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Thursday, July 16, 2009

AL Central ALL-Star Update

Here is a little wrap up of how our AL Central looks after the first half from the guys who follow them every day. My 100th post on the year and maybe my best so far. Hope you enjoy and be sure to check out there blogs ~

1St Place Detroit Tigers 48-39 -GB
By Ian of Bless You Boys

1. Overall how are the Tigers through the first half?

They've exceeded expectations, holding first-place despite not getting any contributions from Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez, or Jeremy Bonderman. The fifth spot in their starting rotation has also been a question mark all season (though you could probably say that about most any team in the majors).

But what's holding them back the most is an inconsistent offense. They've gotten outstanding pitching from the top two spots in their rotation (and up until the last month, Rick Porcello was also pitching well), but poor run support has prevented them from winning several games they should have. That could cost the Tigers in the second half, if they can't find a bat to tie their lineup together.

2. State of Tigers pitching staff?

Pretty solid. Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson have given Detroit a top two that not many teams can match right now. And as mentioned before, Rick Porcello was right there with them until his last few starts. But Armando Galarraga needs to put together a consistent stretch of reliable pitching. And if Luke French can hold down that fifth spot, that would help greatly. The Tigers would probably benefit from adding a veteran starter to the staff, however.

In the bullpen, Fernando Rodney has been a solid closer, though not lights-out. If he can find a way to control his fastball in the second half, he can be even better. (And remember, he hasn't blown a save yet.) The problem is with the set-up men. Joel Zumaya has been terribly inconsistent, throwing hard but not with a lot of control. Brandon Lyon has settled down after a somewhat rough beginning to the season, and looks like an eighth-inning guy right now. If someone else can team up with Bobby Seay in the sixth or seventh innings, the late-inning relief looks pretty good.

3. State of Tigers position players?

The Tigers look great in the infield. Their defense has improved significantly, which has helped the pitching. And their two best hitters man the corner spots. The questions are in the outfield. Left field has been a revolving door all season. That's where they need to upgrade. Carlos Guillen could come back to help with that, but that's hardly something the Tigers can count on. In right field, Magglio Ordonez looks like he's done. But putting him in a platoon with Clete Thomas looks to be the best way to get some production out of him, as Ordonez can still hit left-handed pitching.

4. State of Tigers farm?

Not bad, but not great. With Porcello already in the majors, there's no top-tier gem in the farm system. But there are plenty of solid players that could fill some holes next season (and this season, as well). The strengths of the organization are in the middle infield and relief, both of which could pay dividends soon. And there are some starting pitching prospects that could contribute in the next couple of seasons, too. Is that enough to put together the sort of package that could yield a big deal at the trade deadline? Probably not. But there are some players that the Tigers would hate to part with, such as outfielder Wilkin Ramirez, reliever Ryan Perry, or catcher Alex Avila, and maybe that's what they'd have to give up, if they really felt they had a shot in the postseason.

5. Thoughts on the second half?

I think the Tigers look in good shape. They've played very well at home, and will play more games at home in the second half. They've also played well against the AL Central, which is what they'll need to do to win the division. (Playing better against the AL East might impress more, but beating their immediate rivals would help a lot more.)

There are concerns over whether or not Verlander and Jackson could wear down, but starting pitching should continue to carry them. As mentioned, the left field situation needs to be resolved. But there's room for improvement up and down the lineup, as well as the pitching staff. If the Tigers stand pat, they're capable of winning the AL Central. That assumes that either the Twins or White Sox don't make an impact move, however.

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2nd Place Chicago White Sox 45-43 3.5 GB
By Andrew of The 35th Street Review

1. Overall how are the White Sox through the first half ?

Overall, they're pretty much exactly what the Sox faithful thought they would be, although they have this maddening habit of not just playing terribly or only playing superbly, but alternately doing both. Stretches of greatness follow stretches of the most horrendous baseball many of us have seen in our lifetimes, which themselves show signs of potential sporting excellence. If they would simply stay at .500 by winning even-numbered games and losing odd-numbered games, it would be a lot easier to handle.

