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Baseball At the Break

The 2017 Baseball Season has hit the All-Star Break, with a number of surprises and disappointments. With the trade deadline three weeks away, the first weeks after the All-Star Game will be the last chance for teams on the bubble to convince those in charge that they can stay in the race, while other teams will showcase players as they prepare to sell off and prepare for the 2018 season.

American League East

As expected the Boston Red Sox have risen to the top of the Eastern Division. It may have taken longer than expected, as their lineup struggled at times in the first two months of the season as they have clearly missed David Ortiz. However, with the best rotation in the division and Craig Kimbrell almost untouchable in the ninth it is hard to see Boston not winning a second straight division title.

The New York Yankees raced out to a quick start and were in first place much of the first half thanks to Aaron Judge who is in position to be both Rookie of the Year and MVP in the American League. However, as the All-Star Break arrives the Bronx Bombers are reeling. Since June 12, the Yankees are 7-18 as they have been beset by injuries and a faltering bullpen. They should get some of their injured stars back Starlin Castro and Matt Holiday are both expected to begin minor league rehab soon. However, the bullpen has to be a major concern as Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard have all been ineffective as of late. If they can’t get their pen straightened out the Yankees could fall out of the playoff chase, especially as they face the Red Sox at Fenway Park in a series right after the All-Star Game. The Yankees need a first baseman and with a strong farm system should be looking to make a move before the deadline.

The Tampa Bay Rays finished the first half strong, taking three of four against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field, to move into a statistical tie with the Yankees for second place, as well as the Wild Card lead. The Rays have gotten big seasons from Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison, while Evan Longoria has had down year. On the mound Chris Archer has bounced back nicely off a poor 2016, and the Rays should look to add a bat or an arm to show they are committed to staying in the playoff chase as one of the surprise teams in the American League.

The Baltimore Orioles pitching has been the story of the season, and that story has been one filed with horrors. The team ERA is 5.08, and the prospects of things getting better are unlikely. The O’s still have a power packed lineup, but without improvements on the mound the birds are likely to fade away quickly.

The Toronto Blue Jays have reached the ALCS in the past two seasons, but if they are too make the postseason this season it will take a Herculean effort. The Jays have struggled in all aspects of the game, and will likely be better off selling some of their assets and retooling for the future.

American League Central

The Cleveland Indians as expected are leading the division, but they have still yet to hit their stride. Jose Ramirez has had a terrific first half, leading the team with a .331 average, with 17 home runs and 48 RBI. Edwin Encarnacion was off to a slow start, but appears to be heating up. On the mound Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber have each pitched well, while Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer have each struggled. The Tribe are in position to have a strong second half, though one concern is the health of Manager Terry Francona who recently underwent heart surgery.

The Minnesota Twins have been the biggest surprise in the American League as they have been at or near the top of the Central Division all season following a 100-loss season in 2016. Ervin Santana has been one of the big comeback stories in the American League, with ten wins and a 2.99 ERA, while Miguel Sano has had a breakout season with 21 home runs and 62 RBI.

The Kanas City Royals are the team that won’t die. After falling ten games below .500, it seemed as if their epithet was written. However, after a strong June the Royals are back in the race and despite most of their key players on the verge of free agency the feeling is the team owes it to their players to make one last run. This Royals team revived baseball in Kansas City reaching the World Series in two straight seasons, winning in 2015. They have a lot of missing pieces and are not the package they were two years ago, but have a number of players with a championship pedigree that will not quit. Don’t count them out when it comes to the playoff race, but the odds are stacked against them as they will need to find another starter to back up the efforts of Jason Vargas who has been one of the best hurlers in the American League.

The Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox are all but officially out of the race. With each team having weakened farm clubs and valuable veterans expect both to be among the biggest wheelers and dealers in the next two weeks. The Tigers are reportedly even shopping Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, while the White Sox must find a way to get something for Jose Quintana and Todd Frazier was both will likely not play a role in their future, as the White Sox are a team that needs to focus on the future.

American League West

Houston Astros

No team in the American League has been better than the Houston Astros, who are on their way to making good on the “Sports Illustrated” forecast from 2014 and winning the World Series. The Astros are one of two teams in MLB with 60 wins at the break, and this has been with Dallas Kuechel spending a month on the disabled list after winning his first nine decision. The Astros have gotten a terrific season on the mound from Lance McCullers Jr, while Jose Altuve and George Springer have been big sparks at the top of the lineup. With a strong farm team and the need of another arm, expect the Astros to make a big splash deal that could complete the journey to a World Series championship.

The rest of the West is playing for the Wild Card, with the Astros hold a 16 and a half game lead.

The Los Angeles Angels have managed to thread water despite losing Mike Trout to a thumb injury in May. Just two games under .500, the addition of Trout will be the biggest acquisition any team could possibly make at the trade deadline, as it is expected the All-Star will return right after the break. Before his injury Trout was enjoying the finest season of his career. If he can resume that pace the Halos could be a serious playoff contender.

The Texas Rangers have had a number of let downs in the first half, and while they are sub .500 at the break, they could get right in the race with a big surge. The only problem is Texas has not gotten any consistency out of their pitching staff, as both their starters and bullpen have struggled. If they are to make a run, they will need a much better effort in the second half.

The Seattle Mariners are one of the big letdowns in the American League, as they were expected to make a serious push for the playoffs. However, every time they look poised to make a big run they have a bad week. The Mariners have sorely missed Felix Hernandez who has missed much of the second half with a dead arm, while Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz have not been able to match their previous seasons.

