The 2010 MLB Second Half Team to Watch Debate… A Ray of Sunshine in the AL East

July 15, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

Four months ago I started my own personal Carl Crawford watch.

The Tampa Bay Rays were entering the 2010 campaign with a great deal of pressure. Because this is a contract year for Crawford, and if the Rays were unable to find any magic during the first half of the season (something I did not expect to happen), then the left fielder would have become the main attraction in a Ray fire sale.

What a difference four months can make.

Instead of being in a position to sell at the upcoming trade deadline the Rays have played some outstanding ball through the first half of the season. The team sits only two games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East, and currently holds a three game lead for the AL Wild Card over the other division rival, the Boston Red Sox.

Now, with the trade deadline fast approaching, the Rays could become one of the aggressive teams looking to buy in the hopes of getting a missing piece that will help them maintain momentum into the postseason.

The core of the roster is as solid as any in the Majors today. For his part, Crawford is making sure his value remains high, whether he stays in Tampa after this season or moves on to greener (pun intended) pastures. Through the first half of the season he is batting .321 and is among the league’s leaders in stolen bases (31) and triples (6). His performance was enough to earn him a starting nod on the American League All-Star roster, and he did not make that trek alone.

In addition to Crawford, the Rays boast two other All-Stars in third baseman Evan Longoria and pitcher David Price.

Longoria made his third career All-Star appearance on Tuesday, thanks to a .300 batting average combined with an on-base percentage of .381 and a slugging percentage of .513. As for Price, he boasts the third most wins in the American League, as he is the proud owner of a 12-4 record through the first half of 2010. Price is also one of only nine starting pitchers in the league with an ERA below 2.50.

As the tread deadline looms ever closer, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has made the commitment to his teams and his fans that he will do everything in his power to ensure that his team will be playing October baseball, even promising that “money won’t be an object.”

And as ESPN.com writer Jerry Crasnick points out, even if the Rays fail to land a blockbuster trade deal, the team still has some amazing young prospects waiting in the wings… the type that could be called up and make an immediate contribution.

Conditions are perfect for a very exciting second half from the Tampa Bay Rays. The combination of first half success and All-Star talent, along with the indication that the team will be among the most aggressive teams at the trade deadline, makes for some very entertaining baseball during its closing months.

The Tampa Bay Rays reached the World Series in 2008, but lost to the Philadelphia Phillies. Will 2010 be the year to finish the job? Rest assured that no other team will try harder than the Rays to make it back to the Fall Classic. In a division that has been dominated by the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, it is the Rays who are contributing the most exciting baseball of the season.

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The 2010 MLB Second Half Team to Watch Debate… California Love

July 15, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer.

With the All-Star game in the rearview mirror, baseball is about to catch its second wind. Deadline deals, rested players, and renewed spirits are about to breathe new life into the old ball game. It is an exciting time for baseball, especially for fans of the National League. For the first time since 1996 the N.L. has won the All-Star game. This, in itself, is a huge accomplishment for the National League. But it carries even greater importance now because the N.L. has secured home field advantage during the World Series for the first time since the All-Star game started determining the matter. No team should be more excited about this than the L.A. Dodgers, because in my not so humble opinion, the Dodgers are a good bet to win the National League.

Now this may seem a bold prediction to some, but it is just common sense to me. The Dodgers are a great team that has struggled early. Now the Dodgers are in a good position to make a move during the second half. The Dodgers have been held back by a tough schedule thus far, although the team’s record does not really reflect it. The Dodgers are ten games above .500 with the third best win-loss record in the N.L., 49-39. Yet, amazingly, the team remains in third place in the division, trailing the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies.

The Dodgers’ dominance of division rivals has kept them competitive throughout the season, and figures to be a deciding factor in getting them to the post season. L.A. has absolutely destroyed teams within its division, posting a record off 22-6. Where the team has really struggled is interleague play. The A.L. owned L.A. during the first half, taking 11 victories from in just 15 games. I would like to point out, however, that these games were played against tough opponents like the Angels, Red Sox, and baseball’s current best, the Yankees.

The second half should be a different story for the Dodgers as they will face division opponents in more than half of the last 74 games… to say nothing of the added comfort of playing more games in the Pacific Time Zone.

