By Matt Mirro, Lead American League Writer
Well, believe it or not the 2015 baseball season has reached its half way point. This week teams will take a short break from the wear and tear of the grueling schedule as the game’s best will showcase their skills in Cincinnati. The 86th annual MLB All-Star marks the unofficial midway point for America’s pastime. So far, it’s been an exciting season, one filled with surprises and disappointments. That’s nothing new in this sport. The American League in particular has brought us some great breakout performances and top-notch early playoff races.
The Junior Circuit looks to be the league to watch (No offense to my Senior Circuit counterpart Patrick Brewer) and after a great start it’s time for your First Half in Review!
15. Oakland Athletics: (41-50) Last in American League West
The way things are going I don’t think these Oakland Athletics will be inspiring a “Moneyball” sequel. After a disappointing end to the 2014 campaign General Manager Billy Beane decided to rework his roster (Again!) in the off-season. Despite his insistence that the team is not rebuilding but simply “retooling” it’s hard to look at this team and see many positives. The A’s got off to a dreadful start which they’ve yet to recover from… and likely won’t. They’ve committed 82 errors already this year while their offense has fallen flat for most of the first half, With closer Sean Doolittle having missed all but one game the shortened bullpen has struggled, posting a 4.32 ERA, good for second worst in the league.
Despite strong performances from catcher Stephen Vogt (.287 batting average, 14 home runs, 56 RBI) , center fielder Billy Burnes (.303 batting average with 17 stolen bases) and starting pitcher Sonny Gray (9-3 2.67 ERA) this seems to be a lost season for the green and gold. It’s likely they’ll use the trade deadline to try to acquire assets for the future. Scott Kazmir, Ben Zobrist and Tyler Clippard are likely candidates to be traded before the calender turns to August.
Most Outstanding Player: Stephen Vogt (14 Home Runs and an All-Star Selection)
Most Frustrating Player: Marcus Semien (28 Errors in 90 games)
14. Seattle Mariners (41-48) Fourth in American League West
After signing second baseman Robinson Cano last off-season and outfielder Nelson Cruz before this year many saw the Seattle Mariners as Wold Series favorites. Unfortunately, their performance in the first half has made them one of the biggest let downs in all of baseball. The biggest surprise for this team has come from the struggling Cano. The perennial All-Star is batting just .251 with six home runs and 30 RBI through his first 86 games. Not what the Mariners had in mind when they handed him a 10-year multi-million dollar deal before 2014. Catcher Mike Zunino has posted just a .160 average with nine homers and 20 RBI while third baseman Kyle Seager has put up a sub-par .269 average along with 12 home runs and 39 RBI.
Felix Hernandez has put up another stellar year, going 11-5 with a 2.84 ERA in the first half, earning himself another All-Star selection. Unfortunately, Hisashi Iwakuma has been limited to just five starts due to injury. He’s 1-1 with a 5.22 ERA when he has played. There is still hope for the Mariners, however, The team has hit much better since the organization brought in former All-Star (And Hall of Fame snub but that’s just my opinion) Edgar Martinez to serve as the hitting coach. But they are seven games back of the first place Houston Astros. It’ll be an uphill battle but it’s not impossible.
Most Outstanding Player: Nelson Cruz (.308 batting average with 21 home runs and 53 RB)
Most Frustrating Player: Fernando Rodney (4 blown saves in 20 opportunities, 5.50 ERA in 37 games)
13. Chicago White Sox (41-45) Last Place in American League Central
The Chicago White Sox made a huge splash in the off-season when they brought in the likes of Jeff Samardzija, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, Zach Duke and David Robertson. More than a few people saw them as Wold Series contenders but so far, it’s been more head aches than earth quakes in the Windy City. The team brought in LaRache to serve as the regular designated hitter with Jose Abreu sitting firm as the team’s first baseman, But so far he’s batted just .222 with nine home runs and 33 RBI. Cabrera hasn’t fared much better, batting .261 with four home runs and 34 RBI through his first 85 games with the Pale Hoes. Samardzija struggled early but still hasn’t looked like himself quite yet. He owns a 4.02 ERA in his first 18 starts.
