Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Memorial Day Checkpoint for MLB

 As we celebrate those who put their life on the line for us every day, the MLB got under way early today starting off with the American League, Boston Red Sox paying a visit to the National League, Atlanta Braves.  So far these two teams have been complete opposites.  Shockingly, the Red Sox, defending World Champions, have tumbled as of late and find themselves in the AL East cellar.  Meanwhile the Braves are in the midst of a classic Braves season, leading the NL East with good pitching and enough offense.

Memorial Day Weekend has slowly become the first point in the MLB season where teams take a look up and roughly assess their position, formulating different plans for the various ways a season can turn.  Teams need to be ready for anything.  With that being said, lets take a brief look at the condition of each division thus far, as we are just over 50 games into the season.

AL East:  It may come as a surprise, but everybody's pick to win from last year, the Toronto Blue Jays, are doing what "the experts" thought they would do, only they were off a year.  Toronto's offense is healthy and proving to be quite potent via the long ball.  They have amassed 70 bombs so far leading all of baseball. Following the Jays are the Yankees and Orioles who have both been inconsistent this year.  Off-season addition Nelson Cruz has been huge for the O's though as he is one of the league leaders in home runs with 16 as we near June. In fourth the Tampa Bay Rays, who were a trendy pick this year, have scuffled out of the gate.  Key injuries to their pitching staff have taken away their bread and butter.  The offense has sputtered and hasn't been able to pick up the team too often either.  As it was noted earlier the Red Sox are currently last in the division and in the midst of a 10 game loosing streak entering play on Memorial Day. 

AL Central: The Detroit Tigers are out in front here, and this should come to the surprise of no one.  Despite trading away Prince Fielder the Tigers offense hasn't skipped a beat.  Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Ian Kinsler have been carrying the load for them.  Don't sleep on their pitching either.  Trading Doug Fister to the Nationals hasn't left the rotation in shambles, as the Tigers entire staff has gotten it done all year.  Detroit's four friends in the division all sit 5.5-6.5 games out, the battle for second to the Tigers is surely on.  Its likely two of these teams at least are battling it out all the way until the final day of the season.  The rest of the division simply isn't good enough to hang with Detroit, each team missing either offensive production, pitching production, or key players as injuries through out baseball seem to have increased this year. Kansas City's offense is going through a power outage with only 20 home runs as a team so far.  The Chicago White Sox are an interesting team, their offense with a healthy Jose Abreu is pretty good, and their pitching with a healthy Chris Sale is also pretty good.  Sale just got off the DL, but Abreu is in the middle of a 15 day stint himself.  Lastly the Cleveland Indians are hanging out at the bottom.  Their starting pitching hasn't been as good as last year, and some key contributors on offense have struggled, mainly Carlos Santana.  All-Star second basemen Jason Kipnis has been on the DL for most of May. 

AL West: Is this the year the Angels figure out how to be a team? It may be, they sit 1.5 games behind the Oakland Athletics.  Pause for a second, the A's have now won two divisions in a row dating back to 2012, not bad when Texas has been getting the general nod for being a powerhouse and likely divisional winners.  Their front office finds ways to field a very good team of baseball players, and of course finding those guys who can come in and play well within the A's system.  Despite loosing two starters in their rotation to injury, the A's have been able to pitch well enough to keep them in games, letting the offense take care of the rest.  Lets get to the Angels though, finally it looks as if they have figured out how to play together.  Trout hasn't been fire just yet, but he is picking it up and the pitching staff has been marvelous for the Angels, a glaring weakness at season's end in 2013.  Josh Hamilton is on the DL and will hopefully return soon to make the Angels a legit threat this year.  Season ending injuries have made their way through the entire Texas Ranger roster, yet somehow they hold onto third.  Right behind the Rangers are the Seattle Mariners, one of the bigger free agent players this past offseason. They started hot, but have cooled since.  Robinson Cano isn't hitting bombs, but the rest of his offensive game is just fine.  The Mariners have good pitching, but their offense outside of Cano is shaky.  Last but not least are the still rebuilding Houston Astros.  While they aren't as bad as last year they still aren't that great, but they did call up young stud George Springer giving the fans something to look forward to.  Springer hasn't disappointed with 7 home runs, the most on the team despite being called up midway through April.

