Team by Team Midseason Progress Report

Team by Team Midseason Progress Report

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

(Sports Network) - Another All-Star break and another bleak outlook for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The team is all but eliminated from playoff contention with 75 games still left to play. It owns a pitiful 34-53 record heading into the second half of the season and trails the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox by 19 games. Tampa Bay lost 13 of its final 14 games of the first half and could be on its way to the worst record in baseball for a second consecutive year.

Once again the Devil Rays' starting rotation has been ineffective. James Shields (7-4) is the only starter with a winning record, while the rest of the rotation is a combined 16-35 on the year. Edwin Jackson has been the worst of the bunch, going just 1-9 with a 7.23 earned run average. As a team the D- Rays own the league's worst ERA at 5.82.

Part of the problem for that high number has been the Devil Rays' lackluster bullpen, which is just 10-17 on the season. Highly-touted right-hander Brian Stokes, a closer candidate entering the year, is still suffering through growing pains. He has posted a 2-6 record with a 6.69 ERA over just 39 innings.

Tampa Bay has held its own at the plate, batting a respectable .261 as a team. However, they have struck out an American League-worst 692 times this season and are averaging just 4.6 runs per game. Shortstop Brendan Harris has been the leader at the plate, hitting .310 with eight home runs and 39 RBI thus far. His 40 runs scored are tied for second on the team, while his 18 doubles are third-best among Tampa players.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER - Carl Crawford has been the D-Rays' most consistent player through the first half of the season. The left fielder is batting .285 with six home runs and 51 RBI. He also is ranked third in the AL with 23 stolen bases.

Crawford is young and talented and could be the player the Rays decide to build around. He has played in all but two games this season and is slowly becoming the face of the Tampa Bay organization. However, he is also one of the few players that other teams may be interested at the upcoming trade deadline. It would take an unbelievable offer to convince the Devil Rays to let Crawford go, but if the right deal comes along, his departure is a possibility.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT - Center fielder Elijah Dukes has had problems, both on and off the field, during a trying rookie season. The D-Rays had high hopes for Dukes, a third round pick in the 2002 draft, but a slow start and a highly publicized off-the-field domestic incident forced the team to de- activate him until further notice.

Prior to his demotion, the troubled outfielder was batting just .190 with 10 home runs and 21 RBI. Dukes' problems have also hurt the image of a franchise that is trying to promote its young players in an attempt to build an almost non-existent fan base, almost as much as they have hurt the team itself.

SECOND HALF PROJECTION - The Devil Rays are well on their way to a last place finish and probably the first pick in the 2008 First-Year Player draft. Tampa Bay lacks the pitching and consistent hitting needed to compete in the American League. However, there may be a silver lining to all this, as the D-Rays are extremely young and should return most, if not all, of their team next season. The organization has pledged to stick with the youth movement, as they do not have the fan base or money to attract high-quality free agents. The best thing for Tampa Bay can do this season is develop its young pitching staff.

Do not expect much from the Devil Rays at the trade deadline, as they do not have much to offer and are not willing to pay any high-priced players. The best thing for Tampa Bay at this point is to continue to push forward and develop a young nucleus that in time can challenge the Red Sox and Yankees of the world. However, the Rays also need to stay away from becoming a professional farm system that develops young talent only to have a big-market team come in and steal it away.

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Seattle Mariners

(Sports Network) - The Seattle Mariners have been on a roller coaster ride since Opening Day. The first week of the season was a bizarre one for the Mariners, as their entire four-game set against the Cleveland Indians was postponed on the account of weather.

The weather was not the only misfortune Seattle had to endure, as it slept through the month of April, posting a 9-10 record. However, the Mariners bounced back during the month of May, winning 16 games despite having just one day off. The surge through May propelled the Mariners into a race with the LA Angels of Anaheim in the AL West. Seattle came into the All-Star break with extreme confidence after taking three out of four from the Oakland Athletics to draw within two games of Anaheim.

At 13 games above .500 the Mariners are enjoying their best start since the 2003 season. Seattle had entered the break below .500 in each of the past three years, and had also failed to make the postseason in each of those seasons. However, despite their success, manager Mike Hargrove decided it was time to step down just two weeks before the All-Star break. Hargrove's decision shocked many, as the veteran skipper was enjoying his best season with the Mariners. Hargrove, who was rumored to be on a short leash heading into this season, cited a lack of commitment as his reason for retiring.

Seattle did not mourn Hargrove's absence very long, winning four of their last five games under new manager John McLaren. McLaren inherited a team that has shown serious potential through the first half of the season. The Mariners starting rotation has been solid, posting a 31-31 overall record. Starters Jarrod Washburn (8-6), Miguel Batista (8-7), Felix Hernandez (5-4) and Horacio Ramirez (4-2) all have winning records this season and have been the driving force behind the Mariners success. The bullpen has been even better, posting an 18-5 record behind second-year lefty Eric O'Flaherty. O'Flaherty has paced the bullpen thus far, going 6-0 with a 2.08 ERA in 27 appearances. However, no one has been more impressive than All-Star closer J.J. Putz. Putz has been flawless, converting 24 straight save opportunities through the first half of the season.