But there is a silver lining. The Sox have played a much better brand of baseball as of late and are crawling back towards the .500 mark. They are still in last place and 10 games out of first but crazier things have happened. However, it may be smart for the team to wave the white flag and to sell off some of their more valuable assets if possible. That’s something they’ll have to decide after a surprisingly poor first half.
Most Outstanding Player: Chris Sale (Joined Pedro Martinez as the only two pitchers in history to strike out at least ten batters in eight consecutive starts)
Most Frustrating Player: Adam LaRoche (.222 batting average through his first 82 games)
12. Boston Red Sox (42-47) Last in the American League East
Not many teams were busier than the Boston Red Sox this past off-season.. The team inked bug money free agent deals with Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval while also bringing in starting pitchers Justin Masterson, Wade Miley and Rick Porcello. But questions remained about how a rotation consisting of Masterson, Miley, Porcello, Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly would fair without a true ace to lead them. The answer to those questions has been answered as the Red Sox rotation has put on a poor showing. Kelly sported a 5.67 ERA before the organization optioned him to Triple-A Pawtucket. Porcello has been incredibly ineffective so far, going 5-9 with a 5.90 ERA in his fist 17 starts. Buchholz started the season with a series of shaky performances before seemingly righting the ship but now finds himself on the Disabled List with soreness in his right forearm.
The offense has been less than spectacular. Hanley Ramirez was expected to play left field but his inadequate defense as a shortstop only got worse once he moved to the outfield. But he has hit well, homering 19 times and driving in 46 runs. Sandoval has apparently given up switch hitting, choosing to bat exclusively from the left side, but has been a real disappointment so far, Through 79 games he’s batting .265 with seven home runs and 30 RBI. Not to mention Istagramgate! The usually consistent David Ortiz is currently sporting a .231 average, a far cry from his lifetime ,283 mark. They’ve so far been one of the most disappointing teams in the game.
Most Outstanding Player: Hanley Ramirez (.274 with 19 home runs and 46 RBI)
Most Frustrating Player: Mike Napoli (.193 average, 10 home runs and 30 RBI)
11. Texas Rangers (42-46) Third in American League West
It’s been a rather odd season for the Texas Rangers so far. After a horrid display in the first few weeks the team went on a hot streak before falling flat again. They required former MVP Josh Hamilton from the Los Angeles Angels for practically nothing, rehabbed him in the minors before bringing him back to the big league club before he went down with an injury yet again. Before the season they lost their ace pitcher Yu Darvish to Tommy John Surgery and acquired starter Yovanni Gallardo from the Milwaukee Brewers. Former number one overall prospect Jurickison Profar fell to injury once again and Rougned Odor fell flat at the plate before being sent back down to the minors for a time. The Rangers welcomed top prospect Joey Gallo for a brief 25 game stint that saw him club five home runs but bat just .218 with 43 strikeouts.
Gallardo has stepped as the team’s much-needed front line starter, going 7-8 with a 2.62 ERA in a league leading 19 starts. They’ve also received strong performances from young starting pitchers like Chi Chi Gonzalez (3.74 ERA in seven starts) and Nick Martinez (3.43 ERA in 16 games) Center fielder Leonys Martin has struggled in a year when many thought he might establish himself as one of the game’s best young players. He’s hitting just .222 with five home runs and 24 RBI in 77 games. Shin-Soo Choo has performed better in his second year of his multi-million dollar contract but is still batting an abysmal .221 with 11 home runs and 38 RBI. As for Hamilton, since rejoining the Rangers, between injuries and rehab stints in the minors, has batted just .240 with two home runs and just six RBI. A far cry from his truly great season in the Lone Star State. Texas has gotten a big contribution from Prince Fielder who has put himself in the MVP race by bating .339 with 14 homers and 54 RBI. But the Rangers are in need of much more than just Fielder is they want to once again compete in the post season.