2.State of Sox pitching staff

Despite what they call Clayton Richard and Bartolo Colon, the Sox still don't have a fifth starter, and at some point we're all pretty sure Jose Contreras will stop this Benjamin Button business and get back to falling apart the way we all know he can. Still, for a three-man rotation and four-man bullpen, they're getting the job done quite nicely. Shoring up the back end of the rotation would help considerably, and while we're all entertaining Roy Halladay pipe dreams we should probably just start reading up on our future scrap heap acquisitions. Ross Ohlendorf! Woo-hoo!

3.State of Sox position players ?

The bats have proven they can still win a softball game and the gloves have proven they should be traded for bats. In short, this side of the team is the team we all came in ready to cheer for and curse. Simultaneously.

4.State of Sox farm ?

Earlier this year, the Sox had two excellent youngsters waiting for the call-up in Gordon Beckham and Aaron Poreda. With both now on the big club, one could argue the farm system has done its job. Of course, one could also argue the Sox have gone from having two decent prospects to having none, which is just as true a statement. Catcher Tyler Flowers and 1B Brandon Allen are making some noise, but neither is old, slow or GIDP-y enough to make the kind of impact the Sox need just yet.

5.Thoughts on the second half ?

A lot of people around the South Side will say things to the effect of "The Tigers aren't running away with it," but the part they never mention is that the Sox aren't doing much to make up the difference between themselves and the team from Detroit. If they can at least be an entertaining second-place team, I think a lot of us will be happy despite our newfound huffing and puffing about the importance of Winning It All, even though we didn't know what that even looked like until a few years ago. But hey, if you're going to have unrealistic standards you might as well go all the way, so here we go: Beckham wins Rookie of the Year, midseason White Sox pickup Roy Halladay takes the Cy Young by a long shot and the team from the South Side beats the Dodgers in six for their second World Series in five years. Believe.

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3rd Place Minnesota Twins 45-44 4 GB
By Seth of Seth Speaks

1. Overall how are the Twins through the first half ?

They are and have been right around .500 all year. They are, almost by definition, an average ball team. The lineup has 5-6 guys they can count on and 3-4 that just can not be. The starters and relievers have both been up and down. This team has a record that it deserves.

2. State of Twins pitching staff .

The starters have to be better. Nick Blackburn has been the team's most consistent, top starter. When healthy, Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey have done well. Scott Baker has come along and improved since the start of the year, and Franciso Liriano is all over the place. But these five (and Anthony Swarzak and maybe Kevin Mulvey) are all young and need to keep getting opportunities. The back end of the Twins bullpen has actually been very good. Joe Nathan is as good as it gets. Matt Guerrier has had an excellent comeback season. Jose Mijares and R.A. Dickey have also done admirably. The rest of the bullepn has already had so much turnover, and deservedly so.

3. State of Twins position players ?

Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are at the top of their games and as god as they get. Joe Crede has stayed healthy so far and shown the right-handed power and great glove that was expected. Jason Kubel has certainly taken the next step in his career, showing his all-around offensive game. Michael Cuddyer has regained his power and is playing well. Brendan Harris has been a pleasant surprise. But offensively, Delmon Young still has not displayed power and both he and Carlos Gomez continue to swing overly aggressively. The bench is quite weak too.

4. State of Twins farm ?

The Twins only have two or three really high ceiling prospects (Aaron Hicks, Wilson Ramos, Angel Morales and maybe Ben Revere). But they have a lot of players that can certainly contribute at the big league level, particularly in the bullpen, starting staff and outfield. Danny Valencia appaears ready for 3B.

5. Thoughts on the second half ?

The Twins need to make a move at the trade deadline or they will remain a .500 team and probably finish in 3rd or even 4th place in teh division.

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4th Place Kansas City Royals 37-51 11.5 GB
We all know how bad we've been hey at least Tony Pena Jr was DFA'd today so things are looking up. We are only 11.5 games back but with the way the teams been playing might as well be 20. If you want more you can dredge through the archives.
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5th Place Cleveland Indians 35-54 14 GB
By Nino of The Tribe Daily

1. Overall how are the Indians?

Not very good. There is a reason they are in last place in the AL Central. This is a team that just isn't playing consistently good baseball. There are games in which they look absolutely unbeatable in all aspects. Unfortunately those games don't come around very often.

