1. The San Francisco Giants LOVE Even Years.
It’s really quite unexplainable, but the San Francisco Giants and even numbered years really do get along nicely. After World Series titles in 2010, 2012, and 2014, the Bay Area club is back atop MLB at the All Star Break with the league’s best record – and maybe the most dominant, put-together team they’ve had during this stretch run of “even-year” championships.
Starting ace Johnny Cueto looks poised to start the Midsummer Classic with a 13-1 mark, a WHIP under 1.00, and a league-best 4 complete games. Add horses like Madison Baumgartner and Jeff Samardzija to the rotation and opposing hitters have their work cut out for them as the Giants look intent on making another deep postseason run.
A lineup featuring former NL MVP Buster Posey and first baseman Brandon Belt is more than doing it’s share of hitting and putting runs on the board at critical times. The Giants rank in the top 5 in the NL in the major offensive statistical categories.
Expect the team to make a move or two to sure up the bullpen, which has been the only deficiency this team seems to be hamstrung with this season. Aside from that, there’s no reason to think this even numbered year will turn out any differently than the past 3.
2. The Chicago Cubs are legitimate World Series contenders.
It looks as though all the young talent that the Cubs groomed and stockpiled for years is paying off this year. Of course, it’s never just one piece of the puzzle that gets everything set in motion – it’s usually a few parts coming together at the right time. And that’s what’s happening in the Northside of Chicago right now.
With reigning CY Young Award winner Jake Arrieta leading the charge, although he’s been off his usual game over the last month or so, the Cubbies seem to have the pitching and the hitting to make a serious run in the playoffs. The Cubs stand no worse than third in most of the major statistical pitching categories. All-Stars Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo lead the attack, offensively.
And you can’t talk Cubs baseball without crediting Manager Joe Maddon for the success and turnaround this franchise has experienced the last couple seasons. All the pieces finally seem to be in place for the “loveable losers” to reverse a hundred years of misfortune.
3. Clayton Kershaw is the best player in baseball right now.
We can pretty much agree that he’s the best pitcher – few will argue that. What I’m saying is Clayton Kershaw is the game’s best player, regardless of position, right now.
The Dodgers’ ace is putting together one of the historically great seasons for a pitcher of all time. Currently, 11-2 with a miniscule 1.79 ERA, Kershaw is out-thinking, overpowering, and just plain destroying hitters when they step inside the batter’s box to face him. His WHIP is on pace to set an all-time low; his strikeout to walk ratio was at one point 100 to 5 (are you kidding me???!!!); and for you metrics guys out there, Kershaw’s FIP (which is a measure of ERA considering HRs, BBs, and other things the pitcher can control) is second all-time only to Pedro Martinez’s 1.39 he posted in 1999.
It’s hard to find anything he doesn’t do well on the mound. His stats are so historically unbelievable that I find myself shocked when he walks a batter or doesn’t go 9 innings or gives up 2 hits in an inning. God forbid!
You know you’re in rarefied air when the great Vin Scully mistakes you for Sandy Koufax.
4. Cleveland and Washington appear ready to stop underachieving.
The Sports Illustrated jinx was in full effect last season when the publication touted the Cleveland Indians as being the team to beat in 2015. Well, we all make mistakes, and the boys and girls over at SI might have just jumped the gun by a year. Like Cleveland, the Nationals have been expected to seriously challenge for (and even win) a World Series title in recent years. In 2016, both franchises look like they are ready to move down that path into October. And both are doing it with some outstanding pitching.
Of the following categories – ERA, Strikeouts, Runs Allowed, BA Against, and WHIP – neither teams ranks outside the top 5 in MLB (except for Ks where Washington is tied for 6th). If pitching wins championships, Cleveland and Washington will be two teams to keep a close eye on the the Fall approaches.
5. It’s a long season and teams out of the playoff picture right now should not be counted out just yet.
We’ve all heard the tired, old expression: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint”. But it’s true when describing the long (too long) baseball season. That’s why, no fans should be totally despondent over how their favorite team has done so far – minus maybe the Twins, Braves, Reds, and Rays (sorry). What decades upon decades of baseball has proven is that a lot can happen after the All-Star Break, including the trade deadline which will serve, as it always does, as an accurate barometer of what teams are really in contention.
Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.