The 2017 major league season started with high hopes and expectations for many teams and players across major league baseball. We are now at the halfway point of the season, with the all-star game having occurred this past Tuesday down in Miami. As the season prepares to enter the sprint of the second half, here are my takes on it so far, as well as updated awards and World Series predictions.
Five Most Surprising Teams
5. New York Yankees- While the Yankees were expected to improve from last season, they weren’t expected to by this much. New York has hit itself to the top of the wild card race and have lead the tough AL East for much of the first half. Aaron Judge has so far been the MVP of the league, smacking 30 home runs while hitting around .329 with 66 RBIs. Judge is not the only threat in this lineup however, as Brett Gardner, Starlin Castro, Gary Sanchez, and Matt Holliday have also been big in a lineup that is one of the best in the league and hitting home runs and scoring altogether. The starting staff still needs to figure it out, and if they can do that, the Yankees could go deep into October.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks- The D-Backs are finally who we thought they would be last year. Greinke is back to his old self, and Robbie Ray is right there with him to form a good duo in an overall stellar starting rotation. The lineup is again led by MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, but he has gotten extraordinary help this year from Jake Lamb, David Peralta, Chris Owings, and Yasmany Tomas, with AJ Pollock expected to return soon from injury. The bullpen has been surprising, and if Arizona can find a new closer to replace Fernando Rodney, who has a 4.30 ERA, the talk of a world championship may be coming from the mouths of fans in the Arizona desert.
3. Minnesota Twins- After finishing with the record in baseball in 2016, little was expected of the Twins besides they couldn’t be as bad as last year. They so far have exceeded that expectation and more, as they float around .500 at the break and have led the center for much of the first half. The team has found a one-two punch in Cy Young contender Ervin Santana and rookie phenom Jose Berrios. Miguel Sano is having an all-star season at third base, and Brian Dozier, Max Kepler, and Joe Mauer are also providing good pop in the lineup to give runs to a defense led by flashy outfielder Byron Buxton. The bullpen, however, remains a huge problem, and the Twins will need to address it at the deadline to stay in the hunt for the AL Central and a wild card spot.
2. Milwaukee Brewers- At the beginning of the year, almost everyone would have told you that you’d
- Colorado Rockies- Who would have thought the Rockies would be a top ten baseball team at the beginning of the year? For a team at the beginning of the year that many predicted to be fourth in the NL West, they have excelled in being well over .500 and on their way to the playoffs as a wild card team. The lineup was good coming in but has beat all expectations, with Charlie Blackmon, Mark Reynolds, Nolan Arenado, and DJ LeMahieu leading the barrage at Coors Field. They have been able to survive below average pitching from their starters, lead by Tyler Chatwood and rookie Antonio Sentazala, and pull out games in the most exciting of finishes. Same as Arizona, one starting pitcher and a good reliever could lead to talks of a world championship whistling through the Rockie Mountains deep into October.
Four Most Disappointing Teams
4. Toronto Blue Jays- Toronto has rebounded some from an ugly, ugly 1-9 start but they are still at the bottom of the league after going to the ALCS the past two seasons. The main reason is that the lineup doesn’t have the pop to help out what has always been shaky pitching, with Encarnacion gone and former MVP Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, and Jose Bautista all hitting below .250. Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano have been major disappointments, and the Blue Jays window appears to have closed for a while as most of the stars appear to be past their prime.
3. New York Mets- no team has had its season ruined by injury as much as the Mets. Long term injuries to Yoenis Cespedes, Neil Walker, all-star Michael Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, Jeruys Familia have derailed the Mets and have called into question Terry Collins training style. The feud with former ace Matt Harvey hasn’t helped at all, along with Harvey's horrendous 5.25 ERA. It's not just Harvey, the whole staff minus DeGrom is horrible, and the lineup has only two players hitting over .275, not helping their manager at all who is going to be on the hot seat this offseason.
2. Chicago Cubs- The Cubs still having a shot to win the division is the only thing keeping them from being number one on this list. The defending champions were supposed to march into the playoffs with ease to defend their title, but if the postseason were to start today they would be on the outside looking in. The lineup isn’t where it was last year, as Kris Bryant only has 38 RBI after driving in 102 during his MVP season last year, while Kyle Schwarber has hit the ball so bad he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa. The main reason for Chicago’s disappointing 2017 is the underwhelming pitching staff, with Arrieta, Lackey, and Kyle Hendricks all having an over 4.00 ERA this year compared to last year when all of their ERAs were below 3.50. Wade Davis also isn’t Aroldis Chapman coming on to close out of the bullpen, and Joe Maddon and his Cubbies should be thankful every day they play in the NL Central and not the AL East or NL West because otherwise, this season would already be a lost cause on the north side.
- San Francisco Giants- odd years normally aren’t the best for the team in orange by the bay, but nobody could have predicted that it would be this bad. The Giants are currently dead last in the NL West and out of the wild card race by a long shot. Posey is the only bright spot in a lineup that has combined to hit just .244 on the year and contains a washed up Hunter Pence and an underperforming Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt. The pitching staff that was suppose to lead them to a division title has totally imploded, with free agent signing Matt Moore having a 5.78 ERA, along with the other major disappointments in Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto who have been unable to pick up the slack after Madison Bumgarner went out on the 60 day DL after being stupid on a dirt bike. When your staff is giving up runs, and your team can’t score any, you’re going to lose a lot of ball games, and the Giants are figuring that out the hard way. Bruce Bochy might want to take one last ride in a cable car before the franchise possibly ousts him this offseason.
