It has been quite a surprising first half for Major League Baseball here in 2009. Manny Ramirez got suspended for PEDs and the Dodgers still hold the best record in baseball. David Ortiz couldn't hit his way out of a phone booth for the first two months of the season. The Cubs, who were supposed to win the NL Central again, are merely a .500 team. The Mets are a below .500 team after free-spending this off-season due to injuries from Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, and Carlos Beltran. The Texas Rangers are back in the mix for an AL West title in almost a decade. The San Francisco Giants are leading the NL Wild Card due to the masterful pitching of Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum with a little help on the offensive side by Pablo Sandoval and company. The Rockies went on one of those 2007-like streaks again and went from cellar to as high as second place in the NL West. Lastly, Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols are threatening to break records. All in all, it was a mysterious first half with a lot of surprises and even more disappointments.
So how did all 30 MLB teams stack up in their first 90 games or so? Let's find out.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (56-32) - No Manny for two months? No problem. The Dodgers could have folded after the suspension of Ramirez, but the boys in blue got it together and still compiled a 29-21 record without Manny. Their bullpen is filled with young and nasty arms headlined by names like Troncoso and Belisario. One more great starting pitcher to go along with Billingsley will put this team over the top.
2. Boston Red Sox (54-34) - It has been quite a weird first half for the Red Sox. For the first two months of the season, David Ortiz was absolutely awful. He couldn't buy himself a hit, let alone a home run. Daisuke Matsuzaka was pitching like their vesion of Chen Mien Wang, so they had to put him on the DL. And yet, the Red Sox still own the second best record in baseball. It really is amazing how Francona's group find ways to win. What's even more amazing is that they've owned the Yankees. That rivalry just isn't what it used to be.
3. New York Yankees (51-37) - After spending hundreds of millions of dollars to repair their rotation in the 2009 off-season, the Yankees still don't have the best starting rotation in the American League. A.J. Burnett and C.C. Sabathia are a combined 16-12 and both have ERAs in the high 3s. And let's not even talk about Chen Mien Wang. What has been surprising is that New Yankee Stadium has become the new launching pad in baseball. The Yankees currently lead the Majors in home runs. Worst of all, they still haven't won against the Red Sox yet.
4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (49-37) - It looks like paying Torii Hunter a lot of money last off-season has finally paid off. After a mediocre season with the Angels in 2008, Hunter is having a career year in 2009 with an OPS near 1.000. On the other hand, Vladimir Guerrero is doing the exact opposite. Both are currently on the DL, which has kind of been the story to the Angels' season once again. However, they're coming off a fresh sweep of the Yankees are are looking good going into the ASB. Even so, their team ERA is a very high 4.79, which is 12th in the AL.
5. San Francisco Giants (49-39) - If you wanted to see the best 1-2 punch in Major League Baseball in terms of starting pitching, head to San Francisco and see Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum just dominate opponents night in and night out. Both have ERAs in the 2s and both have lead the Giants to one of the most surprising records during the first half of 2009. Pablo Sandoval is also giving the Giants something they have lacked since the departure of Barry Bonds - power. Sandoval is currently on pace for about 30 home runs and is hitting well above .300. The Giants are just full of surprises this year.
6. Philadelphia Phillies (48-38) - The Phillies head into the break having won 5 straight with the help of Shane Victorino and the return of Raul Ibanez. Cole Hamels has disappointed in the first half, putting up an ERA near 5. However, phenom J.A. Happ is 6-0 with an ERA in the high 2s. Raul Ibanez is having a career year after finally moving to a hitter's park for the first time in his career and Chase Utley was not slown down by his hip injury. The Phillies look like heavy favorites to win the NL East once again.
7. Tampa Bay Rays (48-41) - The defending American League Champions found themselves in a big hole early on in the season. However, as the weather heated up, so did the Rays. They head into the ASB 6.5 games back of the first place Red Sox and 3.5 back of the Wild Card leading Yankees. The Rays have put up the second most runs in the American League thus far as well as the 5th best ERA in the AL. It looks like 2008 was not a fluke, this Rays team is here to stay.
