On March 31, baseball diamonds across the country, plus the magnificent city of Toronto of course, were brimming with excitement and prospect. 100 days later, as we near the unofficial halfway point of yet another year, it is time to take a gander at which teams’ hope was a waste, which players have underachieved, which teams are legitimate contenders down the stretch, and which players have the capability to finish the year with a season to remember in the National League.
Let us start with the teams that have left a deep, bitter pit in the heart and soul of every fan that sports their paraphernalia. Also known as how the Cubs fans have been feeling for roughly 104 years. Gotta love those curses right? I shall now resume this article as my struggles as I will have plenty of opportunities to do such for a long time I fear. In the National League this year, there is no one team that you would have thought would be a contender but does not have a legitimate shot at playoff birth. However, my first team that has underachieved to a certain extent has to be the Nationals. They may be four games over 500 and only four games back of the Braves for first, but going into the season, I think all Nats fans would agree with me when I say anything but first at this point would be disappointing. With what was a team who had the most likely preseason MVP and Cy Young candidates, to see both of them underachieve to their full potential is why the Nationals are not where they could be. But it certainly is not too late. My last underachiever is the Giants. Let’s face the facts, when you win the World Series, you have high expectations for the following year. The Giants do not look to be on pace to accomplish a feat similar to last year’s. Although in a division that remains up for grabs, a Giants team seven games under .500 is undoubtedly labeled as a disappointment.
Now let us talk about that surprise team. Then again, how surprised should we really be? The Pittsburgh Pirates are eighteen games over .500. They are .5 a game back in the NL Central and leading the NL Wild Card Race. Now I know what all you inquisitive ponderers are inquiring, “How in the world does a team with the fourth lowest payroll in the MLB have one of the best records?” The answer is simple: pitching. To go one step further, it is one of the best pitching coaches in the game, Ray Searage. He has taken pitchers who have had mediocre careers and squeezed every ounce of potential out of them. Take AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano who are both having arguably the best seasons of their careers this year. Or how about Jeff Locke? Sure, he is very young and has not had a chance, but I can guarantee if he is anywhere but Pittsburgh he is not an all-star. They also have arguably the best closer in the game, in Jason Grilli (also an all-star). Let’s not forget the sparks in the lineup, Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen, who are all-stars as well. Welcome back my inquisitive comrades. “That team with the fourth lowest payroll has 4 all-stars? Not possible!” Oh it is possible. The Pirates do not buy talent. They draft it, mold it, and produce it. That is why PNC Park is home to one of the best stories in baseball this year. Let us hope it continues.
Although baseball is undoubtedly a team sport, the individual aspect is more evident than in other sports. Thats why our impact players halfway through the year are a monumental topic. My top impact player’s name may start with a Ya, but it is not the phenom Yasiel Puig. Instead, it is a veteran having the season of his life. Even though Yadier Molina happens to be hitting 346 with 45 RBI’s, his production at the plate is only half of why he is so impactful. The Cardinals have the best record in the National League thanks to their third best pitching staff in all of the MLB. The staff consists of young starters who are exceeding everyone’s expectations thanks to Yadi’s exceptional ability to handle a game behind the plate. He is carrying the team to yet another successful season. That is why he is my halfway point MVP.
My halfway Cy Young has to be the man everyone is talking about, Matt Harvey. It is simple. He is pitching on a team nothing short of abysmal, but yet he finds a way to win games. His stuff may be the best in all of baseball, he has a remarkable 2.35 ERA, and he in all likelihood will be starting the All-Star game in his own park. The way he has bursted onto the scene this year is Linecum-esk the year he won his first Cy Young. Matt Harvey is halfway there, and if he can continue to pitch the way he has, he is Cy Young bound without a doubt.
Anything can happen in half a baseball season. Maybe the Cubs can even turn their year around, and receive a playoff birth. Now that boys and girls is what we call a good old fashioned joke. You know who is MVP bound, you know who is Cy Young bound. However, the team that will win the NL is a little tougher. There is no team that is clear cut better than all the others. Much to my dismay, the team that has the best chance in my opinion has to be the Cardinals at this point. They have the best combination of pitching and hitting to succeed in the playoffs. They will barely edge out the Pirates in the Central and led by Yadier, go on to make yet another appearance in the World Series. - Ben Greer