Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Second half begins

WHGB11With the All-Star festivities behind us, we move into the unofficial ‘second half’ of the MLB season and a six-week period where teams compete – on the field and off it – to get themselves into a promising position before September and the final month of the regular season.

The off-field competition comes in the form of the battle for reinforcements, as teams look to add an extra piece or two that could make the difference between a playoff spot or sitting at home throughout October.

Trades on the way?

So far the trade market has been quiet besides the Oakland A’s two-pitcher swoop at the beginning of July. The A’s AL West rivals the Los Angeles Angels are the only other team to make a notable move of late in signing Huston Street (who started his career in Oakland) from the San Diego Padres on Friday.

Talk continues to surround the Tampa Bay Rays’ pitcher David Price as the most lusted after potential prize. The Rays have found a bit of form of late – winning 14 of their last 19 games prior to Saturday – to keep alive some vague hopes of staying in the playoff hunt in what’s been a very trying season, yet realistically they are firm outsiders to get back to the postseason.

Whether Price stays with the Rays will be determined by another team’s willingness to part with a couple of leading prospects and a useful Major League player. Seattle, in part with the A’s and Angels in mind, are the team most frequently linked with Price at the moment, although doubts over Price’s desire to sign long-term in Seattle could be a determining factor on the Mariners’ confidence in giving up the necessary package of players to acquire him.

Mariners moves?

Seattle are an interesting team to keep an eye on in the stick-or-twist stakes.

There’s a measure of pressure on them to reinforce their extravagant off-season capture of Robinson Cano. Whilst the long-term nature of that deal means 2014 isn’t the be-all and end-all, the second Wild Card gives them an opportunity to immediately put a big mark on the plus side of the ‘Cano gamble’ ledger.

Heading into Saturday’s games, the Mariners sat third in AL West, nine games behind the division-leading A’s, but their 51-45 record was good enough to see them sitting in the second Wild Card seat, 2.5 games ahead of a gang of four competitors. It took a glance at their section on the Baseball-Reference website to remind me that the M’s haven’t made it to the postseason since their great 116-win campaign of 2001.

They don’t appear to have a particularly deep roster when you search far past the leading lights of Cano, Kyle Seager, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, yet strong performances from those players and decent contributions from the supporting cast could be enough to keep ahead of a pack of teams that also have their share of weaknesses, if Seattle could add one extra significant player.

Having waited since 2001 to get back to the playoffs, it’s not unreasonable to expect a bit of impulsiveness to creep in and for the Mariners’ Front Office to decide now is the time to take a shot.  Whether they do or not, and whether it works out for them, will be one of the most interesting storylines to follow as the 31 July trade deadline quickly approaches.

All-Star action

The American League representative in this year’s World Series will benefit from home field advantage this year after the AL’s 5-3 victory in the All-Star game at Target Field.

Much of the event was dominated by Derek Jeter as many took the opportunity to celebrate his career before he retires at the end of this season. It was an enjoyable moment seeing the fans, and the players, applauding Jeter as he came to the plate to lead off the bottom of the first inning.

We can all take our own view on the ‘groove-gate’ saga, both on whether Adam Wainwright did deliberately give Jeter a good pitch to hit and – if so – whether that was the right thing to do, but it did reinforce the point that the All-Star game is an exhibition and that’s how it should be.

The idea of ‘making the game count’ to reduce the number of players that opted out may have been well-intentioned, but when we get to October the fact that home-field advantage was decided by the game will once again feel wrong. I would revert back to it going to which of the two teams had the best win-loss record of the regular season, although the emerging idea of using the overall interleague play record could work too.

The long goodbye

Keeping on the Jeter theme, the Yankees announced that they will be holding a special pre-game ceremony on 9 September to honour the Captain. With CC Sabathia done for the season due to a knee injury and Masahiro Tanaka landing on the Disabled List with a dreaded elbow problem, it may be that the ‘long goodbye’ will be the central focus for Yankee fans by the time we get to the end of September in the Bronx.

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