The Mariners have backed their pitching staff every step of the way, hitting a whopping .283 on the season. The Mariners lineup prides itself on sound- hitting, ranking first in the AL with just 417 strikeouts on the year. Leadoff man Ichiro Suzuki is well on his way to his seventh straight 200-hit season, collecting 128 hits so far this year. His .359 batting average is second in the majors, while his 23 stolen bases ties him for third in the AL. Catcher Kenji Johjima has also played a vital role in the Mariners success, batting an impressive .291 with 17 doubles and eight home runs on the season.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER - It is difficult to give this honor to anyone but Suzuki. He is the best pure-hitter in baseball and at the leadoff spot has given the Mariners a sure thing on the base paths. Suzuki has already enjoyed a 25-game and 19-game hitting streak this year, and has hit safely in 73 of his 85 games this season. Aside from his prowess at the plate, Suzuki has developed into one of the best center fielders in the game, earning him the starting nod in this year's All-Star game. Suzuki makes everybody else in the order better and has reaped the benefits of a solid supporting cast, scoring a team-best 61 runs this season.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT - Hargrove's departure has probably been the biggest disappointment for the Mariners this season. However, the displeasure of this award goes to right-hander Jeff Weaver. Weaver has been awful this season, posting a 2-6 record with a 6.34 ERA over 12 starts. The veteran right-hander began the season 0-6 and did not record his first win until June 20th. Seattle was counting on Weaver to take some pressure off future ace Felix Hernandez, but that has not been the case. Weaver has only made it past the fifth inning five times this season and has been dealing with control issues since April. Do not be surprised if the Mariners attempt to unload Weaver at the deadline.

SECOND HALF PROJECTION - The Mariners could be the most interesting team to watch during the second half of the season. They are currently just two games behind the Angels in the AL West and right in the mix in the AL wild card race. However, it is still to early to tell how the team will respond to the loss of Hargrove. They have played well in his absence, but there is still plenty of time for a let down. The Mariners could be active at the trade deadline, trying to add a more consistent starter if Weaver continues to struggles. They may also try to add another first baseman to ease the load on slumping first baseman Richie Sexson.

Overall the Mariners will control their own destiny. A strong surge through July will benefit Seattle and prove that it can still win without Hargrove. Suzuki will continue to hit and the starting rotation has shown that it can handle the workload. However, the bullpen could be called into question later on in the season, as O'Flaherty is still very young and has yet to pitch in a pressure situation. Seattle has some of the pieces in place, but still needs to play with more consistency. Expect the Mariners to challenge for the division, but most likely they will be fighting for a wild card spot come September.

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Oakland Athletics

(Sports Network) - The Oakland Athletics are not where they had hoped to be heading into the All-Star break. Oakland is sitting at .500, while trailing the Anaheim Angels by nine games in the American League West standings.

This time last year, the A's were in control of their own destiny, sitting atop the AL West standings with a 45-43 record. While their record is not much different from last season, the Athletics have been unable to keep pace with the much improved LA Angels of Anaheim and Seattle Mariners. Anaheim boasts the most wins in baseball, while Seattle has proven to be on of the hottest teams through the first half of the season.

Oakland's biggest problem thus far has been injuries. Starter Rich Harden missed most of the season with a shoulder injury, limiting him to just four starts through the A's first 88 games. He recently returned to the rotation for a July 8th start against the Mariners, but was removed after just 2 2/3 innings after experiencing some discomfort in his shoulder. Closer Huston Street and relievers Justin Duchscherer and Kiko Calero have also missed significant time due to injury.

Despite the injuries, the A's pitching staff has had success through the first half of the season. Staff ace Dan Haren is an early Cy Young candidate and was selected to start for the American League in the All-Star game. Haren is 10-3 in 19 starts this season. His 2.30 ERA is third best amongst starters, while his 101 strikeouts rank him in the top 10 in the American League. Haren has been joined by starters Joe Blanton and Chad Gaudin to help lead the A's to an AL best 3.66 team ERA.

