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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Midseason grades: American League


Halfway through the American League season, we've discovered that the Indians are bad (but we already knew that) and that the Mariners can't hit enough to win (but we already suspected that). We've learned that the Yankees are good (already knew that) and that it's tough to pick among the top three teams in the AL Central (already suspected that).

Midseason report

Scott Miller
The best race sure looks to be the NL West, where four of five teams could legitimately be in it. NL grades

No, there haven't been any huge surprises in the first half of the AL season, but there hasn't been that much answered yet, either. We're set up for a good three-team race in the East and a better three-team race in the Central. If the Angels get themselves going, we might even get a good race in the West. As July began, eight of the 14 AL teams were no worse than 3½ games out of first place.

There are multiple MVP candidates (Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, Robinson Cano, Justin Morneau), and multiple Cy Young candidates (Cliff Lee, David Price, Jon Lester, Jered Weaver, among others). On one recent day, five players were within five points atop the AL batting race and four were within one home run of the league lead.

We had the revival of David Ortiz in Boston and the revival of a team in Chicago. We had a perfect game in Oakland and a 28-out perfect game in Detroit.

None of this will make the folks in Baltimore feel any better, because the Orioles could be historically bad. And it won't make the folks in Seattle feel any better, because the team that had baseball's best winter most definitely hasn't had its best summer.

But in most of the AL, the first half had plenty of good to look back on, setting up a second half with plenty of promise.


New York Yankees (56-32 at All-Star break)
Overall grade: A
Offense: A; Pitching: A

The Yankees didn't get Cliff Lee but at this point, you really have to wonder if they need him. After all, this is a team that went 15-7 in April even as third-place hitter Mark Teixeira was hitting .136 with a .559 OPS. The Yankees have had some things go wrong -- Nick Johnson got hurt, Joba Chamberlain was inconsistent and Javier Vazquez got booed -- but it was nothing too difficult to overcome. They had a rotation with three All-Stars. The decision to make Phil Hughes the fifth starter paid off quickly as Hughes began the season 10-1. The decision to make Cano the No. 5 hitter (replacing Hideki Matsui) paid off even more as Cano became an MVP candidate. And closer Mariano Rivera was brilliant, as usual, not allowing a run the entire month of June. Perhaps it'll eventually hurt that the Yankees didn't get Lee, but maybe that's another minor blip that they'll overcome.

Tampa Bay Rays (54-34)
Overall grade: A
Offense: B; Pitching: A

The Rays were great for seven weeks and then below-average for a month. It turns out that they're not going to run away with the East, but it also turns out that they're not going to go away this year the way they did last year. They're set up for a great three-team race with the Yankees and Red Sox. To win it -- or to at least finish second and win the wild card -- they'll need to hit more consistently than they have so far. They'll also need their rotation to remain consistent, because it's more innings from the starters and effective work from closer Rafael Soriano that has kept the Rays bullpen from becoming the season-killer it was in 2009. And they'll need evidence that the dugout confrontation between Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton is a spur to better things and not the sign of a team heading for trouble.

Boston Red Sox (51-37)
Overall grade: A
Offense: A; Pitching: B

Jon Lester has helped the Red Sox overcome injuries and become a Cy Young contender. (Getty Images)  
Jon Lester has helped the Red Sox overcome injuries and become a Cy Young contender. (Getty Images)  
What a strange first half. The team that turned "run prevention" into a slogan spent the first six weeks of the season giving up more runs than any team in the league. Opening day starter Josh Beckett has made only eight starts -- and has just one win. Leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury has spent most of the year on the disabled list and second-place hitter Dustin Pedroia has joined him there. And yet the Red Sox, who were 8½ games out of first place in late May, were within a half-game of first place on the Fourth of July. The return of Ortiz as a true force helped, but so did the emergence of a consistent starting rotation, headed by first-half Cy Young candidate Lester (and also Clay Buchholz, who was nearly as good before he too went on the DL). The Red Sox are still scoring plenty of runs, and while they don't talk "run prevention" as much as they did over the winter, they're not allowing as many runs anymore, either.

