MLB Winners And Losers: All-Star Break Edition

By L.A. Batchelor
Updated: July 13, 2006

NORTH CAROLINA — Major League Baseball’s All-Star Break is over and the words surprise, adversity, and controversy have once again defined another baseball season.

With all the epilogue of steroids, record breakers and other topics, there are also lots of myths that have developed and should be quite exciting to watch closely to see how they conclude.

From surprising play from teams and players to the agony of others that force some fans to pre-maturely look forward to next season because of the team they cheer for lack of performance.

You have great story lines like rookies excelling and making a difference with their team, surprising individual performances and of course teams you would think would be suffering another losing season are at or near the top of their division.

Surprise teams:

Detroit Tigers: I don’t think anyone expected the Detroit Tigers to be a impressive 30 games over .500 (59-29) or even have a winning record at the All-Star break especially after an embarrasing April loss and the ensuing berating by manager Jim Leyland. Ironically, it was that same tirade that seem to motivate the Tigers to run off an incredible amount of wins which led to them climbing over defending world champion White Sox into first place in the Central Division and the best record in baseball.

The Tigers are led by their pitching staff, timely hitting and strong leadership from their manager and their catcher. The Tigers are number 1 in Team ERA at 3.46 That’s the best in MLB. The next best is San Diego at 3.86 overall and Oakland which is second in the AL at 4.20 which is almost a run less per game. The Tigers also have several players having great seasons individually. All-Star starter Kenny Rogers is tied for 2nd in the AL in wins (11), rookie Justin Verlander is 5th in the AL in ERA (3.01) and Todd Jones is 3rd in the AL in saves (23).

No one thought the enfeebled veteran manager Jim Leyland can take a franchise that’s been mired in losing seasons over the last decade and turn them into an instant winner but so far so good. Leyland shows that he can still manage strategically and is able to relate to veteran players while still teaching the young players on the team. Then their is Ivan “Pudge”Rodriguez. After a brief sentence in exile aka Texas, the veteran catcher has brought leadership in the lockeroom and on the field.

He still has the great ability to call a great game, handle a pitiching staff and of course, throw out would be runners trying to steal a base. Rodriguez is having a good year at the plate as well. He is hitting .309 with 7 home runs and 39 RBI. He also has a slugging percentage of .450. More of the same in the 2nd half of the season should produce a playoff appearance and maybe even a division title if they can hold off the world champs.

Honorable mention:

Cincinnati Reds: Like the Tigers, the 2006 version of the “Big Red Machine” are firmly in contention for the NL Central Division Title and a wild card berth. Although the Reds are only 1 game over .500 (45-44) and are only 2-8 in their last 10 games, they are only 3 1/2 games behind the Division leading St. Louis Cardinals and only 1 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for the wild card spot.

The key to the team’s success this year can be traced to their dominanting offensive fire power. Adam Dunn is 2nd to only Albert Pujois with 28 home runs and has 60 RBI’s. The Reds are 1st in the NL in home runs (129), 3rd in the league in batting average (.263) and runs scored (445) and are in a 1st place tie with the mets in slugging percentage(.453). It’s also been great to see Ken Griffey Jr make a strong come-back this year with the team.

Something that can only be traced back to hard work, dedication and more importantly, staying relatively healthy. In 59 games, Griffey is batting .256 with 18 home runs and 50 RBI’s. He has a .529 slugging percentage. Some think he is the leading candidate for comeback player of the year but only time and his health will tell that story.

If the Reds can make a trade for a frontline starter and some relief help along with the talented “boppers” they have and the acquisition of reliever “Easy Eddie” Guardado, the Reds will have a genuine opportunity to make it to postseason.

Disappointing teams

Houston Astros: With all the liveliness and chatter surrounding the return and re-signing of Roger Clemens along with proven pitchers like Roy Oswalt and Andy Petite, the Astros would be in 1st place or at least over .500 and battling the Cardinals for the NL Central Division crown.

