By: Chris Dagonas
With the almost simultaneous celebrations of North American National Independence now just behind us, the next summer milestone is the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. This also marks (roughly) the halfway point in the MLB season. This seems like a good time to reflect on what we have seen thus far and predict the months ahead.
Allow me to begin in the American League West. For the third year in a row, the Texas Rangers look poised to reach the World Series. Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre supply the slugging, and Colby Lewis and Yu Darvish are extremely tough Japanese pitchers – OK, Lewis is American, but he was essentially just a hard thrower until he learned how to actually pitch in the Nippon League. It’s tough to imagine them losing another one, especially given the current division leaders in the National League. (The bankrupt L.A. Dodgers? Washington?? PITTSBURGH??? More on the wacky National League tomorrow.) Their own division will do little to stop Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler and the Rangers, with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (or LAA, for simplicity), offering some resistance. Realistically the Halos will be one of the 2 wild card teams, and most likely the better of the two. Expect to see these two AL West teams still playing ball in October. And expect to see the Mariners and Athletics challenge each other to a massive game of flip cup or something fun to pass the time until next March. If the Texas Rangers were to break hearts and maintain this streak of great regular seasons and disappointing playoffs, the team that would stop them would probably meet them in the ALCS. I’m writing, of course, about the New York Yankees.
Which brings us to the AL East. The Bronx Bombers always seem to be in the discussion of potential World Series victors, and this year is no different. Future Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter looks rejuvenated (or should I say, re-Jeter-nated? No, I shouldn’t? Fine.) Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson are playing as well as ever, and the pitching staff has looked strong and invigorated (seriously, until his injury, Andy Pettitte was pitching like it was 2001 all over again.) This team looks like a monster right now. As for the rest of the division? Well, let’s just say I believe in Baltimore’s resurrection even less than Clay Davis does. Sheeeeiiiiiitttt. Tampa Bay or Boston will very likely be the second wild card team in the American League, and Boston more likely than Tampa Bay, if this were a rankings article. Which it isn’t.
I’d like to say a few words about my hometown Blue Jays, if I may. For those of you reading us from outside the GTA, it must be said that this spring brought very high expectations for this club. Torontonians were all abuzz about Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, Ricky Romero and the revamped bullpen. Halfway through the season, however, the hype is gone, and replaced by cynicism, which is a pretty common feeling when it comes to sports teams around here. The hitters have produced up to expectations, even Colby Rasmus has picked it up after a tortoise-like start, but the pitching this year has been nothing short of atrocious at times. Ricky Romero has hit a slump, or hitters have figured him out, but he has yet to consistently display the all-star credentials of seasons past. The bullpen has looked like a collection of fans being called to the mound out of the Rogers Centre seats. Particularly, Francisco Cordero’s entry into this season’s Canada Day Game was an historic disaster. (0.1 IP, 4 hits, 3 ER, 2 Home Runs) in the top of the 8th inning, immediately after the Jays had just tied the game in the bottom of the 7th. He’s certainly become the scapegoat (“Cordero Sucks” chants were heard rippling through the Rogers Centre BEFORE he even threw a pitch that day), but every member of this bullpen has dropped the ball on winnable games. In short, the Jays are close, but not there just yet. The spring of 2013 promises to bring the hype once again, and that will be the year that it will finally all come together for the Jays.
In the quiet AL Central, the White Sox, Indians and Tigers will likely be battling all season for the right to have the worst record in the playoffs. Young pitchers like Chris Sale tend to cool off after hot starts, and a team cannot rely on one or two starting pitchers (Jake Peavy has had his best season of his last five) and ADAM DUNN to carry it through October. Kevin Youkilis has been a brilliant pickup, but he has been plagued by injuries throughout his career. Their season could hinge on his health. Cleveland, like Baltimore, is continuing to ride a hot start and have played the fewest games against the AL East in their division. Despite some good young talent, they’re higher than they should be in the standings, but this will correct itself come August. Detroit is the dangerous team here. MVP Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are all here, plus Austin Jackson is making waves in a breakout season in center field. Watch the Tigers heat up and win the division. If I had to choose a dark horse playoff team, the Tigers would be it.
Also, I think the Twins are about to name a new manager.
TIME FOR SOME AWARDS!!
AL All-Breakout Team:
C – Mike Napoli, TEX – Career backup finally gets a chance to be the main backstop, launches all-star campaign.
1B – Edwin Encarnacion, TOR – You don’t have to be young to have a breakout year, and EE is swinging one of the hottest bats in the majors.
2B – Jason Kipnis, CLE – Or you could be 25 years old and in your first full season. Kipnis looks poised to be a star.
SS – Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE – With him and Kipnis, the Tribe has middle infield locked down for years to come.
OF – Mike Trout, LAA – What’s not to love? Can get on base, can steal a base, and can even jog around all four bases from time to time.
OF – Alejandro de Aza, CWS – Went UNDRAFTED!! The MLB Draft has like 100 rounds, how did no one find any value in this guy?
OF – Austin Jackson, DET – I know it’s his third season, but surrounded with some real sluggers, Jackson has taken the opportunity to shine.
P – Chris Sale, CWS – Yeah, earlier I said young hot pitchers usually cool down. But he’s still been dealing straight goods so far.
(Really) Early thoughts on AL MVP – Josh Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera are the front-runners. Dark Horses: Depending on where their teams finish, any one of Jose Bautista, David Ortiz or Adam Jones.
(Really) Early thoughts on AL Cy Young – Justin Verlander, Chris Sale and Jered Weaver round out the likely candidates.
That’s it for now, go and enjoy the Home Run Derby. Check back tomorrow for Part 2, as I run down the National League.