|Welcome to the Second Half||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on July 12, 2012
And so the second half begins.
Now that we’ve all had our four days off, it’s time for baseball to resume its normally scheduled relevance. The first half was one of surprises. The Red Sox tanked. The Tigers underachieved. The Phillies fell off the face of the earth. Termites ate all of Albert Pujols’ bats (at least it seemed that way). Bryce Harper started launching 400-foot home runs. Mike Trout showed us that he understood that a walk is as good as a hit -- or in his case an extra base hit. Chris Davis finally flashed Major League consistency. The Pirates and Orioles were surprising feel good stories.
A photo from the spring
Time for reality to set in. The second half is here, and it’s going to have surprises and twists and turns galore. No one really knows how the new Wild Card system, with its extra team and a Wild Card playoff game, is going to work out, but it seems likely to add a lot of drama; not just at the end of the season, but over the next two weeks as teams look to add, or rent talent for a playoff run.
Most of the usual suspects -- the Yankees, Rangers, Angels and Rays -- are among the American League contenders, but so are the White Sox, Indians and the entire American League East, even the seemingly pitiful Red Sox. And if that wasn’t enough of a surprise, the Oakland A’s are just 2 1/2 games out of a Wild Card slot. How’s that for a plot twist?
Things seem even stranger in the NL where the Pirates boast the league’s second-best record, behind only the Nationals, and 11 of the 16 teams are less than seven games out of a Wild Card slot, including the Cinderella New York Mets, who many thought would be one of the worst teams of the modern age.
While it’s hard to determine if this is really parity or, in some cases, mediocrity, it all points to one of the more interesting second halves in recent memory. Certainly we won’t have the drama of last season’s final day, when the Braves and Red Sox both seemingly found themselves outdrawn on the river (that’s a poker analogy for those who are wondering just what the heck I’m writing about) and went home after surrendering seemingly insurmountable leads for the Wild Card slots.
And while I’m not a fan of the idea that the two Wild Card teams in each league will face each other in a one-game playoff come October, I do love the effect that this change will have on front offices over the coming weeks. Fewer sellers and more buyers before the non-waiver trading deadline could drastically change the landscape as to what a team might expect for renting out players like Shane Victorino and Cole Hamels before their impending free agency.
In past years the premium has always been on pitching, but this year that might be offset to an extent. In what is rapidly becoming the decade of the pitcher, some teams need bats far more than arms. Teams like Oakland, Baltimore, San Francisco, Tampa and the Dodgers have been getting along just fine in the pitching categories, but face roughly neutral or negative run differentials due to lackluster offenses.
No doubt over the next months some of the feel good teams of the first half will crash back down to earth and some Goliaths will rear their heads once again. But baseball thrives on surprise, be it R.A. Dickey’s redefinition of what a knuckleball pitcher can do, or the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates making playoff pushes. It’s hard to know just what will come, and there is so much to watch and follow, be it Bryce Harper and Mike Trout playing for ROY honors, Albert Pujols bouncing back or the Phillies making a decision about rebuilding. There is a lot of baseball still to be played, savored and pondered.
Welcome to the second half.