The Oakland Athletics meanwhile, are as barren as their empty stadium. Any player they can trade, like pitcher Sonny Gray will likely be traded as they are likely doomed for another last place season, as their Money Ball magic appears to have run out with their lack of resources making it hard to attract any talent to join the team even as a tryout.

National League East

The Washington Nationals are all but assured of winning the East as the Mets collapse has made them the only team in the division with the talent to contend. The Nats lineup is among the best in baseball, with Ryan Zimmerman’s unexpected comeback being one of the biggest stories of the season. Meanwhile, Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper are also having big seasons, leading the way. On the mound, it has been all about Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg as both have had strong first halfs. The only concern is the Nats bullpen, which has been beyond awful. If they are to make a serious run for the World Series, the Nationals will need to find a reliable closer and they will be heavily involved in upgrading their bullpen at the deadline.

The Atlanta Braves have been a nine story as they have been competitive, despite losing Freddie Freeman for much of the first half. Though Sun Trust Park has helped and hurt the Braves as the stadium has become a launching pad for home runs, boosting offensive numbers, while blowing up pitcher’s ERAs. If the Braves can somehow finish .500 it will be a successful season, but it is not worth trading the future just for a slight chance to make the playoffs this season.

The Miami Marlins have a solid lineup, but it is clear the pitching staff has a big hole left by the death of Jose Fernandez. With the team on the verge of being sold a big worry has become who will be traded at the deadline as the Marlins infamous for fire sales have a few players who could be departing shortly after the All-Stars depart Miami on Tuesday.

The New York Mets have been baseball’s most disappointing team as they entered with championship expectations but imploded injuries before the end of April. The Mets need to start looking at getting back into contention in 2018 and that starts with getting rid of the dead weight. The Mets have several players in the final year of their contract, that are likely to not factor in the future. Over the next three weeks the Mets need to trade these players like Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce and Neil Walker and see what pieces they can get in return. Meanwhile, the last two months should be about evaluating Amed Rosario at short and Dominik Smith at first base and see just what is needed for next season, as the Mets rotation should rebound next season, as long as they get a strength program and a trainer. Yeah, I know a pipe dream next year will likely even be worse as the Mets never learn from their mistakes until it reaches the point of being unfixable and by then a new regime will have to pick up the mess.

The Philadelphia Phillies are a bigger mess than the Mets, and the only hope is to see if they can maybe land a few prospects, as they appear to be years away from turning this mess around.

National League Central

The Milwaukee Brewers are the only team in the Central above .500, and if they can equal their efforts in the second half will be in the race until the end of the season. Still if they are to truly make any noise, I think they need another bat and arm. The biggest factor in their success has been the letdown of the Cubs, but the Brewers are the little team that could and it seems they are fueled by everyone’s doubts, finishing the first half strong.

The Chicago Cubs, are baseball’s WTF team as they have taken the World Series hangover to new levels. After winning their first World Series in 108 years the Cubs were expected to easily return to the Fall Classic, but it appears they have spent the entire off-season reading their own press clippings as across the board everyone is having off seasons. Eventually you expect players like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber to turn it around. However, they need to get their pitching staff in order too as Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks have all pitched poorly. The break comes with the Cubs two games under .500 after taking a shelling from the Pittsburgh Pirates. If they don’t take stock and turn it around, it will likely be the start of another drought in Wriggleyville.

The St. Louis Cardinals have some sluggers that can drive the ball out of the park, but they do little else well. Poor base running and poor fielding the Cardinals pitching staff is average at best. Still with the rest of the division struggling they have a fighting chance to make the playoffs. However, as poorly as they play fundamentally it’s hard to imagine them staying in the race.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have struggled all season, with players entering the final year or two of their contracts, it is likely the Pirates will be better off selling at the deadline and focusing on the future.

The Cincinnati Reds, are better than they were in the last two seasons but still a long way from being a serious contender.

National League West

The Los Angeles Dodgers have all the pieces in place, they are building a cushion in the Western Division and are clearly the best team in the National League. The only thing the Dodgers need to do now is prove they can do it in October. Clayton Kershaw has struggled in the postseason most of his career, but with Rich Hill and Alex Wood becoming reliable starters the pressure could alive itself from the Dodgers ace allowing him to be himself. Add a strong lineup that has been bolstered by Super Rookie Cody Bellinger and the Dodgers could be a monster come October.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies are both in position to capture the two Wild Card spots in the National League. Though each has struggled in the weeks leading up to the break suffering sweeps at the hands of the red-hot Dodgers. Still both have to feel good about their chances and each team has topped 50 wins in the first half. The Diamondbacks are getting a MVP season from Paul Goldschmidt, while Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon have paced the offense for Colorado. The Rockies have also gotten an unexpected pitching boos from Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland who each won nine games in the first half.

The San Diego Padres as expected are among the worst teams in the National League with their eyes firmly on the future. Once again, they are expected to be active sellers at the deadline.

The San Francisco Giants, are one of the worst teams in the NL and it is one of baseball’s biggest letdowns. The injury to Madison Bumgarner has played a role, but the problems are much deeper as the Giants in making three championship runs now have a barren farm system, with a lineup that is among baseball’s weakest. The Giants don’t have many chips to trade either as Buster Posey is not on the block and the rest of the team just may not fetch what the Giants need moving forward. The Giants though can look back on this being a successful decade with their titles and know with some hard word, it should not take too long to rise again as they have a solid organization top to bottom.

Frank Fleming is the creator of the