In case the thousand mentions of the Robinson Cano/Kansas City feud weren’t obvious enough, the slowest days of the sports year are upon us. There’s plenty to ponder, though, as the second half of the season gets underway Thursday. First, the obvious question:
Which National League Team Will Win the World Series? 15 of the last 20 World Series champions held home field advantage and if the series goes to six or seven games, the odds push even further in the National League’s direction. The last team to win a World Series Game 7 on the road was the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979. Only three teams -Dodgers in 1981, Blue Jays in 1992, Marlins in 2003- have won a clinching Game 6 on the road since. Picking a team to win the National League is tougher, as nine teams have legitimate chances to win the league: The Dodgers, Mets, Reds, Cardinals, Braves, Giants, Marlins, Pirates, and Nationals, in that order.
Will the Nationals Really Sit Stephen Strasburg Around Labor Day? The Nationals have stressed numerous times that they plan on shutting down Tommy John recipient-turned All-Star pitcher and city hero Stephen Strasburg when he reaches 160-170 innings. That will be around the first week of September, giving Washington plenty of time to tank before the postseason. Strasburg was recently on SiriusXM’s MLB Network and said this to host Jim Bowden when asked if he’d start Game 1 of the World Series: “Well, they’re gonna have to rip the ball out of my hands, that’s all I can say.” I still believe the Nationals play it safe and go without Strasburg in September, but there’s nothing wrong with cutting innings in July, August and September to save a few in October. Protecting a long-term investment is smart. But who knows if the Nationals will be World Series contenders in 2013 or 2014. A healthy Strasburg pitching for a 3rd place team in 2014 does nobody any good.
Buyers or Sellers? Obviously the teams on top of their divisions with needs will buy and teams in the cellar will sell, but the teams caught in the middle are always interesting to watch. Concede defeat and build for the future or risk it and try to win this year, it’s a tough call.
Brewers: Just barely, though. Milwaukee has made second half comebacks before and there isn’t a dominant team in the central this year as the Brewers sit eight games behind the Pirates. Starting pitcher Zack Greinke will be a free agent after the season and is a big chip the Brewers hold should they decide to shop him around. They should. Plenty of contenders would supply Milwaukee with ample prospects in exchange for Greinke’s arm down the stretch. The same can be said for reliever Francisco Rodriguez.
Phillies: Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. brought it up way back in May. With all of his team’s expectations and monster payroll, they could potentially be sellers at the trade deadline (July 31).
“If we continue to play like this and keep dropping out of the race, it’s going to be tough to be buyers,” he said to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly (via Ken Rosenthal). “The one way we can be buyers is by keeping our heads above water — if we’re five games out, seven games out, within striking distance, then yeah.”
Well, the Phils are 14 games out and squinting to see the rest of the NL East. Starting pitcher Cole Hamels and outfielder Shane Victorino will be free agents at season’s end and could attract plenty of prospects for an organization that has emptied its minor league tank in trades the last few years.
Royals: The “Our Time” marketing debacle has finally simmered as the Royals have underperformed once again in the first half of the season. Wil Meyers will be in Kansas City sooner rather than later thus making outfielder Jeff Francoeur a piece the organization can and should move. The only problem will be finding a team to pick up Franoeur’s $7.5 million salary for next year.
Tigers: Two games over .500 for a team with Detroit’s talent is nothing but a disappointment but the lackluster AL Central has kept them just 3.5 games behind the White Sox and Indians for first place. The rotation behind Justin Verlander has been mediocre (17th in MLB with a 3.97 earned run average) and making a deal for a starter could be all they need for another division title.
Cardinals: St. Louis has the National League’s highest run differential but doesn’t have much to show for it, sitting in third place in the central division. The bullpen needs plenty of help and General Manager John Mozeliak proved last season that he’s capable of making season-changing deals at the deadline. Adding a reliever or a starter and pushing a current starter to the bullpen could work wonders in the second half.
Top 10 on July 11:
7) White Sox