10 Predictions & Questions Heading Into The All-Star Break

We’ve had a great 1st half of baseball this year! The Sports Script asked Ricky and me 10 questions regarding the 1st half of the season. We’ll be talking about what’s happened so far this year, as well as predict how the season will finish.

1. Who is the biggest surprise team? The Pittsburgh Pirates.

After finishing the last 20 years on the wrong side of .500, the Pittsburgh Pirates have seemed to amass a winning formula. Known for draft picks that didn’t pan out and veteran signings that fell through, this season the pieces appear to be falling into place. With acquisitions such as Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke, joining A. J. Burnett and Gerrit Cole in the rotation and a talented bullpen, the pitching has been the heart and soul of the Pirates’ success. Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte’s outfield performances have been electrifying. With the fourth lowest payroll in the majors, GM Neal Huntington’s bargain shopping appears to be paying off.

2. Who is the biggest disappointment? The Toronto Blue Jays

The splashiest moves in the off-season don’t always translate into regular season success. The 2013 Toronto Blue Jays are a prime example. After the trade for shortstop Jose Reyes, left-handed pitcher Mark Buehrle, right-handed pitcher Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck, the acquisition of free agent Melky Cabrera and knuckleballer R. A. Dickey from the New York Mets, the Jays were an early favorite to win the division. With a division-worst 45-48 record, they are falling miserably flat. Following a poor start to the season, the Jays recovered slightly but in the midst of a strong A.L. East, there is no room for mediocrity. With a sorely under-producing rotation, in order to contend with the Boston Red Sox, the Baltimore Orioles, the New York Yankees, and surging Tampa Bay Rays, their acquisitions will have to produce.

3. Who is the MVP? AL: Miguel Cabrera. NL: Yadier Molina

Although still early in the debate, Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers is a runaway favorite for MVP consideration. Aside from Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles, there is no other major league player whose numbers even come close to touching Cabrera’s. With an impressive 95 RBI’s, 30 HR’s and batting an average of .365, his production in the Tigers’ line up is extraordinary. In the NL, Catcher Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals isn’t a “typical” MVP candidate. With only 7 HR’s in 2013, he isn’t your power-hitter, however, his real strength comes in his batting average at .341 (with 49 RBI’s) on the year. He has thrown out 45% of attempted base-stealers. With a 4.0 WAR rating, Molina ranks second only to Cabrera and has started behind the plate in nearly every game, proving his durability. Perhaps most importantly, Molina is the backbone of the division-leading Cardinals.

4. Who is the CY Young? American League: Max Scherzer National League: Adam Wainwright

Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers finally lost his first game of the season this past weekend but still leads the majors with only 1 loss. While wins-losses can be overrated, they are not meaningless. With an ERA of 3.19, Scherzer leads the league in strikeouts with 152. Adam Wainright of the St. Louis Cardinals has 12 wins and 5 losses, an ERA of 2.30, and is second in the National League with 126 strikeouts. Wainwright has had 2 shutouts on the year and an impressive 14 walks in 19 games.

5. Who is the Least Valuable Player? B.J. Upton

This past off-season the Atlanta Braves signed B.J. Upton to a 5-year, $75.25 million deal, the biggest contract in franchise history. Hitting a dismal .177/.266/.300 on the year, Upton is looking like a poor investment. He is struggling at the plate with 102 strikeouts half way through the season. His timing is poor, he shows too much movement in his swing, and any adjustments he has tried to make haven’t proven effective. In fact, Upton appears to be regressing as a hitter. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez admitted he considered asking Upton to work out his struggles in a minor league assignment. Currently Upton has been placed on the 15-day DL with a right adductor muscle strain.

6. Which team needs to make a move at the deadline? Philadelphia Phillies

Throughout the season many have speculated whether the Phillies would be sellers before the deadline with the likes of Chase Utley, Michael Young, and Carlos Ruiz. However following a strong July outing, General Manager Ruben Amaro reportedly announced the Phillies could be buyers, not sellers. With the Atlanta Braves, who started the 2013 season red-hot, slightly slowing down their pace and the Washington Nationals falling short of expectations, a strong addition to the roster could give the Phillies a push for the post-season, if any is to be had. If the Phillies go the selling route, there could be great value for Utley, Young, or Ruiz in the trade market.

7. Which team is most likely to bounce back in the 2nd half? Los Angeles Angels

With a record of 44-49 the Angels are heading into the All-Star break below .500 and 12 games out of first place in the NL West. However, they have the ability to recover. If they are going to gain ground in the second half of the season they need a boost from their pitching staff (particularly ace Jered Weaver); the offense needs to live up to its potential and they need to win the games they are supposed to win. This season against the less than stellar Astros, the Angels have gone just 6-7 included being swept by Houston in a 4 game series. Their big off-season acquisition, Josh Hamilton, had a bleak start to the season but heading into the weekend has hit .346 in his last 14 games with 12 runs and 4 HR’s. Hamilton needs to break out in the second half. Injury-riddled Albert Pujols has also had a weak first half of the season but if last season is any indication (slugging jumped from .460 to .581 in the second half), he should start to improve. His bat returning to previous form will provide a much-needed bolster to the Angels’ line-up.

