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1st Half Round-up

   by Jim Feist - 07/06/2010

162 games is a long season. Every year teams sprint out of the gate in April and May with October dreams, only to come back to the pack in June. It's not a sprint, of course, but a marathon, where a strong balance of pitching, defense and offense carries the best teams into the postseason. Injuries, too, are key, as well as trades made before the July deadline. Teams have figured out their strengths and weaknesses now and are beginning to look for pieces to add before the deadline, while others are figuring out whom to dump. Here's a look at some recent baseball surging and slumping teams.

White Sox: Last week Chicago center fielder Juan Pierre said, "We are disappointed with losses now." That's what happened when you rip off 16 wins in 18 games, including 11 in a row. That run got the White Sox right back into the tight AL Central race.
There is nothing but good news. Carlos Quentin was named American League player of the week for his .389 average and 11 RBIs in six games. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez has quietly developed into one of the best defensive players in the AL, rewarding Ozzie Guillen's confidence in him. A player to keep an eye on is starter Gavin Floyd. Floyd went 0-1 over for straight starts, but had an incredible ERA of 0.93! Luck from a lack of runs was the reason, but when you dominate like that, wins will eventually start to pile up.
The best reason the White Sox might not go away: Pitching. Nothing does more to keep you in a playoff chase. The Sox's rotation has done an about-face since June 8, when it had a 5.22 earned-run average. Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Floyd and Freddie Garcia hung up a 2.33 during their red-hot streak, none missing a start this season.

Phillies: The Phillies haven't been a dominant road team like they were the last two years and the offense has disappointed at times. However, starting in mid-June the Phillies got hot again, beating the Yankees twice as a big dog and kept right on rolling. The Phillies averaged 6.2 runs over 13 games, winning eight.
The main concern is health, with infielders Chase Utley (thumb) and Placido Polanco (elbow) battling injuries. Some good news is that lefthander J.A. Happ has made six rehabs starts and is close to returning, although the starts haven't been impressive. With all this talent, it's hard to see the Phillies not making a second half surge.

Angels: You look at the standings and you see Mike Scioscia's Angels right there within striking distance of the Texas Rangers for first place in the AL West. His teams always seem to overachieve, and they are doing it again despite injuries and the offseason losses of Chone Figgins and Vlad Guerrero.
Texas has a history of starting fast and fading in the summer heat, but the Angels have to do a better job with their own team: LA ranks 5th in the AL in runs scored, 11th in team ERA, and has made the second most errors. They are not a great base stealing team like they used to be, with the loss of Figgins, and have a poor 65% steal percentage, better only than the Royals. Starting pitching might be their saving grace in the second half if they can get Joe Saunders and Scott Kazmir turned around.

Blue Jays: After a fast start, the surprising Blue Jays are fading in the super-tough AL East. The young pitching has been good enough, while the offense leads the league in homers. That's also part of the problem, as the offense is all-or-nothing, swing for the fences or strike out. Toronto is last in steals in the AL, so there is too much pressure on this one-dimensional offense to hit it out of the park. It will be interesting to see if they make a move to add a veteran arm or perhaps even some speed to the lineup before the trade deadline, or stand pat.

Rays: Here come the Rays! And there go the Rays! A great start to the season for Tampa Bay, but June was lousy, as the offense went cold and frustrations blew up in the dugout when 3B Evan Longoria called out underachieving B.J.Upton for loafing. The team recently dropped 20 of 32 games.
Tampa Bay's pitching is still tops in the AL and they have the best road record in baseball. However, they are a small market team that could move players if they can't right the ship. James Shields has lost seven of his last eight decisions and his ERA has soared from 2.99 on May 25 to 4.76. The only win in that stretch was a one-inning relief job in the 11-inning win over Florida. There will be speculation about Carl Crawford's future at the deadline. With Jeremy Hellickson pounding on the door in Durham (10-2, 2.19, 97 strikeouts in 94 innings) the Rays might be tempted to move a starting pitcher, too.

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