With the MLB still in the midst of their fan-led All-Star Game voting – and the event not slated until July 16th – it may surprise some that the actual midway point of the season for all 30 clubs will occur this week. There is no rest for the weary, however, with the 81st of 162 games only unofficially letting players know that the marathon will soon reach a critical stage: the dog days of mid-summer.
Managers will assess their team’s current divisional standing and begin to prepare for the grueling heat and DL stints that litter the months of July and August. Stat heads across baseball love to remind us that TECHNICALLY no game is more important than any other over the course of the season; they all have equal impact on your win and loss record. While this may be TECHNICALLY true, it would be wise for players and managers to rid themselves of this seeding thought during the long, seemingly stagnant summer. Teams will find themselves mentally drained, and those that persevere through the monotony will likely find themselves in a better position for the stretch run – and for all but ten teams that continue playing, the agony – that accompanies September.
The first half of the season has not been without it’s story lines. Already my pre-season projections seem to be in shambles – and I would have it no other way. The unpredictability of the baseball season can at least partly be attributed to the length that it endures. This is why those who follow the game are not entirely surprised when both clubs from Los Angeles skyrocketed their payrolls during the off-season, and have a combined run differential of -54 to show for it. This is also why those same diehards would be equally unsurprised to see both teams turn it around and make a playoff push.
So, instead of failing to project the second half of the season, I have decided to recognize the standout teams, managers and players – and one signature play – to represent each league on a hypothetical “Diamond Club”. You can look for articles anointing the disappointments from each league later this week. Without further ado, here is the AL edition.
2013 AL First Half “Diamond Club”
Team emblem: Boston Red Sox
- Thought to be in rebuilding mode, the Boston Red Sox have taken the heavyweight-filled AL East – all five teams now have winning records – by storm. With the best run differential in the AL, the Sawx look like they have the right balance of young talent and veteran prowess to make it to October. The bullpen could emerge as a problem in the second half, but that is a very fixable problem with the trade deadline approaching.
Team manager: Bob Melvin, Oakland Athletics
- It was a tough call between Melvin and Boston manager John Farrell, but I give the edge to the guy who is working with less. Melvin has led another characteristically scrappy A’s club to more success this year, one season after winning the AL Manager of the Year award. Did anyone in the world believe that Bartolo Colon could be pitching this well at age 40 and after a lengthy PEDs suspension?
1. Mike Trout, CF – Los Angeles Angels (.306 BA, .384 OBP, .918 OPS, 12 HR, 46 RBI, 18 SB)
- Trout has been wisely moved to the second spot of the lineup for most of this season, but the phenom returns to the leadoff on my team.
2. Joe Mauer, C – Minnesota Twins (.330 BA, .413 OBP, .916 OPS, 8 HR, 25 RBI)
- The king of pesky, “Dammit, how’d that get through the infield!” hits. No other catcher in the AL has even come close to replicating his consistency at the plate, and behind it.
3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B – Detroit Tigers (.370 BA, .462 OBP, 1.106 OPS, 2o HR, 75 RBI, 47 BB)
- Cabby has been the best hitter in baseball for most of this decade, and his reign of terror on opposing pitchers doesn’t look like it’s coming to an end soon. The numbers surely pop out at you – but you need to watch in person to truly appreciate what he can do with a bat in his hands.
4. David Ortiz, DH – Boston Red Sox (.316 BA, .392 OBP, 1.005 OPS, 16 HR, 55 RBI)
- Big Papi has found himself rejuvenated this year, with increased patience at the plate resulting in better pitches to jack over that short right field porch in Fenway.
5. Chris Davis, 1B – Baltimore Orioles (.336 BA, .413 OBP, .719 SLG, 1.132 OPS, 27 HR, 70 RBI)
- MLB’s signature “surprise player”, Davis has seen continued success from the second half of last season when he seemed to finally put his talents to use. A thorn in the side thus far to Cabrera’s bid for another Triple Crown.
