Tag Archives: Tampa Bay Rays

Boston Red Sox: Once Promising Season, Dead After 123 Games

The Blue Jays exit the field after their win. The scoreboard, in the background, shows the carnage.

The Boston Red Sox 2010 Season, once promising with the additions of John Lackey to the pitching staff and Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron to the lineup, has died.  The season was just 123 games old.

The Boston Red Sox 2010 season died on Friday, August 20 with a sold-out Fenway Park in attendance.  The Red Sox had been battling a systemic illness brought on by poor play and mounting injuries to key players.

Even my Rally Cap couldn't help save the Red Sox night or season.

The Red Sox, a team that has been close to contention for most of the season, placed 6 players on the All-Star Team, could not overcome season ending injuries to Kevin Youkilis, Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury, and an injury that saw Dustin Pedroia miss nearly 50 games.  Pedroia, who returned to the DL Friday, will likely not return until sometime in September, and could be done for the season.  No major league team can hope to compete against the Yankees and (now) Rays while battling the injuries the Sox have contended with all season.  The Red Sox had been within 4 games of the Wild card leading Tampa Bay Rays as recently as last week.  However, following a 16-2 drubbing at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays it became evident to all in attendance that the Red Sox season (already on life support) would be unable to sustain itself.

Yunel Escobar squares to bunt in the 1st. This was the beginning of the end for Lester and the Sox.

The first signs that last night was the end came when Jon Lester, arguably the Red Sox ace, gave up 5 runs in the first inning.  Prior to last night, Lester had given up 4 runs in the 1st inning in his 24 other starts combined.  The night got progressively worse, as the Blue Jays pounded 3 3-run home runs and scored in every inning except the 4th and the 9th.  To add injury to insult, the Red Sox saw two more players go down during the early portion of the game.  Mike Lowell sustained an injury in after colliding with John McDonald, and Scott Atchison (who had pitched well in relief of the ineffective Lester) left the game after taking a line drive off his leg.

In a season where the philosophy was, “win with pitching and defense”, the offense has, surprisingly, carried the Sox for most of the season.  With Josh Beckett and Lackey both ineffective for long stretches and Daisuke Matsuzaka inconsistent at best, the Sox have relied on good outings by Clay Buchholz and Lester to carry them.  Unfortunately, last night Lester did not deliver.  His lack of command (51 pitches, only 26 for strikes) doomed the lefty and dealt the death-blow to the Sox season.

Despite the gloom of last night’s game and the season, there have been several bright spots and reason to hope for the future.  The Sox have gotten contributions from several players in their farm system. Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish and recently promoted, Yamaico Navarro (who got a hit in his MLB debut last night) come to mind.  If the Sox can make some offseason additions (Hello Jayson Werth!), the team should bounce back and compete next season.

The grounds crew did a phenomenal job maintaining the field. The best work of the night at Fenway.

Survived by the 35,000+ fans in attendance each night at Fenway Park, and the millions of members of Red Sox Nation, the 2010 Red Sox season will go down as a lost season.  With this season dead, a familiar refrain could be heard as I exited Fenway Park, “Wait ‘Til Next Year.”

Check out some more pictures from the game on my flikr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/therallycap/

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A Week that Could Make or Break Contenders

With the trade deadline come and gone, pennant races throughout both leagues will heat up. In both the NL and AL East, the race has gotten much closer over the last week. The Phillies have pulled to within 2.5 games of the Braves. The Rays are a scant 1 game behind the Yankees after winning their weekend series. Trailing the AL East leaders, the Red Sox are making a run, having won 5 out of their last 6 games. This week could see some movement in the standings, as the contenders all have some tough games ahead of them (some against each other). With the races becoming so close, this week could propel a team into first place, or could crush the hopes of fans along the eastern seaboard.

With the Phillies looking to cut into the Braves' lead, Roy Halladay will go to the mound twice this week.

Both contenders in the NL East have tough weeks ahead of them. The Phillies start the week (on Tuesday) with a 3 game series against the Marlins in Florida, while the Braves take on the Mets in Atlanta.  The Braves and Mets have played 8 times this season, with the Mets owning a 5-3 advantage.  If the Mets can win the series, it will give the Phillies an opportunity to pick up a game of two on the NL East leaders.  While the opportunity certainly exists, the Mets had a horrible July (going 9-17), while the Braves own an MLB best 34-13 record at home.