While the pitching staff has been able to overcome its injuries, the A's lineup has not been as fortunate. Early season injuries to Mike Piazza, Dan Johnson, Bobby Kielty, and Chris Snelling have already had a profound affect on the A's run production. Oakland is averaging just 4.3 runs per game, while batting only .256 as a team. Oakland's injuries and inconsistencies at the plate have overshadowed the performance of outfielder Shannon Stewart. The A's leadoff man is batting .309 with seven home runs and 26 RBI this season. The outfielder entered the break on fire, hitting safely in each of his last 14 games.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER - Haren is the obvious choice here, as he has held this team together over the first half of the season. His stat line is impressive, but his ability to pitch deep into games is what makes the right-hander such a valuable asset. With an injury depleted bullpen Oakland has relied on Haren for quality starts night in and night out. He has delivered 10 wins thus far, but could easily have 13 to 14 if it were not for a bullpen implosion. If Haren keeps pace during the second half of the season, he should easily cruise to a 19-win season and a possible Cy Young Award.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT - Catcher Jason Kendall has been horrific at the plate this season. A career .298 hitter, Kendall is batting just .227 with 54 strikeouts through the first half of the season. His play at the plate has completely overshadowed his play behind it. Kendall, who is regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in the league, has been in a funk since the beginning of the season. After batting just .169 through the month of April he has seen modest improvement. However, the A's need much more from Kendall until Piazza, Kielty and Johnson are able to return.

SECOND HALF PROJECTION - Oakland is in a very difficult spot at this point in the season. They trail one of the hottest teams in baseball by nine games, and will have to finish at least 10 games over .500 to even be considered for the AL wild card. The starting rotation has already pitched a large number of innings and may begin to slow down as the season wears on. Mix in a bullpen that is filled with inconsistency and it could be a rough road for Oakland the rest of the way.

General manager Billy Beane has never been the type to sit back and watch his team fall by the wayside. However, the A's are also known for getting value in a player and that is very difficult to find at the trade deadline. It will be interesting to see what Oakland does in the market, as they are a team who needs improvement in the bullpen and in the outfield, but does not have much to offer. Oakland's health will limit what Beane can bargain with, which could make the A's a seller come trade time.

The A's have always been known for their strong second-half push and if they can get Harden back to full strength along with Piazza, Kielty and Johnson they could have enough in the tank to make a run at the wild card. However, that seems highly unlikely as Anaheim is too strong and Seattle will challenge the A's every step of the way. Expect the A's to teeter around .500 the rest of the way before falling short at the end.

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Detroit Tigers

(Sports Network) - The reigning American League champs are once again in the driver's seat in the AL Central standings, and there's no telling what's in store for the second half of the 2007 season.

At this year's All-Star game, the Detroit Tigers sent five players in addition to manager Jim Leyland. Three of those players started the game. Just prior to the All-Star break, the Tigers extended their current win streak to five games by sweeping the Boston Red Sox, owners of the best record in baseball.

Presently, Detroit trails Boston by just a half-game for the top record in the majors. Nevertheless, the Tigers have little room to pat themselves on the back, as the feisty Cleveland Indians are just one game off the pace in the division.

Still, Leyland has plenty of reasons to feel encouraged about the second half. For one, no team in baseball is hitting better than his Tigers this season. Detroit leads the majors in team batting average (.290), runs (512), hits (891), doubles (200) and RBI (496).

Right fielder Magglio Ordonez is eyeing a batting title, and perhaps an MVP award with his .367 average. Second baseman Placido Polanco, hitting .335, is having a career year at the plate. His double play mate, shortstop Carlos Guillen, is hitting .325. First baseman Sean Casey (.300) continues to produce in his 10th major league season. But perhaps the most integral piece has been the one the front office reeled in from the Yankees in the offseason.

The union of Gary Sheffield to the middle of the Tigers' lineup has been like a match made in heaven. His presence batting out of the three-hole has given opposing managers fits, and it has often given pitchers an early exit to the showers. Sheffield's batting average was still below the Mendoza Line in early May, but he has since adjusted to his new digs in Detroit. At the moment, Sheffield has his average up to .303 while leading the team in homers with 21.

While it was the pitching staff that carried the Tigers to a World Series berth in 2006, it has been the offense that has led the way in '07. Still, the Tigers are armed with one of the deepest and most formidable pitching staffs in the majors, when healthy.

Justin Verlander, the 24-year-old who earlier this season tossed the franchise's first no hitter in decades, is a legitimate Cy Young candidate with his 3.14 ERA and 10-3 record. Jeremy Bonderman (3.48 ERA) simply does not lose, as evidenced by his 9-1 mark. Youngster Andrew Miller (4-2, 3.31) has shined in his six starts, and if he continues along his current path, would give Leyland three reliable left-handers in the starting rotation.

Lefty Nate Robertson, who compiled a 3.84 ERA in 200-plus innings a year ago, has pitched more like his old self since returning from a mid-June DL stint. And 42-year-old southpaw Kenny Rogers has pitched nothing short of lights out in his three starts since returning from shoulder surgery, picking up three wins while posting a 1.04 ERA.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER - On any given night, there is a good chance the name that jumps out from the scorecard will be that of Ordonez. A hitter could go through a "hot streak" for six games and still not put up the type of numbers Ordonez has averaged through three months. The man simply camps out on base, as his .446 on-base percentage speaks for itself.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT - The bullpen has had its struggles. Setup man Joel Zumaya was lost for the lion's share of the season with a ruptured tendon in his finger. Fernando Rodney is back on the DL. Closer Todd Jones has a 1-5 record, four blown saves and an unsightly 5.20 ERA. Whichever GMs across the league are shopping relievers, the Tigers' front office is listening.