Toronto Blue Jays (44-45)
Overall grade: B
Offense: B; Pitching: B

The Blue Jays have been better than expected, but in the East, better than expected gets you a record right around .500 and virtually no chance of having an impact on the division race. The Jays rode a ton of home runs, good pitching and an easy schedule to a high-water mark of nine games over .500 at the end of May, but a 9-17 June left them in no man's land -- far better than the last-place Orioles, but nowhere near as good as the three true contenders. There were many bright spots, including the revival of center fielder Vernon Wells and the home-run burst from Jose Bautista, but overall the Jays were right where they've been for too many seasons: Not good enough to compete in baseball's best division.

Baltimore Orioles (29-59)
Overall grade: F
Offense: F; Pitching: D

There were bad signs in spring training, when Brian Roberts was hurt and new closer Mike Gonzalez wasn't throwing hard. There were worse signs the first week of the season, when blown saves by Gonzalez cost the Orioles two of the first four games, and before they knew it they were 1-11, on the way to 2-16. The newcomers didn't fit, the young position players went backward and by early June manager Dave Trembley lost his job. The Orioles do have some promising young pitching, but Brian Matusz lost nine of his first 11 decisions. It wasn't all his fault. On this team, everyone is losing.


Chicago White Sox (49-38)
Overall grade: B+
Offense: B-; Pitching: B+

For a month, the White Sox rotation has been as advertised and Chicago has been winning. And all that does is bring us to two unanswerable questions: First, how in the world did these same starters pitch to a 5.28 combined ERA through early June? Second, now that Jake Peavy is out for the rest of the year, can the rotation keep it up for the next 2½ months? For now, the White Sox have put themselves right back into the Central race and have put off any talk that they would trade away Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski or any other regulars. Konerko had a comeback first half and Alex Rios justified GM Ken Williams' decision to claim him on waivers from the Blue Jays last August. Bobby Jenks and Matt Thornton headed a very strong bullpen. But the White Sox were supposed to win this year because of their great rotation, and for 31 days beginning June 8, the starters were indeed great, with a 17-5 record and a 2.35 ERA. In that span, the Sox went from 9½ games out of first place to half a game in front. In short, they were as advertised -- for a month, anyway.

Detroit Tigers (48-38)
Overall grade: B+
Offense: B; Pitching: B+

The Tigers had the moment of the season with Armando Galarraga's 28-out perfect game. They have a true MVP candidate -- and Triple Crown contender -- in Cabrera. They have the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, surprising outfielder Brennan Boesch. They also had to dump one starting pitcher and send two others to the minors, at least temporarily. Neither of their starting middle infielders made it to midseason. Joel Zumaya, who was again looking like a dominant eighth-inning setup man, got hurt again and was lost for the season. Enough has gone right that the Tigers find themselves in good position in the Central; enough has either gone wrong or remained uncertain that the Tigers can't be considered the favorite to win it.

Minnesota Twins (46-42)
Overall grade: B+
Offense: B; Pitching: B+

The Twins have a near-$100 million payroll and Target Field is full every night. Other than that, little has changed in Minnesota, where the M&M Boys have the Twins contending for another Central title. Morneau has been better than Joe Mauer so far this year, and he has been so good that he is in the discussion for first-half AL MVP. The decision to sign Orlando Hudson has worked out well, as has the decision to sign Jim Thome. Just as important, the Twins have managed to get by without injured closer Joe Nathan, because Jon Rauch has been near flawless as his replacement. Francisco Liriano's return and a good first half from Carl Pavano have given the Twins a solid five-man rotation, but they could still use a true staff ace.

Kansas City Royals (39-49)
Overall grade: C+
Offense: B; Pitching: C

It's not fair to say Trey Hillman was the biggest problem with the Royals. On the other hand, the Royals were 11-23 when they fired Hillman on May 13 and they've been better .500 in the nearly two months since. While they're still far from being a contender, they no longer look embarrassingly bad. For what it's worth (not much), the Royals led the AL in batting average for much of the first half. For what it's worth (a lot more than that), the bullpen has stabilized after blown saves cost the starting rotation nine wins in the first 41 games of the season (four of them for Zack Greinke). Greinke has pitched much more like an ace than his 5-8 record would indicate, Joakim Soria has been an effective closer and Billy Butler has been a useful hitter in the middle of the order. The Royals believed those elements gave them a chance to be a surprise team this year. That was a little ambitious, but they're not awful. And under new manager Ned Yost, that's exactly what they've been -- not awful.