The Phillies need to win their series with the Marlins, who are coming off a 16-10 July in order to keep pace with the Braves. With Ryan Howard hobbled by a sprained ankle, the Phillies might be without their most consistent offensive threat for some portion of the series. Howard believes he could be back in the lineup for the series opener on Tuesday, but you have to wonder if the Phillies will rest their slugger for a game or two using him for pinch hit duty if necessary. If Howard is rested, Ross Gload or Cody Ransom would likely start at first.  The Phillies will have Roy Halladay, Kyle Kendrick and Roy Oswalt going against the Fish.  Thankfully, the Phillies will avoid Josh Johnson, and will contend with Sean West, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad.  West and Volstad are middling pitchers, neither should scare the boys from South Philly.  Since both are going against superior pitchers, the Phillies are in a good place to win those games.  Will they win those games?  That is another story.  Both are winnable, but they have to go out and get the job done.  Sanchez, on the other hand, is a tough pitcher having a very good season (including a complete game shutout of the Giants in his last outing), and will pitch against Kendrick.  That game looks like the most likely loss for the Phillies; however, Kendrick has pitched well in his last two starts, throwing 13.1 innings, striking out 8 and giving up only 2 earned runs.  The Phillies are in an excellent position to win this series, even sweep it, but they have not performed well on the road.  Their road record currently stands at 23-30, they were just 3-11 on the road in July, and lost 2 of 3 to a Nationals team that is 17 games under .500 and was without their best pitcher in Stephen Strasburg.

Phillies fans will be rooting for Lincecum when he takes on the Braves this week (and not because he is on their fantasy team).

At the end of the week, the Braves will host the surging San Francisco Giants, while the Phillies will return home to the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park to host the Mets.  The Braves will face the top of the Giants rotation, with Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain pitching the first three games.  The series finale will see Jonathan Sanchez take on Derek Lowe.  The Giants won the last series between these two teams (2-1) and posted a .714 winning percentage in July (20-8).  Coming off a weekend sweep of the Dodgers, there is hope for Phillies’ fans.  San Francisco winning is a bit of a double-edged sword, as they are the current leaders in the Wild Card race and could put more distance between themselves and the Phillies.  Despite this fact, I know that I will be rooting for the boys in orange and black (it seems natural for a Philly sports fan, no?).

While the Braves take on the Giants, the Phillies will renew their rivalry with the Mets.  The Mets currently own a 4-2 edge in the season series, but as stated above have been less than stellar over the past month.   The Phillies will face Hisanori Takahashi, Jonathon Niese, and Johan Santana during the three games series, and will counter with Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels and Halladay.  Takahashi was tough on the Phillies in his only start against them this season, pitching 6 innings of shutout ball, striking out 6.  Though, if Blanton can pitch even moderately well, the Phillies should have a chance to win all three games.  Hamels is a better pitcher than Niese, and has been on fire lately.  The Phillies may not face Niese though, as there are rumors that his turn in the rotation will be skipped after he was blasted by the Diamondbacks in his last start.  Sunday’s match up between Santana and Halladay should be a great one, as two of the best pitchers over the last decade will be squaring off.  The last time Santana faced the Phillies he had one of the worst outings of his career, giving up 10 runs in 3.2 innings; and the Cardinals pounded him in his last start, scoring 7 runs in 5.2 innings.

Given the Phillies play of late, I think they pick up a couple of games this week, placing them in excellent position to retake the division lead within the next couple of weeks.  Of course, this prediction is predicated on Ryan Howard coming back to play most of the week.  Without Howard in the lineup, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez would need to continue their torrid post-All-Star play for the Phillies to have a chance.

There hasn't been much good in Cleveland sports for the last several months, and it is unlikely to change against the Sox at Fenway.

Turning our focus to the Al East, the Sox have a massive opportunity to cut into their deficit.  They start the week playing four games against a Cleveland team that just traded its best starter (Jake Westbrook) to the Cardinals, and one of its best offensive weapons (Austin Kearns) and its closer (Kerry Wood) to the Yankees.  The pitching matchups clearly favor the Sox, with John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka lined up for the series.  While the Sox will have to contend with Fausto Carmona in the first game, the pitcher for the 2nd game of the series is undecided, former Sox player Justin Masterson will pitch the third game, and Josh Tomlin, a 25-year-old rookie with 2 starts to  his name (though he has been impressive in those two starts, giving up just 2 runs over 12.1 innings) will start the finale.  While these games might seem like locks, the Sox are only 2-2 against the Indians this season, despite Cleveland’s season-long mediocrity. With momentum from two straight walk-off wins, the Sox are in an excellent position to win 3 or 4 of the games against the Indians.   As for their competition in the AL East, The Yankees face the Blue Jays in New York, while the Rays face white-hot Twins (9-1 in their last 10 games) at Tropicana Field.  Neither series will be easy for the teams with the two best records in baseball.  If either falters, the Sox need to take advantage by winning a very winnable series.

