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MLB All-Star Break: Top 5 Surprises And Disappointments

Andrew Schultz |
July 15, 2013 | 6:07 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

The MLB All-Star Game will take place at Citi Field on Tuesday, July 16 at 8 pm ET. (MLBVoice/Creative Commons).
The MLB All-Star Game will take place at Citi Field on Tuesday, July 16 at 8 pm ET. (MLBVoice/Creative Commons).
We have reached the MLB All-Star Break, marking the "halfway point" of the season. With all the big stories taking place throughout the season, I decided to take a look at the top 5 surprises and disappointments of the season so far.

As a note, these are not the only major stories of the season, just simply the ones I felt were the most surprising, either good or bad. It is my opinion, and I'm open for discussion and arguments.

That being said, here are my choices for top 5 surprises and disappointments of the MLB season.

Top 5 Surprises

5. Tigers 3B Miguel Cabrera

It’s hard to believe that last year’s Triple Crown winner and AL MVP would be on a list of best surprises at the All-Star Break. However, he has managed to improve on his Triple Crown numbers, and is a candidate to win both awards again this season.

At the All-Star break last season, Cabrera was hitting .324 with 18 homers and 71 RBIs. He has improved on all of those numbers this season, hitting .367 with 30 homers and 95 RBIs, becoming the first player (one of two this season) to reach 30+ homers and 90+ RBIs before the All-Star Break. He leads the majors in both batting average and RBIs, and is second in home runs. He surged to a Triple Crown award last season behind a strong second-half, and if he has a strong second-half this season, he could win another with even better numbers.

4. New York Yankees (51-44)

The Yankees are in fourth place or worse entering the All-Star Break for the first time since 1995, and yet, have outperformed expectations heading into the season. Between the Orioles and Rays emerging as young forces in the AL East, and the Blue Jays and Red Sox making big moves in the offseason to strengthen their rosters, the Yankees were, for the first time in years, seen as the worst team in a division they’ve dominated for as long as I’ve been alive.

Also considering that the roster has been without Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson for a large majority of the season, the Yankees have held their own in arguably the toughest division in baseball. It’s hard to tell whether or not they’ll be able to keep it up, but as of now, they’ve done better than most people expected.

3. Orioles 1B Chris Davis

This season, Chris Davis has emerged as one of the best sluggers in the game. He has already set career highs in homers (37) and RBIs (93), and is on track to set a career high in batting average (.315, previous career high was .285 in 2008 with Texas). He has tied Reggie Jackson for the AL record for most home runs entering the All-Star Break, and is threatening to ruin Miguel Cabrera’s chance at a second consecutive Triple Crown award.

He has been asked by a fan on Twitter if he’s on steroids, and conversations have risen up on whether or not he can beat Roger Maris’s “legitimate” single-season record of 61 homers. He’s one of the better stories of the first half and, if he keeps it up, can help carry the Orioles to the playoffs.

2. Dodgers OF Yasiel Puig

Before Puig came up to the majors on June 3rd, the Dodgers were headed towards a disappointing season and earning the distinction of the most expensive last place team. Since then, he has helped re-ignite the Dodger fan base, and helped catapult the team back into playoff contention.

In the 38 games he’s played since being called up, Puig is hitting .391 with 8 homers and 19 RBIs, along with 5 steals and a 1.038 OPS. He finished second in the NL All-Star Final Vote behind Braves 1B Freddie Freeman, and he’s helped ease the injuries to Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp. Pitchers have started to figure out how to pitch to him, but he’s still held his own, proving he could be the key to the Dodgers making the playoffs.

1. Pittsburgh Pirates (56-37)

The Pirates haven’t had a winning season since 1992. The past two seasons have started off strong, but losses in 19-inning games have sent them to a slump that has put them under .500 at season’s end. Despite this curse, I feel this is the year the Pirates end their drought, even though they’re still a game behind the Cardinals (57-36, best record in ML).

Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates might finally steal a playoff spot (bengrey/Creative Commons)
Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates might finally steal a playoff spot (bengrey/Creative Commons)
Andrew McCutchen has emerged as one of the league’s best players, finishing the first half with a .302 average, 10 homers, and 20 steals. Pedro Alvarez is second in the NL with 24 homers. The pitching staff has been led by Francisco Liriano (9-3, 2.00 ERA) and Jeff Locke (8-2, 2.15 ERA), while closer Jason Grilli leads the NL with 29 saves.

Add in the fact that Pittsburgh has the 10th-easiest schedule out of 19 teams in playoff contention, and only has to win 26 of their final 69 games to secure a winning record, and you have a team that not only looks ready to have a winning season, but also make a playoff run.

Top 5 Disappointments

5. Washington Nationals (48-47)

Entering the season, the Nationals were expected to win an NL East title for the second consecutive year, and were one of the favorites to win the World Series. Behind former number one picks Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals have a roster that is capable of competing with anyone else in the National League. Unfortunately, things haven’t played out like they have hoped.

Washington currently sits in 2nd place in the East, 6 games behind the Atlanta Braves. They’re 27th in the majors in runs scored and batting average, and Harper and Strasburg have both spent time on the disabled list this season. The offensive struggles are a shame, as their pitching has been outstanding. Jordan Zimmermann (12-4, 2.58 ERA) has evolved into one of the top pitchers in the league, while Strasburg (5-7, 2.99 ERA) has been let down by poor run support. The overall staff is 5th in ERA, so there is the possibility of the Nationals moving up in the standings. However, it relies on a drastically improved second-half offense, led by Harper (.264 BA, 13 HR, 29 RBI) and Ryan Zimmerman (.270 BA, 11 HR, 51 RBI).

