It’s officially the All-Star Break, which means a lot of obnoxious home run calls from ESPN’s Chris Berman, and the unfortunate FOX broadcasting tandem of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, but we’ll deal with it just like we do each summer, and look forward to baseball’s 2nd half:
The New York Yankees (52-33) own baseball’s best record headed into the break, and are one of just two teams to reach the 50-win plateau before the midsummer classic. The Yankees starting rotation is sub par, but Ivan Nova (10-3, 3.92 ERA, 100 Ks) has been fantastic. All 17 of Nova’s starts have come against teams .500 or better, and New York is 13-4 in those games. The Yankees have also scored 412 runs while compiling a solid .262 batting average, thus aiding the mostly mediocre Yankees’ pitching staff.
The Texas Rangers (52-34) follow suit in the AL, and currently maintain a 4 game advantage over the Los Angeles Angels (48-38), while the Oakland Athletics (43-43) are thick in the wild card hunt. The AL West will ultimately be determined by the 13 head-to-head match-ups that pit the Rangers against the Angels. Texas launches a potent offense into baseball’s stretch run, ranking first in the bigs with 443 runs scored, and second in on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) at .792.
The Yankees have a perennial choke-hold on the AL East, racking up 52 wins in the toughest division in baseball. The Toronto Blue Jays (43-43) own last place in the high octane AL East, but are just 2 games behind the division rival Baltimore Orioles (45-40) for the final wild card spot in the American League. The floundering Boston Red Sox (43-43) and steadily consistent Tampa Bay Rays (45-41) are also in contention to snag a wild card spot. Do not expect this divisional race to be close though. The one-time perennial championship threat Red Sox have used the disabled list 20 times in 2012, and have a collective ERA of 4.22. That’s good enough for 21st in baseball.
The Chicago White Sox (47-38) lead the AL Central while mounting the third best run differential (+63) in baseball. The Cleveland Indians (44-41) and the defending division champion Detroit Tigers (44-42) are both in contention to steal the central from the White Sox.
The Washington Nationals (49-34) own the best record in the National League, sustaining a 2 game edge over the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates (48-37), who have suffered 16 consecutive losing seasons, and haven’t won the NL Central since Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla were in uniform. That was 1992.
It won’t be easy for the extremely inexperienced Pirates however, who will have to beat out the defending World Champion, and offensive powerhouse St. Louis Cardinals (46-40), and the Cincinnati Reds (47-38) to win the division outright. The Cardinals boast the greatest run differential in baseball (+79) and have also scored the most runs in the National League (426) despite being just 6 games over the .500 mark. The Rangers are the only team in baseball that has scored more runs than the Cardinals.
The mediocre NL West is headed by the lackadaisical Los Angeles Dodgers (47-40) and stumbling San Francisco Giants (46-40). The Dodgers started the season hot, and recorded a whopping 32 wins in their first 47 games, but are just 15-25 in their last 40 contests, including a 6 game stretch where the Dodgers were shutout 5 times. Granted, it doesn’t help that perennial All-Star, Matt Kemp (.355 AVG., 12 HRs, 28 RBIs in 36 games) has been absent from the Dodgers’ lineup since suffering a hamstring strain; which the Dodgers’ front office diligently approached by allowing the face of their franchise to partake in the 2012 Home Run Derby. Kemp launched one home run in the contest to finish second-to-last. The Dodgers are ranked 27th in baseball in runs scored (332) and 28th in slugging percentage. That spells galactic offensive issues that extend far beyond what Kemp would hypothetically be able to contribute if healthy.
The Giants shut-out the Dodgers for 27 consecutive innings to temporarily claim first place in the NL West, before then losing 7 of their last 10 to finish up the 1st half just 6 games over .500. The Giants were outscored 45-21 on their recent 6 game road trip to Washington and Pittsburgh, and are the only winning team with a negative run differential (-8) in the National League. But, they’re contenders nonetheless because of their solid pitching staff, which ranks 7th in baseball with a 3.63 team ERA. The Dodgers and Giants are slated for 12 more contests in the 2012 campaign, therefore pummeling the rivalry forward in the new age.
The culmination of all potential playoff scenarios boils exciting baseball down the stretch. And, it all starts this Friday.