Following the series against the Indians, the Sox will travel to the Bronx to take on the Yankees for 4 games.  Just 3-5 against the Bronx Bombers this season, the Sox cannot afford to lose this series if they want to have a realistic shot of catching the Yankees.  The already potent Yankees lineup was augmented through two trades just before the deadline.  They captured the aforementioned Kearns (8 HR, 42 RBI, .271 avg, and .768 OPS), as well as Lance Berkman from the Astros.  Berkman, a shadow of his former MVP caliber self, still has some pop and fits in excellently at DH.  The Big Puma has struggled at the plate this year, batting just .242 – by far the lowest of his career, but still has 13 HR and a .794 OPS.  He provides an upgrade at DH over the oft-injured Nick Johnson, and can spell Mark Teixeira at first base.  Because the series is 4 games, the Sox aren’t lucky enough to avoid C.C. Sabathia, who will pitch Saturday’s game against Lackey.  The first game will pit Clay Buchholz against Javier Vazquez, while Sunday’s game will be a battle of former Marlins with Beckett taking on A.J. Burnett.  This series presents the Sox with an opportunity to cut into the Yankees’ lead, the question is can they do it?  While the Sox and Yanks battle in the Bronx, the Rays will be taking on Toronto in Tampa, not exactly an easy series.  Pending the outcome of the Sox-Yankess series, the Rays could find themselves in first place at the end of the week.

Big Papi and his clutch hitting have returned for the Red Sox. Will it continue against the Yankees?

I think the Sox will carry their new-found momentum through the Cleveland series, winning at least 3 of the games.  The biggest test of the season for the Sox will come starting Friday.  With their offense and pitching back on track, the Sox have a good chance to split the series with the Yankees.  If they can win the series, they will have passed their biggest test, and shaved at least 2 games off the Yankees lead.

Right now, the Phillies have a 31.9 % chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus, while the Sox have a 26.5% chance.  Hopefully, both the Sox and Phillies take care of business this week.   One of my teams needs to make the playoffs!

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Can the Red Sox Make a Run?

With less than week before the MLB trade deadline, many Red Sox fans are wondering what chances the Red Sox have at making a run toward the playoffs. Currently, the Sox sit 4.5 games behind the Rays for the AL Wild Card and are 7 behind the Yankees for the AL East crown. Clearly, the Sox need to make some additions if they are to compete for a playoff spot.

The Red Sox have been mentioned in trade talks involving Jayson Werth, Scott Downs and trading Mike Lowell to the Tigers. What do the Red Sox need? I think they need another bat and some relief pitching to make a run at the postseason. They do not need to trade for starting pitching with Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett back from injuries. Beckett was effective on Friday in his first game since May 18. He pitched 5 2/3 innings, giving up 1 earned run and striking out 5. If the Red Sox can get vintage Beckett for the last 2+ months per season that will be a huge boost. Buchholz has been excellent all season, and while he wasn’t sharp in his return his presence in the rotation is also huge boost. A side effect of both Beckett and Buchholz returning is Tim Wakefield moving to the bullpen.  His addition to the pen, strengthens what has been a weakness for the Sox.  The Sox are currently exploring options, with Downs being at the top of the list.  ESPN is reporting that the Blue Jays are valuing Downs much higher than a reliever would normally be valued.  They believe he will be a Type A free agent after the season, meaning they would receive a first or second round pick as compensation if a team signed him after the season.  Ultimately, the Blue Jays will settle for something because keeping Downs does them no good going forward.  The question is whether the Sox will be willing to pay the price to get him.  Other alternatives include Jason Frasor, Kevin Gregg (both of the Blue Jays) and Kyle Farnsworth of the Royals.  If the Sox can get a reliever before the trade deadline, the bullpen should no longer be a weakness.