Most Outstanding Player: Prince Fielder (.339 batting average, 14 home runs and an All-Star Game selection)
Most Frustrating Player: Jurickson Profar (Former number one overall prospect has not played a game in two years due to injury.)
10. Cleveland Indians (42-46) Fourth in American League Central
No disrespect to Sports Illustrated but I don’t think the Cleveland Indians will be winning the World Series this season. The Indians just haven’t found their groove in 2015. 2014 Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber is 4-10 with a 3.83 ERA despite having thrown much better as of late. Off season acquisition Brandon Moss has batted just .220 but has hit 14 home runs along with 46 RBI. Designated hitter Carlos Santana isn’t faring much better, hitting just .221 with 10 homers and 40 RBI. Catcher Yan Gomes has been limited by injuries this year but has hit just .218 with three home runs and ten RBI when he has been on the diamond. Center fielder Michael Bourn hasn’t played well either as he’s batting just .222 with no home runs and 18 RBI.
If the Tribe has any hope of reaching the post season they’ll need to rely on the likes of All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis (.323 BA, six home runs and 37 RBI), outfielder Michael Brantley (.292 BA, five home runs and 46 RBI) and rookie starter Cody Anderson (0.89 ERA in first four starts) to help guide them there. Led by closer Cody Allen the Indian’s bullpen has pitched to the tune of a 3.14 ERA, good for fourth in the American League. They simply aren’t scoring enough to win games. With a flat offense and struggling rotation something has to give in order for them to have flay off hopes.
Most Outstanding Player: Jason Kipnis (.323 batting average and headed to the All Star Game)
Most Frustrating Player: Nick Swisher (.198 average, injuries limiting him to just 30 games)
9. Toronto Blue Jays (45-46) Fourth in American League East
Boy, who exactly are the Toronto Blue Jays? They seem to always be right on the cusp of grabbing hold of the division and becoming legitimate champion contenders only to take three steps back and fall flat. The Jays have been as streaky as anyone this season. They’ve boasted probably the best offense in the baseball (They average 5.34 games per game, by far the tops in the game) but also one of the worst pitching staffs (4.18 team ERA, 23rd in baseball). They lost their young ace, Marcus Stroman, for the season due to injury and their lack of depth has hurt them. Closer Brett Cecil has struggled mightily this year, going 2-4 with just five saves to go along with his 4.66 ERA in 33 games. He has been
removed from the closer role multiple times. Starter Marco Estrada made a bit of headlines when he nearly pitched a perfect game in two consecutive starts. He owns a 6-5 record with a 3.52 ERA. R.A. Dickey is 3-10 with a 4.87 ERA as the 40-year old has proven to be anything but reliable starter.
The Jays offense has put the roster on their backs. Jose Bautista has batted just .239 but has blasted 17 home runs and driven in 60 runs. Edwin Encarnacion is batting just .233 but has hit 18 home runs and collected 54 RBI. Russell Martin, the team’s big free agent acquisition, currently owns a .251 average along with 12 home runs and 41 RBI. Despite an injury that sidelined him for some time, second baseman Devon Travis is having a superb rookie campaign, batting .304 with seven homers and 32 RBI. Of course, the team has gotten massive production from third baseman Josh Donaldson who is batting .293 with 21 home runs and 60 RBI. It’s clear they made the right choice in acquiring him from the Oakland Athletics. The Jays will need to step it up and make some deals before the Trade Deadline in order to finally return to the post season.