6. Dustin Pedroia, 2B – Boston Red Sox (.311 BA, .394 OBP, .812 OPS, 4 HR, 41 RBI)
- Another veteran from Boston enjoying a return to stardom, D-Ped is the undisputed leader of the new Red Sox.
7. Jose Bautista, RF – Toronto Blue Jays (.254 BA, .350 OBP, .838 OPS, 16 HR, 42 RBI)
- He has been a constant source of production in a Jays lineup that floundered for most of the first half.
8. Alex Gordon, LF – Kansas City Royals (.288 BA, .345 OBP, .758 OPS, 6 HR, 38 RBI)
- The only true leadoff man on this list is delegated to the number eight spot, where no pitcher would want to see him. It’s looking more and more unlikely he repeat his feat of knocking 50 doubles, but he has still been the catalyst in Kansas City.
9. Jhonny Peralta, SS – Detroit Tigers (.324 BA, .383 OBP, .867 OPS, 7 HR, 34 RBI)
- Peralta has been enjoying an absurd BABIP (.404, highest in MLB) that suggests he’s in for a slump soon. However, you can’t discredit him for hitting the ball, and that’s all he has done in the lethal Tigers lineup
SP: Clay Buchholz, RHP – Boston Red Sox (9-0, 1.71 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 8.64 K/9, 2.47 FIP)
- Hitters have been fooled by “Buckles” for extended amounts of time before, but the righty has put it all together this year. Leads the MLB in ERA, and has a sterling 9-0 record to back it up.
SP: Yu Darvish, RHP – Texas Rangers (7-3, 2.84 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 12.17 K/9, 2.82 FIP)
- Darvish came the closest of any pitcher in the first half to throwing a no-hitter, and he’s a threat to do so every time he steps on the mound. His “stuff” makes watching him pitch one of the most entertaining experiences in the league; expect to see a lot of K’s on the big screen.
SP: Max Scherzer, RHP – Detroit Tigers (11-0, 3.05 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 10.63 K/9, 2.54 FIP)
- The final starting pitcher spot was a close call between Scherzer and Mariners upstart Hisashi Iwakuma, but the edge goes to the guy with an 11-0 record, the third highest K/9 ratio and a .91 WHIP. Simply put, hitters cannot put the bat on the ball with Max on the mound. Plus, it seemed unfair to leave a Detroit Tiger off the pitching staff in a season where they are on pace for having the most strikeouts in MLB history.
RP: Jesse Crain, RHP – Chicago White Sox (2-2, 0.52 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 11.94 K/9, 1.43 FIP)
- Unfortunately, I have yet to see Crain pitch this year. Chicago finally plays Detroit – and frequently – during the second half, and I expect to see a lot of Tigers whiffing when he comes in relief.
RP: Mariano Rivera, RHP – New York Yankees (26 SV, 1.61 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8.68 K/9, 2.33 FIP)
- Mo’s last season has been about as uneventful as all of them before – meaning you can almost guarantee a Yankees victory when they have a lead and the 9th inning comes around.
Cy Young Award: Clay Buchholz, RHP – Boston Red Sox
- The best pitcher in the AL right now happens to play for the best team in the AL right now. Easy pickings.
MVP Award: Miguel Cabrera, 3B – Detroit Tigers
- I foresee less debate than last year if Miggy keeps hitting at this pace. We are witnessing Ali in his prime.
Rookie of the First Half Award: Jose Iglesias, 3B/SS – Boston Red Sox
- The man who isn’t related to Enrique has been hitting out of his mind after he started primarily playing 3B. No longer just known for his slick glove, Boston hopes Iglesias’ production is a sign he’s ready to become a stalwart for their infield.
Signature Play of the First Half: Peter Bourjos, CF – Los Angeles Angels
*Click to play* —> JJ Hardy is robbed by a guardian Angel – again