On the hitting side, the Sox are slowly starting to get healthy. Jeremy Hermida recently returned from injury and Victo Martinez is due back Monday. Getting Martinez back will be huge for the Sox both behind the plate and at the plate. With Jason Varitek injured (he is still several weeks away from beginning a rehab assignment) the Sox have been relying on players that are at best backups and at worst career minor leaguers. Jacoby Ellsbury, out with broken ribs, also appears to be on his way back to the Sox. He will begin his rehab assignment at the Gulf Coast Red Sox on Monday and should hopefully be back with the big club in a few weeks. More good news for the Sox comes in the form of Dustin Pedroia playing catch without the boot. As of right now, the former AL MVP is slated to return for a pivotal series against the Yankees from August 6-9. Even with the impending return of many of their bats, the Red Sox offense has been stagnant the last several weeks. They are 8-11 in July, and are hitting .243 with a .315 on-base percentage and a .735 OPS over that same time period. This after hitting .276 with a .815 OPS before the All-Star Break.

Wouldn't this guy look good in a Red Sox uniform?

If the Red Sox want to navigate their way through a tough schedule, they have 10 more games against the Yankees (August 6-9 and September 24-26 in the Bronx, and October 1-3 at Fenway) and 6 more against the Rays (August 27-29 in Tampa and September 6-8 in Boston), they need to pick up a bat to help bolster their flagging offense. Between covering for injuries (J.D. Drew is bound to get hurt at some point, isn’t he?), filling in for slumping players, and possibly displacing a current starter (J.D., I’m talking to you) there are enough at-bats to accommodate a top-level bat. Adam Dunn, currently with the Nationals, is available and while not the best fit for the Sox would add a lot to the offense. He could play in the outfield and fill in at both first base and DH. His 23 home runs and .934 OPS would look mighty good batting behind Kevin Youkilis in the lineup. The Phillies are shopping Jayson Werth and he would be a great fit with the Sox. He would replace Drew in the starting line up (his numbers are better across the board and he has a monster arm in RF) adding more consistent pop to the line up. The righty would take advantage of the Green Monster and finally appears to be breaking out of a month-long slump. Another possibility would be Ty Wigginton of the Orioles. He can play several position in the infield (he has started games at 1B, 2B and 3B this season and has played SS and the outfield in the past), has good power (16 HR this season) and wouldn’t necessarily be looking for a starting job. Of the three players I’ve mentioned, he would likely be the cheapest addition for the Sox.

If the Sox can make some additions and their current players all return healthy, they are close enough to make a run at the Wild Card and maybe even the division.  While 7 games are a lot to make up before the end of the season, the Sox should look no further than my other team, the Phillies for inspiration.  The Phillies were able to overcome a 7 game deficit with 17 games to play in 2007.  Remember, anything is possible.  Believe!

