The unofficial first half of the 2014 MLB season is about to be in the books after the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles contest on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN concludes. As per seemingly every year, things go as planned and not as expected. Some players and teams are tearing it up and haven’t missed a beat and show absolutely no signs of slowing down. Other players and clubs, however, have greatly disappointed and some of them very surprisingly at that. There are plenty of things worthy of note regarding what has gone down so far.
Biggest surprise (individual): Some players have displayed impressive statistics as always, though at a seemingly higher rate. Troy Tulowitzki has a reputation as one of, if not the best shortstop in the game, but his batting average has been impressive all season long. Nelson Cruz has produced 28 home runs entering Sunday night at a salary only 1-year, $8 million. However the winner is Jose Abreu. His 29 big flies lead the game entering the Yankees/Orioles matchup. He also is third in the Majors with 73 RBI. All one had to seemingly do would be to turn on MLB Network and the buzz would be over who would win the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, and though the Yankees received bad news about Tanaka regarding his status, it’d be hard to say he hasn’t produced with the time he has had so far in the United States. Abreu seemingly had nowhere near the attention Tanaka had over the Winter. Yet it’s looking very likely he could win two thirds of not just the American League Triple Crown but also the Major League Triple Crown. Regardless of how the Chicago White Sox finish, Abreu is bound to finish handsomely in American League MVP voting and is probably the AL Rookie of the Year frontrunner at this point.
Biggest disappointment (individual): What a difference 12 months makes. Only a year ago at this time Chris Davis was setting the baseball world on fire with 33 home runs at the All Star break. He would hit 20 more after the Midsummer Classic at Citi Field to set a new Orioles franchise record and led the Major Leagues with 53 home runs and 138 RBI. So be it if his home run total is down, it’s awfully hard to duplicate a 50 home run season in the post-steroid era, but his RBI total is not impressive, he’s hitting below the Mendoza Line, he’s not getting on base. Unless his bat wakes up in a big way for the rest of the season, he’ll come nowhere near close the third place finish in the AL MVP race from last year.
Biggest surprise (team): With a 2-10 record, it’s been a very painful July for the Milwaukee Brewers, but the team still leads the NL Central thanks to one of those two wins coming with an 11-2 bashing of the defending NL Champion St. Louis Cardinals, which is right on the Brew Crew’s tail. More than just that, the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates both sit at 1.5 games and 3.5 games back of the division, respectively. The Cards, Reds and Bucs all went to the playoffs in 2013 and all three of them have a realistic shot to return, but Milwaukee was 74-88 last year and even though it’s getting tight, Milwaukee is 22 wins away from surpassing the number of games they won during the entire 2013 campaign.
Biggest disappointment (team): The Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks all looked like they could’ve made the postseason heading into Opening Day 2014, only for things just not to come to fruition. Yet none of those teams tied for the best record in baseball last year with a 97-65 record, nor did any one of those three win the World Series after a last place finish in 2012. The Boston Red Sox went all the way last year and it’s those same Red Sox which hold the dubious distinction of the cellar dwellers of the AL East. Xander Bogaerts was the second best prospect in game heading into the season and Boston had more prospects (nine) in the Top 100 than any other squad did. Yet Bogaerts has not had a season to remember as of this point and the team just recently designated AJ Pierzynski for assignment. No position players are representing Boston at Target Field on Tuesday, with only starter Jon Lester and closer Koji Uehara making the cut. The only thing that would make this rollercoaster even crazier would be if the Red Sox finished last in the AL East again in 2014, only to win the World Series in 2015. No word yet on whether or not the hearts of Red Sox Nation would be able to handle that or not.
Who to watch for after the All Star break (individual): Surprise, surprise, Clayton Kershaw is at it again. No-hitter, check, 41 consecutive scoreless innings, check. Three straight MLB ERA crowns? Apparently that’s not good enough for the 26-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers lefty. He’s chasing after a 4th and is trying to best his miniscule 1.83 ERA from a season ago. At the All Star break, it’s 1.78, despite the fact Kershaw missed all of April. To compare anyone to Sandy Koufax would be setting the bar very high, but if it’s Kershaw, the comparison seems valid. It’s awfully hard to call anybody a Hall of Famer at the age of 26, but if anyone right now under 30 is on fast track for Cooperstown, it has to be Kershaw. He continues to make history and his performance is drawing attention for yet another NL Cy Young, but as tremendous as he’s been, he may not get the 29 out 30 first place votes he got in 2013. Adam Wainwright and Johnny Cueto may have something to say about Kershaw third Cy Young in four seasons. Wainwright has tossed 138 innings, which lead the NL and has a 199 ERA+, which leads the Majors. Cueto has pitched 137.2 innings and has a 181 ERA+ with a 0.879 WHIP. Can Wainwright and Cueto hang with the King of Hurlers? Or will the Texan southpaw just pull away from the pack again?
Who to watch for after the All Star break (team): Someone tap on the backs of the Oakland Athletics because the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are breathing right down their necks. The Halos also can lay claim as the biggest surprise team in the game this season. After finishing 78-84 in 2013, the Angels also aren’t too far off from eclipsing last season’s win total in 2014. This club is 57-37, 1.5 games behind only the A’s themselves for the AL West lead, and not just that, the Athletics and Angels also have the two best records in all of baseball. Garrett Richards has stepped up in an enormous way this season. Albert Pujols is bouncing back nicely after playing in only 99 games all of last year. The team acquired Jason Grilli from the Bucs for Ernesto Frieri. In 6 innings pitched with his new squad, Grilli has surrendered just 1 run, none earned and perhaps a change of scenery from the Steel City was what he needed. That Mike Trout player? Yeah, he’s pretty good. All he has done is post a 180 OPS+ and looks like the third time could be the charm for him as that 2014 AL MVP looks like it could be his. With him leading the way, the Angels may not only see postseason baseball for the first time since 2009, they also could perhaps make some noise should they qualify.
The best of the best of 2014 collide on Tuesday, but there certainly won’t be a shortage of fireworks once play resumes.
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