3 Breakout Stars who are not rookies (sorry Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge)
3. Yonder Alonso, 1B, Oakland Athletics- Much like Cozart, Alonso has been a bright spot in a down year for Oakland. Alonso is currently hitting .278 with 20 homers and 43 RBI, pretty good for someone who has never hit over ten home runs or sixty-five RBIs in a whole season. Alonso’s breakout year has earned him a trip to the all-star game and has given Oakland fans a reason to come to the ballpark in a year where there is not much to cheer about by the bay.
2. Jason Vargas, SP, Kansas City Royals- Vargas is on my non-rookie breakout list not just because of his stats, but because of his impact on the team. Unlike the Reds and A’s, the Royals are a couple games above .500 and have risen from last place in the AL Central earlier in the year to being in second, just a couple games behind the Indians and having a good spot at making the playoffs as a wild card, in large part because of Vargas stellar pitching. Vargas currently sports a 12-3 record with a 2.62 ERA, leading the league in both categories. This comes after not having an ERA below 3.50 for his entire career. Vargas’s pitching has earned him a spot in the all-star game and has kept the Royals in playoff contention in what looked like to be a disaster of a year just three short months ago.
- Logan Morrison, 1B/OF, Tampa Bay Rays- Tampa is back in the wild card hunt and currently, owns the second spot thanks in large part to a revamped lineup lead by the breakout season by Logan Morrison. Morrison, who had never hit over 23 homers in a year, is near the top of the whole league with 24 at the break and has 57 RBI, only 15 shy of his career high for a whole season. Morrison is hitting around .260, which is better than his career average of .246. His power bat breakout has been big in helping the Rays still win games and compete for a playoff spot even with Chris Archer and an underperforming pitching staff
A Couple of Second Half Predictions:
In the NL, the Nationals trade for a reliever at the deadline, but one good one isn’t going to be enough to totally save the bullpen, and it costs Washington in another first round exit. The Rockies will try, but in the end, fail to land a veteran starter. It won’t cost them a playoff spot, they will easily make that, but that lineup can’t go far in October without a good staff. Milwaukee finally fizzles in late August but holds off a Cubs team that gets on a roll too late to overtake the Brewers. However, as I thought in the preseason, the Dodgers will be kings of the NL. They have the pitching, with Clayton Kershaw and Alex Wood dominating so far this season along with Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen, both of which have under a 2.00 ERA coming out of the pen. Cody Bellinger is quietly having his own monster rookie campaign, with 24 home runs and 56 RBI to head a lineup lead by an improved Yasiel Puig and stars Corey Seager and Justin Turner. The combination of great pitching and hitting that other teams in the NL don’t have makes the road to the world series as easy as walking the red carpet for the Dodgers. Awards wise, Diamondbacks 1B Paul Goldschmidt beats out Bryce Harper for MVP. The Nats lineup is strong all over this year with Rendon, Zimmerman, and Daniel Murphy, and while the Diamondbacks lineup has some other talent to like Jake Lamb, the Nationals would still be in first minus Harper. The Diamondbacks would be a long ways out of a wild card spot without Goldschmidt, who is hitting .316 with 19 homers and leading the league with 66 RBI. Pitching wise, Scherzer's under two ERA and close to 20 wins, I predict, will give him a slight edge over Kershaw for the award in what will be a hotly contested debate over who deserves it.
In the AL the Indians win the division but struggle to do so and my preseason world series winner is eliminated in the first round. They aren’t good enough this year to beat Boston or Houston, whose stellar pitching and lineup buts them a head above the rest in the AL. Aaron Judge continues to stun with his bat and will bring New York back to the postseason with ease, but the second wild card is a surprise, the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners have continued to play around 500 ball even without star Felix Hernandez for most of the year so far. With a rock solid lineup led by Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, and Robinson Cano, along with breakouts Jean Segura and Ben Gamel who are both hitting well above .300, the lineup has been fine. The pitching should get better, with a solid front end of the bullpen and my expectation that King Felix will return to his original self along with James Paxton and Ariel Miranda who are quietly having good seasons. This will allow the Mariners to take advantage of a weak AL after the top four teams and get the final playoff spot. Players wise, Judge I think holds onto becoming the first rookie in years to win MVP, holding off a late charge from Mike Trout as the Yankees make the playoffs, unlike the Angels, and the voters take into consideration Trout having missed a huge chunk of time this season. Judge easily wins rookie of the year, and Chris Sale will edge out Vargas for the Cy Young award as Vargas struggles some to maintain his first half success.
The playoffs, however, will deliver us a showdown between Houston and Boston, who will meet in the ALCS. Houston I think beats Boston in six or seven to make the series, due to better pitching and more power in the lineup, setting up a showdown with LA. Both teams have good one-two punches as starters, Kershaw and Wood vs Keuchel and McCullers, and good bullpens. In the year where power hitting has returned to dominate, the Astros have more of this with Correa, Springer, McCann, Beltran, and Reddick compared to Turner, Seager, Bellinger, and Grandal in Los Angeles. Because of this the Astros edge the Dodgers in a thrilling seven-game classic. Houston, the Astros have no problems.
AL: Division Winners: Astros, Indians, Red Sox Wild Card: Yankees and Mariners
NL: Division Winners: Brewers, Nationals, Dodgers Wild Card: Diamondbacks and Rockies
Wild Card: AL- Yankees over Angels NL- Diamondbacks over Rockies
Division Series: Astros over Yankees in 3 Red Sox over Indians in 4 Dodgers over Dbacks in 4 Nationals over Brewers in 4
LCS: Astros over Red Sox in 7 Dodgers over Nationals in 6
World Series: Astros over Dodgers in 7
AL MVP: Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
AL ROY: Aaron Judge
AL Manager: A.J. Hinch, Houston Astros
NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
NL ROY: Cody Bellinger, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Manager: Bud Black, Colorado Rockies