After a four-day break in baseball action due to the All-Star game and its surrounding festivities up at Target Field, baseball returns tonight. With a full, fifteen game slate set to get the second half of the season going, there are a ton of story lines that are sure to make this portion of the season one of the most captivating in years.
With that in mind, I wanted to go over just a few of the topics worth keeping an eye on in the two and a half months before the postseason rolls around, with my prediction/thoughts on what will take place.
– Which players will be traded before the trade deadline on July 31st?
As of right now — though the likes of Chase Utley, Huston Street and Adrian Beltre have been tossed around — the two players in the spotlight the most when it comes to trade discussion are David Price and Matt Kemp. Both Price and Kemp have been apart of trade talks for awhile, but neither has gone anywhere as of yet. But many people are expecting that to change fairly soon. Price hasn’t been having the type of season that he had a couple of years ago, but he’s still one of the top pitchers in the game today, who will likely bring the Rays a good amount in return, should they decide to deal him.
Kemp is in slightly a different situation that Price, as Price has noted that he doesn’t necessarily want to leave, but Kemp is open to a trade, seeing that he’s currently not being used as an everyday player. Though Kemp has been struggling for a good bit of time due to injuries, when he’s healthy, he’s one of the top superstars in all of baseball. With the outfield situation the Dodgers currently hold — five outfielders for three spots — Kemp will likely be heading somewhere soon.
– Will Jose Abreu break Mark McGwire’s rookie home run mark?
When Jose Abreu came to the White Sox from Cuba, no one knew fully what to expect from him. But after his first month in the big leagues, everyone knew he was going to be a star for years to come. The first year All-Star set a new rookie home run record for a player’s first month in the majors, and is on the verge of breaking an even bigger record — the most home runs in a season by a rookie.
Mark McGwire set the bar high back in 1987 when he slugged 49 home runs for the Athletics, but Abreu is currently on pace to hit 50 in this his rookie campaign. Even if he doesn’t quite reach that amazing milestone, Abreu is nearly a lock to do what McGwire achieved — win the American League Rookie of the Year award.
– Of the players with poor first halves, which will have a breakout second half?
No player carries the hype that the Nationals’ Bryce Harper does. Coming up back in 2012 and winning the National League Rookie of the Year award, Harper hasn’t yet been able to have the monster season that people had predicted him to put together. Thanks to an injury this season, Harper has played in a mere 34 games to this point, but with him finally healthy, Harper is looking to turn things around and have a breakout second half to the season. With the Nationals tied with the Braves for first place in the division, they could really use a surge from Harper, who has clearly made known that he loves the spotlight. This is his chance to shine.
The Red Sox have failed to meet expectations this season after winning the World Series last year, sitting tied for last place in the American League east with the Rays. Part of the reason for the subpar year to this point has been the subpar performances by many of the players who made big impacts last year, including Xander Bogaerts.
Bogaerts came up for the very last portion of the 2013 season, but he flipped a switch in the postseason, getting important hits in big spots and helping to lead the Red Sox to the championship title. With such a great showing, many people made the prediction that he would make the run for Rookie of the Year this season. Though that’s not going to happen, look for Bogaerts to begin to find his groove in the remainder of the Sox’ games. He’s extremely talented and will surely be able to get things going.
George Springer is having a great season for the Astros, leading the team in RBI’s and tied for the lead in home runs. The only knock to what would be a promising Rookie of the Year campaign is his low .200’s batting average. That’s the one thing that Springer needs to turn around to become the all around star player that people feel he can become.
His power has been evident this year, as has the ability to come through in big spots; and his defense has been impressive as well. With so much talent, having hit .303 with 37 homers last season in the minors, Springer is one of those players that can make the necessary adjustments to get better and better. With the second half of the season beginning, Springer is arguably the players who needs the most watching, as he could have an extremely impressive final few months.
– How many teams can make a solid push at the playoffs?
Probably the most anticipation surrounds the division races, where there are numerous teams that still stand a theoretical shot at one of the ten playoff spots (six division winners, and four wild cards). The Orioles, Tigers, and Athletics currently stand atop their given American League division, with the Nationals and Braves (tied), Brewers and Dodgers holding the first place slot for their National League division. But there are multiple teams that could be in their place once the end of the season rolls around.
The Orioles currently hold a four game lead in the American League East, however, the Blue Jays and Yankees are going to do their part to make the O’s feel pressure in the coming months. While the Blue Jays held the top spot for a long time before falling down a bit, and although the Yankees are struggling to stay in the race, anything can happen, and that’s reason enough to watch the race in the east.
Detroit has a rather big lead over the second place Royals, but after losing the spot to the Royals earlier in the year, they need to keep an eye on Kansas City. It has been “the Royals’ year” for the past several years, with people predicting season after season that they would finally reach their full potential. And therefore, while they won’t likely find themselves beating out the Tigers, they very well could capture one of the wild cards.
One of the most impressive teams for the past few years has been the Athletics. Consisting of players who wouldn’t appear to have much of a shot against the rest of the division on paper, the A’s are once again surprising many. Not far behind them are the Angels, who, led by Mike Trout, have finally been able to see all of their key players make full contributions. Less than two games back of first, the Angels are on the verge of a special season.
The National League East division has the Nationals and the Braves at the top, with both standing a good shot at being there at the end of the season. The only question that remains is which one of the two will finish in second. The Nationals are a better team as a whole, and if Bryce Harper can post superstar caliber numbers, they could run away with things. However, if the Nat’s fail to capitalize, the Braves could once again win the division.
But while the National League East has the closest teams, the NL Central is arguably the most competitive, as three of the four teams chasing the first place Brewers are less than four games back. Those three teams being the Reds, Cardinals and Pirates, any of the three stand a good shot at finishing in first. It will come down to who plays better baseball and finishes out the year on a strong note.
It’s basically a two-team race between the Giants and Dodgers for the first place spot in the National League West. Though it’s not as competitive of a division as most of the others in baseball, it’s going to be exciting to see who goes on a hot streak to take the first place spot. As of right now, the favorites are the Dodgers, who were predicted at the beginning of the year to make the playoffs fairly easily, but the Giants aren’t too far removed from their 2012 World Series title, and could potentially make things interesting.
But the only thing that’s for sure in baseball is that you never know what to expect. Teams that you never thought had a shot can go on a historic streak and shock everyone. And thus, with less than three months to go, the baseball world is in for an action packed finish to the season.