Now that the excitement of All-Star Week is over, baseball fans eagerly look forward to the second half of the season. This year has been full of surprises and great moments, from Derek Jeter putting his 3,000th hit into the stands to the shockingly good Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates.
But can these surprises keep up? Can others turn it around before it's too late? Who will step up and lead their team to the playoffs? Here are my predictions for the second half of the season.
As a side note, these are not in any particular order of importance or significance.
Bautista came out of nowhere last year. He smacked 54 home runs, while his career best before 2010 was 16. This year, he is proving that this was no fluke and is hitting for contact in addition.
He currently leads baseball with 31 homers and is looking to keep it up in the second half. While his first half, was tremendously good like last season, I see him slightly dropping off in the second half. Don't get me wrong, he is still going to put up decent numbers. Fifteen to 20 homers in one half is definitely not bad, bu it is not as striking as the numbers he has put up in the past year and a half.
Before the season started, many people put the Angels as third in the American League West after a disappointing 2010 season. Yet, they remain only one game behind the defending American League Champion Texas Rangers in the race.
This is mainly due to their pitching and All-Star starter Jered Weaver, but several young standouts should help the Halos stay consistent in the second half. Jordan Walden has done a terrific job in the closer's spot, first baseman Mark Trumbo has put up decent power numbers and star prospect Mike Trout should be able to make an impact on the team.
The Angels will put up a tough fight with the Rangers, but Texas' lineup will ultimately win them the division.
This is probably my easiest prediction to make. San Francisco is leading the National League West by three games at the break based almost completely off their pitching. The defending World Series Champions seem to be one of the favorites to repeat, but they are missing one thing: offense.
Beltran has expressed interest in playing for the Giants, and rumors have been swirling around that he will waive his no-trade clause to get shipped to San Francisco. Honestly, the Giants could probably win this division without any changes just because of their pitching, but an extra spark in the lineup like Beltran will only help their chances of running away with it.
After losing Carl Crawford, Matt Garza and Carlos Pena in the offseason, many people thought the Rays would not be capable of defending their AL West crown.
However, they remain only six games behind Boston at the break. This is due to contributions from Sam Fuld, Matt Joyce and James Shields. Fuld, however, has been in free fall for the past few weeks, and I don't see Shields keeping up his dominance due to his inconsistent past.
This pick is also pretty obvious. Philadelphia has assembled possibly the greatest pitching rotation in the history of baseball and has put a solid lineup behind it. They have not had to deal with any major injuries yet and have been the team to beat for the majority of the season.
Their experience from playoff runs in the last three years will make it a breeze for them to wrap up the NL East, the National League and the best record in baseball.
Kemp has been putting up incredible numbers this season despite the Dodgers' struggles on and off the field. After bouncing back from a disastrous 2010 season, Kemp has been the bright spot in a Dodger organization in turmoil.
However, I can't see him keeping up his MVP-caliber numbers with a lackluster team. His great seasons in the past were backed by a deep supporting cast that took Los Angeles to the NLCS for two consecutive years.
This 2011 team is one of the worst Los Angeles has seen for several years. He will put up decent numbers in the second half but nothing extraordinary unless he gets more help from the others.
The Indians have been one of the best stories in baseball this year, leading the AL Central most of the season and are down by only a half game at the break.
Asdrubal Cabrera and Travis Hafner have been stroking the ball and treating Cleveland to an exciting year. However, Sizemore has been inconsistent and will eventually end up on the disabled list again as he continues to prove he cannot stay healthy. Adding him to the other injury woes of the team could put the Tribe in a tough spot competing with three other teams for the division title.
Robinson Cano put on a clinic in the Home Run Derby. But many are concerned because of the "Home Run Derby Curse" that sometimes seems to cause players to decline in production in the second half of the season,as the derby may change their swing.
However, I am not a believer in the curse. Some players try to hammer balls into the crowd every day in batting practice. Cano has established himself as one of the top hitters in the game, and he will only continue to improve for the remainder of the season.
Also, the Yankees can concentrate solely on winning since Jeter's chase for 3,000 has finished. The total offense of the Yankees lineup will outweigh the team's weaknesses at pitcher and the injuries of Red Sox, and the Bronx Bombers will prevail as American League East Champions.
Deadlocked with St. Louis atop the NL Central and closely trailed by Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, the Brewers seem to be the deepest and most well-rounded team in the division.
The lineup is solid, containing stars like Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart. The pitching rotation is one of the best in baseball and is backed up by a solid bullpen that has just added Francisco Rodriguez.
Without Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals will be unable to keep up, and the Brewers will prevail. St. Louis, however, will fend off the Braves and Reds for the Wild Card due to key contributions from David Freese, Jaime Garcia and Lance Berkman.
As mentioned before, the Indians will fall out of the race despite their young talent. The division will once again come down to Minnesota, Chicago and Detroit.
For the first two months of the season, the Twins were in the cellar of the entire major league, but Ron Gardenhire, as always, pulled them back to within six and a half games of the Tigers at the break.
While Jim Leyland and Ozzie Guillen often have trouble winning in the second half, Gardenhire is the opposite. He always gets his team to win when they need to, no matter what. The difference this year, however, will be the injuries and inconsistencies of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and the entire pitching staff. Gardenhire will do what he can, but the team this season does not seem as dominant as in the past. It will surrender their crown to either the White Sox or Tigers.
Chicago and Detroit will be the final two fighting for the Central Division, and the teams are equal when it comes to talent. Adam Dunn should be able to produce more for Chicago and give them an offensive boost. (It's not like he can do much worse.)
Detroit, on the other hand, is riding stars Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera as well as a dominating record against the Sox in recent meetings and a five-game lead over Chicago at the break. I do not see Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila staying as consistent as they have been. If the Tigers can add a legitimate left-handed starter as well as a decent second baseman and avoid falling into another second-half slump, they should have what it takes to win the division.