NL East:  Stop me if you've heard this before, but this year the Nationals will run away with the NL East and no one stands a chance.  A half decent statement after they acquired Doug Fister for what seemed to be just spare parts.  As May winds down though the Nationals find themselves third, and Fister hasn't done much since coming off the DL a couple weeks ago.  Leading the Nats, and in second is one of this season's biggest surprises to the casual fan is the Miami Marlins.  One of the youngest teams in baseball, is getting rather consistent production in all facets of the game.  The scary thing is most of the current Marlins are only going to get better with experience, and they are already proving to be a good team.  Giancarlo Stanton is destroying baseballs, veteran Casey McGehee who spent last year in Japan, has been a solid addition sporting a .280 batting average (.423 with runners in scoring position) and 30 RBIs.  Atlanta got their mention at the top of the article, their pitching has been very, very good and it is carrying them right now.  Their is some question as to whether veterans like Aaron Harrang and Gavin Floyd can sustain their good starts.  Essentially tied for last place, the Mets and Phillies both find themselves trailing the A-T-L by 6 games. The Mets have had decent pitching from a number of young arms, but their offense is still very sub par. It doesn't help that David Wright has gotten off to a slower start.  In Philadelphia we have a healthy core, but as we approach June not much of that core is producing on a regular basis anymore.  Chase Utley continues to be the man, and J-Roll has joined him this year in having an excellent season.  To make matters worse, Cliff Lee is on the DL. It might be seller's time in Philly, if determined so, the next question in Philly that needs answering is who goes and who stays from players to the front

NL Central:    Usually never lacking for the excitement the NL Central has been iffy this year.  Last year there were 3 teams from this division that made the playoffs.  To start the season, the Milwaukee Brewers were crushing just about everybody. Their offense was putting in work, but it was their dazzling pitching in April that carried them to early divisional leaders.  They have since cooled, and the St. Louis Cardinals are taking advantage.  Still the Cardinals aren't clicking like they were last year, but they do enough things right to win baseball games.  Speaking of right, Adam Wainrwight has been just right. He owns a 1.67 ERA with 81 innings pitched to 77 strike outs, boss status. In third are the Cincinnati Reds, who have dealt with their slew of early season injuries.  Loosing Shin Shoo-Choo to free agency has also affected this team.  Speedster Billy Hamilton hasn't shown too much ability to take walks yet squandering his chances to do what he does best, steal bases.  The darling's of the league last year, this year's Pittsburgh Pirates team currently sits in fourth. Thanks to up and down performances out of the pitching staff the Pirates haven't been able to get much going.  Bringing up the rear we have the Chicago Cubs.  Much like the Astros, the Cubs are still rebuilding and they aren't quite as far along as Houston.  Staff ace Jeff Samardzjia has been brilliant so far this year, bringing up a round of everybody's favorite: what prospects can the Cubs get for this guy? Stay faithful Cubs fans, believe in Theo Epstein.

NL West: This division was all but played out before the season, and the LA Dodgers were dubbed kings before a pitch was even thrown.  The Dodgers offense hasn't been too great early on.  Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez are struggling.  Phenom Yasiel Puig is out of his mind right now slashing .349/.438/.623 and is keeping the Dodgers afloat along with their nasty pitching staff.  Reinvented hurler Josh Beckett threw a no hitter in Philadelphia on Sunday if you hadn't heard.  They find themselves looking up from third at the second place Colorado Rockies, where there are lots of professional baseball mashers. Troy Tulowitzki most notably, and the rest of the Rockies hitters currently are hitting at a.292 clip as a team with the only team on base + slugging percetange over .800.  Though if they cool down, look for the Rockies to slip due to faulty pitching.  The bottom 2/5 of the division is rounded out by the San Diego Padres (4th) and the Arizona Diamondbacks (5th).  For the Padres there has been little to no offense most nights.  Quality start after quality start has been wasted by that punchless lineup.  For the other non California team in the NL West, the D-Bax have had very poor pitching.  Front-line guy for the Staff Patrick Corbin went down with season ending surgery before the start of the season.  The slack was never picked up by anyone leading Arizona down a pretty demoralizing spiral to start the year.  In first place, we have Oakland's bay mate the San Francisco Giants.  In recent memory, the Giants have been known for their pitching.  While their pitching is still good, especially their bullpen the Giants offense this year has kicked it into another gear.  Angel Pagan and Brandon Belt have really stepped up, and the addition of Michael Morse has kept this offense stead all year.  Their pitching keeps them in games, and the bullpen shuts it down when they have a lead, or the offense is able to hit its way to getting a lead. 

 With two months of baseball down, a lot has happened already.  The second wild card is going to be a dog fight with so many teams on fringe competitor level, and the deadline should be plenty busy for a few teams.  June is nearly here and for many teams, this month will decide the outlook for the rest of the season.  I don't think there will be much movement atop the divisions the rest of the way, some of the teams that are currently in 1st have been there recently and have proven they can do it over a full season.  The NL Central and AL East both have surprise leaders right now, providing for an interesting story line to keep an eye on.  Hotter days are approaching, stay cool baseball fans its shaping up to be another great season. 


Cole Miller, from Haddonfield, NJ, is currently a sophomore Sport Management major at Drexel. Over the summer, Cole volunteered for the 43rd SABR convention, a large convention with many speakers and other events for baseball fans who enjoy the new age statistics being brought to baseball such as WAR (wins above replacement ).   Cole is a huge fan of baseball, specifically the Phillies.

You can connect on Cole on LinkedIn here.

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