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East W L PCT GB E# WCGB WCE# L10 STRK vs E vs C vs W INT HOME ROAD vs R vs L XTRA 1-RUN RS RA X W-L LAST GAME NEXT GAME
New York 61 35 .635 - - - - 6-4 L1 22-12 12-8 16-8 11-7 33-16 28-19 39-21 22-14 4-2 9-6 521 399 59-37 7/24 vs KC, L 4-7 7/25 vs KC, 1:05P
Tampa Bay 58 38 .604 3.0 64 - - 6-4 W1 25-13 15-8 11-6 7-11 26-20 32-18 36-27 22-11 6-3 16-15 493 380 59-37 7/24 @ CLE, W 6-3 7/25 @ CLE, 1:05P
Boston 55 43 .561 7.0 59 4.0 62 4-6 L1 20-21 10-9 12-8 13-5 30-20 25-23 36-28 19-15 4-8 17-16 513 453 55-43 7/24 @ SEA, L 1-5 7/25 @ SEA, 4:10P
Toronto 49 48 .505 12.5 54 9.5 57 6-4 W1 17-16 15-13 10-8 7-11 23-20 26-28 41-33 8-15 3-4 13-19 445 430 50-47 7/24 @ DET, W 3-2 7/25 @ DET, 1:05P
Baltimore 31 66 .320 30.5 36 27.5 39 3-7 L1 10-32 5-10 9-13 7-11 18-32 13-34 21-44 10-22 7-3 16-14 350 520 32-65 7/24 vs MIN, L 2-7 7/25 vs MIN, 1:35P
Central W L PCT GB E# WCGB WCE# L10 STRK vs E vs C vs W INT HOME ROAD vs R vs L XTRA 1-RUN RS RA X W-L LAST GAME NEXT GAME
Chicago 53 43 .552 - - - - 5-5 L1 7-11 17-20 14-9 15-3 27-19 26-24 42-33 11-10 2-4 18-12 431 401 51-45 7/24 @ OAK, L 2-10 7/25 @ OAK, 4:05P
Minnesota 52 46 .531 2.0 64 7.0 59 6-4 W1 11-16 24-15 9-5 8-10 30-20 22-26 33-30 19-16 5-3 17-16 459 411 54-44 7/24 @ BAL, W 7-2 7/25 @ BAL, 1:35P
Detroit 50 45 .526 2.5 65 7.5 60 2-8 L1 9-3 16-21 14-14 11-7 34-16 16-29 33-36 17-9 3-3 10-13 426 433 47-48 7/24 vs TOR, L 2-3 7/25 vs TOR, 1:05P
Kansas City 42 55 .433 11.5 55 16.5 50 3-7 W1 10-12 16-19 8-14 8-10 20-25 22-30 33-43 9-12 7-2 14-18 420 497 41-56 7/24 @ NYY, W 7-4 7/25 @ NYY, 1:05P
Cleveland 41 56 .423 12.5 54 17.5 49 7-3 L1 11-15 20-18 5-10 5-13 22-23 19-33 29-38 12-18 4-3 13-12 401 468 42-55 7/24 vs TB, L 3-6 7/25 vs TB, 1:05P
West W L PCT GB E# WCGB WCE# L10 STRK vs E vs C vs W INT HOME ROAD vs R vs L XTRA 1-RUN RS RA X W-L LAST GAME NEXT GAME
Texas 57 41 .582 - - - - 7-3 L1 9-16 18-13 16-8 14-4 33-20 24-21 39-28 18-13 6-5 18-14 497 408 58-40 7/24 vs LAA, L 2-6 7/25 vs LAA, 8:05P
Los Angeles 52 48 .520 6.0 58 8.0 57 5-5 W1 10-11 11-16 20-14 11-7 27-21 25-27 37-30 15-18 4-4 17-13 455 467 49-51 7/24 @ TEX, W 6-2 7/25 @ TEX, 8:05P
Oakland 49 48 .505 7.5 58 9.5 57 8-2 W1 14-17 12-8 15-13 8-10 29-22 20-26 36-35 13-13 4-5 15-10 412 394 50-47 7/24 vs CWS, W 10-2 7/25 vs CWS, 4:05P
Seattle 38 60 .388 19.0 46 21.0 45 3-7 W1 10-14 11-13 8-24 9-9 23-28 15-32

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The First Annual Rally Cap First Half Awards

Biggest SurpriseSan Diego Padres. At the halfway point of the season, the San Diego Padres have to be considered the biggest surprise in baseball. Over the winter there was speculation the Padres would trade hometown hero, Adrian Gonzalez in an effort to start yet another rebuilding phase. The Padres hung on to Gonzalez and are glad they did, as he leads the team in nearly every major offensive category. Led by pitching staff that ranks first in the majors in ERA and second in shutouts. The staff is, surprisingly, led by 22-year old Mat Latos. Latos has been a revelation in his first full season in the majors. Latos has posted a 2.45 ERA, is averaging 3.54 strikeouts per walk, and has compiled a 10-4 record. In addition to Latos, the Padres are getting solid seasons form Jon Garland, Clayton Richard, and Wade LeBlanc. Combine the great starting pitching with a pitcher-friendly park and a lights out bullpen (2.91 ERA and 25 saves) and you have the Padres going into the Break with the 2nd best record in the National League. Runner-up: Cincinnati Reds. The Red have not had a winning season since 2000 and find themselves 1 game up on the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central.

Biggest Disappointment - Seattle Mariners. On the opposite end of the spectrum (and West Coast) from the Padres are the Seattle Mariners.  Seattle, finished 85-77 last season, and made moves to bolster their team over the offseason.  They signed Chone Figgins to a 4 year, $36 million contract in an effort to get better defensively at second base, but also in an effort to add more speed to the top of their order.  For their investment, the Mariners have gotten a .235 average, with 22 RBI, 24 SB and 9 errors from Figgins.  These numbers are far below Figgins’ career averages and clearly not worth the money they are spending.  If you compare Figgins with the man he essentially replaced (Adrian Beltre) the Mariners sure do look foolish.  Beltre is having a great season with the Red Sox and signed a 1-year contract worth $9 million (the same amount as Figgins for over twice the production).  In addition to Figgins, the Mariners traded for former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee (now shipped to Texas) and temperamental slugger Milton Bradley.  The pairing of Lee with Felix Hernandez was supposed to solidify the top of the rotation and Bradley was supposed to provide some pop in the middle of the order.  While Lee pitched exceptionally well, Bradley imploded (he’s hitting .210 with just 8 HR).   The Mariners clearly have given up on this season, shipping Lee to the Rangers for prospects.  It will be interesting to see if any other players are traded and how the Mariners play in the 2nd half.  Runner-up: Chicago Cubs. A year after finishing 5 games above .500, the Cubs (with the 3rd highest payroll in MLB) are 11 games under .500 going into the Break.