8. Detroit Tigers (48-39) - The team with the highest payroll in the AL Central finished dead last in the division in 2008. In 2009, the identical Tigers team was looking for redemption and so far, they're getting it. The Tigers head into the ASB 3.5 games up on the White Sox and they also hold one of the best starting rotations in the American League. Rookie Rick Porcello has put up quite a showing for the first half and Edwin Jackson has become one of the biggest pitching surprises in baseball. Justin Verlander finally found his velocity again and absolutely dominated for about a one month stretch. Offensively, Brandon Inge is also finding himself having a career season as he was voted onto the All-Star team via the 32nd man fan vote.
9. Texas Rangers (48-39) - We always knew the Rangers could hit, but now they can pitch? Well, they can't pitch all that well, but they're pitching well enough to win. Kevin Millwood leads a Rangers staff that currently hold a 4.34 team ERA, which is good enough for 9th in the American League. But hey, that's much better than being 13th or 14th, which is where they were last season.
10. St. Louis Cardinals (49-42) - Albert Pujols looks about as good as he's ever looked. He's on pace for 60 home runs and he's also getting close to getting Barry Bonds treatment. It just amazes me how consistent this guy has been over this past decade. With a healthy Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals have one of the better 1-2 punches in the National League. They still need a 5th starter as well as a guy who can protect Albert Pujols. Maybe that guy is Ryan Ludwick now that he's finally snapped out of a big cold streak. The addition of Mark DeRosa should pay a lot of dividends in the second half of the season as well.
11. Colorado Rockies (47-41) - The Rockies started the 2009 season with a lot of bad news. They lost their ace Jeff Francis and they were in the cellar of the NL West. However, it looks like the Rockies thought it was 2007 again and compiled an 11 game winning streak to get themselves back into the race. They now stand only 2 games back of the NL Wild Card lead. Brad Hawpe is having an amazing season while Jason Marquis is pitching extremely well at Coors Field. Do we really expect Marquis to win 20 games? I don't.
12. Seattle Mariners (46-42) - The M's were one of the worst teams in the American League last season. However, this season is different. The Mariners currently hold the best staff ERA in the American League. Both Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard have ERAs in the mid 2s while Jarrod Washburn's ERA is a just a bit over 3. With a staff like that, the Mariners could get somewhere. However, their offense is the big problem. Russell Branyan is having a career year. However, they need another big bat in the middle of the order to drive in runs. If they don't have that, there is very little hope for them to win the AL West.
13. Chicago White Sox (45-43) - The 2009 White Sox are really weird. They're only 3.5 games back of first in the AL Central, yet they called up their two best prospects in June. The White Sox own one of the best ERAs in the AL, but have had trouble scoring offensively. Mark Buehrle is having a 2005-esque season with a 9-3 record at the ASB while Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko are both on pace for .300 30+ HR and 100+ RBI seasons. The loss of Carlos Quentin hurt this team early on, as they were as low as 7 games below .500. The White Sox are one of the hottest teams in the month of July, as they have won 17 of their last 26. With the return of Quentin right after the ASB, the White Sox offense could experience a boost. However, things will have to go their way as their schedule is tough in the second half.
14. Minnesota Twins (45-44) - The Twins had one of the best starting rotations coming into 2009 on paper. The prospect of having Francisco Liriano healthy as well as 4 solid starters in Blackburn, Baker, Perkins, and Slowey should have excited every single Twins fan in the universe. However, Liriano, Baker, Slowey, and Perkins all hold ERAs above 4, with Liriano's and Baker's above 5. The only consistent starter for the Twins thus far has been Nick Blackburn, who is 8-4 with a ERA in the low 3s. What has kept the Twins in the race is their offense. Joe Mauer is hitting .380 with 15 home runs while Justin Morneau leads all AL 1B with an OPS+ of 158.
15. Milwaukee Brewers (45-43) - Talk about a troubled team. The Brewers have problems everywhere, yet they are only 2.5 games back of first place in the NL Central. J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, and Bill Hall have all disappointed offensively thus far. However, their production has been made up by the likes of Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Casey McGehee. The Brewers rotation is even worse. Yovani Gallardo is their only go-to guy. Jeff Suppan, Braden Looper, and whoever they're going to throw out there just isn't going to cut it. If anything, the Brewers' bullpen has kept them afloat as Trevor Hoffman has been one of the best signings this off-season.