Most Outstanding Player: Josh Donaldson (.293 batting average with 21 HR and 60 RBI)
Most Frustrating Player: Brett Cecil (Just five saves and a 4.66 ERA in 33 games)
8. Baltimore Orioles (44-44) Third in American League East
The Baltimore Orioles may be the most peculiar team in the sport. At this time last season they were ten games above the .500 mark but have had to scratch and claw just make out even here in 2015. This may be a direct result of free agents Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis leaving as free agents. Both players were big pieces to the 2014 roster that won the AL East and the team has missed their presence immensely. Baltimore has some issues on both sides of the ball. Right fielder Travis Snider, acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates to replace Markakis, has played in just 60 games this year and has batted .257 with only three home runs and 20 RBI. Shortstop J.J. Hardy has dealt with injuries that have limited him to just 59 games where he’s hit just .226 with five homers and 22 RBI. Delmon Young was batting .270 with two homers before the team designated him for assignment and Evreth Cabrera hit just .208 with just four RBI before he was DFA’d as well. Both were eventually released.
But the Orioles may actually be the most complete team in the division, They might have found their clear ace after all in the form of 29-year old Wei-Yin Chen (4-5, 2.78 ERA in 17 starts) and have gotten welcome production from Ubaldo Jimenez (7-4, 2.81 ERA in 17 starts). Zach Britton has emerged from the ashes of a failed starter to become one of the game’s elite closers. He’s sporting a 1.72 ERA and has collected 23 saves in 36 appearances. Darren O’Day has continued to be one of the most consistent relievers in baseball, owning a 1.07 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 35 games. Center fielder Adam Jones is having another excellent season, currently batting .281 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI. Third baseman Manny Machado is finally fully healthy and hitting a healthy .298 with while hitting 19 home runs and driving in 48 RBI. Jimmy Paredes has served primarily as the team’s designated hitter and has been a welcome addition to the club as he’s hit for a .299 clip with 10 homers and 39 RBI.But there are obvious weaknesses. Starters Bud Norris, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez have all struggled and the team has had some trouble with using the right formula to get the ball from the starter to O’Day and Britton at the back-end of the bullpen. The next few weeks will be crucial in deciding exactly what team the O’s are.
Most Outstanding Player: Manny Machado (.298 batting average, 19 RBI and an All-Star selection)
Most Frustrating Player: Bud Norris (2-9, 6.86 ERA in 14 games)
7. Detroit Tigers (44-44) Third in American League Central
Wow, this is a surprise. The mighty have fallen on some hard times. It was smooth sailing early on this year but lately the Detroit Tigers have struggled to win games. Highlighted by the extended loss of Miguel Cabrera, Detroit has limped to the half way point of the season. Seeing them in third place just seems incredibly weird. To break down the Tiger’s first half we’ll turn to a Clint Eastwood classic (And one of my all-time favorite films) and take look at “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”.
The Good: The offense. Before Miggy went on the Disabled List the two-time AL MVP was batting .350 with 15 homers and 54 RBI. J.D. Martinez is putting on a show as he’s clubbed 25 long balls and driven in 59 runs. Yoenis Cespedes is having his best season to date in his first year in the Motor City. He enters the All-Star break batting .297 with 13 homers and 51 RBI. Victor Martinez is providing his usual brand of stellar hitting while Anthony Gose, James McCann and the usually light hitting Jose Iglesias have all put up solid season offensively.
The Bad: That would be the pitching staff. Shocking right? While staff ace David Price has been a true number one (9-2 2.38 ERA) the team lacks a productive 2,3,4 or 5. Anibal Sanchez is just 8-7 with a 4.63 ERA, Alfredo Simon is 8-6 with an ERA over 4.50, Justin Verlander is 0-2 with a 5.34 ERA since returning from injury and Shane Greene has been extremely poor, going just 4-7 with a 6.32 ERA in 14 starts. Simon and Greene were two of the team’s bigger off-season acquisitions via trade but have so far disappointed, no doubt leaving General Manager Dave Dombrowski to question his moves, something he often doesn’t have to do.
