The plot begins to thickens at the All-Star Break
July 16, 2013
Happy All-Star break.
And some of us could use a break.
This season has taught us well that prognostication is usually a bad idea, but it's not going stop us. The Angels were going to win the AL West. The Nationals were going to breeze in the NL East, and, if the World Series champion Giants had anything, it was pitching.
OK, the Astros still stink in the American League. We got that one.
So I had written most of this column on Saturday before retiring to Chez Freud when a funny thing happened. Tim Lincecum got Freaky by no-hitting the Padres.
I have no idea what's going on with the Giants. I think they're done like dinner — the last month, they've been downright comatose, aside from Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner. Then, Timmy turns into his old self and glimmer is there.
Taking the broad view, the Giants, with the exception of Bumgarner, have not pitched well. Matt Cain is 5-6 with a 5.06 ERA? Barry Zito can't pitch outside of San Francisco — he got clobbered in San Diego Sunday. Ryan Vogelsong wasn't pitching well even before he got hurt being hit by a pitch. Lincecum had been improving in June, but even through orange-and-black glasses, he hasn't been himself since the beginning of 2012.
That said, nobody really seems like they want to win this division, though, the Dodgers appear to be surging. (As fun as it was, they weren't going to be in last place all year.) By the way, give Clayton Kershaw the NL Cy Young right now. (He won't be eligible to start the All-Star Game because he pitched Sunday, but he also deserves the ceremonial nod.)
Yes, Yaisel Puig is getting the headlines in la-la land, but Hanley Ramirez has decided to play like Hanley Ramirez and that has made all the difference for Los Angeles. The Dodgers have already picked up Ricky Nolasco from the Marlins, and I wouldn't be surprised to see another trade before July 31 to bolster their staff.
The Giants have the proven upside for a second-half surge. We're used to Lincecum being all over the place, but Cain has to right the ship, right? It's hard for all the chips to fall in the place two years in a row, but the Dodgers aren't exactly a well-oiled machine. Matt Kemp's hurt again. Andre Ethier has dropped like rock. Ramirez can cool off or get injured or just plain sulk, and disappear.
OK, I'll pick the Dodgers because writing off the Giants just seems to work. Yeah, that's right, the Dodgers are going to run away with the division.
Please note that we haven't even brought up the division-leading Diamondbacks. That's because their pitching stinks, outside of Patrick Corbin. Any team with half a staff would have run away with the division already.
Credit where credit is due, the Rockies have been a pleasant surprise, being around .500 this late in the season. That is progress. There are the makings of a rotation in Denver with Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood. The key will be if they can continue to eat innings in the second half.
OK, got this one right. The Cardinals remain the team to beat. They're looking like the National League favorite. Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn lead a great rotation, and we kinda already knew hey could hit.
The scary thing is that this is still close race. Who knew that the storied NL Central is the best in baseball? I guess if you live long enough, anything is possible. The Reds pitching remains a bit shaky. (I hate Mat Latos. The guy doesn't even know how to spell his name.)
And, yes, the Pirates are looking fantastic … again. I hope they can make the postseason, but I'll believe it after 162 games.
One of the reasons I hate the Braves is that they never die. (I'm still bitter over the 1993 NL West race, when Atlanta was dead and buried, and came from 10 games back to snag the Giants.) Though Justin Upton certainly got off to a spectacular start, the Braves are just steady everywhere, and have stepped into the void left by the Nationals.
Washington has to be the biggest disappointment in baseball. (OK, maybe second to the Angels.) The offense hasn't clicked. The pitching is not as a deep as it needs to be. (Dan Haren, ouch.)
This is a bit of a morality play in action. You have to go all in when it's your year, read 2012, for the Nationals. Baseball is fickle. You do not bench Stephen Strasburg because of innings count. When things are breaking your way, you go. Sure, everything looked bright for the future. But there's no way of seeing that Bryce Harper would run into a wall this year. Baseball is constantly changing. The Nationals may well rally this year and should be a good team for years to come, but the lesson stands.
Note to self: Stop writing off the Texas Rangers. Same goes for the A's. The Rangers get the nod because the A's are darn streaky. Seriously, on the Rangers, how much talent have they lost in the last three years? They keep reloading.
Wow, the Angels. That 10-year contract for Albert Pujols isn't looking too hot in year No. 2. Josh Hamilton, a guy for whom I root, is looking like a bad signing. And hold your nose when you go by the mound. Ouch.
So Max Scherzer is 13-1 and Miguel Cabrera is having another otherworldly season, and the Tigers only lead this division by a game or two. Detroit is maddening. On paper, this is the best team in the American League. On the field, not so much. The Tigers will stumble to another division title, and they're very capable of making noise in the postseason. They should just be so much more.
The Red Sox's John Farrell is the league's Manager of the Year for righting the ship in Beantown. (By the way, yes, Tim LyBarger, I probably owe you a beverage of some form. The Sox are back. We had a bet on the Giants vs. Red Sox.)
Do watch out for the Tampa Bay Rays. They are Braves- and Rangers-like in their ability to keep coming. The Yankees played valiantly in the first few months of the season, but their age is showing. The bigger story for the second half will be Alex Rodriguez and performance-enhancing drug scandal that looms. Will guys like A-Rod and Milwaukee's Ryan Braun be able to play?
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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