A View From Studio 3: Second-half storylines
Watch for Bucs to end drought, Wainwright, Cabrera, Davis to make history
On our fourth consecutive day without a meaningful Major League game, the troops are losing steam. In this intense heat wave, maintaining focus is an issue. So is keeping strength. Morale is starting to waver, and if this drought goes on any longer, mutiny is a real possibility. But based on our estimate, if we can sustain just another few hours, a reward awaits. By the time daylight breaks, we will be staring nose to nose at the unofficial second half to the 2013 season. The storylines are intriguing, but in this state of delirium, it's difficult to know what is real and what is imagined. Please advise.
-- MLB fan
Hang on tight. Stay strong. Breathe. You're nearly out of the woods. The following storylines are real. Although in some cases, they are hard to fathom. Currently there are 14 teams either in first place or within five games of first place. That group does not include the Yankees, Angels, Phillies or Giants. But it does include the Pirates.
Pittsburgh is a force and a story to watch through the summer. You're not hallucinating. The Bucs haven't played in the postseason since 1992. George H.W. Bush was still in office. In 2013, they have the second-best record in the National League. While a playoff appearance is the desired goal, a winning season would be cause for celebration. The last time they enjoyed at least 82 wins was also in 1992. All the Pirates have to do is win 26 of their remaining 69 games to pop the cork on aged champagne.
A champagne celebration will not suffice if Miguel Cabrera wins back-to-back Triple Crowns. The Tigers will need to up the ante. In the history of the game, no player has won the award in consecutive years. Miggy has a real shot to rewrite the record books. While it seems imagined, Cabrera is having a much better season than he had in 2012. The Tigers star could set personal single-season highs in hits, runs, RBIs, homers, walks, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Cabrera's greatest competition figures to be Chris Davis. The Orioles slugger enters the second half with the most homers in the game, 37. It's not a mirage. And maybe not a total surprise. In his Minor League career, Davis was a prolific power hitter, averaging one homer every 15 or so at-bats. In his Major League career, that average was basically the same until 2013. This season, "Crush" is hitting one home run every every 9.2 at-bats. At this current pace, he'll hit 62 and become the first player since 2001 to smack 60 or more in a season.
While it may be tough during this difficult time, MLB fan, think a few weeks ahead to the Trade Deadline. The Phillies may hold the postseason key for a few different clubs. If the Phils decide to clean house, they could trade Cliff Lee and Chase Utley. Lee's already been moved three times in Deadline deals and could end up back in Texas. The Rangers' starting pitching has been ravaged by injuries. Ultey has spent his entire career in Philadelphia. If he's traded, Oakland could try to snag him. The A's need an upgrade at second base. If these moves come to fruition, we could watch Lee battle Utley in the American League playoffs.
Right now, the playoffs do not seem likely for the Nationals. That could change. But consider their situation. One game over .500 and five games back in the Wild Card standings. It was World Series or bust for this club in Davey Johnson's final year as manager. So far, it's been a bust. Many predicted 100 wins and a runaway division win. I can't recall anyone stating that the Nats' offense would struggle, but it has been anemic. Among the worst in the NL. The next three weeks will tell a lot about the Nats. They face the Dodgers, Pirates, Tigers, Phillies and Braves in 15 games in a 22-game span.
The Braves continue to lead the Nationals in the NL East despite the struggles of B.J. Upton. He hopes to avoid making history for the wrong reason. If his nightmare continues, Upton could finish the year with fewer than 100 hits and more than 200 strikeouts. That's happened only one time in the history of the game. Mark Reynolds was the first, in 2010 while playing for Arizona.
Finally, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright is rewriting history. The right-hander has a legitimate shot to finish 2013 with more wins than walks allowed. He currently has 12 victories and only 15 walks. If Wainwright pulls this off, he'll be the first pitcher in the modern era to complete the feat in a non-shortened season. In 1994, Bret Saberhagen finished the strike-shortened season with 14 wins and 13 walks allowed.
Keep your eyes on the prize, MLB fan. Strap in and hydrate. The second half is almost here. Figures to be a wild ride. Get some rest. You'll need it.
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2-4 p.m. ET. Follow him on twitter @mattyallofmlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.