The Ugly: You’re going to be looking at the bullpen for that one. After a horrid first season Tigers closer Joe Nathan was lost for the season due to Tommy John Surgery and his career is at a definite crossroads. Joba Chamberlain posted a 4.09 ERA in 30 appearances before the team released him. Tom Gorzelanny had a 6.38 ERA before the team designated him for assignment. Ian Krol owns a 6.75 ERA while Josh Wilson, Buck Farmer and Bruce Rondon have all racked up earned run averages over 9.00. Detroit recently signed former Rookie of the Year closer Neftali Feliz after he was designated for assignment by the Rangers so maybe that is a step in the right direction. They’ll have to make further improvements before too long as the bullpen currently holds a 3.97 ERA, third worse in the American League.
Most Outstanding Player: J.D Martinez (25 home runs in 85 games, All-Star starter)
Most Frustrating Player: Shane Greene (6.32 ERA in 14 starts, optioned to Triple-A at one point)
6. Tampa Bay Rays (46-45) Second in American League East
Nobody pegged the Rays as contenders when they sold David Price to the Tigers before last season’s Trade Deadline, and traded Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Jeremy Hellickson, Yunel Escobar and Ryan Hanigan in the off-season. They also lost their rock star manager, Joe Madden, to the Chicago Cubs and saw their general manager Andrew Friedman bolt to Los Angeles to become the Dodgers’ President of Baseball Operations.It wasn’t a great outlook for Tampa going into the season but they were near the top of the division for most of the first half. However, over the course of baseball’s opening months the team lost Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly and Jake Odorizzi to injury, almost crippling their rotation. But they pressed on and have received solid contributions from replacements like Alex Colome (4.85 ERA in 15 games), Erasmo Ramirez (3.63 ERA in 20 games) and Nate Karns (3.63 ERA in 18 games).
Chris Archer has been in a league of his own. In 19 starts he’s pitched to the tune of a 2.74 ERA, winning nine games in the process.
Their offense has been more or less feast or famine. Evan Longoria is his usual superstar self (.276 batting average, nine home runs and 41 RBI) while Stephen Souza Jr., acquired in the Wil Myers trade, has batted just ,210 but has hit 15 home runs in 79 games. Career minor leaguer Joey Butler has served as the team’s designated hitter and put up a surprisingly good .287 batting average while hitting six home runs and driving in 21 runs. Logan Forsythe has played 89 games as the team’s second baseman and has performed remarkably well. He owns a .274 average with nine home runs and 35 RBI. But Asdrubal Cabrera, now on the Disabled List. has struggled for most of the year while Rene Rivera has put up a pitiful .185 batting average. First baseman James Loney has been limited to just 40 games due to injuries and John Jaso and Desmond Jennings have been on the shelf for quite some time now. Plan for the second half? It’s simple. Get healthy, find any kind of offensive reinforcement they can.
Most Outstanding Player: Chris Archer (9-6, 2.74 ERA in 19 starts along with a selection to the All-Star team)
Most Frustrating Player: Nick Franklin (One of the main pieces in the David Price trade last year he batted just .139 with one home run and three RBI before being sent down to Triple-A.)
5. Minnesota Twins (49-40) Second Place in American League Central
After an absolutely dreadful start to the season the Twins have stepped it up big time. Under new manager Paul Molitor they’ve played their best brand of baseball in years. Lead by the veteran presence of Torii Hunter (.257 batting average with 14 homers and 49 RBI) and All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier (.256 average with 19 HR and 50 RBI) the Twins have been of the most surprising teams in baseball. Along with Hunter, outfielders Aaron Hicks and Eddie Rosario have been consistent contributors to their upstart offense. Eduardo Nunez, Shane Robinson and Eduardo Escobar have been solid supporters off the bench.