Instead they are 3 games under .500(43-46) and in 4th place although they are only 6 games out of 1st place and only 3 1/2 games behind in the Wild Card race even though they will have to leap over 5 teams to get it. The Astros are 13th (out of 16th teams in the NL) in runs scored (408) and are hitting only .255 as a team which is dead last in the NL. In fact their pitching has let them down almost as bad as their hitting with those 3 “studs” pitching for them.

The teams ERA is 4.51 which is 8th in the league with surprising teams like Colorado, San Diego and San Francisco. It’s discernible the Astros need another bat in the lineup to the inconsistent bats become consisten and they surely need another front line starter and possibly a reliever. Without it, and the Astros will have wasted lots of money, time and opportunity to make it to the post season.

Honarable mention:

Cleveland Indians: When the Cleveland Indians finished the last part of the 2005 season, it gave their fans and the organization visions of a possible division title in 2006. But defense and pitching has changed that dream into a nightmare. The Indians have a lot of thunder in their line-up and rank at the top of the AL in most batting categories including Homeruns, runs batted in, runs scored and slugging percentage.

Travis Hafner is 7th in the AL in batting average (.322), tied for 4th in the AL in home runs (25), 3rd in runs batted in (74), 3rd in runs scored (68) and 2nd in slugging percentage (650). Grady Sizemore is 1st in the AL in runs scored (71), 7th in hits (106), 6th in doubles (25), tied for 3rd in triples (6) and even 10th in stolen bases (13).

Other players like Victor Martinez, Ben Broussard, and Blake all have double digit home run numbers which makes it very difficult to pitch around anyone in the Indians line-up. Their pitching and defense on the other hand, has been a total collapse. The pitching staff is 11th in the AL in team ERA (4.74) and only 4 teams have a higher opponent batting average. CC Sabathia is the best of the worst on the pitching staff. He is 13th in the league with 7 wins and a 3.51 ERA which is pretty good but not enough to hide the horrific numbers their pitching staff has at a team.

Outside of Ben Broussard (.991 fielding percentage), no other fielder is near the top 10 in fielding and as a team, the Indians are near the bottom half of the league defensively. The Indians are a prime example of offense doesnt win games, defense and pitching dominates the win column and the lack of the latter has this writer mentioning them as a disappointment this year and has their team home in October watching the playoffs instead of playing in them.

Philadelphia Phillies: This team and it’s disappointment is simple. No hitting!! Outside of Ryan Howard (.278, 28 homeruns and 71 runs batted in) and Chase Utley(.312 with 16 homeruns and 53 runs batted in), has anyone else hit on this team? Bobby Abreu, Jimmy Rollins, Mike Liberthal, David Bell, Pat Burrell and new comer Aaron Rowand have been mired in a season long hitting slump which has them 12 games behind the hot 1st place New York Mets. The Phillies can only “what if” and begin to make some roster decisions because they are too far behind within their division and the wild card to even have a slight chance of catching anyone and making the playoffs.

Manager of the year:

Jim Leyland, Detroit: Once again, no one truely expected the Tigers to not only be good, lead the AL Central division but also have the best record in baseball. Not the experts, not the fans and if you ask the Tiger players, im sure they will concur(at least off the record they would).

Leyland demonstrates the enthusiam and teaching ability to relate to all his players both young and old while keeping them grounded(so far) with their 1st half success. At 59-29 and a slim 2 game lead over the defending champion Chicago Whitesox (57-31), the poise, determination and will to win will be tested not only by the champs but other teams ready to knocked them off their 1st half throne.

After beginning the 2nd half with a seemingly easy 4 games series vs the Kansas City Royals, the Tigers get a chance to widened their division lead as they host the defending champions in a 3 game series. They then play the 1st place Oakland Athletics for 3 games, followed by road games vs the Indians, Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay.

If the Tigers can continue to win series after series, if their pitching can continue to flourish along with timely hitting, the Tigers should be on their way to post season play but do not count out the world champs. The veterans on that team are also poised, experience and very talented. Talented enough to not only win the division but win the World Series once again.