First Half NL Cy YoungJosh Johnson, Florida Marlins.  The race for the first half NL Cy Young was a close one, with at least 4 pitchers having legitimate cases for the award.  In the end, the award goes to the Marlins’ big right-hander.  Johnson has been nothing short of stellar this season, posting the lowest ERA in the majors (1.70).  Sure Ubaldo Jimenez has a more impressive record and excellent stats, Roy Halladay has a perfect game and more complete games than all but 2 teams, and Adam Wainwright has put up stellar numbers across the board.  Johnson has put up equally impressive numbers as the aforementioned trio.  He has averaged 9.07 strikeouts per 9 innings, has more strikeouts than innings pitched, and a strikeout to walk ratio of 4.39.  Johnson has not given up more than 4 runs in a game all season (and that game was the first of the year), and has walked only 28 batters in 122 innings.  Opponents are hitting just .203 against him.  His consistency, control, ability to make hitters swing and miss, and ERA make him my choice for the first half Cy Young.  Runners-up: Ubaldo Jimenez , Roy Halladay, Adam Wainwright

First Half AL Cy Young – David Price, Tampa Bay Rays.  The AL doesn’t have nearly as many dominant pitching performers as the National League.  The 2nd year man is my choice for the first half AL Cy Young.  Price leads the Rays’ pitching staff, which is 4th in the league in ERA and has led the Rays to the 2nd best record in the majors.  Price has pitched 2 complete games, 1 shutout, and has the lowest ERA in the AL.  In addition, he is tied for the AL lead with 12 wins and opponents are hitting just .223 against him.  Runners-up: Jon Lester, Felix Hernandez, C.C. Sabathia

First Half NL MVP – Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds.  It is truly amazing that Joey Votto had to wait for MLB’s Final Vote to make the All-Star game.  He has been awesome this season.  He’s hit 22 home runs, driven in 60 runs, has the highest OPS (1.011) in the National League, and is batting .314.  Through in 4 stolen bases and a .997 fielding percentage and Votto is deserving choice for first half MVP.  Runners-up: Albert Pujols, Adam Dunn

First Half AL MVP – Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers. This decision was the easiest of the awards.  Cabrera is pushing for the Triple Crown this season.  He leads the league with a .346 BA and 77 RBI, and is second in home runs with 22.  Cabrera also leads the league in OPS.  If Cabrera can keep up his current pace, he would become the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.  Runner-up: Josh Hamilton.  In virtually any other year, Hamilton would have a case to win the award.  Like Cabrera, he has a .346 batting average and 22 homers.  He has 64 RBI and an OPS of 1.015.

First Half NL Rookie of the Year – Jaime Garcia, St. Louis Cardinals.  The race for rookie of the year in the National League is between two pitchers.  My choice for the first half ROY is the Cardinals’ lefty.  He has posted an 8-4 record in 17 starts with a 2.17 ERA.  He has a strikeout ratio of 7.22 K/9 and has been the 2nd best pitcher on the Cards’ staff.  Runner-up: Mike Leake.  Leake has been the 2nd best pitcher for the Reds, which is made even more impressive by the fact that he never pitched in the minors.

First Half AL Rookie of the Year – Brennan Boesch, Detroit Tigers. The race in the AL is between two Detroit outfielders.  For me, the choice is Boesch.  Since being called up in late April, Boesch has been on fire.  He is 4th in the league in batting average, at .342.  He has hit 12 homer runs, driven in 49 runs, and his OPS is .990.  Runner-up: Austin Jackson.  If not for his teammate, Jackson would be the front-runner.  He’s batting .300, with 20 RBI and 14 SB.  He has been a catalyst at the top of the Tigers’ order and the clear prize in the trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees.

NL Manager of the First Half – Bud Black, San Diego Padres. See entry on the Padres as surprise team of the first half.

AL Manager of the First Half - Ron Washington, Texas Rangers. Washington has rebounded nicely after a summer of turmoil in which it was revealed that he tested positive for cocaine during the 2009 season.  The Rangers are 4.5 games up in the AL West (the largest lead in the league) and look poised to make a run to their first playoff appearance since 1999.

