Three things to watch entering the second half of the 2016 Major League Baseball season. The All-Star game concludes tonight at Petco Park in San Diego, California.
Will the Cubs stop being the Cubs?
Chicago’s north side squad rocketed out of the gates with a chip on its shoulder after the New York Mets swept the young Cubs in the National League Division Series last season. However, with a 3-7 record in its last 10 games (as of Sunday), Chicago appears to be in dire need of a breather.
Jake Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young winner, has come down to earth (2.68 ERA compared to 1.77 last year) and has been shaky in his last handful of appearances. He is 3-4 in his last seven starts with an ugly 4.81 ERA. Arrieta has also given up 40 hits in his last seven games on the mound (compared to 67 in his last 15), leaving Cubs faithful scratching their heads as the MLB season hits the halfway mark tonight for the annual All-Star game.
Nonetheless, there were five Cubs (Kris Bryant, Dexter Fowler, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell) making a start tonight as fans were impressed with Chicago’s talented offensive lineup. The Cubs rank third in the majors in RBIs and are fourth in OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) with Bryant ranking second in total home runs (25).
With a struggling ace and young core, will this be the year the Cubs shake their past demons or have the past stretch of games shown their true colors?
Best in the NL West
The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers have had their share of division battles in the game’s long history and this season appears to be no different. San Francisco seems to be out to prove it still has what it takes for a deep postseason run after the Dodgers kept the Giants out of the playoffs last season.
Currently with a six-game lead, the Giants (56-33) appear to be in control as their pitching staff has again been one of the best (3.59 team ERA) in baseball. Johnny Cueto came over from the Kansas City Royals and ranks second in the majors in wins (13-1) while Madison Bumgarner has been rather steady, too, at 9-4. Jeff Samardzija has nine wins, as well.
The Giants pitching staff also leads the majors in complete games (7). As it seems now, the second-place team in the NL West likely will earn a Wild Card spot, making its road to a title a little more challenging. The Dodgers eventually lost to the Mets (3-2) in the first round of the playoffs last year.
A race for respect
Clayton Kershaw or Kris Bryant? Mark Trumbo or Edwin Encarnacion? Who will be named the most valuable player in their respective league? Maybe none of the above.
Kershaw has been electric again for the Dodgers, leading the National League with a 1.79 ERA and ranking third in strikeouts (145). Bryant, in his second season up from the minor league ranks, is first in the NL with 25 deep balls and third in RBIs with 65.
Obviously, the fact both player’s teams have better-than-average chances to make the playoffs helps, too. Daniel Murphy (Washington Nationals) and Anthony Rizzo (Chicago Cubs) could also be in the conversation at season’s end.
In the American League, Trumbo of the Baltimore Orioles (first in AL East) has been a beast with a 28 home runs (first in majors) and 68 RBIs (third in AL) while Encarnacion is bringing runs in at reckless abandon (80 RBIs). He also has 23 home runs for the Toronto Blue Jays, who are two games back of the Orioles in the AL East.
Other names to watch are Boston’s David Ortiz and Toronto’s Josh Donaldson.