contact at the other bases. Runners were no longer allowed to just plow into fielders, which used to occur so frequently at second base.

    Unfortunately, I do not expect Major League Baseball to alter the current rule at home plate. Although the Giants were up in arms about the collision, there is too much sentiment that "this is the way it's always been."

    Although a rule change makes sense, it is very unlikely. The often glacial pace of Commissioner Bud Selig will see this issue fade away unless we see a player suffer a broken neck or some other catastrophic injury.

    Meanwhile, the Giants have had to endure this injury and 12 others. In addition to Posey, Freddy Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval, Mike Fontenot, Brandon Belt, Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Darren Ford, Mark DeRosa, Barry Zito, Brian Wilson, Santiago Casilla and Jonathan Sanchez have all spent time on the DL. Posey and Sanchez are likely lost for the season.

    With the string of injuries the Giants have endured, it is amazing they have weathered the storm and retained first place with a 44-34 record. The Giants have scored fewer runs than any team in baseball but are somehow 10 games over .500.

    The starting pitching of Lincecum, Cain, Vogelsong and Bumgarner has been very good. The Giants bullpen has also been outstanding. Led by closer Brian Wilson, they have been the most consistent unit on the team and arguably the best in baseball.

    Manager Bruce Bochy deserves tremendous credit for keeping the Giants on track, given the hitting woes and injuries this team has dealt with.

1. The Los Angeles Dodgers File Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of the storied franchises in the history of baseball. The team has won championships since moving to Los Angeles from Brooklyn in 1958 while sporting some tremendous players, such as Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills, Steve Garvey, Mike Piazza, Orel Hershiser, Kirk Gibson, Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda.

    The once proud Dodgers franchise is now an eyesore to the game. Frank McCourt purchased the Dodgers in 2004 in a deal that was heavily financed. However, the nation's sagging economy, lower attendance, poor spending habits and the lavish lifestyle of the McCourts have resulted the Dodgers being an estimated $500 million in debt.

    Earlier this season, Commissioner Bud Selig informed McCourt that Major League Baseball was taking over the operation of the team. 

    The Dodgers franchise has also become a rather large pawn in the bitter divorce case of Frank and Jaime McCourt. 

    McCourt also thought he had secured a $3 billion dollar TV contract with Fox Sports, but this was not approved by Selig. He apparently felt that McCourt would use much of this money for his own personal issues rather than focus it on stabilizing the Dodgers.

    Selig wants McCourt to sell the team and will be able to outlast him financially, thereby forcing him to do so.

    This entire ugly situation has played out like a soap opera. The Dodgers have gone from being one of the top organizations in baseball to a sad laughing stock.

What Can We Expect To See In The Second Half?

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    The second half of the season promises to be exciting with a number of compelling story lines.

    Some of the things to watch for include:

    1) Will the Yankees or the Red Sox win the AL East?

    2) Can the Giants continue winning one-run games and make a run in the playoffs? 

    3) Is this the year for the Milwaukee Brewers?

    4) Who will be the big names traded by the trade deadline and where will they go?

    5) The AL West is up for grabs; who wants it?

    6) Will the Mets trade Jose Reyes?

    Hold onto your hats, the second half of this rollercoaster ride is just beginning.

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