Their starting rotation has been inconsistent at best. Alex Myers has lead the staff with an 8-6 record and a 2.85 ERA but others like Phil Hughes (8-6 4.32 ERA) and the now injured Ricky Nolasco (5-1 5.51 ERA) have struggled in 2015. Ervin Santana, who signed a big free agent deal in the off-season, missed the beginning of the season after being handed an 80 game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs but has finally returned and could maybe the much-needed lift they desperately need. The Twins also made huge headlines when they recalled baseball’s top prospect Byron Buxton. But he batted just .189 in 39 plate appearances (11 games) before going on the disabled list. A few days ago they brought up standout prospect Miguel Sano who, in 11 games, has batted .378 with two home runs (Absolute moonshots I might add) and eight RBI. Going forward, I’d like to see what the Twins will do going forward. The Trade Deadline could be a huge platform for them to bulk up the roster. The Twins are a young and exciting bunch and baseball fans will be rooting for these underdogs all year-long.
Most Outstanding Player: Brian Dozier (.256 batting average with 19 home runs and an All-Star selection)
Most Frustrating Player: Ervin Santana (Suspended for 80 games for PED’s after receiving a 4-year $54 million dollar contract, the largest free agent contract in franchise history)
4. Houston Astros (49-42) Second Place in American League West
It was the great Mel Allen that put the phrase “How about that!?” on the map but no team embodies that line more than the 2015 Houston Astros. Look, we all knew they’d compete eventually but I don’t think anyone saw it coming this quick. General Manager Jeff Lunhow has made calculated trades and utilized a multitude of high draft picks to build up a talented crop of young players. This past off-season he brought in Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena, Jed Lowrie, Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek. Lowrie has played in just 18 games due to injury but the other new recruits have more than made their presence known.
Gregerson has put up a 3.24 ERA while picking up 18 saves. Gattis is batting .241 with 15 home runs while Rasmus owns a .237 average with 11 homers. Chris Carter is his usual self, low batting average (.185) with big power (15 homers and 41 RBI) and Valbuena has been more of the same (.199 with 19 homers). The young All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve has been their top player once again, posting a .299 average with eight homers, 38 RBI and 25 stolen bases. Rookie
shortstop Carlos Correa has burst onto the scene, batting .276 with seven home runs and 19 RBI through his first 32 games. In all, the team has hit a Major League best 124 home runs but have also struck out the most in baseball, a whopping 838 times.
On the backs of their starting rotation, lead by ace Dallas Keuchel (11-4 2.23 ERA), the American League All-Star Game starter, and rookie Lance McCullers (4-3 2.52 ERA) the Astros lead the AL West for most of the first half. But on the final day before the All-Star break the Astros lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, ending the first half with their sixth straight loss. They fell a half game behind the Angels in the division and are now sitting in second place for the first time since May. The Astros need to make a splash at the trade deadline to compete with the bigger teams down the stretch. The Astros have been by far the greatest surprise of the 2015 campaign and we’d all like to see this you and exciting team keep it going in the second half.
Most Outstanding Player: Jose Altuve (.299 average with 25 stolen bases, American League starting second baseman)
Most Frustrating Player: Jed Lorie (Has played just 18 games this year due to injury after signing a three-year $23 million dollar contract before the season)
3. New York Yankees (48-40) First Place in American League East
Before the beginning of the season many questioned if the Yankees would even finish the season above the .500 mark. Some ? even saw them winding up in last place by the end of the year. Questions loomed over the boys in the Bronx like the Sputnik satellite (Look it up!). Is the aging roster capable of competing? Can the pitching staff stay healthy? Who will close? What is Alex Rodriguez capable of doing? It’s been quite an intriguing year on River Avenue, indeed. First baseman Mark Teixeira, now healthy and gluten-free, has batted .240 and matched his home runs (22) and RBI (62 which leads the American League) numbers from all of last year in just 82 games. After a rough first season in pinstripes Brian McCann has been the elite catcher the Yankees were hoping for when they handed him a big money contract, The 31-year old id batting .259 with 14 home runs and 55 RBI. Most surprising of all is Alex Rodriguez. After returning from his full year barring he’s batted .278 with 18 home runs and 51 RBI so far. He’s shockingly returned to being the middle of the order threat he once was and no one expected him to be again. Along the way he’s tied and eventually passed the great Willie Mays on the home run list and collected his 3,000th hit.
