THIS WEEK, I’ll be the first Wanderer Online writer to provide my thoughts on the ten most compelling storylines for professional baseball’s second half. By the looks of things, there appears to be fertile ground for a dramatic finish to the regular season. With two wild card teams, some small-market clubs clinging to first-place and a Canadian vying for his second Most Valuable Player Award, there’s every reason to be energized by the months to come. Without further ado, here are my picks for the top storylines:
1. Can the Pittsburgh Pirates avoid going overboard? Last year, the Pittsburgh Pirates started the second half in the thick of the playoff race, and then following the acquisition of first baseman Derek Lee, plummeted in the standings. With the Cardinals and Reds hot on the Pirates’ tail, will the experience of 2011 keep the Pirates afloat in 2012?
2. A knuckleballer for Cy Young? R.A. Dickey could have a solid future on the New York Times Best-Sellers List, following the release of his memoir, Wherever I Wind Up. However, he’s already well-established in Queens, the suburb home to the New York Mets. At this pace, Dickey is primed to compile over twenty wins, take home the Cy Young Award and perhaps inspire a generation of knuckleball pitchers.
3. The Yankees run away with the AL East, then fall to the Rangers in the post-season. My guess is that the Orioles will fade, Boston will continue to play mediocre ball and both the Rays and Jays will finish around even records. However, with a dwindling pitching staff, fans will be hard-pressed to see the Yanks prevail over the loaded Rangers.
4. Boston falters under intense media scrutiny. After imploding down the stretch in 2011, the Red Sox have struggled to avert the New England media’s wrath. Does team manager, Bobby Valentine survive the season? Are Beckett’s days numbered? Barring a playoff run, the Red Sox will remain in hot water.
5. Can the Nationals contend? As the American presidential race moves into overdrive, will Obama and the Democrats feed off a Washington post-season run, or will Harper and the upstart Nats fade like the Pirates in 2011? With a robust pitching rotation, it seems that Washington, Atlanta and New York will go down to the wire.
6. Votto pulls a Steve Nash. Just as NBA star Steve Nash swiped two MVP Awards with the Suns, the Reds’ Joey Votto becomes another Canadian with two MVP Awards on his CV. But with R.A. Dickey in Justin Verlander territory, Carlos Beltran on fire and Andrew McCutchen providing fierce competition from the NL Central, balloting will be replete with debate.
7. The AL Central comes down to the final week, but nobody outside of the Midwest really pays attention. On paper, the Tigers are an imposing force; on the field, not so much (though at the time of writing, they are surging). On paper, Cleveland contrasts significantly, yet they have maintained consistency throughout the year. My guess, however, is that the White Sox – guided by a steady presence in veteran Kevin Youkilis – slip under the radar en route to the post-season.
8. Philly finishes in last? Following a slew of injuries to star players, the Phillies were expected to dip in the wins column. However, their fall from grace was not widely predicted. Rather than vie for the wild card, Philadelphia is on the verge of culminating its campaign in the basement. Between the Eagles, 76ers, Flyers and Phillies, this could be a tough year for several once-promising Philadelphia clubs.
9. Star pitchers take their game to the DL – right in time for pennant races. As pitchers continue to sign lucrative contracts, the trips to the disabled list have yet to slow. The further specialization of relief pitchers and the limitation of starters’ pitch counts only means that pitchers will remain unfit to perform throughout long seasons. Do marathon runners limit their miles in order to run 42 kilometers? No. And yet we expect professional pitchers to throw 100 pitches per game with short 30-pitch bullpens in between starts. Until this mentality disintegrates, rampant injuries will continue to take their toll on the game.
10. Texas devours everyone in its path. The stunning loss to the Cardinals in 2011 was a mere blip on the radar; the Rangers are a dynasty to come. Nolan Ryan understands that pitchers need to finish what they start, and the line-up is already bursting with talent. No team – not the Yankees, not the White Sox and definitely not the Reds – are able to match the Rangers in 2012.
World Series Prediction: Texas Rangers sweep Cincinnati, avenging last-year’s heartbreaker.
Emerson likes to run long distances, read ESPN, spend time with his brothers, write whenever possible and generally overload himself with volunteer activities. He’s stuck on Alastair Rae’s Quantum Physics, and has briefly made his way to several addictive fashion sources: Sharp Magazine, the Business of Fashion and CODE Magazine.