MLB – 2013 MID-SEASON AL REVIEW

It’s officially mid-season in Major League Baseball for 2013.  How have my pre-season American League predictions held up?  And, what do I foresee the rest of the way to the playoffs?

AL EAST

MY ORIGINAL PRE-SEASON PREDICTIONS (TO FINISH):

  1. NY Yankees (Win Division)
  2. Baltimore
  3. Toronto
  4. Tampa Bay
  5. Boston

ACTUAL STANDINGS (As of July 29):

EAST

W-L

GB

Boston

63-43

Tampa   Bay

62-43

0.5

Baltimore

58-48

5.0

NY Yankees

55-50

7.5

Toronto

48-56

14.0

NEW MID-SEASON PREDICTIONS (TO FINISH):

  1. Boston (Win Division)
  2. Baltimore (Wild Card)
  3. Tampa Bay
  4. NY Yankees
  5. Toronto

Boston Red Sox

I may have been wrong about where the Red Sox will end up in the standings, but I had a feeling in my preseason prediction for the club that when they kept its three core veterans from the debacle that was 2012 (Pedroia, Ortiz, and Ellsbury), it would be good for the team.  I just didn’t know how good…

At the outset of the season, I just couldn’t fathom that a team which had gone through a total collapse in 2012, replaced its General Manager, coaching staff , and only kept a handful of full-time players, would go on to have the best record in baseball after the All Star Break.

But, that’s where the Red Sox sit right now.  They have a 63-43 record and .594 winning percentage, putting them at 64 straight days atop the AL East and within six wins of last season’s total.

How on earth have they accomplished this?

How did Boston take a group of players whereby 7 of the 9 in the original lineup did not put in full years in 2012 and come out with arguably the best Offense in MLB in 2013?

The clutch veterans once again are getting it done:

  1. David Ortiz – .324 BA, .601 SLG, 19 HRs, and 65 RBIs.
  2. Dustin Pedroia – .306 BA, .420 SLG, 14 SB.
  3. Jacoby Ellsbury – .304, 37 SB.

The other veterans the Sox brought in are slugging too: Napoli (.463 SLG), Saltalamacchia (.443 SLG), Jonny Gomes (.434 SLG), Ellsbury (.426 SLG).  Incredible.

These are impressive offensive MLB stats:

  • 1st in RBIs;
  • 1st in OBP;
  • 1st in OPS;
  • 1st in Runs;
  • 2nd in Hits;
  • 2nd in SLG;
  • 2nd in SB.

Plus, the Sox have the 2nd most stolen bases in the MLB.  For a team that has the best On Base Percentage in the biz and the 2nd most hits, this is a total bonus.  No wonder the team is also #1 in runs.

The pitching is middle of the road, but solid.  While the collective ERA of starting pitching isn’t stellar and they’ve walked the 3rd most batters, they do have the 2nd most strikeouts in MLB.

The only real weakness I can see is the bullpen.  Koji Uehara leads the staff with only 9 saves, and the reliever with the 2nd most saves at 8 (Andrew Bailey) just suffered a significant shoulder injury.  If the Sox shore this end up and find good closers before the trade deadline, they could be unbeatable this year.  Starting pitching isn’t above average and aging, so they will need help going the distance.

In the end, I have to attribute the Red Sox success to the terrific coaching staff guided by Coach John Farrell and the leadership of the core 3 veteran players.

In my preseason prediction I wrote, “It was a smart move by the Red Sox to keep Ellsbury, Pedroia, and Ortiz who will provide crucial leadership and help ground the new guys in their particular area of expertise:  Ellsbury in the outfield; Pedroia in the infield; and Big Papi for the offense.”

Further, I wrote: “There is a lot of unknown here. [But] I think the Sox could have a good year if the team gels together well.”

Nuff said.

Baltimore Orioles

My pre-season prediction for Baltimore was that they would be in contention for this division based on momentum gained from their winning ways during the second half of last season.

Basically, I foresaw that Buck Showalter’s 2nd half team from 2012 would blossom into a stronger, faster, and better equipped to handle possible success to the playoffs.  And, this has largely been the case.