The renewed offense in the Bronx is clearly evident. They average the second most runs per game in baseball with 4.65 and have seen a return of the Bronx Bombers as they’ve hit 116 homers (Second in the American League).
After suffering a strained knee, Jacoby Ellsbury has been held to just 42 games but owns a .318 average with two home runs, 10 RBI and 14 stolen bases.Brett Gardner has played like the All-Star he is and is, batting .302 with 10 homers, 42 RBI and 15 stolen bases. Andrew Miller (1.53 ERA and 18 saves), Dellin Betances (1.53 and seven saves), Chasen Shreve (2.02 ERA with 37 strikeouts) and Justin Wilson (2.73 ERA with 32 strikeouts) have combined to form the core of the Yankees shut down bullpen. They’ve locked down big games in late innings, an essential showcased by the success of the Kansas City Royals last year.
As for the rotation, C.C. Sabathia has proven to be the team’s biggest liability. In 17 starts he’s 4-8 with a 5.47 ERA. Michael Pineda has had his fair share of speed bumps this year but has won nine games and pitched to the tune of a 3.64 ERA and owns the AL’s best strikeout to walk ratio with a whopping 111 punch outs to just 13 bases on balls. Masahiro Tanaka has been mostly healthy this year and in 11 starts he owns a 3.63 ERA. However, the team has struggled defensively, an area that was predicted to be a strength. They’ve committed 64 errors thus far, third worse in the American League. For the second half they should utilize the Deadline to acquire help with the rotation and at second base as Stephen Drew has proved to be a detriment to the team.
Most Outstanding Player: Brett Gardner (.302 average, 10 homers, 42 RBI and 15 stolen bases. A career year rewarded with a spot on the All-Star team)
Most Frustrating Player: Stephen Drew (.182 average, 12 home runs and 25 RBI after receiving a one-year $5 million dollar contract to be the everyday second baseman)
2. Los Angeles Angels of Aneheim (48-40) First Place in American League West
The Angels started off the year looking simply lost. Over the off-season they acquired outfielder Matt Joyce while trading away second baseman Howie Kendrick and the troubled and under performing Josh Hamilton. Many still considered them the cream of the crop in the division and, after a dog fight towards the end of the first half, they claimed first place from the upstart Astros. Who’s leading this strong club? Who else but 2014 AL MVP Mike Trout. The 23-year old is having another stellar year, batting .312 with 26 home runs and 55 RBI. Despite his .255 batting averahe future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols is looking like old self, already homering 26 times in 2015. David Freese, Cole Calhoun, Eric Aybar and Johnny Giavotella have all been more than solid contributors behind the Halos’ two core Pius Power Pieces (Not funny? Pius? Angels? Ah, whatever! I laughed!).
As for the pitching staff, the team’s best starter has been Hector Santiago. Yeah, exactly who everyone predicted before the season started. So far the All-Star owns a masterful 2.33 ERA in 18 starts. Staff ace Garrett Richards returned from injury earlier than expected and hasn’t quite found his groove yet. But in 16 starts he’s put up a respectable 3.53 ERA while winning nine games. After a few rough years in sunny southern California C.J. Wilson put together a very strong first half, going 7-7 with a 3.83 ERA so far this year. Andrew Heaney, the former Marlins top prospect acquired from the Dodgers for Kendrick, has pitched masterfully in his first four starts, going 3-0 with a 1.32 ERA.
