There were also some surprises such as the defending champion Cardinals playing close to .500 baseball and the struggles of the big payroll Phillies and Red Sox. With the surprises out of the way, here’s a look at some teams that might be active at the trading deadline and primed to make a second half surge.
You can make the argument that pitching is the key to a sustained second half run. If so, the Rays could be a fun team to watch. Who wouldn’t want a rotation anchored by David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, James Shields, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb?
Moore is just 22 years old, Cobb 24 and Hellickson 25. They flew through their system with ace potential – and have been just as dominant at the big league level.
The offense has been in the middle of the pack, though they are sixth in steals, so the Rays can manufacture runs. There are plenty of lefties in the lineup, and note that the Rays just went on a 20-9 run against right-handed starters. They were also 33-16-2 UNDER the total in the Rays last 51 games against a starter with a WHIP greater than 1.30. Would you deal a great young arm for a big bat?
The Tigers were a disappointment in the first half, with a team ERA near the bottom of the league and an up and down offense despite the addition of slugger Prince Fielder, who’s been great. However, there is plenty to like about this team with speedy CF Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta.
The starting staff has a rare ace in Justin Verlander, who has been outstanding but has gotten little help from the offense. Lefty Drew Smyly, 22, came up from the minors and has been very good. They would like some consistency out of righties Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, otherwise the Tigers might be shopping for an arm before the trade deadline in the wide-open AL Central.
Keep in mind the Tigers are 7-20 in their last 27 games following a win – that won’t help winning streaks!
Speaking of wide-open races, the NL West is between the Dodgers and Giants. The San Francisco offense continues to struggle, but that was the case when winning it all in 2010. There are four reasons to believe the Giants won’t go away, though: Cain, Vogelsong, Lincecum and Bumgarner.
That dynamite foursome keeps away losing skids and the Giants were fifth in baseball in team ERA despite the struggles of Tim Lincecum, who lost weight (and his fastball?) in the offseason. That pitching allows them to beat up weak teams: The Giants are 35-17 on the road against teams with a losing home record. They are also 18-7-2 UNDER as a favorite.
While most teams will be shopping for pitching before the trade deadline, the Giants will be looking for bats and have arms to deal.
Everything went wrong for the Red Sox in April, from injuries, to a new manager trying to find his way and a disastrous bullpen. But new skipper Bobby Valentine did a good job of re-working the pen and the results were impressive in May and June.
The offense has been strong all year, in the top 5 in runs, batting average and slugging. Even better news is they accomplished that without starting-outfielders Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury, both expected back for the second half. The key will be the pitching, which is the big question mark.
Josh Beckett and Jon Lester should improve after subpar starts, while kid lefty Felix Doubront has been a big plus. Clay Buchholz has been an enigma but got significantly better in mid-May before another recent injury. The OVER is 41-20-2 in the Red Sox’s last 63 games as a favorite. The Red Sox were also 43-16 in their last 59 home games with the total set at 11 or higher.
Los Angeles Angels
The super-team in March got off to a dismal start and watched the Texas Rangers roar into first place. Quietly, Mike Sciocsia’s club began to hit behind newcomer Albert Pujols and wins followed, winning 10 of 14 in late May and a sizzling June.
While the offense has plenty of star power, the pitching staff is loaded. The Angels are fourth in baseball in team ERA and second in the AL behind Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Jerome Williams and former Rangers ace C.J. Wilson.
Would you like to face that in October? That’s if they can get there.