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MLB 2nd Half Contenders

MLB 2nd Half Contenders

MLB 2nd Half Contenders
By Joe Nelson

The MLB All Star break is still a few weeks away but most teams will reach the true midpoint of the season this weekend. Here are a few teams currently sitting outside of the playoff picture that could be due for big second half runs in the coming weeks. Keep an eye on these teams as they will merit backing at favorable pricing in many situations.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates were one of the best teams in baseball last season, winning a wild card spot with a 94-68 record. It has been a struggle for the Pirates in 2014 mainly in the starting rotation. Even with some challenges in the first three months the Pirates have managed to get to .500 and Pittsburgh has much better team statistics than the record would suggest. Only Colorado and Oakland have been stronger than the Pirates in team on-base-percentage this season. The Pirates have also had one of the National League’s best bullpens all season long. Pittsburgh has only had two starters stay in the rotation all season long, Charlie Morton and Edinson Volquez who both have had solid seasons. Despite few wins, Morton has been steady most of the season and after some early struggles Volquez has pitched better in recent weeks despite an inflated ERA for the season. Getting Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano back from the DL in the next few weeks should allow the Pirates to get the rotation on track. In the meantime Vance Worley and Jeff Locke have pitched well filling in and Brandon Cumpton is a highly regarded young pitcher even if he has not had great success this season. Pittsburgh has the depth to survive the injuries and this is a rotation that could thrive in the second half of the season. Pittsburgh has also received a great boost from Gregory Polanco in the lineup and the Pirates could prove to have one of the most complete teams in baseball for the stretch run even with the disappointing first half. Milwaukee has perhaps played over its head in the first half and the Cardinals are really battling injuries in the pitching staff so there may be an opportunity for the Pirates.

Kansas City Royals: The Royals briefly claimed first place in the AL Central in June but this is a team that could overtake the Tigers for good late in the season or at least emerge as a legitimate threat in the wild card race. The Royals have the fifth best team batting average in baseball despite poor slugging numbers but an unexpectedly great starting rotation has carried the Royals to a winning record this season. Kansas City has the sixth most quality starts in baseball, getting great results from overlooked veteran starters Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie. Young pitchers Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura have been looking more comfortable in recent weeks and along with James Shields this has become one of the most reliable starting rotations in baseball. Wade Davis has thrived in a relief role but he would be an emergency starter with experience for the Royals and the Kansas City bullpen has been solid in recent weeks despite some inconsistency early in the season. While Kansas City does not hit many home runs there are power threats in this lineup and streaky hitters like Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, and Mike Moustakas are likely to provide better second halves after disappointing first half statistics. Kansas City will also get Norichika Aoki back from the disabled list in the coming weeks to add depth to the offense. The Royals actually own a better run differential than the Tigers this season and only two teams in the AL have allowed fewer runs than Kansas City. The Royals have had success despite featuring a losing record vs. the AL Central this season and having already played 16 games vs. the very tough AL West. With a more favorable schedule in the second half the Royals can make a run.

Minnesota Twins: A long shot but a team to keep an eye may be Minnesota, a team that has been much more competitive than expected this season. The Twins had dreadful starting pitching in the first month of the season but the rotation has really come together. Phil Hughes has had an All-Star caliber season and Kyle Gibson has also emerged as a reliable option for the Twins in his second season. After rough early season results Kevin Correia and Ricky Nolasco have pitched much better in recent weeks as well. Journeyman Yohan Pino dominated in AAA in the first three months and he made a brilliant MLB debut last week so moving forward the Twins could have a very solid pitching staff, greatly over performing the overall season rankings. At the plate the Twins added Kendrys Morales in a surprising aggressive move and Oswaldo Arcia, Josh Willingham, and Sam Fuld have all returned from recent injuries as the team will give fewer at-bats to Aaron Hicks and they also cut Jason Kubel, two players that combined for 101 strikeouts on the season. Joe Mauer has also had his worst first half of a season in his career with marginal numbers and he seems likely to rebound with a more productive second half given his brilliant career track record. The infield production has also improved greatly in recent weeks for Minnesota with Danny Santana providing a great spark in a utility role and often taking over the leadoff spot and Eduardo Escobar and Eduardo Nunez have also blossomed with more playing time. The Twins have the best record in the AL Central against its own division at 16-12 which could pay off for Minnesota in the second half if they continue at that clip. The Twins are just 8-18 vs. the AL West and in interleague play however but with most of the toughest of those games out of the way Minnesota could also find better second half results. It might be a reach for the Twins to make a serious playoff run but don’t expect this team to fall off the map.

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