Following the National League’s triumph in the 2012 All-Star Game, The Wanderer Online continues its look into the second half of the regular season. On Monday, writer Emerson Csorba opened the three-part series on the MLB second half, and today, Bennett Csorba provides his picks. On Friday, Andrew Booth will conclude the series with his thoughts.
Without further ado, Bennett’s top 10 storylines of the second half.
1. White Sox back in style? Despite my New York loyalty lying with the Mets, I still retain a strong New Yorker dislike for the Boston Red Sox. The Chicago White Sox lead the AL Central for the time being, and have a better record than their red stirrup counterparts. Although a meaningless competition – unless it’s in the AL wild card race – I’d like to see the White Sox finish with a better record than the Red Sox, which they have not done since 2006.
2. Will anyone hit 50 HRs? As a kid who grew up and was first introduced to baseball during an era of offensive explosion – where there was consistently a half dozen players with over 50 moon shots a year – it feels unnatural that players are struggling to reach that number today. Since 2008, only Jose Bautista – Joey Bats – has surpassed the 50 mark, with 54 round trippers in 2010. Bautista and Hamilton are barely on pace with 27 apiece, Dunn follows with 25, Braun with 24, and Encarnacion and Granderson bottom out the list of contenders with 23 each. In a year where pitching gems seem commonplace, I’m yearning for one of these guys to look reminiscent of Sammy Sosa on the cover of Triple Play 2000, and break 50.
3. Will the Orioles stay aloft? The Baltimore Orioles haven’t finished with a winning record since 1997, when they won the AL East and finished with a 98-64 record. They head into the break with 45 Ws and 40 Ls, still in serious contention in the AL East – what most people consider to be the toughest division in the league – and just behind the Angels in the wild card. Their chance of winning the division is slim, with every team at or above .500, and the Yankees posting an impressive 52-33 record. For the sake of their franchise, here’s hoping they keep batting their wings and take a shot at the wild card spot.
4. Will the Washington and Pittsburgh hats go out of style? The Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates hats have been among the more popular lids in recent years, a trend that is in direct correlation with their placements at the bottom of the league. However, both teams sit atop their respective divisions going into the All-Star break, and stand a good chance to stay where they are.
As a side note, the most under-worn buckets this year seem to be the Rockies, Padres, Astros and Mariners, good purchases if you don’t want to show up at an outing with the same lid as your friends.
5. Will L.A. dodge a Wild West showdown? The Dodgers lead the NL West, albeit uncomfortably. They have done so without Matt Kemp, arguably the best player in baseball today, for the majority of the season. Kemp, who will be participating in the MLB All-Star Game and captaining the NL in the Home Run Derby, is expected to return after the break. The Dodgers are hoping that Kemp will help generate run support for their pitching, which the Dodgers (26th place with 332 runs for) lack. The Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, last year’s NL Cy Young, sits with a 6-5 record despite his MLB 16th place E.R.A. Kemp’s reinstatement on the active roster will be a decisive storyline to follow during the 2012 year’s second half.
6. AL Rookie of the Year favourite Mike Trout has become quite the big fish in Los Angeles, hitting .341 with 12 HRs at the break, and NL Rookie of the Year favorite Bryce Harper has been instrumental for Washington, hitting .282 with 8 HRs. Both players will be on their respective league’s roster for the 2012 All-Star Game, and will continue to be watched closely for the remainder of the season. The Texas Rangers’ Yu Darvish – while likely not a contender for the AL freshman award – will also be a large factor in his club’s playoff run, and may have the last laugh if his team edges Trout’s Angels.
7. Can the Freak finish with a winning record? The two-time Cy Young winner and four-time All-Star heads into the break with a bleak 3-10 record, and a 6.42 E.R.A. It goes without saying that the San Francisco Giants, who sit a half game back of the LA Dodgers, need their 20.25 million dollar per year ace to level out by picking up some Ws.
8. R.A. Dickey. I don’t care if you read his book Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball during spring training, there is no way anyone could have predicted his first half. With due respect to Matt Cain, Gio Gonzalez, James McDonald, Lance Lynn, Stephen Strasburg, and A.J. Burnett – who’s had a turnaround year – there has never been a clearer favorite for the NL Cy Young in my memory at the break. Dickey may very well lead my New York Mets into their first playoff berth since 2006.
9. A national emergency: the state of the NL, to anyone who has followed baseball in recent years, is in chaos. The Phillies, the usual top dog, are last in their division. Every division is tooth and claw. There is no clear favourite for NL MVP, with Cabrera, Wright, Votto, Ruiz, Dickey and McCutchen – McClutchen – all even headed into the break. Here’s hoping my Mets clear things up by going 76-0 in the second half.
10. Yes-Yes for the No-No record? Although not quite on pace for the record of eleven no-hitters in a year, there were five no-hitters during the first half of the MLB season. Two of these no-no’s were perfect games: Philip Humber with the year’s first on April 21st, and Matt Cain with the second on June 13th. There has never been three or more perfect games in a single MLB season. Will the pitchers of Major League baseball collectively tackle these records?
World Series Prediction: Texas Rangers over the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games.