The Dodgers also look to get back more than a few key starters on the way to the postseason. Injuries have hurt the Dodgers both at the plate and on the mound. When Andre Either went out early in the season because of an injury to his fingers, he was leading the N.L. in triple crown categories. That’s an enormous loss for the team’s run production. Should he return to early season form the N.L. should watch out for this hot young hitter. Either has had to take up the power hitting role that Manny Ramirez played upon arriving in Los Angeles. More recently fans watched the free spirited slugger change from a power threat to more of a line drive hitter. But, thanks in no small part to two stints on the disabled list; the Dodgers haven’t even received the full benefit out of ManRam’s bat. Throw in injuries to guys like Rafael Furcal and Matt Kemp, and it is clear that the line up has been seriously banged up. If the bats can stay healthy the Dodgers can get back in the swing of things in no time.

The pitching staff has been hit unusually hard as well. During the first half L.A. had 19 different starters toe the rubber. That’s more than three full five man rotations. The fact that the Dodgers have remained near the top of the N.L., and their division, speaks volumes about depth and scrappiness.

They have also battled the injury bug, which seems to have swarmed the team throughout the first half. If all the team stays healthy, and the boys in blue play up to their collective potential, it should be no problem to win the N.L. Wild Card. But I certainly wouldn’t doubt the team’s ability to win the N.L. West outright.

I also think the Boys in Blue have some special motivation moving forward. Manny Ramirez would surely like to prove he’s valuable as he enters the final year on his contract. Or does he? You never really know with Manny. Probably more compelling is the fact that this could be the last season for skipper Joe Torre, and I’m sure there is nothing the team would like more than for them to send him off on a high note.

The Dodgers are in great shape to win a bunch of games down the stretch and figure to be a very exciting team to watch. I would even peg them to challenge the Yankees in October for the World Series. Sure there are a lot of games left, but don’t count the Dodgers out yet. Any team with Manny Ramirez, and a terrific manager like Joe Torre, is sure to surprise.

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The 2010 MLB Second Half Team to Watch Debate… Phillies Gear Up For A Second Half Charge

July 15, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Babe Ruthless.

The second half of the MLB season kicks off tonight, and there are going to be some exciting pennant races. The biggest division lead at the break is just 4.5 games, and that is in the A.L. West. Looking over the standings I see a handful of teams outside of first place that may make a charge in the second half. One team stands out – and while it kills me to say this as a Braves fan (please, Braves fans, don’t go all Mel Gibson on me) – I think the Philadelphia Phillies aren’t going away quietly. I think they are set up for a second half charge.

As it stands now the Phillies currently sit in third place in the N.L. East, 4.5 games behind the division leading Atlanta Braves. They are also just 1.5 games back of the Dodgers and Rockies in the N.L. Wild Card chase. Many expected the Phillies to once again win the N.L. East and challenge for the pennant. That expectation was amplified by the offseason acquisition by Roy Halladay. But, injuries have complicated the quest.

The two most glaring injuries belong to perennial All-Stars Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. Rollins, who has sat at the top of the lineup for the high-flying Phillies, is the spark that has been missing for the offense. To this point Rollins has only played in 31 games, as he has been on the disabled list two separate times. Even when he has been in the lineup his effectiveness has been minimal. For proof, please refer to his .254 batting average. Chase Utley, meanwhile, was placed on the disabled list on June 29 with a torn ligament in his right thumb. He is expected to be out at least another month. But he, too, was having a bit of a down season by the standard he set for himself. Those aren’t the only Phillies who have spent time on the disabled list at some point this season. Other guys that have missed time include Placido Polanco, Carlos Ruiz, J.A. Happ, Chad Durbin, Brad Lidge, and others. Seemingly, the only guys who haven’t missed any time are Halladay and Ryan Howard.

Once the team gets fully healthy I expect them to make a run at the Braves. This team is too good not to be in contention. Believe it or not, the everyday lineup has played together only SEVEN times this entire season! This is essentially the same team, plus Halladay, that has made the World Series the past two seasons. The guys that have had down years to this point, Rollins and Utley to name a few, surely will get things going down the stretch. And the pitching staff, behind Halladay, has shown signs of life. Jamie Moyer, who has gotten a lot of editorial conversation between the writers here at The Sports Debates, quietly has nine wins. Cole Hamels is still seeking to return to his 2008 form.

The Phillies did close the first half with a sweep of the Reds. That gives the team a little bit of momentum coming into the second half. And the Phillies are due for some momentum.

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