The Orioles are only 5.0 games behind division leader Boston & 1.0 games ahead of the Cleveland in the Wild Card standings.   Their success has mostly been attributed to outstanding offense & fielding. Stats in MLB so far:

  • 1st in HRs;
  • 1st in SLG;
  • 1st in Saves;
  • 1st in Fielding Percentage;
  • 2nd in Doubles;
  • 3rd in Runs;
  • 3rd in Hits;
  • 3rd in RBIs;
  • 3rd in OPS;
  • 4th in Batting Average;

However, starting pitching has been weak.  In MLB:

Still, the current Orioles starting pitching staff is showing signs of life.  Since the All-Star break, the O’s swept the Texas Rangers by shutting down the Rangers offense.  They’ve also been feverishly working to improve starting pitching including trades for Scott Feldman from the Cubs & Francisco Rodriguez from the Brewers.  In addition, according to Ken Rosenthal, the O’s are reportedly still in the hunt for additional pitchers before the July 31 trade deadline.

Thus, if the starters can sustain success & at least keep the Orioles in games, that hot offense has the potential to get the team many more wins.

Evidence certainly is showing that the organization is trying to improve pitching and if successful, I feel the O’s have the potential to be what I predicted pre-season: “scary good” and enough to knock off any leader of this division towards the post-season.

Tampa Bay Rays

I originally predicted that the thrifty-mindedness of Tampa Bay’s owners would catch up with the Rays.  Specifically, due to a diminished pitching staff in 2013 and continued lack of run support, I foresaw the possibility that the team would decline.  And, in the beginning of the season, that scenario appeared to come to fruition.

But things have recently come together for this team making my last few words in the pre-season prediction more the reality: “These Rays might surprise us all and do what they’ve done best for the last several years – scrape together wins on the cheap.”

Yes, it appears that is exactly what they are doing now – winning on the cheap.

The Rays have had a recent surge up the standings and now are currently only 0.5 games behind the leader in the division.  They are getting it done by great starting pitching which I thought would be their biggest downfall this year.  Namely, Matt Moore (14-3, 3.17 ERA), Jeremy Hellickson (9-3, 4.62 ERA), and rookie Chris Archer (5-3, 2.76 ERA) have been clutch.  And, David Price has been terrific since returning from the DL: 1.97 ERA in 4 starts, 2 complete games, 1 walk.

The bullpen has also shored up its winning ways giving the starters solid protection.  Fernando Rodney has 24 saves alone, more than the Cleveland Indians have collectively.

The Rays offense has also been getting it done.  Their MLB stats look impressive:

  • 4th in OBP;
  • 5th in OPS;
  • 5th in HRs;
  • 5th in Runs;
  • 6th in SLG;
  • 6th in BB;
  • 6th in RBI;
  • 7th in Hits; and
  • 9th in AVG.

Surprisingly to me, James Loney is hitting .313 over Evan Longoria’s .277.  And, yet still, DH Luke Scott is hitting .270, Desmond Jennings has hit 11 HRs, (RF) Matt Joyce 14 HRs, and (LF) Kelly Johnson 15 HRs. All much more offense than I thought Tampa Bay would have this year.  Strike out rates have also been curbed.  The highest so far is to Evan Longoria with 96, but next closest is Desmond Jennings with 80.

Thus, it’s fair to say that I underestimated the Rays offense and any stride the team would hit in pitching mid-season.  This usually isn’t the case with teams largely intact with its starting lineup from the beginning of the season.

I’ll say it again.  The Tampa Rays keep surprising me.  Time to give it up for Coach Joe Maddon?

New York Yankees

In my pre-season prediction, I wrote that the Yankees would win the division, BUT: “the core team needs to get/stay healthy and produce, or this prediction will not hold up”.

Unfortunately, my concerns rang true.  Much of the original starting lineup for the 2013 Yankees has not been healthy during the first half of this season and the left-over team is struggling on offense, thereby the reason for their current 4th place in the standings.

And, while I feared that the aging Yankees team would have health issues, I never thought that the following players would actually be on the DL for most of the first half of the season: Curtis Granderson (OF), Derek Jeter (SS), Mark Texeira (1B), Kevin Youkilis (3B), and Francisco Cervelli (C).  Shockingly, only Robinson Cano (2B) currently remains in the lineup from the original starting infield position players.

Still, despite all of the devastating injuries to first-string players, the Yankees have managed to avoid freefall and are still in this race.

General Manager Brian Cashman has wisely brought in a set of viable veterans (Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner) and talented young players (Jason Nix, E. Nunez) to help bridge the gap.  The coaching staff has also been able to motivate everyone to work together as a team in contention despite the setbacks.

