Thursday, July 21, 2011

Second Half Story Lines

The second half is about a week old, and with the first half gone most teams understand their potential playoff chances. Teams like the Yankees and Red Sox know that they have a good chance of making the playoffs, while teams like the Royals know that they have no realistic shot of playing in October. And of course you have teams that are stuck in the middle like the Twins. Even if your team isn’t going to make the playoffs that doesn’t mean you should stop watching them and stop following the MLB. With that here are my top 2 story lines to follow for the second half.
1.       Will Pittsburgh and Cleveland maintain their strong first halves and make the playoffs.
These teams had 105 and 93 losses respectively last season. These teams have suffered for more than their fair share. Pittsburgh has had 18 straight losing seasons. Cleveland hasn’t won the World Series in 62 years.  With a strong first half the Pirates (50-44 1st in the NL Central) and Indians (55-44 1st in the AL Central) have shown that they are not a flash in the pan are the real deal. The fun now begins for the fans of these teams. Both teams are in tight divisional races and both are buyers at the deadline this year. They are both looking for the piece the will help them down the stretch. It’s going to be a great finish in the Centrals this year, and I’m sure the fans are excited.
2.       The MVP races.
In the NL Prince Fielder has a strong case to be made as the MVP, but what’s really intriguing is where Andrew McCutchen finishes. He is having a strong year (.279/.379/.448) and is widely regarded as one of the best if not the best defensive center fielder in the game. He is the star of a very surprising Pirates team that is right in the thick of the NL central race. He is definitely valuable to the Pirates. Without him they are not in first place fighting for a playoff spot. It will be really interesting to see how many MVP votes he gets. Another player to follow this second half is Matt Kemp. He is having his best season of his career, this after his worst season worst season as a big leaguer last season. He has 24 homeruns and 27 stolen bases in 97 games.  He is on pace for 41 HR and 46 SB which would make him the fifth player ever to have a 40-40 season, and the first since Alfonzo Soriano in 2006. If Kemp has this historical season shouldn’t he be the MVP. Many fans will say yes, but the voters will look to the fact that the Dodgers are 4th place in the NL West. That shouldn’t matter but it does in the eyes of the voters, making the MVP race one to follow in the second half.
In the AL the MVP race is much closer than the NL race. But that doesn’t mean it won’t still be interesting to follow. The clear leader statistically is Jose Bautista with a .332/.465/.691 slash line. That OBP and SLG are both league leading. He has 31 HR and 75 walks, both of which are also currently leading the league. The argument against Bautista is the same one as with Kemp. Bautista plays for a 4th place Jays team that has no shot of making the playoffs. Voters will likely lead towards Adrian Gonzalez who leads the league in batting average (.337), hits (130), and RBI’s (78). He trails Bautista in OBP .465-.400 and SLG .691-.513. Clearly based on pure numbers Bautista is having a far better season but Gonzalez is more “valuable” in the eyes of the voters, making the AL MVP race an intriguing one to follow this second half.      

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