Chicago White Sox
What Went Right: A whole lot of awesomeness. Adam Dunn burst from his cocoon, and became a butterfly once again. Alex Rios is finally looking like an eight figure player. Paul Konerko is still destroying the ball. Alejandro De Aza is an unreal center fielder that Kenny Williams bought extremely low on. Kevin Youkilis has been fantastic since being traded from Boston at the end of June. Chris Sale's transition to the rotation was a smashing success. Jake Peavy has been reborn in a potential contract year. Jose Quintana has come out of absolutely nowhere to become a dominant starter. Relivers Addison Reed, Matt Thornton, and Nate Jones have been a shutdown trio in the bullpen.
What Went Wrong: Not much. Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez have been putrid at the plate. Before acquiring Youkilis, Orlando Hudson and Brent Morel were abysmal at third base. Dayan Viciedo has been a disaster in left field. John Danks has only made nine starts. Aside from his perfect game, Philip Humber has been terrible.
Best Case Scenario: The Tigers aren't able to put everything together, and the Indians can't take the next step, leading to a shocking division championship for the White Sox.
Worst Case Scenario: The Tigers start to hit, and an older White Sox team finally starts breaking down and tumbles to a sub-.500 record.
Key Player: Jose Quintana. You generally know what you're getting out of guys like Peavy, Sale, and Gavin Floyd, but what the hell is Quintana going to give you for the rest of the season? Quintana has a very low strikeout rate, and he really doesn't have much of a minor league history to draw upon. Quintana is truly a mystery, and he's already thrown a career high in innings (when you figure in his AA starts as well). His second half will be very interesting.
What Went Right: Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera have transformed into a very solid duo up the middle for the Tribe, combining for 22 homers and 4.8 fWAR. Shin-Soo Choo is finally healthy, and hitting like he's making up for lost time. The trio of Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, and Joe Smith has been deadly in the bullpen. Zach McAllister has been excellent in seven starts.
What Went Wrong: Justin Masterson has taken a step back, and new teammate Derek Lowe has been brutal as well. Ubaldo Jimenez, Jeanmar Gomez, and Josh Tomlin have also been disasters in the rotation. Catcher Carlos Santana has been brtual at the plate. Travis Hafner has missed half the season with injuries, but that's nothing new. First baseman Casey Kotchman has been awful offensively, and Matt LaPorta probably could have done better at a fraction of the cost.
Best Case Scenario: The entire Indians rotation gets some contol and starts striking more hitters out, and they're all able to get their ERAs chopped down. Santana starts hitting like the franchise catcher he's being paid to be, and Kotchman turns back into his form from last year as opposed to the guy who's been around his entire career.
Worst Case Scenario: Cleveland's luck catches up with them, and they have a second straight collapse over the dog days of summer and plummet to third in the division.
Key Player: Carlos Santana. Santana hasn't been the same player since blowing his knee out in 2010, when he racked up 1.8 fWAR in only 46 games. Last year, his OPS fell 60 points, but he played a full year and amassed 3.5 fWAR. This year? His OBP is higher than his SLG, and he's hit fewer homers in 69 games than he did in 46 games in 2010. With the long extension he just signed, Santana really needs to have something click before fans and management starts getting impatient with him.
What Went Right: Austin Jackson has been beyond fantastic in 64 games, tallying 4.0 fWAR and a .953 OPS. Rookie Quintin Berry has an .805 OPS in 42 games. Miguel Cabrera is hitting like Miguel Cabrera, and Justin Verlander is pitching like Justin Verlander. Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel, and Joaquin Benoit have highlighted a pretty good Tigers bullpen.
What Went Wrong: Aside from Verlander, the Tigers rotation has been a massive disappointment. Closer Jose Valverde has shown that the perfection he toyed with last year was a flash in the pan. The Tigers have wasted 1000 plate appearances on Delmon Young, Ryan Raburn, Ramon Santiago, and Brennan Boesch. Catcher Alex Avila has taken a huge step back after a breakout 2011 season.
Best Case Scenario: Prince Fielder wakes up, and combines with Cabrera and Jackson to form an unstoppable Voltron of offense. Verlander carries the rotation in the second half, and they all follow his lead and pitch much better en route to a division title.
Worst Case Scenario: The Tigers continue to play listless baseball, and just can't put everything together in time to catch the White Sox in the division.
Key Player: Max Scherzer. Scherzer is stirking out 11.19 batters per nine, and only walking 3.05....yet his ERA is near 5.00 thanks to a huge problem with home runs, allowing 1.39 per nine innings. That's not going to cut it, but if he can reduce that rate by maybe 25-30%...he could be the elite #2 that Detroit needs behind the AL MVP and Cy Young winner from a year ago.
Kansas City Royals
What Went Right: Mike Moustakas has rebounded from a rough start to his career last year to become a top tier third baseman. Alex Gordon is duplicating his success from 2011, giving the Royals a solid bat with great defense in left field. Alcides Escobar and Billy Butler are also hitting relatively well for their positions. In 13 games since coming back after knee surgery, catcher Sal Perez is hitting the cover off of the ball. The bullpen has actually been pretty solid, led by Tim Collins, Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, and Aaron Crow.
What Went Wrong: The starting pitching has been a disaster, capped off with blown out elbows for Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy. Jonathan Sanchez has been absolutely putrid in his first three months as a Royal, walking more batters than he's struck out in 11 starts. Eric Hosmer's year at the plate has been a disappointment, but Jeff Francoeur's has been even more of one, especially considering the extension Kansas City gave him. Yuniesky Betancourt has gotten 178 plate appearances too many, as well.
Best Case Scenario: The young Royals offense continues to blossom, and Hosmer turns it around in the second half to give the Royals a formidable offense. They also should be ecstatic if a team wanted to trade for Francoeur, and if any team would want one of the starters, go ahead.
Worst Case Scenario: More injuries? Thankfully, none of the Royals young core of position players has gotten seriously injured during the season. The last thing this team needs right now is for Moustakas, Hosmer, or Gordon to go down.
Key Player: Sal Perez. Perez hasn't walked in 47 plate appearances this year. He has four homers, thanks to a third of the flyballs he hits going out of the park. We still don't know who the real Sal Perez in over his brief career so far, and I think finding that out in the second half would do a lot towards determining the future build of this Royals team.
What Went Right: Joe Mauer is hitting like a former MVP once again. Josh Willingham is destroying Target Field and looking like one of the best free agent signings this offseason. Trevor Plouffe has tapped into an unforeseen, unreal power surge. Denard Span and Ben Revere have been average offensively, but fantastic defensively in the outfield. Scott Diamond has turned himself into a solid major league starter.
What Went Wrong: Aside from Diamond, the pitching staff has been a complete disaster. The Twins have used 15 pitchers this year that have tallied either zero or negative fWAR, and have two more at 0.1. That uh, includes seven pitchers who have started a game. Justin Morneau has continued to struggle offensively.
Best Case Scenario: A solid pitcher or two falls into the Twins' laps, and they start building towards competency next season.
Worst Case Scenario: All of the hitters either get traded for junk that don't have high ceilings, get hurt, or start to struggle, the latter two options killing any trade value in the first place. The team loses 100 games (which might be a foregone conclusion at this point), and the slate is wiped completely clean.
Key Player: Francisco Liriano. What the hell is his deal? He strikes out a batter per inning and throws extremely hard...but yet, he can never get his command under control and take the next step towards becoming an elite starter. I think the Twins would be better off dealing him to a team that thinks they can fix him, because it's clear that it's not going to happen for him in Minnesota. I have no idea whether that's his fault, or the fault of the coaching staff for the Twins.
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