By Steve Kish
With the start of the second half of this baseball season, it’s time to look towards the what ifs and the will they or won’t theys. This is the time for the diehard fans to say, “my team can make a run, my team is going to be the surprise team of the second half.” It’s a new hope, a new reason to cheer. It’s the hunt for October.
With some disappointing teams, cough cough, Phillies, Red Sox and Tigers, there is still hope for each franchise and reason for each fanbase to feel their team will come through in the end. With the addition of two more teams to the playoffs, 19 teams are in the thick of the race. These historic clubs have the talent and the managers needed to make a push for a playoff spot. The question is do they have the will to do it? What if the Red Sox start off slow again? Is Bobby
Valentine going to start drinking with the boys in the dugout? Will he be bringing in his Xbox360 and playing video games come August? This is something that will have to be seen. As for the Phillies they may be to far out to catch the Nationals, who seem like a team on a mission. A young team will something to prove, to show they are the new kids on the block. That they are not to be taken lightly. The Phillies can run off a winning streak or three with those Aces on the
mound and that potent lineup. Beware, NL East. Don’t let the beast wake up.
Now we are to the team that most people felt would come of the Al Central and probably be in the World Series, the Detroit Tigers. Their All Star weekend was like their first half, hot and cold. Prince Fielder bombs away at the Homerun Derby and takes the Crown, then Justin Verlander blows it in the 1st inning of the All Star game. The problem with Detroit’s consistency is that they have none. Yes, they went into the All Star break with the longest winning streak, five games, but they are still 3.5 games out of first in their division. They are behind the White Sox and are you serious, the Cleveland Indians? The Indians? The teams that cringed the most when Fielder signed with the Tigers. On paper this team should be up at least 8 games going into the break, not down 3.5. They have fielding problems, we all have heard that, but their pitching and hitting rarely have clicked on the same nights. This team can win games averaging an error or two a game if both the pitching and hitting are working.
Then we have the surprise teams, the teams that we are all saying can keep pace, the Nationals, Orioles and Pirates. These teams have surprised us all by overachieving and creating havoc in their divisions. No one at the beginning of the season gave the Pirates or Orioles any thought of competing. The Orioles are in the deeply talented AL East and out playing Boston, Tampa Bay and not backing down from the Yankees. Yet here they are saying look at us we want Camden Yard rocking coming October. It has been 15 years since a playoff game has been played there, it’s time for it to return. With their pitching and defense, they have a chance to stay in the race and have enough timely offense to surprise. They rank middle of the pack in all stats as a team but get hits and outs when needed, which is dangerous for a team like Detroit that can’t get out of its own way.
What team hasn’t smelled the playoffs since Barry Bonds didn’t have a real life bobble head? The Pirates, and are they for real this year, they showed flashes last year and then fell off at the end. Hopefully, they have learned from that and remember that feeling of being in the race and just falling apart? That will drive a team, look at Lebron and the Heat. With an MVP candidate in McCuthen and pitching staff with the 5th best era in the league, they should continue to stay at the pace they are and make their first playoffs in 20 years.
Strasburg, Harper and Zimmerman are the future of the National League and all are on the Nationals roster. A roster that is potent at the plate and shutting opposing hitters down on the mound.
These upstarts were expected to take strides this year, but not many expected the dominance they have showed so far. They are a plus 58 in run differential, which is fourth highest only behind the Yankees, Rangers and White Sox. The pitching staff has been lights out. They are first in era, whip and baa and third in quality starts (starts lasting at least six innings). The future is only up for this team, for the remainder of this year and years to come.
As you begin root for your team and hope for that magical run into the playoffs, remember anything can happen, expect the unexpected. Be ready to cheer for that bottom of the ninth rally and have your heart ripped out by a blown save. With so many teams still in the hunt for a playoff spot the summer should only heat up and September should be memorable. The hunt for October begins Friday, so root, root, root for the home team.