Feist Facts by Jim Feist | The first half of the 2008 baseball season is in the books. There were surprising winners, such as the Rays and Marlins, a lack of hitting league-wide, and some surprising flops with the Tigers, Mariners and Yankees.
With the surprises out of the way, hereís a look at some teams that might be active at the trading deadline and primed to make a second half surge.
Indians: The first week of June the Cubs were a bit of a laughingstock at 28-35. They took the Red Sox to Game 7 of the ALCS last October, even holding a 3-1 series lead, and were expected to be very good again. A lot has gone wrong. C.C. Sabathia struggled badly in April, the bullpen has been terrible and the offense lacks power with Victor Martinez struggling and Travis Hafner on the disabled list.
They need to get the offense out of its first half slump. since starting pitching can help fuel a second half run, the Indians certainly have that with Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, Cliff Lee. Thatís a trio many teams would envy. A situation worth watching is Sabathia, who is in his contract year. The Indians may deal him before the deadline, raising a white flag on 2008.
Tigers: The $139 million payroll Tigers were the biggest flop of the first half. After making the 2006 World Series, Detroit loaded up this offseason by adding slugger Miguel Cabrera, SS Edgar Renteria and lefty Dontrelle Willis. On paper, this offense looked like the best in baseball. It hasnít disappointed, as the offense is one of the best in the AL.
The pitching and defense, though, have been a disaster. Veterans Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson have looked their age, while young ace Justin Verlander has been anything but. Throw in more injuries to an unstable bullpen and it explains all their troubles. Getting Verlander and Willis, who missed most of the first two months, straightened out and they could make a second half surge with all this offensive talent.
Phillies: The Cubs were the talk of the first half of the season, but the team that looks just as dangerous in the NL might be the Phillies. Cole Hamels is an ace, while newcomer closer Brad Lidge has been lights out, recapturing his dominating days in Houston.
The pitching is decent, while the offense is positively loaded. 2B Chase Utley is making a run at MVP and he could be the third straight Phillie to cop that award (Ryan Howard in 2006, Jimmy Rollins in 2007). They are no strangers to second-half surges, with a memorable run last September to steal the NL East pennant from the Mets.
Blue Jays: Toronto has been under the radar in the first half in the AL East, with all the focus on the defending champion Red Sox, the surprising Rays and the disappointing Yankees. The Jays went 20-10 May without star slugger Vernon Wells, who returned last month and two days later sparked the Jaysí second comeback with one of his line-drive homers in a 5-4 win over Baltimore.
Workhorse Roy Halladay got the win that game, his fourth in a row, and they have solid relief work with Scott Downs in the eighth and closer B.J. Ryan in the ninth. This team has been one of the best in team ERA, while the offense was hot during a 14-4 run in late May without Wells.
Angels: Hereís a team thatís not going to go away because of five reasons: Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, Jared Weaver, John Lackey and Jon Garland. Their pitching has carried them in the first half of the season when injuries hurt the offense. LA had one stretch going 17-2 under the total with a popgun offense but dominant pitching. They went 12-7 in those 19 games.
There is also closer Francisco Rodriguez and a defense that is tops in the AL. "We are about pitching and defense," said manager Mike Scioscia. "Thatís our game." It was good enough to deliver a World Series title six years ago and the formula is still the same. The Angels have plenty of pitching for a strong second half.
Aís: The AL West has been very competitive in 2008 and Oakland has a recent history of second half surges. This is not a strong offensive team, but if pitching is the key to second half surges, the Aís are loaded, ranked No. 2 in the AL, led by Rich Harden, Justin Duchscherer, Chad Gaudin and Joe Blanton.
While most teams will be shopping for pitching before the trade deadline, the Aís will be looking for bats and have arms to deal, a nice plus.