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With Major League Baseball’s All-Star break officially coming to a close, baseball is now entering the second half of the season. There’s been a few surprises from rising stars to unexpected teams struggling that no one saw coming. For some teams it’s even now or never.
As such, it’s time to see what’s in store for the second half. Keeping with baseball tradition of the number nine, here are nine things to watch for in the second half of the year. Why nine, because there’s nine innings, nine field positions/batting spots, ninety feet between bases, etc.
1. At least one of the comfortable leads in the division will fall
Other than the National League Central, every division leader holds at least a five-game lead over the second place team in the standings. Truth be told, only one team really is safe in their division, and that’s the Los Angeles Dodgers who hold a 15 game lead over the second place Arizona Diamondbacks.
That said, each leader has its fair share of issues that could cost them. The Houston Astros and New York Yankees have dealt with obscene amounts of injuries that have lead to mixing and matching players. Also the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves are playing in divisions that historically have heated up in the second half of the season.
At least one of these comfy five games ahead of second place teams will fall, it’s just a question of who?
2. The New York Yankees make a bad trade
The Yankees are usually buyers come trade deadline and that probably won’t change. However, one of general manager Brian Cashman’s pieces of kryptonite has been trading for starting pitching at the trade deadline. Whats even worse, that’s their biggest need this year.
Past years have see Cashman acquire the likes of Esteban Loaiza, Jeff Weaver, Sonny Gray and Damaso Marte who have all been deemed busts. Given that the Yankees need some starting pitching and the names being linked to them are very boom or bust, it looks like the trend could continue.
3. The New York Mets try again
After what looked like a season of promise following one of the better off-seasons, the Mets looked poised to make some kind of run in a strong division. Instead, they’re second to last in the division with only the Miami Marlins behind them.
Some of the factors that lead to this point include bad managing on the field, players not living up to their expectations and hype from general manager Broadie Van Wagenen.
While there does seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, the Mets need to do something. While selling pieces like starting pitchers Zach Wheeler and Noah Syndargaard appear to be coming, other pieces like third baseman Todd Frazier and catcher Wilson Ramos may also be necessary. The big question is, will manager Mickey Callaway survive the season?
4. The Chicago-Milwaukee Exchange
Last year, the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers engaged in an epic battle to determine who would be the division winner and who’d play in the Wild Card Game. The Brewers ultimately won out and came just one game away from a World Series appearance.
This year doesn’t appear to be any different. The Cubs lead the division by two game. Trailing them by 2.5 are the Brewers. Given that every team is still in this division race, it’s going to be a rat race but ultimately, it will be another Chicago-Milwaukee duel.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers, regular season champions
The Los Angeles Dodgers have been to the World Series the past two years, falling to the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox respectively. This year they’ve been the best team in baseball, something that was confirmed when they reached 60 wins before anybody else.
That said, is this the year they finally figure out what went wrong? Chances they’ll finish the regular season as the best team, they’ll make it to the National League Championship Series, if not World Series and then crash. The only way it could get worse, is if they made it to four straight World Series and lost them all,
similar to the Buffalo Bills in those Super Bowls.
6. Boston Can’t Get No Relief
The Red Sox should be a better team. Their young infield has really shown to be a bright light in what appears to be a dark season and their starting pitching is turning around. That’s not the problem.
The Red Sox bullpen has not been great, lead by the lack of a closer. With reliable bullpen arms being scarce in their farms system as well as the trade market, they’ll be in for a rough ride.
General Manager Dave Dombrowski historically has not been the type to improve the bullpen but if he doesn’t quickly, the season could slip away even further.
7. Hot in Cleveland
After hosting a well received All-Star break, the Cleveland Indians may be riding high. Combine that with starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco’s leukemia scare, the Indians may have the most motivation and inspiration to go on a tear.
The Minnesota Twins youth and inexperience with this type of crunch time could ultimately shake them up a little bit. The Indians meanwhile have been here, they’ve done this and they have the manager to lead a comeback in Terry Francona. If they don’t get the division lead, they’ll find a way into the Wild Card Game.
8. The Winner Of Madison Bumgarner Race Is
The most heavily linked team to San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner has been the New York Yankees despite being on his no-trade list. While he can change his mind if the right financial situation were to come up, they may not win here.
The Minnesota Twins, who are not on his no-trade list, as well could use a veteran ace to take reigns in the rotation, could be the team to watch here. They have the prospects to do it, the urgency to do it and the opportunity to give him a chance at another ring.
9. The Most Active Trade Deadline
It seems like lately that baseball’s trade deadline has not seen the major moves we had seen in years past. Given the needs of so many contenders, this year could see a spike.
Several playoff contenders like the Yankees and Brewers need starting pitching, the Red Sox need relief help and so many other teams need that one player that will get them over the hump. With so many teams like the Baltimore Orioles, Miami Marlins, Chicago White Sox and more rebuilding, this could be a year for the record books for trading.