Honorable Mention:

Joe Torre, Yankees: Non-Yankee fans who love to berate the team and label the Yankees as “The Evil Empire” rather than the Bronx Bombers will contradict with Mr. Torre as a manager of the year candidate based on the deep pockets of George Steinbrenner has to buy some of the most talented and well-known players in the league.

Fans, other teams in the league and even players feel the exaggerated spending by Mr. Steinbrenner has called an inbalanced in the economics and fairness in the game for small market teams and the spending has ruined the integrity of the game. Most against the Yankees also feel with all the talent bought and paid for by the team, anyone can manage the group of millionaires.

So what should those doubters say when Torre has injured pitchers and everyday players along with some of those millionaires not in the infirmary performing to their capabilities for most managers would lead to a team under .500 and not in contention. To his credit, Torre has not only kept the Yankees in contention for the AL division crown (3 games back of Boston) but if they can’t win the 1st series after the All-Star break vs the Whitesox, they will be in a great position for the wild card as well.

The Yankees lost Hideki Matsui to a fractured left wrist on May 11, the other players in the lineup knew that they would have to step up to make up for the absence of one of the team’s best RBI men. Just 18 days later, Gary Sheffield played his last game before undergoing his own left wrist surgery, and all of a sudden, the Yankees were faced with three long months without their two powerful corner outfielders not to mention nagging injuries to Johnny Damon, Derrick Jeter and Jason Giambi and more recently, a hamstring pull for Robinson Cano that put him on the DL.

The pitching staff is just as injured. They yet to reap the rewards of acquiring such pitchers as Octavio Dotel, Carl Pavano, both on the DL and have pitchers Darrell Rasner and Tanyon Sturtze on the disabled list as well. What makes it worst for Torre and the Yankees is the struggles of Alex Rodriguez (.282, 19 home runs and 65 runs batted in) who can’t seem to get the “big hit” when the team needs it (hitting under .230 with runners in scoring position) and has lost his way as a gold glove winner committing 13 errors.

On the pitching side, “the little unit”, Randy Johnson, has not produced this year in wins and domination once again (10-7 5.13 ERA). His schizophrenic pitching has caused Torre and his pitching coach Ron Guidry to over use bullpen pitchers like Scott Proctor, Ron Villone, Mike Myers, Karl Farnsworth and others. Jared Wright and Shawn Chacon have been disappointments and Aaron Small, who was 10-0 last year, was so bad the Yanks release him.

I also think General Manager Brian Cashman has not spend Mr. Steinbrenner’s money wisely. Keeping older players too long, bringing in older players that are either past their prime or can’t handle the pressure of New York. With all the pressure to win in New York especially coming from Mr. Steinbrenner, the success of the other team in New York, the New York Mets, injuries, lack of performance and playing in one of the most competitive division in baseball, should garner enough thoughts and votes for Mr. Torre and the job he has done.

If Cashman doesnt go out and get a front line starter and bull pen help soon, the Yankees, despite the brilliant managing of Torre, could be out of the division and wild card race fast.

Rookie of the year:

Jonathan Papelbon, Boston: With respect to Francisco Liriano who has been lights out for the Minnesota Twins, Justin Verlander (Tigers), C Jeff Mathis (Angels), OF Brian Anderson (White Sox) Jered Weaver(Angels) and even Papelbon teammate Jon Lester (4-0, 3.06 ERA), my 1st half choice for rookie of the year is Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon, is 2-1 with a microscopic 0.59 ERA.

More importantly for the “Beantown boppers” is Papelbon’s poise, confidence and success as a surprising and unexpected closer this year. Papelbon is tied for 1st in the AL with 26 saves (tied with Bobby Jenks of the Whitesox). He’s given up only 25 hits, 3 runs, 2 home runs, 8 walks and 47 strikeouts in 46 innings which is impressive as a rookie to show so much dominance in a division and league dominated by great hitters.On a team of stars, it’s Papelbon that standouts among them and will need to continue his dominance in the 2nd half especially since last year’s closer veteran Keith Foulke has been moved to the bullpen.

