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Ten Compelling Questions for the Second Half
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
July 2, 2008
10. Will A Second Baseman Whose Last Name Begins with a “U” Lead the NL in Homeruns?
A player whose named begins with “U” has never led a major league in homeruns in the history of baseball. There have been three second basemen to lead the league in homeruns, but none since . . . did it in 1990 (answer at the bottom); the other two were. . . . (answer at the bottom). But this season, however improbably, the National League leaders in homeruns are both second basemen whose names begin with a “U” – Dan Uggla and Chase Utley. Not only that, but they both play in the same division as well. History could be made this season.
9. Can the Arizona Diamondbacks Hold On?
On May 16th, six weeks into the season, the D’Backs were 27-15 and had a 5.5 game lead in the NL West. Six weeks later, the team is 42-42, which means they have gone 15-27 since May 16th. Improbably, they still lead the NL West. The reasons for the D’Backs collapse are simple – their pitchers have stopped pitching and their hitters have stopped hitting. Fortunately for Arizona, the rest of the NL West has decided that a winning record is not a priority, so it the season ended today, the D’Backs .500 record would put them in the playoffs. Additionally, the division is essentially a three team race now, with the Rockies and the Padres (not the teams most of us would have bet against) already apparently past the point of no return. But if the next six weeks of baseball don’t look less like the last six weeks and more like the first six weeks, the Diamondbacks will be sellers at the trade deadline.
8. Will Anyone in the American League Hit Forty Homeruns?
For a combinations of reasons – injuries, age, indifference, slumps – the current American League leaders in homeruns are, I kid you not, Carlos Quentin, Grady Sizemore, and Josh Hamilton. And with only 19 homeruns apiece, not one of them is on pace for 40 homeruns. As unwilling as I have been to declare the Steroid Era over, if the American League didn’t have a 40 homerun hitter for the first time Fred McGriff led the league with 36 in 1989, for only the second time since 1983, that would be compelling evidence.
7. Will Someone in Either League Win More Than Twenty Games?
At approximately the half-way point, Brandon Webb has 12 wins, Cliff Lee, Aaron Cook, and Joe Saunders have 11 wins, Kyle Lohse, Mike Mussina, Vicente Padilla, and Edinson Volquez have 10 wins, and eleven pitchers have nine wins each. This gives a boat load of shots at not only 20 wins (for only the second time in the last three years) but perhaps 21, 22, or even 23 wins. Odd that none of these guys is named Jake Peavy.
6. Will Michael Young and Ichiro Suzuki Fail to Get 200 Hits?
The Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn of this era, Young and Suzuki have been absolute locks for 200 hits since each became a major league regular (Suzuki since his Rookie of the Year/MVP campaign of 2001, Young since 2003). But each of them is struggling in the first half of the season, and at this point neither is on pace for the magic number.
5. Can the Phillies Make it Three MVPs in a Row?
Ryan Howard won the NL MVP on the strength of 58 homeruns and an improbable, though ultimately unsuccessful, run at the wild card in 2006. Jimmy Rollins won the NL MVP on the basis of his big words in the spring, his big numbers throughout the season while his teammates struggled with injuries and slumps, and the Mets' improbable crash-and-burn at the end of the season in 2007. In 2008, with Chase Utley emerged as one of the best players in the game, threatening the single season record for homeruns by a second baseman and leading the Phillies to their current position atop the division. The Phillies could become the first team to have three different MVPs in three successive years since . . . (see below for the answer).
4. Will the Old Guys Sitting at Home Get the Call?
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Kenny Lofton, to name three, all played major league baseball at a high level last season, and could probably add something to teams looking to make a run at the playoffs. An American League team in search of a Designated Hitter (how would Bonds look filling for David Ortiz in a Red Sox uniform?), a team looking for an extra arm (think the Dodgers think that the Rocket could be a difference maker since they only need to play .500 ball to make the playoffs?), or anybody looking for a leadoff presence (in case the A’s decide that Emil Brown is not the on-base machine they had every right to believe he would be) could add one more year to the career of one or all of these guys. Not to mention, if some team that plays in a small ballpark decides they need home-field homeruns and a lot of strikeouts, Sammy Sosa could be on his way back as well.
3. Can the New York Mets and the Detroit Tigers Get It Together?
Each barely missed the playoffs in 2007 after playing well most of the season. Each made a big splash this offseason, trading prospects for some of the biggest names in baseball. And now each is hovering around .500 and watching the small market teams from which they took their big-name players out-perform them. But the Mets are currently only 3.5 games back of an imperfect Philadelphia Phillies team in the NL East, and the Tigers are currently 6.0 games backs of a rather-good-but-unstable Chicago White Sox team in the AL Central. If the issue for these teams was simply needing time to gel, both of them should be in contention in the second half. If the issue was that they didn’t address their needs this off-season, then they will probably finish the season right where they are now.
2. Are the Tampa Bay Rays for Real?
I picked them before the season to finish 18 games ahead of the Mariners, finish with their first winning season ever, and contend for the wild card before falling off. The Rays are already 19 games ahead of the Mariners, have the best record in baseball, and are threatening to knock out the Yankees before August. Which means, if my predictions are to come true, the Rays will have to have a terrible second half.
1. Can the Chicago Cubs Really Make it a Once-in-a-Century Tradition?
The Cubs have the best offense in the National League thanks to an electric lineup that hits for a high average and gets on base. The Cubs pitching staff is the third best in the National League, which is remarkable considering their home field. The Cubs bullpen has been dominant this season, featuring the re-emerged (thank you baseball gods) Kerry Wood and the newly emerged Carlos Marmol. In the first half, the Cubs featured the best combination of hitting and pitching in the league and as a result, they find themselves with the best record in the National League and tied for the second best in baseball.
But these are the Cubs, right? There is no way. There is no how. Could it be? Might it be? Is it? The Cubs year?
If you guessed that the last second baseman to lead his league in homeruns was Ryne Sandberg, you guessed correctly. If you further guessed that the only other second basemen ever to accomplish the feat were Rogers Hornsby and Davey Johnson, you also were correct.
If you guessed that the last team to have three different players win the MVP in three successive years was the St. Louis Cardinals with Mort Cooper (1942), Stan Musial (1943), and Marty Marion (1944), you were correct. Other teams to have accomplished the feat: the New York Yankees of 1941-1943 (Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Spud Chandler) and the Cincinnati Reds 1938-1940 (Ernie Lombardi, Bucky Walters, Frank McCormick). The Phillies would be the first team to do without a pitcher (Coooper, Chandler and Walters) and the first to do it with only their infield. You know what this means? The Secret Weapon in 2009!
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.