The theme to this week’s rankings, with the All-Star Break serving as a rest period, will be the best, or worst, stories of the first half for each team. For the Yanks, you can either highlight the MVP-caliber season Robinson Cano is putting together (despite the poor first-half RISP numbers), or the unexpected dominance of Rafael Soriano at the end of games after the Mariano Rivera injury. I’m going with Cano, who is the foundation of the Yankees line-up.
2. Texas Rangers (-1, 52-34, 1st in AL West)
Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison have been terrific in the rotation, an area that had more than its fair share of question marks after C.J. Wilson left for a division rival. Even with all that, the story is still Josh Hamilton. In his contract year, Hamilton is crushing everybody and everything, as evident by his 1.016 OPS. The AL MVP may be a second half battle between Hamilton and Cano, and it would be a fun story line to follow.
3. Washington Nationals (+0, 49-34, 1st in NL East)
The first half story has been Bryce Harper, who became the third-youngest player in MLB history to make an All-Star team, and the youngest position player (only Dwight Gooden and Bob Feller were younger). As great as that story is, the focus is going to quickly shift back to Stephen Strasburg and his innings limit. The limit, as reported, has been set for 160. He’s currently at 99. The countdown is on.
4. Los Angeles Angels (+0, 48-38, 2nd in AL West)
Mike Trout, Mike Trout and more Mike Trout. Not to understate the importance that Mark Trumbo, Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and the resurgent Albert Pujols, but Trout is becoming one of the best players in baseball, if he isn’t there already. He’s just about locked up Rookie of the Year honors, but should he be included in every and all MVP conversations? Absolutely.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates (+4, 48-37, 1st in NL Central)
Before I explain any more, understand I am a die-hard Mets fan. I get that the MVP race in the NL is a three-horse race between David Wright, Joey Votto and Andrew McCutchen (you can make a great case that Carlos Beltran deserves consideration, too). With all that said, as of today, its McCutchen’s award. He’s been the heart and soul of the Pirates resurgence, which has the team 11 games over .500. Has the offense bounced back in a big way recently? Yes. But, without McCutchen, this team is a bottom dweller.
As mentioned above, its Joey Votto. Nobody in the National League has been numbers across the board than Votto, who’s going to make a serious run at a potential triple crown. Should the Reds be able to overtake the Pirates at the end of the season (what did I just say?), Votto will notch his second MVP award in what is blossoming into a very special career.
7. Chicago White Sox (+5, 47-38, 1st in AL Central)
We’ve paid a lot of attention to Chris Sale this year, and rightfully so. But, we’ve probably undersold the White Sox offense. Alex Rios seemingly has righted the ship on his career, Adam Dunn is back to mashing home runs, Paul Konerko is destroying American League pitching, Alejandro de Aza has provided unexpected production at the top of the order, and even the recently acquired Kevin Youkilis is beginning to hit. As long as the White Sox pitching staff limits the damage, this team can hit with the likes of the Rangers and the Yankees.
8. Atlanta Braves (+5, 46-40, 2nd in NL East)
In my mind, its an easy choice: the play of the Braves outfield, specifically Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward. Heyward has put to rest any doubts that his sophomore slump was anything more than that, while Bourn is putting together easily his best offensive season, even without stealing an insane number of bases as he usually does.
9. St. Louis Cardinals (+5, 46-40, 3rd in NL Central)
We’ve mentioned him before, let’s mention him again. Carlos Beltran may have found the fountain of youth in St. Louis. The Cardinals have battled injuries at every corner this season, be it to Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter, Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and the list goes on. He’s had partners in crime with Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday, but its been Beltran since the word go.
10. Los Angeles Dodgers (+0, 47-40, 1st in NL West)
At the beginning of the year, it was all about Matt Kemp and the Dodgers hot start. Now? Its still about Matt Kemp, but its that he’s been injured for the better part of the last two months. Add in the injuries of Andre Ethier and Dee Gordon, and now you’re looking at an offensive brown out that has dropped the Dodgers. Luckily for them, the Giants haven’t been able to truly capitalize on it yet. But, they some more and more beatable each and every day.
