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Top 10 MLB Storylines of the First Half

by Photo of Andrew Lontos

Charged recaps an exciting MLB season heading into the All Star break.

Top 10 MLB Storylines of the First Half

New York Shortstops

Jose Reyes and Derek Jeter have New York buzzing for very different reasons. Reyes is having a career year for the Mets and is probably the National League MVP for the first half. He’s first in the National League in batting average, runs, hits, and triples. He’s second in steals, and just two behind the leader in total bases and extra base hits. Reyes’ on base percentage (.398), historically a weakness for him, is sixth in the league. His .927 on base plus slugging is also sixth in the league, a rarity for a speedy leadoff hitter. A free agent at the end of the year, will he get Carl Crawford money? And will the Mets, with their financial issues, be able to keep their home-grown star? Jeter is struggling on the downside of his stellar Yankee career, while pursuing his 3,000th hit. After signing a well-publicized 3 year, $51 million contract in the offseason, the Yankee Captain is simply not producing at the top of the order. Just as Jeter was turning it around and closing in on the extraordinary milestone, a calf injury put him on the disabled list. Now back on the field, it'll be thrilling to see how the shortstop performs for the team and for his personal achievements as well. 

Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians 

Two central division teams that have not had success in recent years are turning heads at the midpoint of the season. The Pirates have not made the playoffs since 1992, which was Barry Bonds' last season in Pittsburgh. Coming up on the 20 year anniversary, the Pirates are playing very well. Despite being in 3rd place, they are a mere 1.5 games behind the 1st place St. Louis Cardinals. While making the playoffs would be a wonderful accomplishment for this losing franchise, a .500 record should also be considered a success. The Pirates have not had a .500 record since that 1992 playoff season. The Cleveland Indians have had more success in recent years (who hasn't) than the Pirates, but still not much. Cleveland has made the playoffs twice in the last 11 years (2001 and 2007). The Indians have a 45-38 record, good for 1st place in the American League Central. They'll send closer Chris Perez and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to the All Star Game.

Tight Division Races 

The National League East is the only division in baseball where the 1st place team has a lead larger than 2 games. The Phillies have a 4 game lead on the Braves, but Atlanta leads the Wild Card race. In the National League Central, 4 teams are within 3 games of each other. The Cardinals are in 1st, with Milwaukee 1 game behind, Pittsburgh 1.5 out, and Cincinnati just 3 games behind. Out in the West, the San Fransisco Giants have a 2 game lead on the Arizona Diamondbacks. The 3rd place Rockies are 6.5 out, but Colorado is usually good for a big second half run. In the American League, the Yankees have a 1.5 game lead on the rival Red Sox, with Tampa Bay hanging around 4 games behind. The Indians have a 1.5 game lead on the Detroit Tigers, while Ozzie Guillen's White Sox are .500 and sit 3.5 games behind. Finally, in the American League West, The Angels and Rangers are tied at the top of the division. Seattle, another surprise team, is only 2.5 games out in 3rd place.

Red Sox Debuts

The Red Sox added Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to their already talented team in the offseason. Gonzalez has exceeded lofty expectations, while Crawford has disappointed in the first 3 months of his 7 year, $142 million contract. Gonzalez has posted a stellar .990 OPS, while leading the league in batting average (.348), hits (120), doubles (28), and RBI (75). Crawford couldn't have had a worse start to his Boston career. He hit .155 in April, and was even dropped to 8th in the batting order. Crawford picked it up in May and the first half of June, before going on the disabled list with a hamstring strain. Despite the mixed performances, the Red Sox are just 1.5 games behind the Yankees and should be fine moving forward.

Mets and Dodgers Ownership Situations

Two of the biggest market teams in baseball are going through tough times financially. While Bud Selig insists the two situations are very different, they are both severe. The Mets' situation is a result of owner Fred Wilpon investing with Bernie Madoff. Trustee Irving Picard is suing the Mets for $1 billion, which certainly puts a stranglehold on what moves the Mets can make in the immediate future. It's unclear how much the Mets will have to pay back at this point. While the Wilpons still have a chance to own the Mets in the future, Frank McCourt's tenure appears to be over as owner of the Dodgers. McCourt owes 13 current or former players at least $1 million, with Manny Ramirez at the top of the list. Struggling to make payroll, McCourt attempted to complete a television deal that was rejected by Major League Baseball. Via the Huffington Post:

By refusing to allow Frank McCourt to mortgage the future of the team on a television deal that would divert untold millions to him and his ex-wife, Selig effectively declared the McCourt era over in Los Angeles. And over it is, regardless of the bankruptcy filings or any other manipulations by a desperate McCourt to keep the team.

