MLB Second Half has begun

With a full slate of games tonight, the second half of the MLB season has truly begun.

The first certainly produced a few surprises.  The slump of David Ortiz, the scuffles of the Tampa Bay Rays, the never ending soap opera that is the NY Mets, the surprising start of the SF Giants, the mess that are the Central divisions in both leagues, A-Roid, and Manny-gate.  You just never know what’s going to happen in Baseball.

I’d like to give my condolences to Manny Acta, the recently let go manager of the Washington Nationals.  I really feel bad for him.  He was handed a bad situation, exacerbated by injuries, and was expected to perfrom a miracle.  So, when Washington performed to expectations, ok, maybe a little below expectations, he got the axe.  Maybe if the brain trust in DC would have given him more pitching, particularly in the bull pen, the Nat’s wouldn’t be so awful.  they’d still be bad, but not awful.  And the nagging injuried to guys like Ryan Zimmerman don’t help either.

Now for some 1st half “awards:”

Al Cy Young- Roy Halladay (TOR).  Josh Beckett (BOS) is a close second, but Roy takes it.  He should win it at the end of the year, as long as he stays in the AL.

NL Cy Young- Tim Lincecum (SF).  Matt Cain (SF) his teammate can give Tim a run for it, but I think that Lincecum is the odds on favorite to win his second consecutive award.

AL MVP- This is a tough one, with so many good candidates.  Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis (BOS) are solid contenders, as is A-Roid (NYY), Nelson Cruz (TEX), and even Torii Hunter (LAA).  For myself, it would come down between Bay and A-Roid.  I’d give the edge to Bay mainly for his complete lack of controversy, and how he carried the Red Sox while Ortiz struggled.

NL MVP- Albert Pujols (STL).  Is there any doubt?  I can’t think of anyone else in the NL who even comes close to meaning what Puljols does to the Cardinals.

AL Manager of the Year- Mike Sciosia (LAA).  Jim Leyland (DET), Ron Gardenhire (MIN), and Terry Francona (BOS) deserve some notice, but none of them have faced the adversities that Scioscia and the Angels have this year.  Don Wakamatsu of Seattle should finish a close second.

NL Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy (SFG).  Joe Torre (LAD) will get some votes, being Joe Torre and managing in LA, but Bochy should win this.

Looking forward, I expect to see a few things happen.  Texas will fade in the AL West.  They just do not have the pitching, in the rotation or the pen, to compete with the Angels and Mariners.  If the Mariners get a big bat to help their offense, they can give the Angels a serious challenge for the division, and the Yankees for the Wild Card.

The AL Central will come down to the Twins and Tigers.  The White Sox are just too inconsistent to pose a real threat.  The Twins have a terrific 1-2 punch with Mauer and Morneau, a top notch closer in Joe Nathan, and enough pitching to compete in the division.  The Tigers have an issue in the bullpen with no clear closer, but their rotation is by far the strongest in the division.  Expect the Indians to sell of a few players before the trade dead line, like Jamey Carroll and Rafael Betancourt.  Don;t believe the rumors surrounding Victor Martinez.

The AL East is going to continue to be a slugfest.  The Red Sox should win the division by 4-5 games.  The Yankees are something of an enigma, and what actions they take may be dictated not by baseball reasoning, but by the sports writers and vocal fans.  Brian Cashman may be forced to amek a deal he doesn’t want to, with Toronto’s Roy Halladay the main target.  The problem with the Yankees is that they are one injury away from being dead in the water.  The loss of an OF, A-Roid, or another SP will kill their season, trade or no trade.  Toronto is in a tough position, especially with Halladay.  He’s owed a lot of money for next year, and Toronto is 2-3 years away from being truly competetive.  They could get a lot for him, if they deal him.  He’s the prize of this years trade sweepstakes.  Tampa Bay could be surprising in the 2nd half, potentially passing the Yankees in the standings.  Despite the loss of Aki Iwamura, they have a solid offense, defense, and pitching staff.  You cna just write Baltimore off now.