In fact, as impressed by Coach Joe Girardi as I had previously been, his ability to keep the Yankees over .500 at this point during the season is a major achievement & proof that he can motivate players in a special way (in addition to the Alex Rodriguez PED controversy swirling over the franchise).  As former Hall-of-Fame manager Casey Stengel once said, “Finding good players is easy.  Getting them to play as a team is another story.”

Luckily, pitching and fielding have helped keep the Yankees in the race.  For example, Yankees are currently ranked in MLB:

  • 3rd in Saves (34);
  • 8th in Average ERA (3.72);
  • 8th in Strike Outs;
  • 9th in WHIP; and
  • 4th Best Fielding Percentage.

However, offense is another issue.  By losing Granderson, Jeter, Texeria, and Rodriguez during the regular season & players like Russell Martin, Nick Swisher, and Raul Ibanez in the off-season, the Yankees have lost much of their home run hitting brawn.  Currently, they are ranked in MLB Offense:

  • 23rd in RBIs;
  • 24th in HRs;
  • 24th in OBP;
  • 26th in total Average;
  • 28th in SLG; and
  • 28th in OPS.
  • Ouch.

Thus, if the Yankees want to improve in this division, they need first string players to come back healthy and the newcomers to produce.  In a hurry.

Perhaps the acquisition of Alfonso Soriano from the Cubs will help them, plus the return of Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson.

Going forward, do I think the Yankees can still win the AL East?  With offensive reinforcements, there still is an outside chance: YES.

Maybe it’s the kid in me who has been a fan of the Yanks since I remember that still believes.  But, anyone who has watched baseball over the last thirty years knows that if any team can put it together and rally back from behind, it’s the New York Yankees.

Toronto Blue Jays

Before the season started, I was definitely NOT on the Toronto Blue Jays band wagon.  I couldn’t foresee what Vegas Bookmakers saw:  8/1 favorite to win the World Series.

Instead, I predicted that the team would struggle due to lack of chemistry with many new players dumped from Miami & and a head coach with a past losing record unable to handle the challenge.

Boy, was I right.  And how.

Despite a mid-season 11 game winning streak, Toronto has been terrible.  The team currently sits 14.0 games in last place in the division and is one of the worst teams in MLB.

Unfortunately, it appears the team has officially hit rock bottom:

–          Last week, Manager John Gibbons said after his team lost a season-worst 6 straight and 13 of 17, “It doesn’t get any worse than that, considering where we’re at.”

–          Guess the players-only meeting held before that game didn’t help much.  (Another bad sign when a team holds close-door meetings).

–          And, Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia reportedly just removed himself from Twitter after experiencing an onslaught of negativity from fans and media against his team and his personal struggles on the field.

Interestingly, stats show that this team has an upside- the Offense:

  • 2nd in HRs;
  • 7th in Runs;
  • 7th in RBIs;
  • 7th in SLG;
  • 11th in BB;
  • 10th in OPS; and
  • 15th in OBP.

And, it appears the team has a good showing in situational stats.  The Jays are getting it done across the board with runners in scoring position.

But, the pitching and fielding have been bad:

  • 7th Most BB Given Up;
  • 23rd in Saves;
  • 26th in WHIP;
  • 28th in ERA;
  • 2nd Worst Earned Runs Given Up;
  • 2nd Worst HRs Given Up.
  • 22nd in Fielding Percentage.

Hard to believe that ace R.A. Dickey is 8-11 and 4.75 ERA. That means no starting pitcher on this team has more than 8 wins so far this season!  Not good.

Still, the bottom line is that the pitching may be bad, but the Jays have an offense that could potentially carry them over the threshold of a losing game.  It doesn’t get done in my mind often enough, because they don’t have the proper motivation.  As I predicted pre-season, this team is in desperate need of a player’s coach and – better pitching.

SUMMARY OF AL EAST:

It’s clear to see that the Yankees are weakened due to debilitating injuries and Toronto is playing bad baseball.  So, if those two teams don’t fix their issues pronto, this division will come down to a three-team race between: Boston, Baltimore, & Tampa Bay.

I see Boston is solid all-around, but weaker than the other teams in the area of pitching & bullpen.  Baltimore also has pitching problems which it is trying desperate to resuscitate.  Tampa Bay is playing solid on offense & the pitching is doing better with the return of Price.  They could be poised to capture lightning in a bottle once again.