The First Half is in the Books

Just as the World Cup ended yesterday, so too did the first half of the Major League Baseball season.  As fans and teams settle into the All-Star Break, it is time to reflect on the roughly 3 months of baseball already played.  Thankfully, we have plenty of time to do that, as today and Wednesday are the only two days in the year when there is not a game in one of the four major sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL).

Looking back, the first half of the season has been a bit of a see-saw for both of my teams.  The Phillies started strong, but then entered a month-long slump that saw them fall out of first place.  The Red Sox started poorly, only to rebound to within .5 games of first place and then fade before the Break.

Phillies – The Phillies started quickly, compiling an 8-2 record over their first 10 games, and avoided another terrible April by going 13-10 in the first month of the season.  On May 11, the Phillies were 20-12 and had a 5.5 game lead on the Atlanta Braves.  What a difference a month makes, as one month ago the Phillies had lost that lead and sat 2.5 games behind Atlanta.  A swing of 8 games!  The dramatic turn of events can be attributed to a month-long slump and far better play by the Braves.  The shear totality of the slump was, and still is, most disconcerting.  It seemed the entire offense forgot how to swing (with the possible exceptions of Placido Polanco and Ryan Howard).  Howard has had a great first half.  While he has slightly fewer home runs and RBI than last season, his batting average is 34 points higher.  If Howard heats up after the Break, the way he usually does, his numbers this season could be among his best ever.  Jayson Werth, who started the season looking like an MVP candidate but cooled off over the course of the team-wide slump.  Chase Utley had hit 10 homers by May 20 and has hit 1 since then!  The slump seems to have coincided with Jimmy Rollins‘ brief return from injure and his quick return to the DL.  Rollins, while not a prototypical lead-off hitter, is the spark plug of the offense, when his speed/power combination was out of the lineup, the Phillies’ offense sputtered.  If you compare the offense over the first half with last year, you will find that the Phillies have played 1 more game this season but have scored 50 fewer runs!  That is an average of .57 runs per game less than last season.  They have hit 31 fewer home runs (122 last year, 91 this year), and are worse in every offensive category except triples (21 this year, 15 last year).

This lack of offense has hurt the Phillies’ pitching, which currently ranks 6th in ERA in the national league.  While the pitching staff has an ERA of 3.92, far better than last year when the staff posted an ERA of 4.61 before the Break, the Phillies offense has scored 4.72 runs per game.  This lack of run support has been most noticeable when Roy Halladay is on the mound.  When Doc pitches the Phillies average 3.8 runs per game, or nearly 1 run fewer than their average.  When a pitcher has a 2.19 ERA, there is no way he should have 7 losses before the Break.  He probably shouldn’t have 7 losses in a season.  I’m not sure what causes the Phillies to forget hot to hit when Doc is on the mound.  Are they complacent, thinking he will pitch another perfect game?  Have the myriad injuries affected the Phillies approach at the plate?  Nobody can know for sure outside of the Phillies’ clubhouse.  Cole Hamels has been better this season, posting an ERA over 1 run lower (3.78 this year, 4.87 last year).  While he hasn’t quite recaptured the form that made him the World Series MVP in 2008, he has looked much better than the guy who wished the season was over during the World Series last year.  The rest of the staff has been shaky at best, with some great performances (see Jamie Myer’s two complete games) and some terrible performances (virtually all of Joe Blanton‘s starts, and about half of Kyle Kendrick‘s).  Hopefully, J.A. Happ will return after the Break to bolster the rotation or the Phillies will make a trade or two to reinforce the pitching staff.

Injuries certainly haven’t helped the Phillies with Rollins, Utley, Polanco, and Carlos Ruiz all missing time due to injuries.  The bullpen has also been injured, with Brad Lidge, Chad Durbin, and Ryan Madson all missing games.  This hasn’t helped, as the bullpen has been a weak spot.  Players are being thrust into roles they are unaccustomed to, and haven’t been performing.  One of the few standouts has been Jose Contreras, who filled in as closer when both Lidge and Madson were out.  He performed admirably and has a 2.79 ERA in the first half.  While the subs have played fairly well across the board, clearly the Phillies have missed having their normal line up performing together.

As it stands right now, the Phillies are 4.5 games out of first place in the NL East, and 1.5 behind the Rockies and Dodgers for the Wild Card. As mentioned in previous posts, the Phillies have produced great results after the Break, playing .599 ball over last 5 seasons.  The Phillies swept the NL Central leading, Cincinnati Reds just before the Break and have a great chance to continue momentum as they play the Cubs for four games starting Thursday.  My bold prediction is that the Phillies will storm back to win the division, as the Braves fade down the stretch and the Mets remember they’re the Mets and choke sometime in September.