Injuries have played a minor part, even though they've suffered more in the first half this year than last year. Asdrubal Cabrera, Travis Hafner, and Grady Sizemore have all missed time for the offense. An already damaged pitching staff hasn't had the services of Anthony Reyes, Rafael Betancourt, Scott Lewis, Jake Westbrook, and Aaron Laffey at points in the season. But none of this matters given the way the Indians have played this year.

The team is notoriously slow starting under Eric Wedge, but nothing tops the disappointment this year has been.

2. State of the Indians pitcing staff?

One word: Disaster. The starting pitching was considered deep but not very experienced, therfore a bit of an unknown. The Indians were just counting on five performances out of names like Cliff Lee, Fausto Carmona, Carl Pavano, Aaron Laffey, Anthony Reyes, Scott Lewis, Jeremy Sowers, and possibly a mid-season rescue from Jake Westbrook.

The only ones that have worked out have been Cliff Lee and Carl Pavano. Westbrook is still on the Disabled List, Reyes is out for the season, Lewis hasn't pitched since the Progressive Field opener, and Sowers has been the usual Jeremy Sowers. Let's not even talk about Fausto Carmona's exile to the Arizona desert.

The one that has been positive has been Aaron Laffey, but a injury derailed his success after he moved in to help a raveged bullpen.

There's been one body in the pen who's stayed on the active roster all year and that is the high-priced closer Kerry Wood. Everyone who's started on the active roster has either been released, sent down, or visited the disabled list. It's been the ultimate revolving door of relief pitchers. 20 different pitchers have been used in a relief role for this team and we're only at the half-way point.

What's sad is that the Indians brass expected the bullpen to be the strongest part of the team with the additions of Kerry Wood to the back-end and Joe Smith as a luxury right-handed specialist. Added into a group that had Rafael Perez, Rafael Betancourt, and Jensen Lewis, and young depth options like Tony Sipp, John Meloan, and converted starter Adam Miller, there was reason to be optimistic about it all.

3. State of the Indians position players?

A little better than the state of the pitching staff, that is for sure. But it hasn't been as good as you would have hoped for.

Victor Martinez has returned to All-Star form this season. Travis Hafner, despite a small stint on the DL, has at least shown he can be the Pronk of old by hitting long home runs and making his presence felt by making other hitters better.

Shin-Soo Choo has put up an All-Star caliber season in right field, becoming a savior for the Indians as a clean-up hitter and Asdrubal Cabrera was doing the same in the leadoff spot before his injury.

That's where the positives really end. Grady Sizemore has had elbow issues damper his season and effectiveness. Mark DeRosa is on St. Louis' disabled list, Jhonny Peralta has battled issues with moving to third base, and Eric Wedge has stiffed Ryan Garko for too long.

Derek Shelton's offensive approach has led this team to inconsistencies with the bat as well. As a whole, it has just been a lot of inconsistency, but it's far from been the biggest problem.

4. State of the Indians Farm?

I think uncertainty is a good word for the Indians farm system. There is some talent there and the Indians believe that.

But for their relief arms especially, I think the Indians are starting to re-evaluate the way things are done, mostly with their drafting.

Much has been made about the Indians first round picks the past few years and while that is no doubt a problem, it isn't as bad as people make it out to be. However the way they bring up relief pitchers is questionable. Most of the ones with potential start out as starting pitchers and their progress is slow.

The failures pressed Shapiro and company into moving a few starters into their relief roles and even up a level in order to see the effect and maybe get help as soon as possible. All that said, they still Matt LaPorta, Carlos Santana, Hector Rondon and Michael Brantley all at the upper levels of the system.

5. Thoughts on the second half?

Begrudgingly the season is over. But the Indians shouldn't stop fighting. I think Grady Sizemore should probably be shut down to have surgery on his elbow that will eventually need it.

We should probably see Matt LaPorta and Hector Rondon up with the big club at some point. Really it's another disappointment to already be out of it before the second half even begins, and it will be equally disappointing if the Indians do what they did last year and become the best second half team in baseball, only to finish .500 and not only give themselves a worse draft pick, but some more hope that this current group of players can be successful.

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A big thanks to everyone of the above blogs for making this happen. And of course a big thank you to YOU the reader. And enjoy the second half of the 2009 MLB season no matter how bad your team plays.

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