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.

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Fall out from the Fracas at Fenway

Suspensions were announced today for both teams.  Somebody at the MLB offices needs to have their heads collectively checked.  The suspensions, as doled out, are off kilter.

So let’s take each one by one…

CoCo Crips- 7 games: This is more than I would have handed down.  Yes, he chraged the mound, but he did not throw the first punch.  5 games would have been my decision.

Jon Lester – 5 games: Say what?  Supposedly, this was for Lester throwing at people during the game, after the brawl.  Uh-huh.  Well, if he was, why didn’t the umps toss him then?  This one is strange, even for MLB.  As Lester won;t miss any practical time, he’s already serving it out.  A pointless and useless suspension.

Sean casey – 3 games: This one I may have to take a pass on.  As I only saw the NESN boradcast, and nothing from the Ray’s broadcast, a lot went unseen from my perspective.  But I didn’t see Casey do anything untoward, or worthy of suspension.  Of course, a different camera angle could show the second pile better than NESN’s.

James Shields – 6 games: This is under what I would have handed down.  10 games was what I would have done.  Had he not thrown a fast ball at Crisp, 7-8 games would be sufficient.  But, he threw a fast ball, he threw the first punch, and then participated in the scrum on the ground.  6 games is a slap on the wrist.

Johnny Gomes – 5 games: This one is ridiculous.  A mere 5 games?!  Gomes should be sitting in the club house for the next month.  Not only was he pummeling Crisp while he was pinned on the ground, not only did he try to injure Crisp, this is no his first offense.  No, Gomes got away with what he did effectively.  He desreved at least 20 games.  At least.

Carl Crawford – 4 games: I probably would have gone with 3 games for Crawford.  he’s not known for this sort of thing, but he did come in and throw punches after Crisp was on the ground. 

Akinori Iwamura – 3 games: Meh.  His “punches” were more akin to a slap fight between two 8 year old girls.  He kind of just waved his hand in Crisp’s general direction.  Seeing the fight again (on NESN), Iwamura looked a bit lost in the whole affair, not sure what he was supposed to be doing.  I probably would have suspended him only 1 game, as he really didn’t do anything, and of all the players involved, he’s the most likely to learn from this.

Edwin Jackson – 5 games: I was puzzled about this one at first, but thanks to some expert analysis by Jerry Remy, I saw why he was suspended.  Seems as if a Ray’s player in a warm up jacket charged in and threw a few haymakers early on in the scrum.  I’m guessing that MLB identified the player as Jackson.  If so, then 5 games is on target IMO. 

I don’t know what was going thorugh the minds at the MLB offices.  But someone needs to get a bit of perspective here.  Now, the fines have not been announced publically yet, so there may be some mitigating aspect there.  Even so, these suspension in general are off the mark.  And from MLB, which has been “death on fighting” is ridiculous, especially for Gomes.

Fight Night at Fenway

Well, the incident at 2B last night between the Rays and Red Sox has boiled over.  So much in fact, that both benches emptied, even the bull pens.  Real punches were thrown, and there was a good old fashioned scrum at the mound.

Beyond the ejections, suspensions will be coming.  Coco Crisp will get suspended for charging the mound, Shields will not only for throwing at Crisp, but for his right hook, Jonny gomes will get suspended for beating on Crisp while he was on the ground, as will Carl Crawford.  The NESN broadcast didn’t catch everything, so it’s hard to tell beyond those who else will get the ire of the Commissioners Office, especially on the Red Sox (Ellsbury and Casey may get suspended).

While I’m all for standing up for yourself, and defending your teammates, this was stupid on Crisp’s part.  He knew he was going to get hit.  Shield’s did not throw at Crisp’s head, he got hit in the hip.  He should have just gone to 1B, and let his pitcher get back at the Rays for him.  My only question is if Shields said something to Crisp as he started towards first.  If he did, then he was dumb as well for exacerbating the situation. 

The funniest thing was Joe Maddon.  He looked like the principal from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” (the movie) out there trying to “calm” the situation by handing out detention slips. 

Still, this was an all around dumb move.  Maddon, who obviously called the HBP, was dumb for doing it so early on.  Shields was dumb for throwing a fast ball at Crisp (and if he said something afterwards).  Crisp was dumb for falling for the bait and charging the mound. 

At least it was a real fight this time, and not one of those mamby-pamby pushing matches.