MLB: Week in Review

1.   The All-Star Game

I have to admit that I have lost interest in the All-Star Game through the years.  I still like to watch the introductions, but the game itself hasn’t fully held my interest.  It is more of a background noise.  When I was growing up, it was a HUGE deal.  This was because you rarely saw teams that didn’t play in your market or in your league.  As a Yankees’ fan in New Jersey, I could watch the other league simply by changing the channel to the Mets’ game, but our overall access to every player was limited.  It made the All-Star Game special.    I used to enjoy it when Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly shared a common goal of winning a game for their league.

Going into this year, the NL has a 43-42-2 record in the midsummer classic.   The American League has not held the edge in the series since 1963, and it hasn’t been tied since 1964.   I guess that is something to watch for.

Nowadays, the Home Run Derby may be more exciting to watch.  This year, it will feature Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger, and Giancarlo Stanton, among others.  It will probably be one of the most anticipated competitions in years.

As for the rosters, I can nitpick over snubs and all of that.  It is not an easy roster to pick, since every team needs a representative.   I am quite surprised not to see Jacob deGrom of the Mets on the roster, as he has really righted his ship after some early season struggles.   There are others I can find, as well – nobody is ever going to be completely satisfied with how the rosters are chosen.

It should be noted that the rosters you see now are not final – pitchers who start next Sunday will be introduced on Tuesday, but will not be on the active All-Star roster.

2.   Dodgers Streak Along, but Diamondbacks Remain Pesky

The Dodgers had a 20-3 stretch snapped today (which means it is now 20-4!), but still only hold a 2.5 game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks.   Both teams now have run differentials over 100 (joining the Astros and the Yankees), and both have a legitimate shot to get to 100 wins, which would be the first time that two teams from the same division won 100 games since 1993, when the Braves and Giants were both in the National League West.   Back then, there wasn’t a wild-card, so the Giants were left out of the playoffs.

Obviously, there is still a whole second half of the season to get through and this is still a long-shot.   Both teams want the division because nobody wants to play in that Wild Card game, so there is some incentive to keep the train rolling.

The third team in the trio, the Colorado Rockies, still own a significant lead for the second wild-card but have fallen off.   They are 1-9 in their last ten games and are suddenly 7 games behind the surging Dodgers.  This is where getting off to that hot start helps them:  They can go through one streak of bad baseball and still be OK.   However, if it continues much longer, teams like the Cubs and Cardinals may start chewing away at the deficit.  The National League Central is a cluster of mediocre teams right now, but I wouldn’t count any of them out at making a run at the Rockies if they don’t start playing better soon.

3. The Rebuild That Isn’t Working

Everyone loves a good rebuild, right?  The Houston Astros tanked seasons for years and came out of it with one of the best teams in baseball.  A team that should sustain its greatness for many years to come.   They have essentially been the blueprint for teams that want to tank.

This is not to say the Phillies have been tanking, because I think their recent bad seasons were more about circumstance than truly trying to go down in flames.  However, their version of a rebuild has simply not yet worked.

After beating the Mets on Sunday, the Phillies are 27-53.   Their minor league system hasn’t been producing, and their young arms have not been able to gain any kind of consistency.   They got a great outing today out of Nick Pivetta, a 24-year old who now carries a 4.85 ERA on the season.

I commented before the season that the National League East would be tougher this season because of the presence of up-and-coming teams like the Braves and Phillies.  The Braves have been fine – hanging around .500, and rising up to be in second place in the division.  The Phillies have stumbled, as their team ERA of 4.85 does not reflect on the talent that is supposed to be in their rotation.

It is not all gloom-and-doom for the Phanatics, however.   Rebuilds don’t always follow the same pattern.  While some of their younger players may be struggling (both in the majors and minors), there is no telling what will become of them next year or the year after.    The Phillies desperately need J.P. Crawford (hitting .204 in AAA) to start figuring things out.    He is their top prospect, and he plays one of the most important positions on the field.

Ask the Royals how hard it is to keep resetting and rebuilding.  The Phillies need their young players to start blossoming, so that they can surround them with the veterans needed to turn a good, young nucleus into a legitimate contender.   I thought they may turn the corner fully in 2018 – I may have to change that timetable.

4.   Power is Overrated

At least that is the mantra of the Red Sox tonight.  The Sox have started to pull away from the American League East a bit, as they now own a 3-game lead over the Yankees, a team that owned a 4-game lead over the Red Sox until their epic collapse of the past few weeks.

The Red Sox are 26th in baseball with 83 home runs hit, a full 50 behind the leading total of the Houston Astros.   With David Ortiz out of the lineup, the middle of their order is not quite as feared now as it once was.

However, the Sox are 11th in runs scored, and 5th in on-base percentage.  They have the third fewest strikeouts in the game (Houston and Cleveland are the only two teams with less), meaning they have built an offense that is more pesky than it is powerful.   There is always more than one way to succeed in baseball, which is part of what makes it fun.  The Red Sox are doing it without much of their trademark power, but it is working to some extent. (They would love to be higher than 11th in runs scored, no doubt)

They are leading the division because of their pitching (best ERA in the American League), which is led by the overpowering Chris Sale.    Their bullpen ERA of 2.86 is only behind the Cleveland Indians in all of baseball.  Last year, they ranked 9th in baseball in bullpen ERA, which is still very good – this year, they have just been one of the very best.

The Sox are likely to be aggressive this month, with third base high on their priority list.  They may look for some power (Todd Frazier, for example), or may just look for anything that is an upgrade over the junk they have been throwing over there all year.    Whatever it is they do, the AL East is on notice:  The Red Sox are by no means perfect, but it would be wise to keep things close, especially for that team in the Bronx.

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