SECOND HALF PREDICTION - General manager David Dombrowski's number-one priority is adding bullpen help, although that is the top priority of roughly half the GMs in the league. Still, if the season were to end today, the Tigers would have to be considered one of the favorites to win the World Series.

There are virtually no holes in the lineup. Verlander and Bonderman continue to blossom right before the organization's eyes, and the return of the ageless Rogers can almost be considered a major trade-deadline acquisition.

The Tigers not only have a playoff-tested roster, but also a manager who has been around the block once or twice. Cleveland and Detroit are threatening to make the AL Central a two-team race, and while the Indians are certainly poised to hang around down the stretch, it's tough to imagine them being able to snatch that top spot away from the Tigers. Barring any major injuries, the Tigers should be right there once again in the World Series picture come October.

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Minnesota Twins

(Sports Network) - At this time last season, the Minnesota Twins were eight games above .500 but still trailed the American League Central-leading Detroit Tigers by 11 games. One year later, the Twins are only two games above .500, but find themselves just eight games behind those same Tigers.

Of course, Minnesota got red-hot down the stretch last year and ultimately claimed the division title on the eve of the postseason. Is that same type of run in the cards for the Twins again this season?

The answer is up in the air. For one, last year's Twins had already begun their ascent up the standings by this time, winning 22 of the 28 games leading up to the All-Star break. This year's Twins continue to play win one-lose one baseball, as they have throughout the season's first three months. Minnesota is .500 on the road and two games above .500 at the Metrodome. Last year, the Twins had a 30-10 home record at the All-Star break.

"We just can't quite seem to hit that hot spot where we're running off a lot of (wins) in a row yet," manager Ron Gardenhire told the team's official site. "They say it should come. They say every team should have one. Well, we'd sure like it to happen."

If the Twins have better luck with injuries in the second half, the wins could very well come. The lineup has had to be shuffled around quite a bit due to one injury or another, including losing reigning batting champ Joe Mauer for five weeks due to an injured quadriceps. But one area that has remained steady is the bullpen.

Despite having Glen Perkins on the DL and losing Jesse Crain for the season, the bullpen boasts the second-lowest ERA in the AL. In other words, if the Twins are able to get to the seventh inning with the lead, they've got a better-than-average shot to secure the win thanks to the efforts of the bullpen.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER - With Johan Santana having an "off" year with his 10-6 record and 2.75 ERA, the team Most Valuable Player honor goes to first baseman and reigning league MVP Justin Morneau. With his 24 home runs, Morneau has accounted for one-third of the team's long balls. He also has driven in a team-high 74 runs and is hitting a healthy .295 on the year.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT - Jason Kubel has been able to hold down the left field spot with his .250 batting average mostly due to lack of a better option. Rondell White, a career .286 hitter, played in the first three games of the season until he tore his right calf muscle and has been out ever since.

The team had hoped to have White start up a rehab assignment in the minors this past week and then rejoin the ballclub after the All-Star break, but a sore hamstring and a cancelled flight halted those plans. Speaking just before the All-Star break, Gardenhire said he did not know the specifics of the setback or when White would rejoin the team.

SECOND-HALF PREDICTION - With the way the Tigers and Indians are playing, it may well take the Twins somewhere in the ballpark of 55 wins from here on out to win the division. And since all three clubs will be fighting for two playoff spots, it may take Minnesota nearly the same amount of wins just to capture a Wild Card berth.

But if the first half of the season is any indication (with apologies to the 2006 Twins), Minnesota just doesn't seem to have that extra gear to win games on a consistent basis. The rotation, beyond Santana, simply is not deep enough. And the offense, beyond Torii Hunter and Morneau, doesn't have enough power.

Gardenhire doesn't pull any punches in acknowledging that he doesn't quite have the same type of pitching he did last year. In addition, he acknowledges that the schedule after the All-Star break is not exactly peaches and cream. But as the Minnesota skipper recently told the team's official site, the games are there to be played.

"Can it be done? Well, we wouldn't be playing if we didn't think it could," Gardenhire said. "We wouldn't go out there and give it everything we have. Obviously, we feel like we can. A lot of things have to fall into place, and we probably have to have some help and we have to be a lot more consistent."

Realistically, the Twins aren't likely to catapult both the Tigers and Indians en route to another division title. But if one of the two fall off and Minnesota is able to string together some wins, the Wild Card is always a possibility.

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Chicago White Sox

(Sports Network) - Flat. Pathetic. A joke. Little League.

These are all words used by Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen to describe the play of his team over the past three months. It has been that type of a season for a team only two years removed from a World Series title.

Even general manager Kenny Williams has publicly called out his players, referring to his team's performance as "embarrassing," and vowing that personnel changes would be made because he is "tired of watching this."