16. Florida Marlins (46-44) - The Marlins started off the 2009 season with a bang. However, that bang was an abrupt one as they fell quickly in May. However, a hot streak in July has put them back into the NL East race as they are 4 games back of the Phillies going into the ASB. Their pitching staff is headed by Josh Johnson, who has been absolutely dominant this season. The return of a good Ricky Nolasco should spell something good for the Marlins in the second half as well. Hanley Ramirez currently leads the NL in batting average as he is proving that he is one of the best all-around offensive players in baseball. The only problem with this Marlins team is lack of a closer due to the injury to Matt Lindstrom. They might be looking to acquire a Matt Capps by the deadline.
17. Chicago Cubs (43-43) - Talk about a disappointment. This is it right here. The Cubs got some of the worst production in baseball out of their two corner outfielders in the first half. Milton Bradley and Alfonso Soriano are both struggling to break .250. Bradley just eclipsed the 20 RBI mark two days ago and he has been batting in the 3rd or 4th spot most of the first half. Alfonso Soriano's OBP is below .300 and he was hitting leadoff for most of the first half. No wonder the Cubs offense was horrible. The return of Aramis Ramirez should help the offense a lot, but there are no guarantees. The Cubs' pitching has put them only 3.5 games back of first place in the NL Central with the emergence of rookie Randy Wells and both Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly having solid seasons. Rich Harden and Carlos Marmol are big concerns on the pitching staff in the second half, as they were both atrocious in the Cubs' first 86 games.
18. Toronto Blue Jays (44-46) - The Blue Jays held a glorious record for the first two months of the season as they led the big bad AL East for almost a month. That is until they went on an 8 game losing streak. Now it seems like J.P. Ricciardi is in sell-mode and anxious to get rid of Halladay, Rios, Wells, and Rolen. Even though the Jays are only 2 games under .500, they've gotten a lot of surprises this season. The first surprise was the emergence of Adam Lind and Aaron Hill. Both have put up all-star numbers. The second surprise was the emergence of Ricky Romero, who some have compared to Johan Santana. The Jays have a bright future ahead. They can even get a brighter one of they get the king's ransom for Halladay.
19. Atlanta Braves (43-45) - I have a feeling that the Braves should be a hell of a lot better than 43-45. Their rotation is strong with both Javier Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens owning ERAs under 3. However, those two guys are a combined 13-14. So that means one thing, the Braves hate giving run-support. The Braves have tried to improve offensively thus far. They acquired both Nate McLouth and Ryan Church to better their offense and yet, they're still not scoring. In fact, Atlanta has scored the 22nd most runs in baseball thus far.
20. Houston Astros (44-44) - Someway, somehow, the Astros find themselves 3.5 games back of the Cardinals for first in the NL Central. When you look at this team, you just don't think of it as anything good. I mean, yes, they have a good offense with guys like Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence, Miguel Tejada, and Lance Berkman, but just look at that pitching staff. Wandy Rodriguez and Roy Oswalt are both good pitchers, but Brian Moehler? Are you serious? When you have Brian Moehler as your 3rd starter, you shouldn't go anywhere. Plus, their bullpen is nothing overpowering. Valverde and Hawkins are known to be a little shaky.
21. New York Mets (42-45) - I don't know if you can blame Omar Minaya for the Mets' problems. When Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, and Jose Reyes go down, you're probably not going to win. Worse yet, David Wright has 5 home runs on the season. Memo to the people who built Citi Field: move the fences in. Well, maybe they shouldn't since Oliver Perez and the rest of the pitching staff besides Johan Santana has been pretty bad. K-Rod has done his job and the bullpen isn't as bad as it was last season. However, the results just aren't there.
22. Cincinnati Reds (42-45) - The Reds started off the season pretty well. Then they lost Joey Votto and Edinson Volquez and well, it hasn't gone too well since. They do have Joey Votto back now, but Volquez is going to be on the DL until August. By then, it might be too late. Johnny Cueto has absolutely broken down in his past couple of starts and Aaron Harang has been mediocre thus far. The offense is struggling due to the loss of Edwin Encarnacion and the regression of Jay Bruce. Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto are having very good seasons while rookie catcher Ryan Hanigan is quietly having a good season as well.
