National League @ American League
SP - Justin Verlander (Tigers) v. Matt Cain (Giants)
1. Carlos Gonzalez, DH, Rockies
2. Melky Cabrera, CF, Giants
3. Ryan Braun, LF, Brewers
4. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
5. Carlos Beltran, RF, Cardinals
6. Buster Posey, C, Giants
7. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants
8. Dan Uggla, 2B, Braves
9. Rafael Furcal, SS, Cardinals
1. Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees
2. Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees
3. Josh Hamilton, LF, Rangers
4. Jose Bautista, RF, Blue Jays
5. Prince Fielder, 1B, Tigers
6. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers
7. David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox
8. Mike Napoli, C, Rangers
9. Curtis Granderson, CF, Yankees
Five MLB Random Thoughts
1. The Detroit Tigers underperformed in the first half, finishing with a 44-42 record which puts them 3.5-games behind the White Sox in the A.L. Central and 1.5-games behind the Orioles for the last A.L. Wild Card playoff spot. However, the Tigers should emerge in the second half to grab a postseason bid and contend for the franchise's first World Series title since 1984.
We all know the Tigers lineup - featuring home run derby champion Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera - can produce, they are currently sixth in the A.L. in runs scored with 387 which is good for an average of 4.5 runs per game. That lineup would improve if Victor Martinez returns from knee surgery, although it looks like he won't be back before September. In Justin Verlander they also have one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Two areas that the Tigers need help in are starting pitching and outfield help. To fill those needs, the Tigers could call on the Red Sox.
The Red Sox need to make changes on their team and that should start with Josh Beckett. Beckett is a very talented pitcher when he is focused but he has been inconsistent in his time in Boston and has been the focal point of the Red Sox fans who blame Beckett for the team's collapse last September and their mediocre first half of this season. A trade would theoretically benefit both sides. The Red Sox could move on from Beckett and the 32-year-old righty could get a fresh start in Detroit with a chance to win a third World Series.
Boston also has a surplus of outfielders with the impending returns of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford from the disabled list. The Red Sox could add one of their extra outfielders, such as Daniel Nava or Ryan Sweeney, in the deal to sweeten the pot for the Tigers. The Red Sox would also have to eat some of the remaining money on the 4-year/$68-million deal that Beckett signed in 2011 that runs through 2014.
In return, the Red Sox could add two prospects from the Tigers organization. The Tigers have three very highly rated left handed pitchers in Casey Crosby, Andrew Oliver, and Brian Flynn as well as outfielders Tyler Collins and Tyler Gibson. A package of one of the pitchers and one of the outfielders would be a good return for the Red Sox.
Even if it's not the Red Sox, expect the Tigers to find a pitcher and an outfielder before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline to bolster their 25-man roster and to compete for a championship.
2. Matt Cain, who will start the game for the National League tonight, has had an excellent season to date for the Giants. He sports a 9-3 record and a 2.62 ERA. If either Jon Lester or Josh Beckett were doing that for the Red Sox, Boston would not be in last place in the A.L. East.
The issue is that Cain should not be the N.L. starter. That distinction should have gone to Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Dickey is having a career year - he's 12-1 with a 2.40 ERA - and is one of the major reasons why the Mets are in contention for a playoff spot.
National League manager Tony La Russa claimed his decision was based not only on Cain's performance in the first half of the season but also as recognition for an outstanding career. That should not be a consideration for who starts in an All-Star Game but even if it was, does Cain's career record of 78-76 really earn him the start in an All-Star Game? If that is the thought process for La Russa, doesn't Cole Hamels of the Phillies, who is 10-4 with a 3.20 ERA in 2012 and has a career record of 84-58, deserve to start the game?
Dickey was the best pitcher in the league in the first half and should be starting. La Russa made a mistake in naming Cain.
3. The Washington Nationals not only have two of the brightest stars in the game with pitcher Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper, but they also have the best record in the National League at 49-34.
