MLB 2012 First Half:The Year of the Suprise-Good and Bad

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By: Akiem Balium- Host of 10 Minutes on the Clock on The Real Sports Talk Network, and Blogger for TRST’s the Sports Realist.

Firstly, my apologies for being unable to upload a video or do my Monday Morning Realistcolumn for yesterday considering that my internet connection had issues for most of yesterday. It was half-related to the hubbub over the DNSChanger virus& half related to my own internet connection at my house. So, it really threw me back & I’m sorry I wasn’t here Monday.

For those that weren’t sorry I was gone…so sad, too bad. I’m back. Ok, onto the issue at hand.

We’re not really at the midseason per se. Most teams have played over 90 games and the overall baseball season is 162—the longest in all of North American sports. But for the sake of the All-Star break, it’s what we’ve got for a “midseason”. So,we’ll run with it for now.

As of now,the American League East is the top division in Major League Baseball. The distinction it has is that all 5 teams in that division are over .500. Even the Boston Red Sox are 43-43 despite a slow start early in the year that had RedSox Nation (and even some Sox players) wanting to send Bobby Valentine onto Interstate 95 South & outof the City of Beans.

They’re 9 ½ back of the division leading Yankees who are also the MLB-leading Yankees. The Bronx Bombers at 52-33 are the best team (record wise) in baseball & are 9thin both offense and pitching. Even with CC Sabathia & Andy Pettite currently on the shelf, they still enjoy the largest lead of the 3 AL division leaders (Yankees, White Sox, Rangers) in baseball.

With the way things are set up now thanks to the additional Wild Card team in both leagues,the playoff participants from the American League would be New York, Chicago,Texas, Anaheim, and….Baltimore?

Adam Jones, played well enough in the first half to not only have the Orioles in first place for much of it, but to get a huge extension.

Yes—those very Baltimore Orioles. With Adam Jones leading the way on offense, the O’s couldwind up being buyers at the trade deadline for the first time in a long time. And they could make their first postseason since 1997. That doesn’t seem like along time, but, that’s 15 years.

There’s no question about who the biggest surprises are this year in baseball. The Washington Nationals are the first one that gets mention here. But, unlike the Orioles, the Nats have been much ballyhooed by the national media because ofthe overnight sensation that is Bryce Harper.

I don’t understand why everyone wanted to put the 19-year old in the Home Run Derbyconsidering he only has 8 at the break. The last time I remember this much hype surrounding a teenager was in 1996 when a young Andruw Jones laced up the cleats for the Atlanta Braves. Jones has of course gone on to become one of the greatest fielders in MLB history.

Bryce Harper is becoming the face of baseball, and as that, fans were dissapointed not to see Harper in the Homerun Derby, despite only having eight homeruns.

Bryce still has a long way to go, and all indications are that he could very well be the next big thing. He’s been a huge reason why the Nationals are making their first major pennant chase since the 1994 season when they were still theMontreal Expos.

Displaced fans in Quebec probably don’t want to be reminded of that given their circumstance.

It’s the same attention that Nats hurler Stephen Strasburg received for the Nats. Of course, in his first start, he did look like a young Pedro Martinez when he struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates in front of a nationwide audience on MLB Network.

Speaking of those Pittsburgh Pirates, those fans in Western Pennsylvania haven’t been doing this much “raising it” since 1992 when a young  Barry Bonds was on the team.

For once in July, Pittsburghers haven’t turned their attention to Steelers training camp in Latrobe as the first place Battling Bucos have re-energized Pirates fans.This team is especially hard to beat at home. They’re 29-14 when playing at PNCPark—the best home record in baseball. Do not give this team home field advantage in the postseason.

This team has traded away many of its good players in the past and they’ve gone on to have success with other teams. It was once a running joke that the World Series would go through Pittsburgh’s front office.

Not this year as Pittsburgh is in a pennant chase. Any discussion with the Pirates starts with Andrew McCutchen. At .362, 18 HRs and 60 RBIs at the All-Star Break(and should be starting in the game), Pittsburgh could finally be on the verge of something huge with him as the focal point of their team. Also on the pitching side, James McDonald and A.J. Burnett have been the anchors for theirstaff.

Andrew McCutchen’s MVP-type season, has the upstart Pirates in first place in the NL Central heading into the All-Star Break.

A.J. Burnett being a focal point of Pittsburgh’s staff has to make Yankee fans queasy.

It’s a different story on the other side of the Keystone State. While the Pirates havebeen raising the Jolly Roger, the Phillies have been in a sustained free fall this whole season pre-break. They’re already 37-50 and in last place in the NLEast. Cliff Lee just recently picked up his first win of the year & Cole Hamels (who is having a banner year) is the subject of possible trade rumours as we continue to get closer & closer to the deadline on July 31st.

Right now,the Philadelphia Phillies bullpen is 18-30 in save opportunities—all 18 have been by the way of Jonathan Papelbon. A huge reason as to why they’re 13 under .500 is that they’re losing a plethora of close games late. Chad Qualls has blown all 5 of his save chances.

It was said that the returns of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley would re-energize the team since they are veterans and are normally important reasons to why the Phils have dominated the NL East over the past 5 years. Not so much. Despite productive seasons so far from Carlos Ruiz, Juan Pierre, and Hunter Pence, the absences of Howard & Utley have also been compounded with the struggles of Shane Victorino.

Shane Victorino struggles have been a key reason to why the Phillies have one of the worst records in the MLB heading into the All-Star Break.

Right now, the National League’s playoff field would consist of Washington, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, and Atlanta.The Dodgers would still make the playoffs as the NL West champions, but it’s no longer the run away it seemed like back in April when Matt Kemp tried to win NL MVP in the first month of the season. Kemp & Andre Ethier have battled injuries.

Meanwhile, the Giants are currently the 5th best offensein the National League led by a .353 batting average of Melky Cabrera. Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey are also forces to be reckoned with as part of San Francisco’s offensive attack.

On the pitching side—they’re on their way to becoming as stellar as they were in 2010when they won a championship. Everyone knows about Matt Cain, but Madison Bumgarner (who was on that 2010 team as well) is 10-3 & 3.27. RyanVogelsong is at 2.36 & even Barry Zito has shown signs of being the hurler he was when he pitched on the East Bay for the Oakland Athletics.

But what in the wide world of sports has happened to Tim Lincecum? He’s 3-10 & and possessesan earned run average north of 6. His right hand winds up making contact with the dirt of the pitching mound after most of his pitches. Lately, his pitchinghas been dirty in a bad, bad way for San Francisco fans.

For as good as Matt Cain has been for the Giants in the first half, Tim Lincecum has had the worst first half of his career.

It’s safe to say that 2012 is another “year of the pitcher” which has been the norm since the steroid era in baseball ended. Matt Cain and Philip Humber gave us perfectgames. We’ve seen no-hitters from Jered Weaver, Johan Santana, and when 6 Seattle Mariner pitchers also combined for a no-no. And many have been giving praise to R.A. Dickey who is 12-1 with a 2.40 ERA for the Mets—in large part to when he had the scoreless innings streak.

Baseball is currently at its All-Star break with 20+ teams still involved in pennant & wild card chases. As much is made about the NFL’s parity—if that’s not a testament to this sport’s increasing parity, then what is?

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Posted on July 10, 2012, in MLB. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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