Most valuable players:

AL — David Ortiz, Boston: Look at his stats: 65 runs scored, 91 hits, 15 doubles, 31 homeruns, 87 runs batted in 199 total bases, 58 walks, .388 on base percentage, .609 slugging percentage and a .278 batting average. Ortiz is at the top of the AL in most hitting catergories including leading the AL in homeruns and runs batted in.

Those are impressive numbers that some players achieve in an entire season and he’s accumulated them in one half. Numbers aside, Ortiz has won 10 games for the 1st place Red Sox with 4 of them walk-off homeruns. His professionalism, poise, confidence and character is just as important to the team as the stastical dominance he’s shown in leading them to what looks to be another year in the post-season.

Honorable mention:

Joe Mauer (Minnesota Twins), Travis Hafner (Cleveland Indians), Jermaine Dye (Chicago White Sox), Manny Ramirez (Boston Red Sox), Jim Thome (Chicago White Sox) and Jason Giambi (New York Yankees).

***image7***NL — David Wright, Mets: In just a short period of time, Wright has electrified Met fans with homeruns and great defense at 3rd that shows promise for years to come. The 23 year old star leads the Mets in runs batted in (74) and batting average(.316). He also 10th overall in batting in the league and 4th in runs batted in.

Wright along with Jose Reyes (the proverbial “table setter”), has sparked excitement and enthusiam into the Metropolitans which is a good mix and jump start for some of their veterans like Tom Glavine, Julio Franco, Carlos Delgado and others. Wright has had the kind of 1st half of the year the Mets hoped and dreamed for.

He even hit his 1st home run in the All-Star game in a losing effort 3-2 to the AL. The Mets will need Wright to continue his exceptional year offensively and defensively in order for the Mets to cruise to the playoffs. With a 12 game lead and most of the other teams leading their division and the Wild Card scrambling for wins and consistency, the Mets look like a lock for the World Series. However, that’s why “we play the game” Nothing is definite and because of that, the Mets will have to prove it on the field in the 2nd half of the year.

Honorable mention:

Miguel Cabrera (Florida Marlins), Lance Berkman (Houston Astros), Albert Pujols (St. Louis Cardinals), Carlos Lee (Milwaukee Brewers), Jason Bay(Pittsburgh Pirates), Carlos Beltran (New York Mets), Ryan Howard (Philadelphia Phillies).

Comeback players of the year:

Nomar Garciaparra, Dodgers & Ken Griffey Jr., Reds: To me, it came down to 2 players. Nomar Garciaparra and Ken Griffey Jr. Although Garciaparra’s numbers maybe slightly better than Jr Griffey’s, they share much more than numbers or staticstical comparisons.

These 2 warriors are similar in their career journey’s. Both began their career with lot’s of promise and for the most part lived up to it, both were traded in their prime, both had major injuries at somepoint in their career, both were criticized heavily by the media and both are intricle parts of their respective teams and are inspirations and leaders on their team.

Garciaparra has 55 runs scored, 96 hits, 11 homeruns and 53 runs batted in. He also leads the lead in batting at .358, has a .426 on base percentage and a .578 slugging percentage. His on base percentage is 2nd in the NL and his slugging percentage is 6th in the league.

Griffey is batting .255 with 18 homeruns and 50 runs batted in and has a .527 slugging percentage.

Both of these players deserve the comeback player of the year award so far this season based on their perceverance, professionalism and never say die attitude.

The mere fact they had to overcome adversity both among their piers, the media and fans who criticize them, they had to overcome injuries and the perception that the game has past them by makes what they’ve accomplished in the 1st half more special.

They are leaders of their teams and inspirations to their teammates. Hopefully for Garciaparra and Griffey Jr, that will inspire them all the way to the post season.