Cleveland Indians (34-54)
Overall grade: D
Offense: C-; Pitching: D

Is it really possible that just three years ago the Indians were a win away from the World Series? Is it really possible that the Indians once held the major-league record for consecutive sellouts? Now the Indians are one of the very worst teams in baseball. Now Progressive Field is mostly deserted as the Indians have the lowest average attendance in MLB (yes, worse than the Marlins and Pirates). Not to kick Cleveland when it's down, but what the heck happened? If there's any good news here, it's that rookie catcher Carlos Santana looks like a future star and starting pitcher Fausto Carmona has come back strongly enough that he might bring a decent return in a deadline trade. But after consecutive years in which the Tribe traded away Cy Young winners (first CC Sabathia, then Cliff Lee), it's hard to get excited about figuring out what kind of midlevel prospect Carmona could bring back.


Texas Rangers (50-38)
Overall grade: A
Offense: A; Pitching: A

Vladimir Guerrero is vital in Texas, while his absence in Anaheim is still felt. (Getty Images)  
Vladimir Guerrero is vital in Texas, while his absence in Anaheim is still felt. (Getty Images)  
At the news conference to announce he had acquired Cliff Lee, Rangers GM Jon Daniels said the Angels are still the team to beat in the West. That's just about the only mistake Daniels and the Rangers have made this year. Even before acquiring the biggest prize on the July market, the Rangers had established themselves as the clear team to beat. They did it because Hamilton has looked like an MVP, because Vladimir Guerrero proved to be an incredible bargain at $6.5 million, because Neftali Feliz has been a dependable closer and because even before Lee, the starting rotation has been good enough. Signing Colby Lewis out of Japan has proven to be a good move, and moving C.J. Wilson out of the bullpen and into the rotation has worked out, too. The decision to stand behind manager Ron Washington after this spring's cocaine revelation has worked out. And even as the sale of the team hit snag after snag, limiting financial flexibility, Daniels has traded first for Bengie Molina and now Lee.

Los Angeles Angels (47-44)
Overall grade: B
Offense: B-; Pitching: B

You keep thinking the Angels are better than this but maybe they're not. Maybe with John Lackey, Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero gone in the offseason, and with Kendry Morales lost for the season with that walk-off, fall-down celebration injury, they've just lost too many good players to win this division that they've made their own for five of the past six years. The fact is that without Figgins, Guerrero and Morales, the Angels offense goes into droughts that can last a week. The fact is that despite a very strong first half from Jered Weaver, the Angels don't seem to have anyone they can count on to stop a losing streak. The Angels didn't have a terrible first half, but they were a clear second-best behind Texas in the West. And they showed enough signs of weakness to give you the idea that maybe they're not better than this, and maybe this just isn't their year.

Oakland Athletics (43-46)
Overall grade: B-
Offense: C-; Pitching: B+

The Moneyball A's are among the AL leaders in sacrifice bunts. You could say that means they're willing to try anything to score a few runs. You could also say it's another sign this lineup isn't close to being good enough to compete in the AL West. They don't put enough men on base, and they basically never hit home runs. But the A's have hung around close to .500 because their young pitching has been encouragingly good -- even with 22-year-old lefty Brett Anderson on the DL. Right-hander Trevor Cahill, also 22, pitched well enough to make the All-Star team and 26-year-old Dallas Braden pitched a perfect game -- the highlight of the A's first half. If only Ben Sheets had pitched as well as his young rotation mates, GM Billy Beane could trade him away and get some more promising young talent in return. Instead, Sheets has been inconsistent in his return from surgery. The A's haven't been that inconsistent. They've simply been a slightly-below-.500 team.

Seattle Mariners (35-53)
Overall grade: D
Offense: F; Pitching: B

GM Jack Zduriencik continues to win praise for his moves. The Mariners won the winter with their trade for Cliff Lee and free-agent signing of Chone Figgins. They've won in the July trade market by landing power-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak in the Lee trade. The only problem is that for more than three months, the M's have almost never won on the field. They were 11-11 when Lee came off the disabled list in late April, promptly went on an eight-game losing streak and never really recovered. Figgins got off to a horrible start, Ken Griffey Jr. proved to be done and finally acknowledged it with an uncomfortable retirement and the rotation behind Lee and Felix Hernandez wasn't good enough to win games for a team that has big trouble scoring runs. Zduriencik acknowledged the trouble when he reacquired Russell Branyan in a trade with the Indians, and he acknowledged the inevitable by auctioning off Lee, a free-agent-to-be whose career record will include a hard-to-remember three-month stay in the Pacific Northwest.


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