4. Braves OFs B.J. And Justin Upton

Speaking of the Braves, they’ve managed to hold first place in the NL East despite little production from their two biggest acquisitions of the offseason. BJ Upton, who was signed to a 5-year, $75.25 million dollar contract, has struggled all season long, entering the break with a .177 BA, 8 home runs, and 20 RBIs. He has already struck out 102 times (11th in the MLB), and was even almost sent to the minors to try and get on the right track. He will also start the second half of the season on the disabled list with a strained adductor muscle.

The next spot on the MLB strikeout list belongs to B.J.’s brother Justin with 100. Acquired in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Justin has performed better than his brother B.J., but has still failed to meet expectations. Justin hit 12 homers and batted .298 in a monster April, but has since dropped his average to .255 and added only 4 more home runs. Justin is on the upswing, hitting .319 in July before suffering a calf injury, but B.J. hasn’t been able to get out of what has been a season-long slump for him. The Braves have performed well without major contributions from the Uptons, but that might need to change in order for them to make a deep playoff run.

3. San Francisco Giants (43-51)

The Giants, despite a lack of power (three players had more than 10 homers) in 2012, were able to ride a strong pitching staff to their second World Series title in three seasons. That pitching staff has run into issues before the All-Star break. Tim Lincecum, despite a no-hitter with 13 strikeouts against the Padres on July 13 and 125 strikeouts on the season (6th in NL), is 5-9 with a 4.26 ERA. Matt Cain (5-6, 5.06 ERA) is on pace for the worst single-season ERA in his career by almost an entire run. Barry Zito has a 4.88 ERA to go with a 4-7 record.

However, the Giants do have a strong chance to bounce back in the second half of the season and move out of fourth in the NL West. Madison Bumgarner (10-5, 3.22 ERA) has been the most consistent starter for San Francisco, and is headed to the All-Star game on July 16. Buster Posey, also an NL All-Star, is putting up another MVP campaign, hitting .325 with 13 homers and 56 RBI. They’re sixth in batting average, and the pitching staff is eighth in batting average against. In a tight NL West race, the Giants still have the opportunity to make the playoffs and, if the rotation becomes more consistent, repeat as World Series champions.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (47-47)

Any team with a payroll of over $200 million has immediately entered “World Series-or-bust” territory, and that has been the case with the Dodgers. After trading for Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford last season, they signed Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Yasiel Puig in the offseason. Because of this, they have a goal that the team, thus far, has simply failed to meet.

Injuries have ravaged the roster, with Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Zack Greinke, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and many others either currently on the disabled list or were on the disabled list at points in the season. The offense hasn’t been producing, ranked 25th in runs but 8th in batting average and on-base percentage. When Yasiel Puig was called up on June 3rd, and for some time after, the Dodgers were the most expensive last-place team in the history of baseball.

Albert Pujols' overpaid, underperforming ways have symbolized Los Angeles baseball this season. (Marianne O'Leary/Wikimedia Commons)
Albert Pujols' overpaid, underperforming ways have symbolized Los Angeles baseball this season. (Marianne O'Leary/Wikimedia Commons)
However, despite the .500 record, the Dodgers are headed in the right direction. Puig is hitting .391 with 8 homers and 19 RBIs since being called up. Ramirez has a .386 average with 8 homers and 25 RBIs. Gonzalez, who has been one of the few Dodgers to escape the DL, leads the team in qualified batting average (.297), homers (14), and RBIs (59). Clayton Kershaw is 8-6 and leads the majors with a 1.98 ERA, while Greinke (8-2, 3.49 ERA) and Ryu (7-3, 3.09 ERA) are performing at the level of their hefty contracts. They've won 17 of their last 22 games, and have vaulted from last to second, sitting only 2.5 games behind division-leading Arizona. The team still has World Series expectations, but is looking more like the team Dodger fans have been waiting for all year.

1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (44-49)

The Angels don’t have the first overall picks that the Nationals have accumulated. They have a lower payroll than the Dodgers, and they currently have a better record than the Giants. However, the Angels have managed to be more disappointing than all of those teams.

The issue with the Angels is that, unlike the Dodgers, they have minimal momentum entering the All-Star Break. They sit 9 games behind Texas (54-41) and 11 behind Oakland (56-39), and were just swept by Seattle (43-52), which is slowly overtaking them in the standings. A team that is 7th in runs, 4th in batting average and slugging percentage, and 6th in on-base percentage is being let down by a below-average pitching staff. Joe Blanton (2-12, 5.53 ERA) currently leads the majors in losses, giving him as many losses as Jered Weaver (3-5, 3.63 ERA) has starts. CJ Wilson (9-6, 3.37 ERA) is the only pitcher besides Blanton that qualifies for the ERA title, and has so far been the most consistent pitcher for the team.

That being said, the offense hasn’t even performed as well as it is capable of. The Angels’ two big free agent signings of the last two season, Albert Pujols (.249 BA, 15 HR, 57 RBI) and Josh Hamilton (.224 BA, 14 HR, 39 RBI), haven’t been the sluggers the Angels were hoping they’d be. Instead, the offense has been led by their young talent, with Mark Trumbo leading the team in homers with 21, and Mike Trout leading the team in average (.322), RBIs (59), runs (65), and hits (119).

Once Pujols and Hamilton get hot, and if the pitching staff sorts itself out, the Angels have a chance to make a run at a playoff spot. Unfortunately, with Oakland and Texas far ahead of them in the standings, and the strength of the AL East, the Angels are looking more like they’ll miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

Reach staff writer Andrew Schultz here or follow him on Twitter.



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