Such is life for a club ranked dead last in the majors in team batting average (.241). A bad hop turns into a tough loss. A tough loss turns into two. Two losses spawn a losing skid. And just like that, the White Sox find themselves only two games in front of the last-place Kansas City Royals in the American League Central standings.

Injuries have played a big role in the team's misfortunes. Center fielder Darin Erstad has missed time with an ankle injury. Left fielder Scott Podsednik was out of action for two months, then landed back on the disabled list on July 3rd with a rib injury. Designated hitter Jim Thome also had a rib injury which forced him out of action for a month. Backup catcher Toby Hall missed the first six weeks of the season and struggled at the plate upon his return. Third baseman Joe Crede and utilityman Pablo Ozuna are lost for the season.

Still, all teams must face injury problems over the course of a 162-game schedule. The fact of the matter is, many of the White Sox players are simply not performing up to par. Several veteran players, it seems, are having career-worst years all at the same time.

Right fielder Jermaine Dye, who hit .315 with 120 RBIs last year, is currently batting just .214 with 39 RBIs and has become the subject of swirling trade rumors. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski, a career .284 hitter, is batting just .244. Shortstop Juan Uribe is hitting .232. Even team captain Paul Konerko saw his average sit below .250 until late June.

As bad as the hitting has been, the bullpen has been arguably worse. From May 8 to June 24, Chicago relievers combined for a 2-11 record and an unsightly 8.12 ERA. Closer Bobby Jenks, who was the team's lone representative in Tuesday's All-Star game, is Guillen's only reliable arm out of the 'pen. Problem is, Guillen must find a way to bridge the gap between starter and closer. He joked a few weeks back about having his starters pitch six innings and Jenks pitch three.

With the White Sox still 13 games back in the division, the joke isn't quite so funny anymore.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER - Clearly, nobody in the everyday lineup is deserving of such an honor. Looking at the pitching staff, it may be a toss up between Mark Buerhle and Jenks. Jenks has converted 23 saves out of 26 opportunities and has nearly a 3-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Buerhle, of course, has a no- hitter already under his belt to go along with his new four-year, $56 million contract. He has compiled a 6-4 record and a 3.03 ERA.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT - The offense. Every single White Sox player who carries a bat has been a huge disappointment.

SECOND-HALF PREDICTION - Williams has stood by his position that changes need to be made. Speculation was that one of those changes would be having Buehrle shipped out, but that never came to fruition and the impending free agent was instead rewarded with a hefty contract.

"We're in fourth place," Williams told the team's official site while describing his stance on making personnel changes. "We still need to play better baseball as a whole, and we still need to have a better approach offensively. Until we see something out there that we can consider being championship-caliber, then I think we have to stay in that mode."

So will the front office be selling the farm? And if so, what names will be moved prior to the July 31st trade deadline? Is this team capable of a resurgence in the standings? Many questions are still in need of an answer.

If the GM comes out and says he is making changes, then it's a good bet he will. It's possible Dye will be shipped out to a team that's in need of power and willing to take a chance on that the slugger will snap out of his funk.

As for the White Sox, it's not out of the realm of possibility to think this team is capable of warming up offensively. However, they are simply in the wrong division to make up a lot of ground in a hurry, as the Tigers, Indians and Twins are sure to keep the wins coming. Expect the White Sox to finish right where they are now, in fourth place and in need of answers.

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Cleveland Indians midseason progress report
July 13th, 2007

(Sports Network) - Many baseball pundits had the American League Central Division figured to be a four-team race at the outset of the season.

Halfway through the year, it's looking more and more like a two-team race. The Cleveland Indians, who last season finished six games below .500 and 18 games out of first place, are one of those two teams. As the Indians get set to kick off a six-game homestand against Chicago and Kansas City -- the bottom two teams in the AL Central -- they find themselves just a half-game behind the division-leading Detroit Tigers.

Indeed it has been a stellar first half for the Tribe, and the team has made leaps and bounds from a year ago. The hitting is still there, but it has gone through hot and cold cycles. The team's top run producer from last year, Travis Hafner, has suffered through the longest cold cycle. Hafner hit just .223 in May and June, but has since began to heat up again at the plate.

Nevertheless, Hafner was locked up with a four-year contract extension on Thursday, so perhaps that job security will ease the slugger's mind. Cleveland will need a big second half from its DH for a shot at the division crown.

The starting rotation could use a little more consistency in the second half. C.C. Sabathia has been his usual self, posting an impressive 12-3 record to go along with his 3.58 ERA through 19 starts. The unquestioned staff ace, Sabathia already has two complete games (one shutout) under his belt this season, and is flashing nearly a 7-to-1 strikeout-walk-ratio.