Over in the senior circuit, the NL East is one ugly division.  It seems like half the time no one wants to win it.  The NY Mets are wracked with injuries (Reyes, Delgado, Beltran), and guys like David Wright are under performing.  The Phillies are so streaky, just like the Marlins, that one week they’re hot, the next they’re cold.  I’m not sure adding Pedro Martinez will do much for the Phils, given that Pedro likely won’t go more than 5 innings in any given start.

The Central division is far more competetive, probably the most competetive in Baseball.  The Cards, the Cubs, the Brewers, and Astros are all in it.  Only Pittsburgh is out.  The top teams are so evenly matched, which surprising given that an ace like the Astro’s Roy Oswalt is having an off year.  These will be the teams most active in acquiring a player before the dead line.  Look for the Brewers to get a pitcher, the Cubs a hitter, and the Cards for the best player they can get(a pitcher most likely).  I would offer that who ever makes the best deal by the trade dead line will win this division.

The NL West is a run away for the LA Dodgers so far.  San Francisco is off to a somewhat unexpected start, and could nail down the Wild Card for the NL by the end of August.  The Diamondbacks season was lost when Brandon Webb went down to inury.  Sand Diego, who had one of the more coveted SP in Baseball, lost out on a chance to make a big deal when Peavy went down to an ankle injury.

The Red Sox and Julio Lugo are about to part company.  This is far from unexpected.  The only question is if he will be traded or released, as I don’t expect he will accept assigment to the minors.  Likely suitors for Lugo will be Seattle, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, and Chicago Cubs.  If a deal is made, the Sox will have to pick up most, if not all of his salary, and will only get a medium level of value in return.

Expect eric Wedge to be fired in Cleveland.  He may last the season, depending on how the Tribe’s 2nd half goes, but he won’t be back next year.  Joe Girardi may be on the hot seat as well, more so if Cashman makes a deal and the Yankees don’t make the play offs.

Manny who?

Manny, Manny, Manny.  We always knew you were an idiot, but this?

By now, everyone in the Baseball, heck the whole sports world, knows that Manny Ramirez, the highly paid outfielder for the LA Dodgers, has been suspended, without pay, for 50 games for failing a Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) test.  He becomes the biggest name to have been suspended since active testing began.  It’s a first time failure, hence the “mere” 50 game ban.  Bet the McCourt’s and Dodger’s brain trust are loving this.  Especially after all the hoopla in the offseason before he resigned with Los Angeles.

Now, for those of us who have watched Manny since he came up with the Indians way back when, we knew he was mercurial at best, and down right looney at worst.  While he never went to such strangeness in Cleveland as he did in Boston, he still had those “Manny being Manny” moments.  He’s always been one to just be in his own world, be it on or off the field.  He just did his own thing, and never a care for who thought what of him.

Even so, this PED test failure comes as a bit of a shock.  Unlike many others who have been linked to various PEDs, Manny was not one of them.  Even with his strange behaviors, no one ever made any sort of even vaguely sustainable links between Ramirez and PEDs.  Now, one could argue now that PED’s are the cause of much of Manny’s behavior quirks.  But IMO that’s just hind sight.  No, I think this is just as Manny said in his statement, he was an idiot.  He should have done more checking on what he was being given, and if it would fall under the banned substance rules of MLB.  He admits to this in his statement, and accepts “responsibility” for his actions, and will not challenge the suspension.  Oh, and he does have a point, in that he has passed some 15 previous PED tests administered by MLB.  So, in the absence of any further information, I will take Manny at his word (such that it is).  He’s taking his lumps, and that should be that.

I found it unsurprising that the media rather than talking primarily to the Dodgers, instead went to Boston.  After all the drama that surrounded Manny and his exit from the Red Sox, it was obviously where reporters thought they’d get some sort of sallacious details.  Unfortunately for them, the Sox weren’t so obliging.  Yes, Dustin Pedroia talked a bit, as did David Ortiz, and Terry Francona.  Yet in each case, they weren’t all that interested in giving scandalous details to reporters, even if they had any.  The general gist of the comments can be summed up as: “Manny’s in LA, not in Boston.  He’s not here, so why should we talk about him?”

