MLB baseball eams that gained our interest

Jul 5, 2011 3:00 AM

No doubt 162 games is a long season.

Every year teams sprint out of the gate in April and May with October dreams, only to come back to the pack by July. It’s not a sprint, of course, but a marathon, where a strong balance of pitching, defense and offense carries the best teams into the postseason.

Injuries, too, are key, as well as trades made before the July deadline. Teams have figured out their strengths and weaknesses now and are beginning to look for pieces to add before the deadline, while others are figuring out whom to dump. Here’s a look at some recent baseball surging and slumping teams.

Indians: Cleveland was projected to be a last place team, then shot out of the gate like Secretariat with a 30-15 start in late May. Then this young team came back to earth, struggling on the road as the offense slipped considerably, which results in their batting coach being fired. Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo has a broken left thumb and will miss two month, as manager Manny Acta has been creative with lineups because of injuries and slumping players.

Despite the erratic offense, the pitching staff has been the glue behind their surprising season, ranked 13th in team ERA. The bullpen has been outstanding and the staff allows the third fewest walks in baseball. The under had been 15-4-2 in Indians last 21 on grass.

All eyes will be on the Cleveland management this month: Spend some bucks to bring in a quality bat or frontline starter? Or become sellers in the market, which would be a huge let down to their fans.

Phillies: The Phils were expected to be the dominant team after the acquisition of free agent Cliff Lee in the winter. They have been, with the top record in baseball and tops in pitching ERA behind Roy Halladay, Lee and Cole Hamels. However, there are concerns. Starter Roy Oswalt has back problems and has been on and off the DL and the offense hasn’t been as good as expected.

After ranking seventh in runs and homers last season, Philadelphia has dipped to the middle of the pack in 2011 in both categories. They had been a dominant road team in recent years, but have been close to .500 away from home this season. There is some age, both with the staff and the offense, something to keep an eye on in the second half of the season. By the way, the under is 11-5 in Lee’s last 16 starts as a favorite.

Brewers: What a fascinating young team. No National League duo has more than the combined 37 homers and 127 RBI that Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun had through last weekend. They’re both hitting better than .300 and are leading MVP candidates. The pitching staff might not be as deep as the Phillies, but what an outstanding trio of starters in Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum, the latter two new to the team this season.

The Brewers are 15-7 in their last 22 against a team with a winning record, though they took it on the chin in the Bronx last week. Their weakness are poor road play and a below average bullpen, so look for this team to go heavy for any quality relief pitching available this month.

Cardinals: After a fast start the Cards have been hot and cold due to injuries. The offensive talent on this team is sensational, one of the top teams in baseball in runs, batting average, on base percentage and slugging. The over had been 35-16-2 in the Cardinals last 53 road games.

The Cards are built on two strengths, their starting pitching and the Albert Pujols/Matt Holliday combination in the middle of their batting order. Ace Adam Wainwright had Tommy John elbow surgery in late February, gone for the year, and Pujols is out a month with a recent wrist injury. Throw in a slew of other injuries and you wonder if 2011 just isn’t the Cardinals year. Is there help from the minors? Their farm system ranks 24th in the majors by Baseball America.

Diamondbacks: Arizona was supposed to be rebuilding under new manager Kirk Gibson, but this no-name group has been surprising good. The offense talent doesn’t really impress, outside of the only thing that matters: results. They are in the Top 7 in runs scored in baseball and winning despite a team ERA in the bottom 12.

They’ve assembled a starting staff by stealing from other teams, with a rotation of Daniel Hudson (White Sox), Joe Saunders (Angels), Ian Kennedy (Yankees), Zach Duke (Pirates) and Armando Gallaraga (Tigers). This is a tough week for Arizona, a 10-game road trip leading to the break.