Fausto Carmona has solidified a spot in the Tribe's rotation, and in fact has been the second-most reliable starter behind Sabathia. Carmona, who also has a shutout under his belt, is 10-4 with a 3.85 ERA. After that it kind of drops off. Paul Byrd (7-4, 4.41) has been a bit inconsistent, but he still has walked only six batters in 16 starts this season. Cliff Lee (5-5, 5.23) has had a disappointing first half, though he was hampered by a stint on the DL. Jeremy Sowers (1-6, 6.93) was a huge disappointment, which earned him a trip to the minors. And Jake Westbrook (1-4, 6.27) looked like a shell of his former self before landing on the DL. He showed improvement upon his return in late-June, but his last start was a disaster.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER - Pitching-wise, Sabathia is an obvious choice. When he's on his game -- which he has been all season -- few pitchers can dictate a game like the 6-foot7 Sabathia. When the club needed a win, Sabathia has been the ace to get it done.

On offense, catcher Victor Martinez has had a career year at the plate, hitting .324 on the season. Martinez leads the team with 16 home runs and 68 RBI, and he has been steady behind the plate.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT - Trot Nixon has been a bust out in right field, and could soon be replaced in the lineup. In 69 games, he is hitting a measly .238. When the GM publicly calls you out, it's time to put up or shut up.

SECOND-HALF PREDICTION
- With a shot to overtake Detroit for the AL Central crown, the Tribe's front office will likely be active as the trade deadline nears. General Manager Mark Shapiro has been rather blunt about the team's needs.

"In the lineup, we've had inconsistent production from the corner (outfield) spots," Shapiro told the team's official Web site. "I think we have the potential to acquire a bat or solve that internally with our young outfielders."

Not exactly a vote of confidence for Nixon and Jason Michaels. In terms of pitching, Shapiro feels there are holes that need to be filled there, as well. Specifically, Shapiro said he is concerned that the bullpen has been carried by just two or three guys. As far as the starting rotation, that will also be addressed in-house.

"The answers lie internally there," Shapiro said. "Hopefully (Lee) will continue to improve, and Jake's (return from the DL) is a good sign."

Considering Detroit's depth and the depth of the Tigers' rotation, Cleveland will need the back of the starting rotation to be more productive. Offensively, the Tribe's bats will need to be much more consistent.

Looking at the AL Central race, the Indians should be able to contend with the Tigers, but Detroit just seems to have more pieces to the puzzle to keep the wins coming for a prolonged period of time. Look for the Indians to hold on to their second-place spot in the division, and challenge for that Wild Card spot, which has produced a handful of World Series champions in recent years.

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St. Louis Cardinals midseason progress report
July 13th, 2007

(Sports Network) - The St. Louis Cardinals are in an unfamiliar place at this point in the season, trailing the first-place Milwaukee Brewers by 7 1/2 games in the National League Central standings. At this point last year the Cardinals controlled their own destiny, sitting atop the division with a 48-39 record. That strong start carried over into the second half of a 2006 season which ultimately resulted in a World Series victory.

This time around, the Cardinals are going to have to put the first half of the season behind them. St. Louis has already gone through the worst part of the 2007 campaign, as the team was forced to deal with the tragic death of pitcher Josh Hancock in late April.

Hancock's death sent the Cardinals into a month-long tailspin that may have already cost them their season. However, St. Louis won six of its last 10 games before the All-Star break and is beginning to show flashes of the team who won it all just a year ago.

The Cardinals' pitching staff has also been decimated with injuries this season, as the club has been forced to play without staff ace Chris Carpenter, who has been sidelined since hurting his shoulder on opening day. Mark Mulder has also missed the entire first half of the season with a shoulder injury. The loss of Carpenter and Mulder has had an overwhelming affect on the pitching staff, as St. Louis ranks 26th in the majors with a 4.77 team ERA. Brad Thompson (6-3, 4.90) and Todd Wellemeyer (3-1, 4.19) are the only two Cardinals starters with a winning record this season. However, the bullpen has come through when needed, compiling an astounding 18-6 record on the year.

Once again first baseman Albert Pujols is the driving force behind the success of the Cardinals' lineup. After a slow start, Pujols has found his stroke and is batting .310 with 16 home runs and 52 RBI. However, the lineup has not been the juggernaut of years past.St. Louis is batting just .267 as a team while averaging 4.3 runs per game. The run production is way down from a year ago, as the Cardinals are ranked 26th in the majors in total runs.

The Cardinals' staggering start could also be a result of early season slumps from third baseman Scott Rolen and second baseman Adam Kennedy. Rolen got off to a horrific start, batting just .250 during the month of April, but has rebounded nicely to enter the break with a .267 average. Kennedy, on the other hand, has battled a slump all season and is hitting just .210 at the break.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER - Despite his early season slump, Pujols is still the Cardinals MVP at this point in the year. Although he had 29 home runs at this time last year, Pujols' 16 round-trippers and 52 RBI lead the team at the break. He is still in the top 10 in the National League in homers and will more than likely finish the season with over 40 home runs and 100 RBI.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT - Starting pitcher Anthony Reyes has been atrocious this season, going 0-10 in his first 12 starts. The Cardinals were depending on Reyes to ease the pressure when Carpenter got hurt, but the young right- hander has been a total disappointment. His 6.40 ERA is the worst of the rotation and his inability to pitch into the late innings has led to the overuse of the Cardinals' bullpen.