Arguments can be made that, should the Mets make the playoffs, this could be a team that sports the NL MVP (David Wright) and NL Cy Young (R.A. Dickey). There wasn’t one Mets fan that thought any of this to be possible before the season started. Not one. In fact, many were worried the only news surrounding Wright all year would be on the trade market. Good news: Wright isn’t going anywhere.
12. San Francisco Giants (-7, 46-40, 2nd in NL West)
The Giants have some great news (Melky Cabrera’s amazing first half, Matt Cain’s perfect game) and some horrible news (Brian Wilson’s elbow injury, Tim Lincecum’s, uhm, awfulness). Despite all their ups and downs, you’d be hard pressed to find someone that would pick the Dodgers to maintain their current lead over their division rivals. Especially if Cabrera, Angel Pagan and Buster Posey continue to lead the offensive charge while Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong continue to perform in the rotation. As for The Freak, well, it isn’t going to get better any time soon. We’ll have much more on him later this week.
13. Baltimore Orioles (-5, 45-40, 2nd in AL East)
Even with their recent struggles and their tumble out of the top 10, this is still a dream season for the O’s. The play they’re getting out of Adam Jones and the rest of their line-up is what will keep them relevant well into October. Now, does this look like a playoff team? That’s hard to say, especially considering the play of the Angels and the resurgence of a team we’ll get to in a minute. But, Buck Showalter and company have reminded Baltimore of what its like to be competitive.
14. Tampa Bay Rays (+1, 45-41, 3rd in AL East)
Look, the Rays are four games over .500 playing mostly without Evan Longoria in the first half. David Price has been the dominant starter he has been for the last couple of years, but the team has gotten underwhelming performances from the likes of Matt Moore and James Shields in the first half. It is conceivable that, should Longoria return healthy and the rest of their line-up returns to their career averages, this team may be primed for a late-season run. Again.
Uh oh. The Tigers may have finally brushed off their early season rust. Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander have been on the top of their games since the word go, and Prince Fielder maybe hasn’t fully lived up to his yearly salary, but he’s still mashing along at an impressive rate. If you haven’t followed this team all year, you may be missing the special season Austin Jackson is putting together. This team isn’t going away, and the rest of the American League better take notice.
16. Cleveland Indians (+0, 44-41, 2nd in AL Central)
The Indians have done much of what they did in the first half last year. This is a team that has succeeded even when those around the league claim that their play is unsustainable. Well, they may not be a playoff team this year, but they may just keep one or two teams out of the race by being a pest. What the Indians do have is one of the best double play combinations in the Majors, and seemingly for the next couple of years, at the very least.
17. Boston Red Sox (-10, 43-43, T-4th in AL East)
Well, we gave the Red Sox a lot of credit last week for seemingly turning the corner after their rough start. Then, the team goes out and puts up a week like they did, especially falling to the Yankees to end it all. Even with all that said, remember, this team is certainly going to get better. They’ve been without Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford (if you think he’ll help when he gets back). At .500, there still seems to be a really good chance the Red Sox make a run. Or, they could continue to ride the wave of their up-and-down season.
18. Toronto Blue Jays (-1, 43-43, T-4th in AL East)
I really, truly believe that the Blue Jays would be so much better than their record indicates if they didn’t lose Brandon Morrow to injury. They have been fueled by the play of Joey Bats, Edwin Encarnacion and, recently, Colby Rasmus. But, you need to have some pitching to win, and Ricky Romero has taken a step backwards this year. Without Morrow, I unfortunately see the Blue Jays toiling at .500 for the rest of the season.