Red Sox – I wish that the Phillies could have had the luck in replacing their injuries that the Red Sox have had.  At various points this season, it seems that virtually ever major Red Sox player has been injured.  Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, and Jason Varitek have all missed significant amounts of time.  J.D. DrewKevin Youkilis, Marco Scutaro and Adrian Beltre (and they have all missed a couple of games).  In the rotation, has also missed more than a few games.  It seem the only starters (in the field) to avoid missing major amounts of time have been Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Clay Buchholz have all spent time on the DL.  Only Jon Lester and John Lackey have avoided the injury bug.  What is truly amazing about the Red Sox’s situation is that they are still in contention despite all of the injuries.  They have been very lucky to get the kind of production they have received from their prospects and minor league call-ups.  Daniel Nava, a 27 year-old rookie outfielder, has done more than just occupy an outfield position.  He has hit .300 with 16 RBI in 24 games for the Sox.  Bill Hall (on the opening day roster, so not a call-up) has provided some pop and played 6 different positions.  Darnell McDonald, who never played more than 47 games in a season, has already played in 68 for the Sox, driving in 24 runs and hitting 6 homers.  All of this production is a bonus when a team is trying to fight this many injuries.

At the beginning of the season, the Red Sox stated that their philosophy was to win with pitching and defense.  Many people (including me) wondered who was going to drive in the runs.  Beltre hasn’t had a really good season since 2004 with the Dodgers.  David Ortiz looked a shadow of himself over the last season and a half.  Even Pedroia’s production had fallen off from his 2008 MVP season.  I thought that Youk would have to shoulder most of the offensive load, and that the Sox would lose a ton of low scoring games.  Nobody, except maybe Paul the Octopus, could have predicted the way the Sox were going to win their games in the first half.  The Sox have, unexpectedly, used offense not pitching to win their games.  Currently, the Sox rank 22nd in the majors in ERA and 11th in fielding percentage; however, they are 1st in runs scored, 3rd in batting average and 2nd in home runs.  While Youk does lead the team in most of the offensive categories, Papi has found some of his old swagger, Beltre is having his best season since the aforementioned 2004 campaign, Pedroia’s production has gone up from last season, and Martinez has been solid.

While it may look like the pitching is not living up to the off-season hype, Lester and Buchholz have been phenomenal.  Both pitchers have sub-3 ERAs (Lester – 2.78, Buchholz 2.45).  Lackey, the Sox’s premier off-season signing, has not lived up to his large contract.  I saw this coming, as Lackey had a 4.44 ERA over the previous 3 seasons at Fenway Park.  I remember going to game a couple of seasons ago thinking I was going to see a good game.  Buchholz was starting for the Sox, Lackey for the Angels.  Instead of seeing a great pitching match-up, Lackey was knocked from the game after giving up 7 runs in 4 innings.  While Lackey does have a winning record this season, those numbers are a bit deceiving, as the Sox have given him 5.4 runs of support.  It’s pretty easy to win when your team is scoring that many runs per game when you pitch.  This reminds me a bit of Beckett’s career with the Sox.  He has had double-digit win totals every year in Boston, but has not posted an ERA under 3.27.  As a matter of fact, he won 16 games his first season in Boston (2006).  Maybe Lackey will rebound with a strong 2nd half, but so far he hasn’t been worth the money.  Dice-K has been his usual injured, erratic self and has not really helped the Sox much this season.  He has had a very up-and-down season.  The Sox need him to pitch better in the 2nd half if they hope to make a run to the playoffs.

Heading into the Break, the Sox are 5 games behind the Yankees for the AL East lead and are 3 behind Tampa for the Wild Card.  Over the past five seasons, the Red Sox have posted a .551 winning percentage after the Break while posting a .598 winning percentage before the Mid-Summer Classic.  Hopefully, the Sox will be able to avoid what has become their patented post-Break swoon, as they would finish with 91 wins if they played .551 ball.  On the other hand, if they keep winning at their current pace, the Sox would finish with 94 wins.  Those three games could be crucial because unless something changes dramatically, the three teams at the top of the AL East will fight for 2 playoffs spots.  One team, likely with a very good record, will be watching at home come October.  The Sox face a tough task after the Break, as they play the AL West leading Texas Rangers and newly acquired ace Cliff Lee.