Matt Kemp

Kemp may be the only positive surrounding the Los Angeles Dodgers at this point. The All Star starter is the most likely player not named Jose Reyes to win the National League MVP. After a down year in 2010 (blame Rihanna?), Kemp is tearing it up. The center fielder leads the league in home runs (22), slugging percentage (.611) and on base plus slugging (1.021). When you add in his 22 steals, Kemp's combination of power, speed, and defense is just fantastic. Will he be the cornerstone of the Dodgers moving forward, or will he (like Reyes) be moved because of front office problems?

Starting Pitchers Go Deep

With every no hitter, complete game, and shutout thrown, the Steroid Era seems to be behind us more and more. In the earlier part of the decade, starters would routinely go 5 or 6 innings before handing the ball to the bullpen. This trend is changing. At the halfway point of the season, Roy Halladay (6), James Shields (6), Cliff Lee (4), and Justin Verlander (4) have combined for 20 complete games. To put it in perspective, among active pitchers, C.C. Sabathis threw the most complete games in one season, with 10 in 2008. Only 3 pitchers (Halladay on numerous occasions) have thrown 9 in one season. Both James Shields and Cliff Lee each threw 3 consecutive complete games this year, an unheard of statistic.

Cardinals’ Stars 

Before the season started, Adam Wainwright was ruled out for the year and had Tommy John Surgery. Entering the final year of his contract, Albert Pujols wanted a new contract. After failing to come close to terms, Pujols decided to stop negotiations until after the season ended. Uncharacteristically, the first baseman actually struggled to begin 2011, hitting just .245 in April. By late June, Prince Albert had turned it around, totaling 17 home runs before a freak wrist injury put him on the disabled list. Pujols comes off the disabled list today, and will surely have a big second half of his contract year. Lance Berkman has come back from the dead and is putting together an outstanding season. Last year, at age 34, Berkman appeared to be at the very end of his career. He finished the year with a .248 average and just 14 home runs playing for the Astros and Yankees. This year has been a completely different story. Berkman is tied with Matt Kemp for the league lead with 22 home runs, and has a great 1.014 OPS. These gaudy numbers were enough to get Lance voted into the 2011 All Star Game.

Jose Bautista

Bautista came out of nowhere in 2010 and led all of baseball with 54 home runs. Some skeptics were suspicious of cheating, while others simply called it a fluke season. Toronto's slugger is putting together an equally impressive year thus far, so a fluke is out of the question. And with Major League Baseball's current drug testing system, it's simply unfair to discredit what Bautista has done without any proof. Therefore, we are left to marvel at his outrageous numbers. Bautista's on base percentage (.467), slugging percentage (.679), and on base plus slugging (1.146) all lead the American League. Oh yea, his 27 home runs and 70 walks are also best in the league. In short, he's been the best player in baseball during the last year and a half.

Rookie Pitchers

Pitching has dominated in 2011, and first-year pitchers have contributed to the success. Via Fox Sports:

Baseball has been blessed with a plethora of young pitching in the first half of the season. Whereas June usually serves as the platform to promote adolescent arms, eight rookies have already accumulated 10 or more starts for their respective teams. Additionally impressive has been the young guns’ efficiency, as 11 pitchers with five starts or more have a sub-4.00 ERA heading into July. Led by aspiring aces like Michael Pineda, Jeremy Hellickson and Zach Britton, the 2011 rookie class has largely avoided growing pains, making an unprecedented impact in fantasy leagues.

Relief pitchers Jordan Walden and Craig Kimbrel have locked down the Angels and Braves closer roles respectively, adding to the immense success the freshman class has had so far.

Let Charged.fm get you the best seats to follow these story lines throughout the 2011 season.

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