Who would’ve thought the A’s would be at .500 come the All-Star Break? Not many, and that includes all Oakland fans. For everything the Red Sox have gone through, it has to rub a whole salt shaker in an open wound to see the type of player Josh Reddick has developed into. Should Yoenis Cespedes regain some level of health, and the A’s will have themselves a strong offensive foundation for the first time since the early Tejada/Giambi/Chavez days.
20. Arizona Diamondbacks (-2, 42-43, 3rd in NL West)
Daniel Hudson is out for the year. Trevor Bauer has struggled in his introduction to the Majors. Justin Upton has under-performed at such a low level that the Diamondbacks are seriously considering trading him. And yet, this team is still only one game under .500. Personally, I don’t see any situation where the D’Backs trade Upton. He’s only 24. We’ve seen it with Jason Heyward that, sometimes, someone just has a bad season. To me, losing Upton will set the organization back for a number of years.
21. Miami Marlins (-1, 41-44, 4th in NL East)
I love the dysfunction that is the 2012 Miami Marlins. This was a team that entered the season with huge expectations to turn the ship around quickly and become a winner again. Instead, their manager has been surrounded by early season controversy, Jose Reyes has disappointed in year one of his massive contract, Heath Bell has been atrocious, the list goes on and on. I really don’t think this team can turn it around, especially considering their biggest power threat, Giancarlo Stanton, is now out for at least a month after knee surgery.
22. Milwaukee Brewers (+0, 40-45, 4th in NL Central)
What to do, what to do with Zack Greinke. Fans expected the Brewers to regress after losing Prince Fielder in free agency. But, this much? I don’t think anyone thought the Brewers would be this far on the outside looking in at the break. They’re a team that needs to decide what to do with the rest of the season. Do they start building for next year, or try to rally the troops? I’m thinking the former.
The Wil Myers watch is officially on. When will the Royals bring up their next big prospect to continue to stack their youth-filled line-up? My guess: very, very soon.
24. Philadelphia Phillies (-1, 37-50, 5th in NL East)
Charlie Manuel said that entering last week, a lot would be determined in terms of what direction the team will head in based off how they performed. The Phillies answered by going 1-5 against the Mets and the Braves. Time to start seeing what the market value of Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino is. Its time.
25. Minnesota Twins (+1, 36-49, 5th in AL Central)
Joe Mauer is having himself a monster season and doing it completely under the radar because of the struggles surrounding the floundering Twins. Also, Trevor Plouffe, have a day. He’s mashing at an outstanding pace. Will he be able to keep it up into the second half?
26. Seattle Mariners (-1, 36-51, 4th in AL West)
It has been said that Safeco Field is playing more unfairly to hitters this year than in any previous season. For the sakes of Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak, you certainly hope that’s the case. Its still a building process in Seattle, and Danny Hultzen should see big league time before we get too far in August.
Anthony Rizzo is here to stay. And his struggles in 2011 seem like a distant memory. The real story will be how many Cubs will be moved after the Break? Dempster seems like a lock, but will Bryan LaHair? Will Matt Garza? Dare I say, will Starlin Castro? Who’s going to move? Stay tuned.
28. San Diego Padres (+1, 34-53, 4th in NL West)
Much like the Cubs, its going to be a story of how many pieces will and should be moved in San Diego? Huston Street is an obvious target of other teams looking to upgrade the bullpen, along with Carlos Quentin and maybe Chase Headley. One player that won’t be moved, Cameron Maybin. Wait and see what type of second half he’s going to put together.
29. Colorado Rockies (-1, 33-52, 5th in NL West)
This is what happens when you have no starting pitchers what so ever to carry your team. It doesn’t matter how dominant Carlos Gonzalez can be at the plate. If you don’t have arms in the rotation, you won’t win. Troy Tulowitzki will come back at some point, and he will assert his authority at the plate. But, again, where are the arms?
30. Houston Astros (-3, 33-53, 6th in NL Central)
Carlos Lee has moved on. Who will be next? The team is free falling, moving below the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. Will this be the season they finally trade Wandy Rodriguez?