Bottom-line – this division is up for grabs.  And, whoever wins it has a real shot at the World Series.  There is no real juggernaut team in MLB this year that could challenge, especially in the National League.

 AL CENTRAL

MY ORIGINAL PRE-SEASON PREDICTIONS (TO FINISH):

  1. Detroit (Win Division)
  2. Cleveland
  3. Chi White Sox
  4. Kansas City
  5. Minnesota

ACTUAL STANDINGS (As of July 29):

CENTRAL

W-L

GB

Detroit

59-45

Cleveland

56-48

3.0

Kansas   City

51-51

7.0

Minnesota

45-57

13.0

Chi   White Sox

40-62

18.0

NEW MID-SEASON PREDICTIONS (TO FINISH):

  1. Detroit (Win Division)
  2. Cleveland  (Win Wild Card)
  3. Kansas City
  4. Minnesota
  5. Chi White Sox

 Detroit Tigers

In my preseason prediction for the Tigers, I was practically giddy about this team’s potential and picked them to win the World Series.

I saw the acquisition of Torii Hunter from the Angels and the return of Victor Martinez as a boost to an already powerful lineup chock full of superstars which could see 7 of the 9 in the lineup hitting over .300.  Together with a better than average pitching staff, I thought this team could gain speed down the stretch like a locomotive.

And, while this team is good, it’s not the great team it has the potential to be.

Currently, the Tigers record is 59-45 with a .567 w-l %.  That’s good enough to lead the division, but still only comes in 7th best in MLB.

Bottom-line is that the team hasn’t performed up to its potential in all areas.

For instance, ace starter Justin Verlander has had a very up and down season.  While a 10-8 record is decent for any starter, his ERA recently climbed up to 3.99.  He’s never had that high of an ERA since 2005.

Also, Fister, Porcello and Sanchez are having decent years and above .500, but Porcello’s ERA is 4.49 and Fister’s is 3.90.  Lucky for them, they have Max Scherzer who is 14-1 and struck out 157 batters this year.  Still, the Tigers collective ERA is ranked 13th in MLB.  To me, that’s not great given the strength of this staff.

But, the bigger problem is that bullpen.  Ranked 24th in Saves.  No real stars.  Benoit & Valverde each have 9 saves, but Detroit could use one more veteran solid reliever, particularly if some of the starters are not sharp down the stretch.  Can they pick someone else up before the trade deadline on July 31?

As for the offense, it is above average, heck – excellent is a good word (1st in BA, 2nd in OBP, 3rd in SLG).  But, there have been problems with the Tigers scoring runs in the 7th inning and beyond.  And, they’ve been shut out 6 times and held to 2 runs or fewer 15 times.  Particularly disappointing has been Victor Martinez and Alex Avila with low BAs and Prince Fielder is striking out at an alarming rate.  So far this year, he has 77.  That’s dangerously close to his total last year of 84…

To sum up, it has been surprising how inconsistent the Tigers have been on offense & pitching so far this season. Talent alone is keeping them high up in the standings, but they won’t be able to go the distance and make history if this team doesn’t gel better together and get a spark.

Cleveland Indians

When I evaluated this team preseason, I saw chemistry as one of the most important ingredients this team had which would propel it towards an AL wild card in 2013.  I still feel the same, as the Tribe is living up to my expectations so far this season.

Currently, Cleveland has a 56-48 record with a .538 w/l %, good enough for 2nd place behind the Tigers in the division and 11th best record in MLB.  This record is already markedly improved from 2012, in which the team finished 68-94 and .420 w/l %.

The team’s offense has been very productive and helping to keep them afloat.  MLB Stats:

  • 5th in RBIs;
  • 6th in OBP;
  • 7th in OPS;
  • 9th in SLG;
  • 10th in HRs;
  • 12th best AVE;
  • 14th in Hits.

Perhaps the abundance of left-handed batters and switch-hitters is helping.  Interesting to note that only 1 player in the current lineup is a pure right handed batter:

Indians   Lineup

Bats

Santana

Switch

Swisher

Switch

Kipnis

L

Cabrera

Switch

Chisenhall

L

Brantley

L

Bourn

L

Stubbs

R

Giambi

Switch

However, none of the batters in the lineup is hitting over .300 and none have more than 15 home runs.  A little bit of extra firepower could help here.

