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Baseball 1st Half Round-Up

   by Jim Feist - 06/28/2016

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.

Royals: The defending champs started off slow (17-19) but then found their groove in mid-May, playing well. They went 4-2 on a road trip, then ripped off six in a row during a homestand. The offense has been the main cause of their struggles, bottom 10 in baseball in runs scored.

But the defense is Top 10 along with the pitching staff, anchored by veterans Ian Kennedy and Edison Volquez. The relief staff shortens the game with a quartet of relievers who already have double digits in saves and holds with Wade Davis, Luke Hochevar, Joakim Soria and Kelvin Herrera. They should be in it for the long haul again and may be shopping for a bat this month.

Mariners: Seattle has surprised, with a terrific offense and a dominant team away from home. Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager power the attack on a station-to-station offense that has few steals. Their run differential is one of the best in the AL.

The pitching staff has done its share, Top 10 in team ERA anchored by ace Felix Hernandez and a strong bullpen. Outside of King Felix, however, the starting staff is a tad thin. Don't be surprised if they're shopping for a veteran starter and some speed, which would help in spacious Safeco Field.

Mets: The NY Mets have been winning both home and away despite an offense that has been near the bottom of the league in runs. They need Yoenis Cespedes to get healthy, as the team doesn't manufacture runs, with the opposition out-stealing them by almost four-to-one. The Mets had been 0-18 when trailing after seven innings before squeezing out a win last month.

You need pitching to stay competitive during the long summer and the Mets have it, Top 5 in runs allowed. Noad Syndergarrd, Steve Matz and Jacob deGrom have been outstanding with Matt Harvey beginning to turn a corner of late after a rough start. They probably will be in the market for a productive bat in July.

Marlins: What to make of the kids in Miami? A winning road record opened some eyes in the first half, especially after a 5-11 start, winning 11 of 12. The offense has disappointed, despite 25-year old CF Marcell Ozuna and 26-year old RF Giancarlo Stanton, the latter with power but his batting average has plummeted.

It's the pitching that has carried the load with Jose Fernandez, Mike Conley and Wei-Yin Chen. Fernandez posted a 6-0 record in May and the only pitchers since 1893 to do that along with at least 50 strikeouts were Pedro Martinez in 1999 and Roger Clemens in 1997 -- Cy Young winners each time. They are on a nine-game road trip this week and next as they make their way to the All-Star break.

Astros: It wasn't a good start for the young boys from Houston, but they picked up the pace in May and June to get back in the race. A bold pick to win the 2018 World Series a few years ago by some, Houston is way ahead of schedule. Diminutive 26-year old 2B Jose Altuve is a force along with 26-year old RF George Springer. This group swings for the fences, leading the league in strikeouts, but they can play small-ball, too, outstanding at swiping bases. Note that Houston is 15-36 after scoring five runs or more in their previous game.

It's the erratic pitching that has disappointed, led by inconsistent Dallas Keuchel, last year's Cy Young winner. He continues to struggle most away from home. 32-year old Doug Fister is doing his best to anchor the staff, but he needs some help. The Astros are 45-22 at home against a right-handed starter.

White Sox: Which way are they going? After a 24-12 start with the best pitching in the American League, it looked like Chicago might actually have two teams in the World Series. But the wheels came off at that point, making a Great Race in the AL Central. The pitching is still strong behind Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Matt Latos.

But the offense struggles at getting guys on base with little power, outside of 3B Todd Frazier. They could use a hot bat from Joe Abreu -- or a new bat before the trading deadline? The White Sox are 54-111 on the road against a team with a winning home record.

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