AL 8. Will Miguel Cabrera win the Triple Crown for a 2nd year in a row? No.

While Cabrera is certainly making a case for a repeat Triple Crown the one category that will hinder him is power-hitting. Cabrera has 30 HR’s heading into the All-Star break, second to Chris Davis’ 37. While either hitter could slow down in the 2nd half, it will be difficult to top Davis’ power. With Davis finishing out the 1st half with 93 RBI’s, 37 HR’s, and a batting average of .315, he may also be a Triple Crown contender. At the very least, his numbers will threaten Cabrera’s.

NL 8. Who will finish with the most HRs in the NL? Carlos Gonzalez

The National League does not boast the same power-hitting numbers as the American League. Currently Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies leads the NL with 25 HR’s, Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirates has 24, and Domonic Brown of the Philadelphia Phillies has 23. While the HR leader at the close of the season is a toss-up, Coors Field, the home of the Colorado Rockies is known for being a home-run friendly ballpark due to the high altitude, which could give Gonzalez an advantage.

9. Which 5 teams are making the playoffs?

AL East: Boston Red Sox

AL Central: Detroit Tigers

AL West: Oakland A’s

Wild Card: Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles

NL East: Atlanta Braves

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks

Wild Card: Pittsburgh Pirates, Washington Nationals

10. Who is representing the AL & NL in the World Series? Detroit Tigers & St. Louis Cardinals

Twitter: MissMaria_88

A.L. All Star Game Lineup

All Star Game

The latest voting numbers for the MLB All Star Game were released over the weekend and the race in the American League is certainly heating up. Third baseman Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers is reigning supreme with 4,337,223 votes and on pace to set record numbers for overall votes. Currently Josh Hamilton holds the record for the most All Star votes received at 11,073,744 in the 2012 season. The Baltimore Orioles are making a splash with 4 position players occupying the lead in votes. In the outfield, the battle for the final spot is a close one.

1st Baseman:

Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles has a secure spot with 3,960,299 votes, the second most overall votes. Davis is having an impressive season leading the league with 27 homeruns, has 69 RBI’s and is batting a .336 average.  Prince Fielder of the Detroit Tigers follows Davis in votes with 2,579,031. Fielder has 12 homeruns, 55 RBI’s, and is batting .275.

2nd Baseman:

Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees is leading the voting with 3,032, 183 votes. Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox occupies the number 2 spot with 2,135,499. Cano and Pedroia have similar 2013 numbers, Cano with 44 RBI’s and a .278 average, Pedroia with 41 RBI’s and a .305 average, but the real difference comes in the power hitting. Cano has 16 homeruns on the season while Pedroia has 4. Traditionally power hitters draw the most interest from fans.

Shortstop:

While J. J. Hardy of the Baltimore Orioles still holds the lead in votes, Jhonny Peralta has moved ahead of Elvis Andrus in voting. The more deserving short stop is hard to decipher. Peralta has had a fantastic season thus far, batting .331 with 31 RBI’s and 6 HR’s, and only 4 errors on the year. Of Hardy and Andrus, he has the best fielding percentage. However, Hardy is a power-hitting short stop with 14 HR’s. He has 43 RBI’s and a .270 batting average. Hardy has been on a tear as of late and is the reigning Gold Glove winner. A case can be made for either. Currently, Hardy has 2,788,972 votes compared to Peralta’s 1,838,500.

3rd Baseman:

Miguel Cabrera has comfortably claimed a spot on the All Star team with Manny Machado second in voting with 2,097,804 votes. Cabrera is on pace for another career-defining season with 74 RBI’s, 20 HR’s and a .368 batting average. Machado is having a breakout year and may well be the best overall 3rd baseman in the league; however, he plays the same position as the best pure hitter in baseball. Machado has 64 RBI’s, 12 HR’s, and a .299 batting average in 2013.

Catcher:

Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins holds the starting spot at 2,788,972 votes. Matt Wieters of the Baltimore Orioles is second with 2,068, 032 votes. Mauer should get the spot as he is having a more consistent season at the plate. Wieters has had an under-performing year, hitting .233 with 37 RBI’s and 9 HR’s, but has thrown out 48% of attempted steals. Mauer is hitting .327 with 25 RBI’s and 8 HR’s, while throwing out 40% of attempted steals.