As for pitching, like I indicated in my preseason review, this is the weakest part of the Indians team.  Starting pitching is 21st in ERA; 20th Saves; 11th Most ERs Allowed; 8th Most HRs Allowed; and 1st in Batters Walked.  Several of the starters are on the plus side of .500 including Masterson, Jimenez, Kazmir and Kluber, but some have been inconsistent.  The team has also used several pitchers as the 5th starter, prompting rumors that GM Antonetti is seeking help in this area.

The bullpen could also use the help.  Their top reliever, Chris Perez has been good when he hasn’t been in trouble with the law (Perez and his wife faced misdemeanor drug charges when it was alleged they had marijuana mailed to their house) and injured.  With him back as of the All Star Break, that will help ground the relief staff (for now).

All in all, the Indians have benefited from the acquisitions of Swisher and Bourn (among others) during the off-season and hiring Coach Terri Francona, as predicted, has been very good for the team.  There are a lot of holes here, but this is a good foundation to build upon for what should be more success next year.

Will the Indians garner a wild card spot this season?  Still a possibility and a good one if the Tigers continue to remain inconsistent.

Kansas City Royals

Similar to how I felt pre-season about the Blue Jays, I wasn’t gaga over this team like many of the experts were.

Yes, I realized the team would likely improve upon its 2012 losing record when team owner David Glass announced during the off-season that the team acquired one of the best pitchers in baseball from Tampa Bay (James Shields).

But, it worried me when Mr. Glass’ singular focus seemed to be on rebuilding the starting pitching rotation to give the rest of the team a boost to the postseason.  My predicted result was that the team would get to the middle of the road, but not enough to walk into the postseason – unless it added more into the batting lineup.

Unfortunately for Royals fans, I seem to be correct on all accounts.

Right now at midseason, the Royals have a 51-51 record with a .500 w/l %, 7.0 games behind division leader Detroit and good for 15th best team in MLB, or almost exactly middle of the road.

What has been holding the Royals back so far is a lackluster offense.  Namely, the lack of ability to bring in runs.  And, this lack of run support is hurting what appears to be a slightly above average pitching staff.

For instance, in 20 starts, James Shields has a record of 4-7 with a 3.24 ERA; 122 SO; 40 BB; and 14 HRs.  As Jonah Keri recently aptly reported in his July 19 blog article, Shields “is producing what might be the best season of his career”.  But, due to lack of run support by the offense, his record is being hurt.  In essence, he “posted a quality start (six innings pitched or more, three earned runs or fewer) in five of his six losses, and in seven of his 10 no-decisions.”

Looking deeper at the Royals Offense MLB stats, we can see that they hit below average in clutch situations:

  • 23rd in RBIs;
  • 25th in Runs;
  • 25th in OPS;
  • 27th in SLG;
  • 28th in HRs;

The upside is that the stats also show the Royals have speed on the bases (5th in MLB) and have struck out the LEAST of any other team in MLB.  They also have a decent ability to get on base (18th OBP) & to hit in general (13th in Ave).  But, it’s not enough.

In essence, the Royals suffer now from what I predicted earlier, that they need “one or two real veterans in the regular rotation to help get them motivated real fast”.  I’ll stick to that.

Minnesota Twins

What I saw for the Twins preseason was the dog house by the end of the season.  It’s not that bad right now, but the team is not very good.  The only thing keeping them out of the gutter are the Chicago White Sox and the offense of the M&M boys.

Currently, the team is 45-57 with a .441 w/l %, 13.0 games behind the division leader, and ranked 25th out of 30 MLB franchises.

As predicted, the offense lacks despite the earlier mentioned Morneau & Mauer and a decent fielding percentage (5th ranked).

The real stinker is that starting pitching rotation which has managed to garner the following unfortunate stats:

  • 29th ERA;
  • 22nd BB;
  • 30th in SO;
  • 30th in Ave.

In fact, none of the 5-6 starters currently posts an ERA less than 4.56 and more than 7 wins.  At least they have Glen Perkins, lefty reliever, with 24 saves and All Star this year.  If not for him, well, there could be more losses obviously.  And, more could be coming.  Rumors swirl that he is of interest to teams looking for trades and he’d be worth it.