As for the bullpen the always consistent Huston Street is putting together another very strong year. In 35 games he’s picked up 24 saves while his ERA sits at a strong 2.27. Setup man Joe Smith has appeared in 38 games and owns a 2.27 ERA. Jose Alvarez, Fernando Salas and Cesar Ramos have also had productive seasons, holding leads when the game is tight in the later innings.We all know how important that is. The Angeles will probably prioritize the outfield, second base and perhaps even third base at the Trade Deadline. They could make a run at someone like Aramis Ramirez to take over for David Freese and Garrardo Parra to be a defensive option in the outfield.
Most Outstanding Player: Mike Trout (.312 average and 26 homers)
Most Frustrating Player: Matt Joyce (.190 average with only five home runs and 20 RBI after coming over from the Rays in an off-season trade)
1. Kansas City Royals (52-34) First Place in American League Central
Ladies and gentleman, the best team in the American League is none other than the Kansas City Royals. After sweeping the playoffs and making all the way to Game 7 of the World Series not many people gave the Royals their due going into the season. But Kansas City has played superb baseball so far in 2015. The young first baseman Eric Hosmer is batting .291 with eight homers and 45 RBI while his third base counterpart, Mike Moustakes looks like he’s finally evolving into the players the Royals expected. as he’s batting .297 with seven long balls and 31 RBI. Kendrys Morales, signed in the off-season to take over as the designated hitter after Billy Butler left for Oakland, is having a huge year, batting .281 with 11 home runs and 61 RBI in 86 games. Salvador Perez is batting .262 but has hit a team leading 15 home runs while driving in 38 RBI.
Lorenzo Cain, the rising star center fielder, is having a huge year while left fielder and face of franchise Alex Gordon was having an All-Star caliber season before he suffered a groin injury, putting him on the shelf for the next seven weeks or so. It’d be interesting to see if the team seeks outside help to spell left field in Gordon’s absence or if they decide that Jarrord Dyson is enough to fill that void for the time being. Surprisingly, the pitching rotation has struggled a bit this year. After James Shields signed a free agent deal with the Padres they looked to Yordano Ventura to fill the role of ace. But, in 13 starts the 24-year old has gone 4-6 with a 4.73 ERA while showing his age more than once by throwing at batters and starting brawls.
But what the Royals have lacked in top of the line starting pitching they make up for in the bullpen. The three-headed monster of Greg Holland (2.70 ERA with 19 saves in 28 games), Wade Davis (0.46 ERA with nine saves in 39 games) and Kelvin Herrera (1.95 ERA in 39 games) along with new addition Ryan Madson (1.51 ERA in 38 games) have formed the best bullpen in the sport, bar none. All in all, the relievers in Regal Blue own a Major League best 2.18 bullpen ERA. They are counting on the bullpen to help propel them back into the playoffs for the second straight year and carry them straight to the diamond rings.
Most Outstanding Player: Alex Gordon (.279 average with 11 home runs and 39 RBI.
Most Frustrating Player: Omar Infante (.236 average with no homers and 25 RBI)
First Half Awards
While it’s too early to predict who will win awards at the end of the season (And I won’t try) it’s the perfect time, being the middle of the season and all, to see who would win these awards if the season ended today (Yes, I chose these all on my lonesome).
American League Most Valuable Player: Josh Donaldson – Third baseman, Toronto Blue Jays (.293 batting average, 21 home runs and 60 RBI)
American League Cy Young Award: Dallas Keuchel – Left handed pitcher, Houston Astros (11-4, 2.23 ERA, two shutouts, 114 strikeouts in 137.1 innings)
American League Rookie of the Year: Devon Travis – Second baseman, Toronto Blue Jays (.304 batting average, seven home runs and 32 RBI)
American League Fireman of the Year (Mariano Rivera Award): Glen Perkins – Left handed pitcher, Minnesota Twins (0-1, 1.21 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 28 saves in 38 appearances)
American League Comeback Player of the Year: Mark Teixeira – First baseman, New York Yankees (82 games, .240 batting average, 22 home runs, American League leading 62 RBI)