The first half of the 2011 MLB Season concluded Sunday night as the San Francisco Giants downed the visiting New York Mets, 4-2. The victory helped the defending World Series champion Giants (52-40) head into the All-Star break as leaders in the National League West Division by three games.
Believe it or not, the Giants' West-division lead is the second-largest in the major leagues -- the Philadelphia Phillies (57-34) have just a 3.5-game lead on the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. This means, that out of the six divisions in baseball all of them have tightly contested races heading into the second half. (Last year at this time, the Texas Rangers led the American League West by 4.5 games, while Braves led the NL East by five -- By the end of the season, the Rangers won by nine, while the Braves lost by six to the Phillies.) For baseball fans, it's going to be an interesting and exciting second half.
Now, the division races will not be the only storylines heading into the last half of the season. Here's a look at some second-half storylines to keep track off:
Can Jose Bautista hit 60 home runs?: Last year, the Toronto Blue Jays outfielder/third basemen came out of nowhere and hit a league-leading 54 homers. Currently, Bautista has 31 homers and could become the first player to reach the 60-homer mark since Barry Bonds in 2001. (Yeah, it has been that long.)
How many pitchers will reach the 20-win mark?: Currently, 13 pitchers are at or above 10 wins. Eight more pitchers have nine wins. This means that the odds of 10 pitchers coming close to the 20-win mark is pretty solid. The last time that there were a double-digit number of pitchers reaching that mark? 1974.
Will Jose Reyes be traded?: I know a majority of Mets fans are hoping that the Reyes trade rumors will just go away. The 29-year-old shortstop has proven that when healthy he's the most dynamic shortstop in the game, and to trade a talent like that would be idiotic. But, the Mets recent money troubles will make it extremely difficult to retain Reyes past this year. My guess is that he gets traded, but to figure out which team will be a buyer for Reyes will be fun.
Which near-.500 team will make a second-half surge? (Because there's always one team): If you think your team is out of the playoff race because they're just above or below the .500 mark, think again.
Last year on my personal blog, I listed nine post-2001 teams that were near the .500 mark at the halfway point, but made a second-half surge to earn a playoff spot. Here's an excerpt:
"2001: Through 87 games, the Oakland Athletics were 44-43.
Beltran smashed 23 home runs in 90 games, propelling the Astros to a 92-70 record and the NL Wild Card.
The Astros reached the World Series where the Chicago White Sox used a four-game sweep to capture their first championship since 1917.
2006: Oakland’s 48-26 second-half finish helped win the AL West and overcome a sluggish start of 45-43.
In 2010, the Giants were 42-40 at the season's halfway mark and in fourth place in the NL West. The Giants, who I predicted would make the surge, went on to win the World Series.
Right now, the Pittsburgh Pirates (47-43, .522 winning percentage), Mets (46-45, .505), Washington Nationals (46-46, .500), Blue Jays (45-47, .489), Cincinnati Reds (45-47, .489), Chicago White Sox (44-48, .478) and Colorado Rockies (43-48, .473) fit the mold.
Immediately, I am eliminating the Blue Jays, Mets and Nationals because they play in divisions with superior teams ahead of them. The Pirates are possibly this year's best story, but they don't have the overall talent or specialty -- like the Giants had last year with pitching -- to make a run.
The Reds have the bats, but the fact that Bronson Arroyo (5.58 ERA) is listed as their No. 1 stater concerns me. The Rockies have made the second-half surge before, but this wont be their year because the Giants, who are the far better team, stand in their way. Colorado also sits 10.5 games back in the NL Wild Card race. That's just too much to overcome.
Meanwhile, the White Sox have the perfect combination -- the struggling star who will make a second-half revival, Adam Dunn; 2011 surprise MVP, Paul Konerko; Second-half breakout player, Jake Peavy; the how is he still playing player, Omar Vizquel -- to make a run. Plus, the Southsiders play in one of the most unpredictable divisions, which swings the betting odds in Chicago's favor.
On Monday, the All-Star Break festivities begin with the Home Run Derby in Phoenix, AZ at Chase Field. The AL representatives will be: Toronto's Bautista, Boston's Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Robinson Cano. The NL squad will be made up of: Milwaukee' Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Los Angeles' Matt Kemp and St. Louis' Matt Holliday. Television coverage begins at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
(Was Cano a weird choice for the Home Run Derby? SB Nation New York examines.)
On Tuesday, the 82nd All-Star Game will be played. Philadelphia's starting pitcher Roy Halladay will throw out the game's first pitch at approximately 8 p.m.
Have your own thoughts on the MLB Season? E-mail: JaredSmith16@gmail.com; or Tweet: Jared_E_Smith. Here are other previous MLB Notebooks: 4.21.11; 4.25.11; 5.2.11, 5.9.11, 5.16.11; 5.23.11, 5.30.11, 6.13.11, 6.20.11, 6.27.11.