Not much more to say here about the Twins, except that I still believe the White Sox have a more talented team and could very well rise up over these Twins in the standings by year’s end, particularly if anything happens to Mauer, Morneau, or Perkins.

Chicago White Sox

My preseason prediction for the Sox was filled with optimism.

While I did realize that the team could face problems on offense due to A.J. Pierzynski’s departure to the Rangers and the lack of any acquisitions during the off-season, I thought they had a chance to maintain mid-level success in this division.  Unfortunately, this has not been the case.

Currently, the White Sox have a 40-62 record (..392 w/l %), putting them in last place in the division 18.0 games behind leader Detroit and making them the 28th worst team in MLB. (There are only 30).  Big ouch.

So, what’s gone wrong?

As I had worried about, lack of power of on offense and injuries to key players.  The result is that the offense and fielding have been terrible:

  • 18th in Batting Ave;
  • 19th in HRs;
  • 21st in Hits;
  • 21st in SLG;
  • 24th in OPS;
  • 27th in OBP;
  • 27th in BB;
  • 27th in RBIs;
  • 28th in Runs; and
  • 28th in Fielding Percentage.

I had worried about Konerko’s potential at age 37 and continued success with the bat and unfortunately, this concern came to fruition.  He has been on the DL & only hitting .248 this season with only 7 HRs and 33 RBIs, far below last year’s numbers.

Tyler Flowers has also had injury issues and only hitting .208, 9 HRs.  I had hope for Gordon Beckham, but again, injuries have not given him a chance to show his stuff.  While he is hitting .325, he’s only appeared in 47 games due to a fractured a bone in his hand in April when he missed nearly two months and there is a recent wrist injury.

The pitching hasn’t been terrible for the Sox, but middle of the road.  And, there are rumors that the team could see a couple of their top starters Jake Peavy and Chris Sale be traded before the July 31 deadline.  So, that would obviously bury the Sox even more.

In the end, injuries have really hurt the few good players who could have really made a difference in this team during the first half of the season.  It probably won’t get any better if they lose starting pitchers, the one asset they may actually have.  If not, there should be spurts of winning if the core team gets and stays healthy.

SUMMARY OF AL CENTRAL:

Detroit may not be the great team I thought they would be at the start of the season, but I still believe they are good enough to snag this division, particularly if they shore up their pitching before the trade deadline.

The Indians will likely have a chance at the wild card and that would be some boost of confidence for them, particularly going into next season.

As for KC, well, I still am not on the bandwagon.  But I like what I see, particularly from the fan base.  When the Royals went on an early season spurt atop the division, those mid-westerners were besides themselves and rightly so- it’s been awhile since they were able to flex their enthusiasm for a winning team.  They’ll just have to wait until next season.

Minnesota & the Chicago WS just don’t have the talent to compete.

AL WEST

MY ORIGINAL PRE-SEASON PREDICTIONS (TO FINISH):

  1. LA Angels (Win Division)
  2. Oakland
  3. Texas
  4. Seattle
  5. Houston

ACTUAL STANDINGS (As of July 29):

WEST

W-L

GB

Oakland

62-43

Texas

56-49

6.0

Seattle

50-55

12.0

LA   Angels

48-55

13.0

Houston

35-69

26.5

NEW MID-SEASON PREDICTIONS (TO FINISH):

  1. Oakland (Win Division)
  2. Texas
  3. Seattle
  4. Los Angeles Angels
  5. Houston

Oakland Athletics

How many columns are starting with this sentiment right now:  Billy Beane has done it again.

Well, mine is going there too.  Cuz, that saber metric statistical data stuff is doing its thing once more.

In 2013, Beane has yet again put together a team that isn’t full of brand names, but who are getting the job done.  In fact, you probably won’t recognize anyone but Coco Crisp & Bartolo Colon on the field when the A’s come to your town.

But, the Athletics have a 62-43 record and .590 w/l %, good enough for the 3rd best record in baseball.

What’s working is that the team is very complete & consistently good in almost every area.  They may not be perfect, nor slugging it out of the park, nor blowing you away from the diamond, but collectively, all areas are clicking and complement each other.

For instance, check out Oakland’s offense stats in MLB:

  • 1st in BB;
  • 10th in RBIs;
  • 11th in OBP;
  • 12th in HRs;
  • 13th in SOs;
  • 14th in OPS;
  • 18th in SLG;
  • 21st in Hits;
  • 21st in Ave.

