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2013 MLB Second Half: Biggest American League Storylines

Evan Budrovich |
July 18, 2013 | 1:02 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

James Loney of the Tampa Bay Rays. (Wikimedia Commons)
James Loney of the Tampa Bay Rays. (Wikimedia Commons)
The MLB All-Star Game has officially come and past, and we can now set sail for the unofficial second half of the season that follows the Mid-Summer Classic and the subsequent quiestest sports day of the year. 

With each teams holding about 70 games left on their docket, nearly every squad holds a fighter's chance of making the postseason. Combined with a looming July 31st trade deadline, teams have to make the quick decision of gearing in for a playoff run, or trading some assets and rebuilding for the future. 

The Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, and Oakland A's lead the AL divisions, with the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers holding down the Wild Card berths if the season were to end today. One stat to keep in mind is that since 1995, when MLB went to a six-division league, 62% of division leaders at the All-Star Break have held on to win the division, meaning that fluctuation is inevitable later in the summer.

Baseball holds all the cards for the remaining 50 days until the start of the NFL Season, so here are some key storylines to keep an eye on in the American League as the dog days of August approach.

AL East: Will Tampa Bay Bring Home Division Title?

The Rays (55-41 2.5 games back) are one of the hottest teams in baseball, winning nine of their last 10 to climb out of the division cellar. An impressive feat considering the Rays were in last on June 23rd, less than a month ago.

July has been a blessing in disguise for the Rays, who have quietly put up the third most runs (71) in the month while limiting opponents to an impressive 29 runs in 14 games. These are scoring numbers that seem astronomic if stretched out over the course of a season, and timely contributions are fueling the team's lineup. 

This season, the Rays offense is putting up fantastic numbers in outscoring their opponents at a prolifc pace. They are top ten in runs scored (449), on-base percentage (.330), batting average (.261) and slugging percentage (.419) thanks to contributions from prospects seemingly left for dead, like James Loney and Kelly Johnson. 

SEE MORE: MLB All-Star Break: Top 5 Surprises and Disappointments

After signing on for a one-year option for just over $2 million, Loney is boasts impressive numbers, hitting .315/.366/.832 with 31 XBH and 43 RBI, while providing crucial support behind Evan Longoria in the Rays lineup. Johnson has provided some pop in the Rays order, blasting 13 home runs this year with 44 RBI.

Another key factor behind the Rays recent resurgence lies in Wil Myerss growing contributions with the ball club. While Myers may not be lighting the lamp with gawdy offensive numbers, (.288/3 HR/15 RBI) he has solidified the lineup and provided stability for Joe Maddon’s club.

The Rays are in a strong position to overtake the highly-overachieving Boston Red Sox as the summer months stretch on. With a tremendous pitching staff centered around 13-game winner Matt Moore and an improving offense, the Rays hot July surge could turn into the top AL seed come September.

Terry Francona, manager of the Cleveland Indians. (Wikimedia Commons)
Terry Francona, manager of the Cleveland Indians. (Wikimedia Commons)
AL Central: Terry Francona's Ball Club Destined For Second-Half Surge

 While the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers ride the bats of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder towards a third straight division title, the second-place squad will certainly make for an interesting race.

After folding down the stretch last season, going 24-53 to finish the second-half, the Cleveland Indians have assembled a rag-tag lineup capable of competing with the best offenses in the league. Manager Terry Francona has seen his fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, enduring a 4-16 stretch during May and June, but has persevered through

That being said, unheralded production from Nick Swisher (9 HR, 31 RBI) and Mark Reynolds (15 HR) have provided a power surge to the lineup. The real story however, begins and ends with all-star selection Jason Kipnis (.301 BA, 57 RBI), who is posting a 4.0 WAR at the break and is on pace to slug over .500, which is rather impressive for a second basemen in today's day in age. 

The biggest question moving forward surrounding this ball club is whether Francona can preserve the pitching staff and keep them at top notch form come August. Innings-eater Justin Masterson (10-7) has been a horse this season for the Tribe, throwing a team-high 105 pitches per start this season. In the process, the Indians ace has acquired 12 quality starts in 20 total chances this season.

Luckily for Cleveland, the rotation has found a way to put together an AL-high 12 shutouts this season. Combine that with a high K/9 ratio (8.3) and the Indians power arms in the pen have shown an ability to overcome their shortcomings in terms of depth on the mound.