This leads me to the man who “replaced” Manny Ramirez in Left Field for the Sox, one Jason Bay.  While Bay did not put up those lights out kind of numbers Manny could after he came over from Pittsburgh, he did more than enough to cement himself as an important part of the Red Sox team.  But his start this year has been outstanding.  He’s produced in the clutch (take that Mariano Rivera!), has been getting on base consistently (tied for the MLB lead in walks), driving in runs, and swiping the occasional bag with ease.  Further more, he’s as far removed from Manny personality wise as one could possibly get.  Not to mention a better defensive Left Fielder.  Bay is a fairly quiet (but not reclusive) player, who prefers to let his efforts on the field speak for themselves.  He’s much more a team player than Manny, and not one to seek, or even be found on the tabloid pages.  Basically, he’s the ideal Red Sox player.

So, like many in Red Sox nation, I’ll keep saying “Manny who” anytime he gets mentioned.

The Final AS Vote (MLB)

Well, the voting for the final two AS roster spots is open.  You can vote for one player for each league.  And do so here.

IMO, the American League should be a no-brainer.  Evan Longoria (3B-Tampa Bay), is the obvious choice.  A string, and probably odds on, rookie of the year candidate, he’s playing outstanding ball for the surprising Tampa Bay Rays.  Brian Roberts (2B-Baltimore), and Jermaine Dye (OF-Chicago) are worthy of consideration, but Longoria just ousthines both of them.

The NL ballot is trickier.  Only Aaron Rowand is the obvious weak candidate, the others pretty much neck and neck.  I went with David Wright.  There are legitimate arguments to be made for Burrell, Carlos Lee, and Corey Hart.  All are valid candidates.  But given what the Mets have gone through this season, and how Wright has more or less kept his mouth shut and played great ball, I gave him the nod.

Voting time is short, so vote now.

The Varitek All Star Selection

Figures.  I post about Tek’s intanigibles as a player, and lo and behold, he gets nominated to the All Star team this year.

The first comment I saw on this was from Joe Hammurabi of Baseball Digest Daily, who called it “a joke.”  Then while cruising thorugh the WordPress TAG surfer, I noticed a few more comments on this, a few calling it far worse than a joke.

Let’s set a few things straight here.  Varitek was elected to the team by the players, not chosen by Francona.  This in and of itself should be enough for fans.  Of course it’s not.  It’s also no worse, or better than any of the extra Yankee players who made the team when Joe Torre was managing the AL All Stars.  Every All Star manager tends to favor his own team for the bench guys, it’s just a fact of Base Ball.  But this was not one of those instances.  Tek was chosen by his peers to be there.  To my mind, that’s a far better honor than being popular among the fans.

Yes, Tek is having an awful year at the plate.  But the game is about more than just stats, as I pointed out in my last post.  Tek brings so much more to a team than his bat.  You can’t quantify what Tek does in a box score, or stats summary page.  How do you put how he calls a game, or manages a pitcher into a simple number in a column?  You can’t.  How do you reduce Tek’s presence in the clubhouse to a couple of digits?  You can’t.

Now, Tek wouldn’t have been one of my choices for the AS team.  More because the Sox were already well represented, and not having a 3rd catcher would have opened up a roster spot for another position.  Even so, I’m not offended by his presence on the team.  The fans have voted in starters who were far worse.

I guess AJ Pierzynski shouldn’t have been such an asshole to so many other players.  He might have gotten in otherwise.  Miguel Olivo?  His bad fortune that Dioneer Navarro is having a great season for Tampa Bay, who needed more representation on the AS team. 

So if you want to carp and complain about Tek’s being on the All Star team, blame the players.  Blame Pierzynski for being a twit.  Blame Tampa Bay for having the best record in Baseball.