Interesting, eh?  No one in the lineup is batting over. 300., nor has more than 17 home runs.  But, together with decent speed and aggressiveness on the bags (only Seth Smith (DH) does not have a stolen base in the lineup), they are getting on base and scoring without tremendous power (8th most runs in MLB).

The pitching has also been solid guided by 40 year old Bartolo Colon (14-3, 2.54 ERA).  Currently, together with the other starters Griffin, Milone, Parker, and Straily, all 5 in the rotation are over. 500.  Despite the fact that they don’t strike out a lot of batters (25th rank), they have the 2nd lowest walk rate and 6th best ERA in MLB.

And, then there’s closer Grant Balfour, a 35 year old Australian righty, who has 28 saves alone this year for Oakland.  Recently, he set a team-record saves streak at 44, putting him in sixth place by himself all-time in consecutive saves behind Eric Gagne (84), Tom Gordon (54), Jose Valverde (51), John Axford (49) and Brad Lidge (47), and passing Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley.

As for Fielding, the team is ranked #17th, pretty much middle of the road.  Those who follow me, know that I insist on this area coming in above average for a winning team.  If you’ve watched and listened to as much baseball as I have, you may realize that defense may not count as much during the regular season when 162 games are played, but it is critical in the post-season when the competition is fierce and games are won by just the smallest of margins.  Hopefully this area will improve by October for Oakland.

In any event, the only real hiccup I foresee for Beane is the possibility of Bartolo Colon getting suspended for his involvement in the PED scandal with Biogenisis.  Rumor has it that his name is on the MLB list of players who will receive a suspension.  And, since he failed a previous drug test, Bartolo could miss the rest of this season and beginning of next for a penance of 100+ games.  I trust, however, that Beane has a fix for this problem on the horizon?

The bottom line is that I wish I had not underestimated this club in my preseason predictions and accepted that the “method to their madness” was going to put them atop this division again this year.

(Funny, I didn’t think Beane’s “experiment” with Yeonis Cespedes was going to work either.  Remember, he is that Cuban kid involved in one of the richest deals in A’s history?  The one that went out and won this year’s Home Run Derby…)

Texas Rangers

In my preseason prediction, I didn’t see the Rangers being able to make the post-season this year.  I saw major holes in every area of the team, especially if unexpected injuries crept in. And, so far, this prediction has held up.

At this point in the season, the Rangers have a 56-49 record, .533 w/l % and 6.0 games behind Oakland.  They are still in the AL Wild Card race, 1.5 games back, but behind Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and Cleveland.

What I thought was the team’s preseason asset was the offense, which is generally above board.  They have the 6th most HRs, 9th best SLG rate, and 13th in RBIs.

However, due to injuries, some holes have been exposed in that offense.  For one, Lance Berkman is likely out for the rest of year injured; Nelson Cruz may be one of the suspended players via the Biogenesis scandal; and Mitch Moreland & David Murphy have been struggling.

As for pitching, there’s also been some struggles in the first half with injuries.  But, it appears that with the recent acquisition of Matt Garza and the other starters on the mend, the pitching staff could turn things around and be the real star here.  They will need to be, especially if their star closer Joe Nathan gets traded before the deadline on Wed.  He has 32 saves this year alone so far, which has helped to bridge the gap for the Rangers.

In the end, the organization helped to close up some pitching holes with Garza’s acquisition.  If not for that, I would suggest an official send-off for the Rangers down the river this season.

But, my sense is that this team has stopped limping, has been walking, and may soon start to stride.  Despite some offense issues, there’s still plenty of power there to be tapped.  And, if the pitching improves, this team does have a chance to snag a wild card.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners are essentially a team I had predicted it would be months ago before the season started: Not a real contender, but nicely improved.

With a 50-55 record at the half and .476 w/l %, this puts them 12.0 games behind Oakland and 3rd place in the division, good for 18th best in MLB out of 30.

One of the areas they improved greatly in includes the lineup and particularly, the amount of home runs this team has been slugging (127).  Only the Orioles & Blue Jays have hit more.  For instance, Raul Ibanez, the ageless 41 year old veteran from the Yankees, has hit 24 home runs alone.  He’s been aided by Kendrys Morales, Mike Morse, and Kyle Seager on this front.