23. Baltimore Orioles (40-48) - The emergence of Adam Jones, Matt Weiters, and Nolan Reimold is definitely something to be happy about. However, the team itself is not all that exciting. Once again, pitching has not been the Orioles' friend. They're currently 13th in the AL in team ERA.
24. Arizona Diamondbacks (38-51) - The loss of Brandon Webb meant a lot more to this team than expected. Dan Haren has been the best pitcher in baseball for the first half of the season. He currently holds a 2.01 ERA. However, he only has 9 wins. Talk about lack of run support. The Diamondbacks are in the middle of the pack in terms of runs scored, but their team batting average is second to last in the NL. Mark Reynolds is having a pretty good season, but guys like Chris Young and Stephen Drew have not been spectacular. Arizona's pitching has been mediocre as a whole, you just have to wonder what it would be like if they had a healthy Webb.
25. Oakland Atheltics (37-49) - Before the season started, the A's were considered by most as a contender in a weak AL West. With the additions of Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, and Orlando Cabrera, the A's seemed like a good pick to finish second. However, both Holliday and Cabrera have been disappointing. Holliday has been a very average hitter in the middle of the order and Cabrera has been a lousy top of the order hitter. Jason Giambi has hit some home runs, but his hitting as a whole hasn't been extremely helpful. Oakland's young pitching has been pretty good with the emeregence of Andrew Bailey, Dallas Braden, and Trevor Cahill. However, it just appears that the offense isn't good enough. Expect Matt Holliday to be traded.
26. Kansas City Royals (37-51) - The Royals started the season in grand style, leading the AL Central with a record of 17-10 at one point in the season. However, they've fallen flat on their face ever since. Injuries may have something to do with it, as Alex Gordon and Mike Aviles have landed on the DL. Joakim Soria was also lost to the DL for a short stint. Zack Greinke was possibly the best pitcher in the AL for the first two months of the season, but has since fallen back a little bit. The Royals are a below average team in terms of pitching and offense, as shown by their 4.40 team ERA and their 346 runs scored, good for dead last in the AL.
27. Pittsburgh Pirates (38-50) - Another year, another bad year to be a Pirates fan. Not only are they bad again this year, but it appears the team is going to sell off its good players. It has already traded Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan, two of their better players. Now, it appears that all-star Freddy Sanchez might be on the move. Zach Duke has been quite the pitcher this year, holding a ERA in the low 3s. Nevertheless, the lack of run-support has given him an 8-8 record.
28. Cleveland Indians (35-54) - And to think I picked this team to win 93 games. Looking back at it, I wish I was never born. The team is one of the better ones in the AL in terms of offense, having scored the 5th most runs in the AL. Nevertheless, the pitching has been absolutely awful as they have compiled the AL's worst ERA at a hefty 5.40. Even Cliff Lee is 4-9. The bullpen as a whole has just been horrendous. Kerry Wood has also been shaky in the bullpen as he only has 12 saves on the season.
29. San Diego Padres (36-52) - The Padres had a hell of a first week this year. Then, they sucked, went on a nice winning streak, and has sucked ever since. The team is currently without Jake Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez has cooled off since his homer binge. San Diego currently holds the second worst team ERA in the NL as well as the least runs scored in the NL.
30. Washington Nationals (26-61) - The Nationals are on pace for less than 50 wins. What's funny is that they made a trade to improve themselves with the Pirates by acquiring Nyjer Morgan. What's even funnier is that they're almost worse this year with Adam Dunn than they were last year without him. The offense has been decent this year, but the pitching is just really bad. Lannan and Zimmerman have been decent, but their team ERA is a horrid 5.21. This is easily the worst team in baseball.
The first half has been a pattern of ups and downs for me as a White Sox fan and I don't know if I'm looking forward to this team playing a tough schedule in the second half. How was your team's first half and how do you think your team will finish? Discuss.
Meanwhile, have a fun all-star break.
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