Reyes poor performance earned him a trip to the minor leagues just two weeks before the All-Star break. However, the Cardinals may have to recall him if the either Carpenter or Mulder are unable to return soon.

SECOND HALF PROJECTION - The Cardinals are always a major player come the trade deadline and this year should be no different. The front office and manager Tony La Russa will search far and wide to add an arm to the pitching staff. St. Louis made one surprising move prior to the All-Star break, when they signed veteran closer Troy Percival to a minor-league contract. Percival, who has been out of baseball since 2005, staged a comeback early in the season and impressed the Cardinals enough to earn a deal.

However, the key to St. Louis' success this season will be the return of Carpenter and Mulder. If both can return to form and the Cardinals can add another arm at the trade deadline, St. Louis could mount a comeback in the NL Central. The Cardinals could also try to add another second baseman if Kennedy continues to struggle.

At this point, things are looking pretty bleak for the Cardinals. They are 7 1/2 games out of first place and lack the pitching depth to make a serious run. The Brewers have shown that they are not a fluke and will make things very difficult for St. Louis in the second half of the season. Right now even a wild card birth is a long-shot, as the Cardinals are seven games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.

An early second-half winning streak could put the Cardinals over .500 and give them some much needed momentum. However, they will need to close the gap quickly and hope that their pitching staff gets healthy at the right time. If St. Louis can get to within three games of the division or wild-card races come September, the Cardinals' experience could carry them into the playoffs.

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Re: Team by Team Midseason Progress Report

LA Angels of Anaheim midseason progress report

(Sports Network) - The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim cruised through the first half of the season, as they tied for Boston with the most wins at the break with 53.

The Angels now control their own destiny as they head into the second half of the season. Anaheim leads the Seattle Mariners by two games in the AL West standings despite dropping six of their last 10 games before the break.

Anaheim has been dominate both at the plate and on the mound. The Angels high-powered lineup boasts four players batting .300 or better. Led by outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, the Angels lineup is hitting an astounding .284 on the season, ranking them second in all of baseball.

Guerrero's strong start earned him a spot on the American League All-Star team and allowed him to bring home the 2007 Home Run Derby crown. The Angels are averaging just under five runs per game this season, while ranking amongst the best in baseball with just 5.1 strikeouts per game. Shortstop Orlando Cabrera (.328) and outfielder Reggie Willits (.304) have been on fire this season, giving the Angels consistent base runners. Cabrera and Willits' production has enabled players like Gary Matthews and Casey Kotchman to move down in the order to help generate more runs at the bottom half of the lineup.

The Angels offense has not surprised many, but the play of their pitching staff has caught the attention of everyone in baseball. At this point in the season the Angels boast one of the most prolific starting rotations in all of baseball. The team's 4.09 ERA ranks them third amongst American League teams, while both John Lackey (11-5, 2.91 ERA) and Kelvim Escobar (10-3, 3.19 ERA) have achieved double digit victories during the first half of the season. However, it is not just Lackey and Escobar who have carried the load, as four of the Angels five starters post winning records.

The bullpen has also been impressive, compiling a 15-8 record on the season. Middle relievers Dustin Moseley (4-1, 2.60 ERA) and Scot Shields (2-2, 1.70 ERA) have given the Angels starters plenty of support, allowing just 22 runs over the course of 68 innings. However, it has been the play of All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez that has paced the Angels success thus far. Rodriguez has been lights all year, converting 24-of-26 save attempts, while sporting a 2.33 ERA in 37 appearances.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER - While Guerrero certainly deserves this honor, the nod goes to Lackey, who has bounced back from a disappointing 2006 season. At 11-5 Lackey is just two wins short of tying his 13-win total from a year ago. The right-hander has dominated his opponents, averaging just over six innings per contest while striking out 98 batters. Lackey has emerged as the ace of the rotation, while his consistency has set the tone for the rest of the pitching staff. For his efforts Lackey was named to the All-Star team for the first time in his six-year career.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT - The Angels pitching staff has been dominant this season without any help from starter Ervin Santana. Santana, who went 16-8 in 2006, is just 5-10 this season with a 5.97 ERA. Although his poor start has been overshadowed by the Angels success, many people are still waiting for the right-hander to break out of his slump. Santana has lacked control during the first half of the season, forcing him to leave five of his 18 starts before the sixth inning. If Santana can return to his 2006 form, the Angels could be well on their way to another World Series title.

