The better part of this 2015 baseball season has been saturated with stories about individual players. Dee Gordon proving haters haters by slap-hitting his way to productivity at the top of a struggling Marlins lineup. Bryce Harper finally unleashing his inner Bryce Harper and turning a vitriolic fanbase into lovers every night. Prince Fielder reminding the world that, ah yes he’s actually quite a nifty batsman. Mike Trout shocking us over and over by making adjustments and refusing to let any pinhole of a flaw be exploited. And then on the pitching side, aces like Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez showing tiny kinks in their armors, while others like Johnny Cueto and Max Scherzer reminding detractors that they can in fact sling it. Additionally, surprises like Dallas Keuchel and Chris Archer having breakout years that look to maintain first half success and enter the pantheon of pitching elite.
Yet, what all these individual stories have done is lay a shadow over a half of baseball that has been both predictable and strangely competitive. Not long ago, the American League playoff picture included the Astros, the Yankees, the Twins and the Royals. Yeah, it still sounds weird. These are teams that were thought massive regression candidates with middling finishes at best. While things have leveled out a bit since then, the tops of the divisions still look perplexing and anybody’s for the taking. The National League outlook doesn’t immediately jolt us, but perhaps we are sleeping on a team out in Pittsburgh that is the best the league has to offer. If there’s one race to keep an eye on for an electric finish it’s the NL Central.
Here are our division by division stories to watch as an exciting season rolls into the dog days:
If healthy, the Yankees will…
The answer four months ago was, “…remain at least serviceable.” But now that Teixiera, A-Rod, Gardner, Pineda, and Co. have not only been healthy but quite good, the answer might actually be, “…go deep into the playoffs.” Of course those injuries can snap off at any moment and the falloff of a tiring late summer push may be inevitable. For now the aging talent of the Yankees has looked more talent than aging. If this trend continues, a top tier bullpen and one of the most efficient offenses in baseball could make a push to, ahem, the World Series.
Perhaps no success story has been met with more frustration than that of the Minnesota Twins. They haven’t been doing it the way we expect or in anyway that resembles sustainable, but the Twins just keep on winning. Ultimately, that should be all that matters until it stops, which it might not. They have a supposed cavalry of young talent on the farm (biting on Buxton early not withstanding) and pitchers, including Ervin Santana finally, who play well to a cavernous pitcher’s ballpark. No way the Twins are catching the Royals for the division, but a continued ride to the Wild Card game isn’t at all out of the question.
The Correa Way
The moment Carlos Correa stepped onto a Major League Baseball field he became the best shortstop in his league. While that may be indicative more so of an ugly position, Correa will figure to anchor his surprising club if they expect to continue success into October. The Angels, like last year, bloomed late and snuck into first right before the All Star Break. Houston will need its strikeout prone/homer happy lineup to support a groundball-centric staff if it hopes to stem the tide of another Angels breakaway. With Altuve at the top of the lineup and Correa fitting nicely in the middle, expect Houston to be in contention, though watch out for a massive bust.
The New York Mets can’t hit. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. For five or six innings, it’s not unlike these guys to look like they are simply gracing the Batter’s Box with their presences before the short trip back to their seats. It’s dreadful and all the more infuriating when considering the staff of arms the ballclub has to keep them in game. The pitchers are the reason the Mets walked into the All Star break with almost 50 wins (sometimes even looking like the best hitters on the team). The rotation could be what makes this team dangerous in the playoff, but it’ll will be the lineup that needs step up to get them there.
After going home in each of the first two Wild Card games, nobody knows better than the Pirates how important it is to swipe a division. Out of the gate, the Cardinals looked unstoppable (getting to 50 wins as fast as almost any team in history), leaving Pittsburgh doomed to play for another year of sudden death. However, the past month has exposed a team that possesses a balanced offensive approach, an above average bullpen, and arms lead by Gerrit Cole who look as formidable as any in baseball. We all know the Cardinals can pitch, but their ability to score is suspect. Will the Pirates have what it takes to secure a real spot in the postseason?
Dodgers can do it all…
…almost. The latest update of Next Base Value has shown a glaring flaw in the Los Angeles juggernaut’s game. Yes they can score in bunches and pitch to protect it. But can they manage to move runners if that batch run-pruducing doesn’t happen? The answer so far has been a resounding “No” as they are 29th in baseball at getting men over. Speed and baserunning may not kill a team with this much talent in July, but as the Royals proved last season, the little things go a long way when it counts. Clayton Kershaw hasn’t totally been himself lately and until he sheds his Clayton Manning status in the big games, the Dodgers will be the best team who needs to show us something befoe ever being a favorite.
Featured Image: Via Sporting News