AL West: Angels Sinking, Oakland Sitting Pretty

 This club reminds you of last year’s Baltimore Orioles in many ways. They win close games, overuse their bullpen , and outperform statistical expectations all year long. That being said, don’t count out some magic from Terry Francona, who is looking to avenge the ghosts of an epic Red Sox September collapse back in 2011.

Throughout most of the first half, fans in Southern California have waited for their brand of All-Star names to make a patented run back into the winning picture in the AL West Standings.

Come the All-Star break, the Angels sit 11 games out of first place with a sub-.500 record. For a team lofted with expectations, the continued mediocrity of Josh Hamilton (.224) and Albert Pujols (.249, a career low) has actually not been the biggest disappointment of the sesaon.

The Angels' pitching staff is ranked 27th in the league with a 4.31 ERA thanks to lackluster starting pitching across the board. Due to a devastating injury to Jered Weaver (only 11 starts), the Angels rolled through much the first half much without their ace. They now depend on a combination of Justin Vargas, Jordan Williams and Tommy Hanson for any help in the middle of their rotation.

SEE MORE: San Francisco Giants Stuck In The Dog Days

Power numbers from Mark Trumbo (21 HR, 57 RBI) and all-around production from Mike Trout (5.7 WAR) aside, this flailing ball club would have to go 56-21 in the season's final two and a half months just to reach the 90-win plateaum, making a run to the playoffs rather unlikely.

After watching a tremendous end to last season with Oakland going on an impressive run to snatch the title, this year's A's are playing solid baseball right from the start (+62 run differential) and have the experienced pitching and timely hitting in place to win for the long haul. Offensively, Josh Donaldson has emerged as an RBI machine, masking the poor year from Josh Reddick (.218, 4 HR).

The A’s have a slight reason for concern though, with the future implications possibly surrounding Oakland's only All-Star Game selection Bartolo Colon, (12-3 2.70 ERA) as well as injury concerns. Still, they have one important upper hand.

Pitching rules the West as the A’s staff (3.62 ERA, 7th overall) continues to carry the load for the free-swinging offense that has amassed 98 home runs on the season, despite only receiving 15 from Home Run Derby champ Yoenis Cespedes. The Angels pitching meanwhile, does not have the horses to propel a second-half run.

Derek Jeter, shortstop for the New York Yankees. (Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)
Derek Jeter, shortstop for the New York Yankees. (Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)
WILD CARD: Yankees Health vs. Orioles Bats For Play-In Game

Mark Teixiera, Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are among the biggest names out of the Yankees lineup, but that could be changing quickly. Media reports have confirmed that A-Rod is set to return July 22nd against Texas, while the Captain returned, albeit briefly, just before the All-Star break.

Injuries aside, the New York Yankees have been rather competitive in the first half and will slowly receive the weapons in their arsenal to avoid missing the postseason for the first time since 2008.

The Bronx Bombers (51-44) continue to score runs via the long ball, but have actually acquired a negative run-differential this season. Without their top bats, the Yankees have struggled to score runs (20th in MLB) yet their pitching staff has carried the load for most of the year.

Hiroki Kuroda, the largest All-Star game snub with a 2.65 ERA, has been fantastic in the rotation eating up innings while keeping the Yankees in almost every start. The combination of David Robertson and Mariano Rivera (2.6 combined WAR) have been outstanding at the back-end of the bullpen, shortening the game for Joe Girardi on a nightly basis. 

The Orioles meanwhile, have the third-best scoring offense in the league thanks to an outstanding first-half from Chris Davis (37 HR) while doubles-hitting machine Manny Machado (39 doubles) is getting on base at a prolific rate. With eight of nine starters posting a positive WAR, the Orioles continue to play the game the right way offensively, something that helps win games during the dog days. 

The biggest blemish on the Orioles' sail may be the struggles of closer Jim Johnson, who has already blown six saves this season and amassed seven losses out of the bullpen, a facet of their club that was nearly spotless last season. 

Over in New York, the Yankees are starting to reassemble their star-studded cast. These growing rivals will both need some help by flipping their respective scripts, returning power pitching to Baltimore and power bats to the Bronx to make a run in the crowded AL Wild Card race.


Reach Staff Writer Evan Budrovich here or on Twitter



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