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Baseball First-Half Round-Up!

   by Jim Feist - 07/02/2013

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 by July. 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.

Blue Jays: Toronto loaded up over the winter and was projected as an AL East powerhouse, then flopped out of the gate. However, the Blue Jays went on a tear in June, including a 10-game win streak, getting back into the tightly contested and wide open AL East race.
They have a powerful offense that is clicking, but is anyone really afraid of a pitching staff anchored by Mark Buerhle, R.A. Dickey and Chien-Ming Wang? That's a lot of aging softball servers. The Blue Jays could be in the market for an arm before the trading deadline. That combination of power offense and suspect pitching is why Toronto on a 21-8 run over the total on Astroturf.

Orioles: What balance this team has: great bullpen, top five in runs scored and tops in all of baseball with the fewest errors made. And having a talent like Chris Davis slugging homers doesn't hurt, either. The offense does everything well, first in slugging and 10th in on-base percentage. That's why they have a winning record both home and away.
Their main weakness is starting pitching, with some quality young arms that haven't quite put it all together yet, with Chris Tillman, Jason Hammel and Freddie Garcia giving up a lot of homers. Note that the Orioles are on a 19-9 run over the total on the road.

Pirates: If the Orioles are slugging their way to a winning season, Pittsburgh is doing it the old fashioned way: power pitching. They have been battling the Braves and Cardinals all year for the top staff ERA in baseball. 25-year old Jeff Locke , 29-year old Charlie Morton, and 22-year old Gerrit Cole bring the heat and team with veterans A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano to anchor a rotation that is the envy of the league.
36-year old Jason Grilli had 32 holds last year and has been a beast as a closer this season. Their weakness? The offense is in the bottom ten in runs, slugging and on-base percentage. The Pirates are 22-7 in their last 29 vs. a team with a losing record and 10-3 under the total in interleague action. With everyone hungry for pitching this month, would you deal away live arm for a bat to upgrade the offense?

Cardinals: St. Louis has quietly dominated the National League, in the Top 5 in runs, team ERA and even defense. They've outscored everyone in baseball but a significant margin. The offensive talent on this team is sensational and 30-year catcher Yadier Molina is one of most important players on the team, having a monster year on offense alongside being a brilliant defensive player.
The pitching staff is one of the best in baseball at not allowing any free passes, anchored by Adam Wainwright, who is having one of the most remarkable seasons when it comes to strikeout to walk ratio, starting an astonishing 100-9! The Cardinals are 36-15 in their last 51 games against right-handed starters. And who needs Albert Pujols? This team really doesn't need anything -- except good health, something they didn't have last season.

Diamondbacks: The young team that won't go away! The Diamondbacks were rebuilding last year under manager Kirk Gibson and went 81-81, but this no-name group keeps getting better. The offense is improved and the young pitching has been solid, led by 22-year old Patrick Corbin and 25-year old Trevor Cahill, acquired from Oakland two years ago. In fact, they've assembled a staff by stealing from other teams, including David Hernandez (Orioles), Ian Kennedy (Yankees), Brad Ziegler (Oakland), Brandon McCarthy (White Sox) and Corbin (Angels). The schedule is kind in July with series against the Mets, Dodgers, Brewers, Cubs and Padres, a good time to chalk up wins. The Diamondbacks are on a 10-4 run at home and 13-6 over the total against righties.

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