We have less than a week to go to the All-Star Break when the American League will host the National League at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins. This gives me another chance to rant about one of my biggest pet peeves – the fact this exhibition game determines which league gets home field for the World Series. In my mind, this is one of the dumbest decisions Bud Selig has made. Now that I got that out of my system, let’s move on.
The various division races are tightening up. As of this writing, the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves are tied atop the East; the St. Louis Cardinals have closed to within three games of the leading Milwaukee Brewers in the Central; the Los Angeles Dodgers (minus a few million dollars due to a jury award in the Bryan Stow case) are one-half game up on the San Francisco Giants in the West.
The Colorado Rockies lead the league with 441 runs scored – not surprising considering where they play. At 482, the Rockies have also allowed the most runs – not surprising considering where they play. Milwaukee has the second most runs scored at 402. The San Diego Padres have the most anemic offense, having scored a mere 272 runs. Washington has the best run differential at +53 while the Arizona Diamondbacks have the worst at -64.
The Nationals, at nine games over .500, play the best at home while Arizona owns the worst home record at 14 games below break even. Los Angeles has the best road record, having won ten games more than they lost while Colorado has lost 14 more games than they’ve won on the road.
On the individual side, Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki leads all National League players with a .350 batting average and 70 runs scored. Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins has the most home runs in the NL with 21 and most RBI with 63. Andrew McCutchen has worked the most bases on balls with 57 while B.J. Upton has struck out the most – 111 times. Dee Gordon leads in thievery with 42 stolen bases.
Among pitchers, Johnny Cueto of Cincinnati has thrown the most innings – 137 2/3 – and is on pace to accumulate over 250 innings. Washington’s Stephen Strasburg leads the league with 140 strikeouts and could top 250 for the year. Alfredo Simon of the Reds leads with 12 victories while Eric Stults of the San Diego Padres only has one fewer loss than Simon has wins. Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel (not surprisingly) and Milwaukee’s Francisco Rodriguez (surprisingly) lead the NL with 27 saves.
One of the biggest surprises so far has been the Cincinnati Reds’ young outfielder Billy Hamilton. Many projections had Hamilton struggling in the batting average department to the extent he might be demoted and lose a lot of playing time. While the 23-year-old speedster did struggle mightily for the first month, he has steadily raised his average to .280 with a .312 OBP. This has enabled him to steal 37 bases, although he needs to improve his percentage after being caught 12 times. Hamilton has even added five home runs and 36 RBI from his spot atop the Reds lineup.
The comeback player of the year so far is Justin Morneau of the Rockies. After a 2013 season in which he batted .259 with 17 home runs and 77 RBI for the Minnesota Twins and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Colorado first baseman is batting .313 with 13 home runs and 59 RBI – on pace for 22 home runs and 103 RBI. Teammate Troy Tulowitzki is the leading MVP candidate with his aforementioned .350 average and 20 home runs, 70 runs and 49 RBI. A few pitchers, including Adam Wainwright, Cueto and Clayton Kershaw, are in the running for the Cy Young. Wainwright has an 11-4 record with a 0.92 WHIP, 1.79 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 131 innings pitched. Cueto is the owner of a 9-6 record with a 0.88 WHIP, 2.03 ERA and 134 strikeouts in just over 137 innings. Kershaw of the Dodgers has a 10-2 record with a 0.87 WHIP, 1.85 ERA and 115 strikeouts in only 87 innings due to missing about six weeks of the season with a bad back.
There’s been one major trade so far with Theo Epstein sending Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s for starting pitcher Dan Straily, minor league shortstop Addison Russell (a highly rated prospect) and minor league outfielder Billy McKinney. With Javier Baez already in the organization – another top shortstop prospect – someone figures to be changing positions.The season hasn’t disappointed so far with some surprises (good and not so good) both in real baseball and for fantasy teams. The rest of the 2014 version of MLB figures to be just as exciting and full of surprises and I’m eager to see it play out. I just hope the announcers at the mid-season classic don’t set me off by reminding me what’s at stake in that game.