Thanks to Aaron Judge, the Home Run Derby was palatable for the first time in recent memory. Thanks to Robinson Cano and his walk-off homer in the tenth inning of the Midsummer Classic, each member of the AL All-Stars received $20,000. And thanks to a first-half full of surprises, the MLB has enough second-half story-lines to keep us as busy as a Red Lobster server on shrimp scampi night.
After winning 103 games and the World Series in 2016, the Chicago Cubs currently trail the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central by 3.5 games, and the Colorado Rockies by 5.5 games for the final Wild Card spot. The AL Wild Card race is setting up to be a doozy, with seven teams within 4.5 games of the final spot. We will also be treated to an entertaining race for the home run title, and finally get to see more Mike Trout. Add in the fast-approaching MLB trade deadline (July 31), and we’ve got a whole lot to occupy our attention over the next ten weeks.
And while we’re tossing gratitude around, how about a special thanks to us for providing you with the odds on all the biggest stories in the second-half of the MLB season? Anyone …?
The Cubs made a big splash a few days ago by acquiring Jose Quintana from the White Sox, and the 28-year-old wasted little time reminding us how dominant he can be. In his first start with his new team on Sunday (July 16), Quintana threw seven scoreless innings, while only giving up three hits and striking out 12. The addition certainly bolsters a severely underperforming Cubs rotation.
Now the Cubs just need the offense — which currently ranks 16th in the Majors in runs — to come alive. Its lifeless body started twitching in their post-ASG sweep of the Orioles. But they will get to pick on Baltimore’s useless staff in exactly zero of their remaining 70 games. If the bats don’t stay hot over the next couple weeks, look for Chicago to make another move before the trade deadline.
By nature, it’s hard to believe the Brewers will hold off the Cubs. And from recent play, both the Diamondbacks and Rockies are providing Chicago with an opportunity to strike in the Wild Card.
In the Yankee’s five post-All-Star break games, Aaron Judge has gone one-for-21 at the plate. But even with their leader struggling mightily, New York still split its four-game series with the AL East-leading Red Sox. The Baby Bombers +98 run differential ranks second in the AL, and suggests many more wins are on the way in the second-half. The Yankees are just too well-rounded to miss out on the postseason.
The Rays are very quietly 50-44 and in possession of the first Wild Card spot. But the likelihood of Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison continuing to hit with this kind of power (17 and 26 home runs, respectively) isn’t great.
Of the teams in the hunt, the Rangers standout as the best on paper. They have scored the ninth-most runs in baseball, and have enough pitching to contend. If Texas can add a reliable arm for the bullpen before the deadline, I expect them to make a serious push in August.
The darkhorse to watch for as we head into the second-half is the Angels. At the beginning of the season, many believed if LA could just get average pitching, they would contend for the AL West. Right now, they rank 13th in team ERA (4.18), and possess the eighth-best bullpen in the Majors. It has been a Mike Trout-less offense that has held the team back, only scoring 385 runs to this point (25th). But they are no longer Trout-less, as the two-time MVP has returned from the torn ligament in his thumb that held him out since late May. If LA can acquire a top-end starting pitcher before the deadline, they will be a very dangerous team down the stretch.
Before Trout went down to injury, he was the clear favorite to win his third MVP award. The center-fielder was batting .337 with 16 home runs in 47 games played. If he gets back to that pace in his return, he’ll finish close to 40 home runs, which will be enough to give him strong consideration for the honor, especially if the Angels make a playoff push.
But Trout will need Judge’s slump to extend beyond more than just a handful of games, and for Jose Altuve/George Springer not to shine too bright in Carlos Correa’s absence.
When you think Dodgers pitchers, the first name that comes to mind is obviously … Alex Wood? The 26-year-old has a 1.56 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP in 14 starts this season. He didn’t open the season as a starter, so Wood doesn’t have enough innings to qualify on MLB leaderboards yet. But his 11-0 record sure can, and it will continue to gain attention as the second-half carries on.
Wood’s next (projected) starts come against the Braves, Twins, Braves, Diamondbacks, Padres, Tigers, Brewers, and Diamondbacks. If the lefty can get through Arizona without a loss, we could see this unbeaten streak extend into September. But even the best have at least one blip on the radar.
Above are the biggest names currently appearing in trade rumors. If you’d like the odds on any others, you can @ us on Twitter.
Pat Neshek will be 37 years old before the regular season ends, and is currently in the final year of his contract. In other words, there is absolutely no reason for the Phillies to keep him. The right-hander has a 1.21 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP. Considering what relievers fetched in free agency this past offseason, Philadelphia can’t afford not to trade Neshek.
Johnny Cueto isn’t having his best season, but the league just saw what a winning environment can do for a struggling ace. The 31-year-old can opt out of his contract after this season, and it sounds like he will exercise that right. The Giants can’t risk losing Cueto for nothing. The best-case scenario for San Francisco would be to net some prospects for Cueto before the deadline and then re-sign the veteran in the offseason.
Verlander is 34 years old and due $28 million in each of the next two seasons. If that doesn’t scare potential buyers, his 4.66 ERA and 1.50 WHIP will give them pause. Recent reports suggest the Tigers are now willing to include some cash in a trade for Verlander, which screams desperation. To complicate the issue further, the ace has a no-trade clause in his contract. But having come up empty in his two previous trips to the World Series with Detroit, it’s hard to believe Verlander would turn down a trade to a contender. The Tigers would have to be willing to send a lot of cash, though, in order to persuade a team to send much value back in return.
The Dodgers are already a complete team, and have the prospects and cash to make any move they deem necessary before the July 31 trade deadline. Barring a Clayton Kershaw injury, it finally looks like it’s going to be the Dodgers’ year to make it out of the NL.
The Astros have dominated a weak American League for the first-half, and did so without the services of their ace Dallas Keuchel over the last six weeks. Keuchel is on his way back to the Majors, but Houston will still need to add another arm to the pen before being able to hang with the Dodgers.
Featured image: Clayton Kershaw (by Keith Allison [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0])
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