The starting pitching rotation is stable and guided by ace Felix Hernandez and Iwakuma, the 31 Japanese righty.

But, for lack of any other serious assets and a losing record on the road (21-27), this team will probably finish just below the Angels, who I still think will make a move and get ahead of the Mariners before the season ends.

Los Angeles Angels

In my preseason prediction for the Angels, I saw the team winning the division over Oakland and Texas, a race that was particularly tight last year.  (Angels finished in 3rd place in division in 2012)

But, I foresaw the acquisition of Josh Hamilton during the off-season and his subsequent combination in the lineup with last year’s rookie sensation Mike Trout and Albert Pujols as the catalyst this offense needed to put it over the top.

I had also noticed that the rest of the lineup seemed to be solid & that the pitching staff guided by CJ Wilson could potentially perform above average if health was good and they felt the boost of run support.

Alas, Josh Hamilton has been a bust; Pujols has been suffering from a debilitating foot injury (plantar fasciitis); and injuries have knocked the pitching staff down a bit.

The result is a very inconsistent team with a record of 48-55 and .466 w/l %, and currently 13.0 games back from the division leader Oakland.  Not the team I thought they’d be at this point in the season, obviously.

Honestly, that record puzzles me when I look at the offensive stats, which are very good for this team.

For example, despite Josh Hamilton’s lackluster year, Mike Trout has continued to produce well in 2013 (.321 BA; .399 OBP; .556 SLG; 17 HRs; 23 SB) and along with Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendrick, & Eric Aybar, this Angels offense is falling above average statistically in MLB:

  • 6th in OBP;
  • 6th in Ave;
  • 6th in Hits;
  • 6th in OPS;
  • 7th in SLG;
  • 11th in HRs;
  • 11th in RBIs;
  • 13th in BBs.

As for the starting pitching staff, Weaver, Hanson, and Vargas have been injured during the first half of the season and Joe Blanton has been, well – just terrible (2-13; 5.52 ERA).  Luckily C.J. Wilson has a good year going (11-6; 3.18 ERA) to give this staff some semblance of consistency.

Still, Angels starting pitching ranks 26th in ERA; have given up the 4th most Runs, 8th most HRs, and 9th most hits.

But, one of the real problems for this club is the Defense – ranked #28th out 30 MLB teams. Only the Astros & Giants have more errors.  This area obviously needs to be cleaned up.  There’s something about bad fielding that has a negative effect on morale – it seems to be contagious and fiddles with chemistry.

The bottom line for the Angels is – well, I can’t quite seem to nail it.  The team is very up and down. But, my gut feeling about this club is that it doesn’t seem to be adjusting well to the Hamilton and Pujols bust.  I feel they need to move on past those expectations that weren’t meant to be, and look at what they have collectively (which isn’t all bad).  Oh, and clean up that defense.  Then, the Angels still might have something here.

However, at this point in the season it could be too late and a similar outcome to last year may be inevitable. Namely, 3rd place again in this division.

Houston Astros

I ended my preseason prediction for the Astros with a question, “How many losses they will actually have in 2013.  Over/under?

Ok, that was pretty harsh.  But, so far, they’ve only won 35 games.  So I feel justified in poking fun at the potential (or lack thereof) of this team.  Last place in the majors is where they deserve to be.

So, instead of reviewing the Astros terrible first half, let’s finish on a positive note.  What are this team’s highlights?

Well, that could be their closer Jose Veras, 32 year old right-handed closer. He had a 2.93 ERA and 19 saves this season and struck out 44 in 43 innings with only 14 walks.  Oh, but wait – he just got traded to the Tigers

 SUMMARY OF AL WEST:

Like the East, the AL West is (as usual), a very contentious division.  But, the slumping Angels and injury prone Rangers have helped Oakland rise to the top mid-season.

I see Texas making a run for the division soon, but probably won’t get there.  Instead, Billy Beane’s surprisingly good and fun to watch team should hold strong and have a lot more wins in Aug and Sept with an easier schedule.

 


Sources :

Baseball-Reference.com: http://www.baseball-reference.com/
MLB.com Stats: http://mlb.mlb.com/stats/sortable.jsp#elem=%5Bobject+Object%5D&tab_level=child&click_text=Sortable+Player+hitting&game_type='R'&season=2013&season_type=ANY&league_code='MLB'§ionType=sp&statType=hitting&page=1&ts=1375119513775

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