DH:

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox claims the DH spot with 3,247,462 votes (batting .309, 16 HR’s and 55 RBI’s). Lance Berkman of the Texas Rangers is far behind with 1,519, 503 votes. Third in voting is Edwin Encarnacion (1,091,593 votes) of the Toronto Blue Jays who may be more deserving of the spot. While Berkman is hitting .260 with 33 RBI’s and 6 HR’s, Encarnacion is hitting .269 with 59 RBI’s and an impressive 20 HR’s on the year.

Outfield:

With Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles and Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels looking secure in the first and second outfield spot, 3,571, 693 and 3,548,195 respectively, there is a 3-way battle for the final spot. Nick Markakis of the Baltimore Orioles holds a slim lead at 1,915,860 votes. Close behind him is Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays with 1,867,367, a lead of only 48,000 votes. This week’s voting update puts him ahead of Torii Hunter of the Detroit Tigers, who currently has 1,851,657 votes, only 16,000 behind Bautista. If Jones and Markakis both get a spot it will be the first time in Orioles franchise history that outfield teammates are selected and only the 17th time in MLB history.

Pitching:

Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers has a spotless record in the 2013 season at 11-0, an impressive stat even with the support of the Tigers’ strong offensive line-up. He has also struck out 6 or more batters in each of his 15 starts, the fourth longest consecutive streak. Holding batters to a .192 average, 122 strikeouts, and an ERA of 3.05, Scherzer is a worthy candidate for starting pitcher. Between Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fister, of the Detroit Tigers, AL Manager Jim Leyland has a plethora of options on his own roster. Other candidates for the starting position include Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers and Clay Buchholz of the Boston Red Sox. Darvish boasts an incredible 143 strikeouts, holds opponents to a .208 batting average, and has an ERA of 2.95. Buchholz has 81 strikeouts, holds opponents to a .195 batting average, with an ERA of 1.71. However, Buchholz is currently on the 15-day DL making his availability uncertain. In relief, Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees should be an easy selection. Already with 26 saves in 2013, 43-year-old Rivera has 634 regular season saves as well as 4 All Star game saves. Rivera is set to retire after this season.

While securing a spot on the All Star roster is not necessarily an indication of stellar performance on the season (see Derek Jeter who managed to accumulate 819,175 votes) we are looking at a crop of the very best representing the American League.

Voting is open until July 4th. Visit MLB.com to cast your ballot.

Can 2013 be a Triple Crown year?

miguel-cabrera-triple-crown-trophy-back

Last year Major League Baseball saw the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years. Miguel Cabrera, third baseman for the Detroit Tigers, clinched the title with an impressive 44 HR’s, 139’s RBI’s, and .330 batting average on the season. To say Cabrera is a gifted hitter, would be an understatement. In this day and age it’s rare to hit not only for average, but also for power. Throughout his stretch with Detroit, Cabrera has shown steady and consistent numbers with no sign of slowing down. But could a second Triple Crown title be within sight this season?

Only 2 players in MLB history have won a second Triple Crown (Roger Hornsby, ’22 and ’25 and Ted Williams, ’42 and ’47) and no one has claimed the Triple Crown in consecutive years. However Cabrera’s stats are making a case for a repeat performance. Currently Cabrera has 17 HR’s on the year, 67 RBI’s and is hitting a .363 average; he could easily finish with numbers similar to last season.

However, on his heels is an emerging star out of the AL East, first baseman Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles. Historically, Davis has lacked patience at the plate and struggled with pitch selection. Davis played impressively in the minors but saw little playing time with the Rangers. In a less than flashy trade, Baltimore’s Koji Uehara went to Texas for Tommy Hunter and Davis. What looked like a long-term gamble for the Orioles, is now paying dividends. Chris Davis has always had raw power but the difference this season is that he has become more selective at the plate. When given a spot in the daily lineup, Davis is proving what a lethal hitter he can be. Leading the majors in HR’s at 20, 52 RBI’s (second in the AL) and averaging .338 (tied for second in the AL), Davis is a viable threat to Cabrera.

There are several factors that could come into play as the race heats up this summer. Camden Yards is the more hitter-friendly ball park whereas Coamerica’s larger dimensions could stifle Cabrera’s long ball. With Cabrera batting third, as opposed to Davis’ 5th spot, he will see more at-bat’s, garnering more opportunities to pad his numbers. However, with Nate McLouth, Manny Machado, Nick Markakis, and Adam Jones batting above or near .300, this should translate into more RBI opportunities for Davis. Another consideration is Cabrera batting ahead of the prolific home run hitter, Prince Fielder. With Davis hitting ahead of an under-performing Matt Wieters, he will see more intentional walks. Davis’ will also face superior pitching in the AL East (the likes of Clay Buchholz, CC Sabathia, Matt Moore, David Price).

There is little doubt we are watching two talented hitters in their prime. Will Cabrera sustain his momentum, will Davis continue to surge? Will we see a Triple Crown winner for only the second time in 46 years? Or even more incredibly, consecutive titles for Cabrera? Let’s kick back and watch the season unfold.

Twitter: @MissMaria_88