SECOND HALF PROJECTION - The pieces are in place for the Angels to make a run at the World Series crown. Pitching will determine the 2007 champion and Anaheim has plenty of it. Their lineup is built for a postseason run, as it has plenty of power at the bottom of the order to make up for any unexpected slumps from the big three. However, the Angels cannot sit back and wait for teams to make moves, as they too could stand to add another arm at the trade deadline.

Overall, the Angels are built for long-term success this season. They have a powerful lineup, a strong starting rotation, a reliable bullpen and a veteran manager who has already won a World Series. If Anaheim can stay healthy they should be a top candidate to represent the American League in the 2007 World Series.

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Re: Team by Team Midseason Progress Report

Kansas City Royals midseason progress report

(Sports Network) - It's not often that a last-place team can coast into the All-Star break 12 games below .500 and still feel optimistic about the second half of the season.

The 2007 Kansas City Royals appear to be just that team. When the season began three months ago, nobody in the front office was wasting their breath trying to convince the team's fan base that the Royals were going to contend for the American League Central Division title. Not manager Buddy Bell, not any of the players.

The fact of the matter is, the Royals organization is in somewhat of a waiting game. Many of the team's "stars" are in their early or mid-20's, and the only way they are going to reach their potential is to lace up the cleats everyday. In doing so, the Royals took their lumps during the first half of the season.

As far as seasons go, there are teams that get off to poor starts, and then there are the Royals. Kansas City wasted no time settling into its customary position in the AL Central cellar, losing 11 of its first 14 games to start off the 2007 season. Third baseman Alex Gordon, the rookie sensation out of the University of Nebraska, was by far the slowest out of the gate, as he pressed and pressed to try to live up to his billing as a five-tool talent.

Gordon was a two-time All-American in Lincoln and swept the collegiate Player of the Year honors as a junior. He struggled mightily early on this season and his batting average stayed below .200 until mid-June. But he did begin to heat up, as his batting average for the month of June was .327. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that the Royals' best month was June, when the team checked in with a 15-12 record.

"We've had some young guys who are getting better -- that's the key to this thing," Bell told the team's official site. "I've been encouraged by the way we've played lately."

Another one of those promising youngsters is Mark Teahen, who made way for Gordon's arrival by moving over to right field from third base. Though he has tallied only five home runs, Teahen is batting a respectable .282 on the season. Still, he has been known to put up decent power numbers, which is what he will be counted on to do in the second half.

Gordon and Teahen are a sampling of the youngsters who will be counted on to perform down the stretch. There is 21-year-old slugger Billy Butler, who was called up to fill the DH spot vacated by the injured Mike Sweeney. Shortstop Tony Pena has performed well in his first full season in the majors and is hitting at a .281 clip.

All of these younger players have been given a chance to show what they can do on the diamond. And depending on how they perform the rest of the summer, they may be given a shot to showcase their skills in Kansas City for years to come.


MOST VALUABLE PLAYER - As a free-agent pitcher with a solid track record this past offseason, Gil Meche could have chosen to pitch in a handful of cities. The Royals and their fan base are certainly happy he chose Kansas City.

Meche has lived up to the billing and was the team's lone representative in this week's All-Star game. Meche's 5-6 record is largely due to a lack of run support, but he has posted a 3.54 ERA and has anchored an otherwise shaky starting rotation.


BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT - Jorge De La Rosa (7-9, 5.16) and Odalis Perez (4-8, 5.68) have been inconsistent in the starting rotation. De La Rosa looked strong early but has since faltered, while Perez has struggled to eat up innings. Based on the manager's assessment, time could be running out on those two.

"I'd like to see us get a young guy in our rotation to develop, whoever that might be," Bell told the team's web site. "Whether that's a guy from within our system, from our bullpen -- (Joakim) Soria or (Zack) Greinke, or from somewhere else."


SECOND-HALF PREDICTION - The Royals are not going to be making any playoff pushes during the latter stages of the summer. That said, they are only two games back of the Chicago White Sox and would obviously like to do what they can to avoid another last-place finish.

In order to do that, the team could use a little push from the front office. The Royals have needs in both the pitching staff and in the lineup. The bullpen has been one of the team's strengths, but the starting rotation has more question marks than answers. And with Scott Elarton on the DL, the organization could be looking to add a starting pitcher before the trade deadline.

As is always the case around this time of year, there are more buyers than sellers across the league when it comes to pitching. But if the Royals are not able to land a hurler from elsewhere, they may look to promote from within. The most likely candidate to fill that role is Billy Buckner, who has pitched well at Triple-A Omaha.

As far as the lineup goes, Kansas City needs a hitter with some pop. The Royals are last in the AL in home runs. They had a potential trade with Oakland for Milton Bradley, but the deal was voided for health reasons. Ideally, Bell has said he'd like to add an impact bat from the right side because the team is so left-hand dominant. Again, easier said than done with today's market.

In either case, this team appears to be headed in the right direction. But it will likely be another year or two before the investment in young players begins to show dividends in the division standings.

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