The biggest issue for the Nationals in the second half will be how they handle Strasburg. After the top pitching prospect in the game had Tommy John elbow surgery in September of 2010, the Nationals have decided to be cautious with Strasburg. They placed an innings limit on him this season that will have him shut down sometime in early September.
Now, the Nationals do have a shot at the World Series this year but it would not be wise to risk the future of one of the cornerstones of their franchise to take one shot at a championship. The Nationals have built one of the best young teams in baseball and should be in line to contend for years if they can stay healthy. Pushing Strasburg too far this year would jeopardize their future and also would not guarantee a title in 2012.
What they need to do is find a starting pitcher on the trade market to fill Strasburg's spot and hope that they can rely on Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Edwin Jackson to pitch them into the playoffs.
4. To me, the two best stories in the first half of the season have been the Orioles and the Pirates. Neither team has been significant since Bill Clinton was the President and now both are in contention to make the playoffs.
It won't be easy for either team to make their first playoff appearances since 1997 (Baltimore) and 1992 (Pittsburgh) but the Orioles truly face an uphill battle to play into October. They are stuck in the A.L. East and already trail the Yankees for the division lead while having the Rays, Red Sox, and Blue Jays - not to mention the Tigers and Angels - chasing them for one of the two Wild Card spots.
It would be great for baseball if both teams, as well as the Nationals, found a way to make the playoffs. Baseball has become all too predictable in the 21st Century as to who will make the playoffs and to see some fresh faces in October would be a benefit to the game as a whole. MLB needs fan bases in places like Kansas City, San Diego, and Oakland to believe that they have a chance to contend although their team might lack the resources of teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox. It is a model that works well for the NFL and if MLB can start seeing more competitive balance in their sport, it would be a great thing.
5. Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik has stated several times that the team will not trade ace pitcher Felix Hernandez but it is in the best interest of the team to move him now in order to rebuild their franchise.
Following the lead of Boston Globe reporter Nick Cafardo, I have been pushing for the Red Sox to make a play for King Felix that would send Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Jose Iglesias, and Matt Barnes to Seattle for Hernandez. The Mariners would get two stars from the Pacific Northwest in Ellsbury (Oregon native) and Lester (Washington native) as well as a top shortstop prospect (Iglesias) and a top pitching prospect (Barnes). The reason for including Iglesias and Barnes is that Ellsbury (2013) and Lester (2014) are both coming up on free agency and if they can't be convinced to stay in Seattle, the Mariners would still have something to show for moving one of the game's best pitchers.
The Mariners would be making a move toward contention in the A.L. West while the Red Sox would be building the future of their team around Hernandez, like they did back in 1997 with Pedro Martinez. It would be a significant but necessary change for both teams.
Predictions for the Second Half
A.L. Playoff Predictions
A.L. East - New York Yankees
A.L. Central - Detroit Tigers
A.L. West - Texas Rangers
A.L. Wild Card - L.A. Angels and Tampa Bay Rays
Wild Card Game
Angels over Rays
Yankees over Angels, Rangers over Tigers
Rangers over Yankees
N.L. Playoff Predictions
N.L. East - Atlanta Braves
N.L. Central - Cincinnati Reds
N.L West - L.A. Dodgers
N.L. Wild Card - San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals
Wild Card Game
Giants over Nationals
Giants over Braves, Dodgers over Reds
Giants over Dodgers
Rangers over Giants
A.L. MVP - Josh Hamilton, Rangers
N.L. MVP - Joey Votto, Reds
A.L. Cy Young - Justin Verlander, Tigers
N.L. Cy Young - R.A. Dickey, Mets
A.L. Rookie of the Year - Mike Trout, Angels
N.L. Rookie of the Year - Bryce Harper, Nationals
A.L. Manager of the Year - Buck Showalter, Orioles
N.L. Manager of the Year - Clint Hurdle, Pirates