Tuesday, July 10, 2012

At the Turn

Major League teams are at the turn, having played on average 85 of their 162 games, and it's time to look at the surprises among the team and the players. Let's start with the teams.

The Pittsburgh Pirates were not exactly expected to burn up the NL Central this season, but they're in first place. Five players have done most of the heavy lifting for Steeltown. A major surprise has been Andrew McCuthchen (left), who leads the free world in hitting at .362. He hit .286 and .259 his first two years. Pedro Alvarez had just four home runs in 233 at bats last year, but has sixteen in just 20 more at bats this season. They are both playing tonight in Kansas City. As a team the Pirates rank 22nd in batting average, 21st in runs scored, 22nd in OPS, and 29th in OBP. 

Their pitching has been better. They rank fifth in ERA, third in saves, sixth in opponents' batting average, and eighth in WHIP.  James McDonald has been their best starter at 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA, just 76 hits in 110 innings, an 0.97 WHIP, and an enemy average of .196. Their other ace is none other than A. J. Burnett (huh?) at a tidy 10-2, though his ERA is 3.68. Their other starters ain't doin' too well. Erik Bedard is 4-10 and Kevin Correia is 5-6, 4.34 with fourteen balls leaving the playing area.

The Baltimore Orioles are still holding up, though they have cooled off a bit and have now allowed 26 more runs than they have scored. The Dodgers have also tapered off considerably (17-27)  from their 30-12 start but are still in first in the NL West and should have Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier back before long. 

The Detroit Tigers continue to disappoint in light of the high expectations that John and their other fans had for them. The Phillies are continuing their long slide - 2008: World Series title, 2009 NL Champs, 2010 NLCS losers, 2011 first-round losers, and this year - out of the playoffs.

The White Sox sit atop the AL Central thanks to Chris Sale's emergence as the number one starter, excellent comebacks by Jake Peavy, Adam Dunn, and Alex Rios, the rapid development of Addison Reed (left) in the closer role, and all-star seasons from A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko.

 If the season ended today the Orioles would be facing the LA Angels in the single game Wild Card playoff. The winner would host the Yankees in the division series opener and the Chicago White Sox would host the Texas Rangers, whose .280 team batting average leads the Majors, in the other best 3-of-5 series. 

In the NL Cincinnati would host Atlanta for the Wild Card, with the winner then hosting the Nationals, whose team ERA is a sparkling 3.20. Their sole playoff appearance was in 1981 - as the Montreal Expos. The Pirates, absent from the playoffs for twenty years, would host the Dodgers in the other series. 

As for players, one of the biggest shocks has to be A. J. Burnett's 10-2 record. On the other end of the spectrum, it took Cliff Lee fourteen starts to get his first win. Who would have predicted that? 

Another surprise has to be the number of no hitters this season. Or is it? There have now been fourteen no hitters in the last 2 1/2 years! Phil Humber of the White Sox, who underwent Tommy John surgery before even reaching the big leagues, threw the first no-hitter, which was also a perfect game. The Sox are Humber's fifth team. He is 14-14 lifetime with a 4.57 ERA. Pretty tough to have predicted a perfect game from him.

The next no-hitter was hurled by Jared Weaver - not as much of a surprise there. Then Johan Santana threw the first no hiiter in the Mets' 51 year history. A bit surprising that Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, and Dwight Gooden never threw one for the Mets. Six Mariners combined for the fourth no hitter and San Fran's Matt Cain pitched the latest.

Leading the record number (five) of rookie all-stars is Mike Trout, who leads the AL with a .341 average and has 12 homers, 40 RBIs, and 26 steals in spite of spending April in the Minors. "A game changer offensively and defensively", says Yankee skipper Joe Girardi. "The kid has a lot of talent, a ton. Usually when you see a guy that fast, you don't anticipate him hitting the ball that hard. What he's doing at 20 is really pretty amazing." (Okay Joe - but he's no Ron Blomberg.)

Even younger (19) is the highly touted and anticipated (much drooling) Bryce Harper, the youngest position player in All-Star history and the third youngest ever. Name the two pitchers who were younger. Answer at the bottom - don't cheat and look down - we can tell if you do. Harper has eight homers, though he's hitting an underwhelming .282.

No surprise – Jose Bautista and Josh Hamilton are tied for the AL lead in dingers (27) though Joey Bats started very slowly and Hamilton has had back spasms. Carlos Beltran leads the NL in RBIs. He's well on his way to his eighth season ever 100.

Answers: Youngest All-Stars - Dwight Gooden in 1984 which I remember and Bob Feller in 1938, which John remembers

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