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MLB – First half grade report (AL)

With the first half of the season over, Alex Ferguson thought it was high time to grade the teams on their performance thus far in what hasn’t been an exactly memorable Major League season.
First up, it’s the American League. The National League will follow soonA –

Boston Red Sox (48-29)

After their incredible start to the year, the Sox looked almost impregnable. However, after back-to-back series losses to the Yankees, as well as one to the Rockies, there are signs that the AL East won’t be as easy as we thought in mid-May. However, with David Ortiz starting to get back amongst the homers again and Kevin Youkilis continuing to be a hitting star – as well as Josh Beckett and John Papelbon proving nigh-on unhittable, the Red Sox – despite recently getting swept in Seattle and losing two out of three at home to Colorado – must already be thinking postseason already with their 48-29 record. So are we.

Anaheim Angels (49-30)

Getting swept earlier this week by the Kansas City Royals aside, the Angels are a really rather good team this year. They can put the pull in the park and bat for average(they are second in the American League  with a .290 average for all their batters), but they can also hit it out (Vladimir Guerrero’s hit 14 dingers). And when they’re on the basepads, they’ll steal bases at will (74 leads the American league, too). Oh, and with good starting pitching and an even better bullpen (3.90 ERA is third in the league), this team will go far….if they don’t collapse in the ultra-competitive AL West.

B +

Cleveland Indians (45-32)

Victor Martinez is one of the stars of the season, leading the team in average (.313), home runs (14) and RBIs (62). Grady Sizemore ranks in the top 10 in runs, homers, stolen bases and walks, and Joe Borowski’s good enough to preserve the victories. This team’s gearing up for a late charge this year – if they can keep pace with the sizzling Detroit Tigers. This is a team to watch for the future.

Seattle Mariners (42-33)

One of the American League’s surprise outfits so far this year, the 42-33 Mariners have been a lot of fun to watch. Despite having awful pitching of nearly five runs per game, batting stars such as Richie Sexson, Ichiro Suzuki and Adrian Beltre consistently give the team a lift. We only wish that Ken Griffey Jr had continued being a Mariner.
 Felix Hernandez is a bona fide star on the pitching mound, and JJ Putz – despite a hilarious name – has been a shut-down closer with 22 saves.  

Detroit Tigers (45-31)

They may have lost the World Series, but they aren’t showing any signs of a hangover after the loss. Justin Verlander recently tossed a no-hitter, and Gary Sheffield and Magglio Ordonez are two of the best hitters in the American League. Helping them is their road record, which is an AL best 27-15.

B –

Minnesota (39-37)

After being a postseason contender for the best part of a decade, it’s no longer a wonderful story when the underfunded Minnesota Twins strike fear into the heart of their competitors. The Twins truly need some starting pitching – just one excellent pitcher (Johan Santana) will not help them go to the postseason this year. And as for batting, Torii Hunter’s the only player with a batting average above .300, and Hunter and Morneau account for well over half of their teams total of home runs. But if Joe Nathan can stay healthy and the hitting trio of Morneau, Hunter and Joe Mauer get hot, this will be a dangerous team in the second half.

C

Tampa Bay Devil Rays (33-43)

Sure, their 33-42 record isn’t the most wonderful, but the Rays have certainly been competitive this year. Their 8-11 record against the rest of the AL East is not awful – and is far better than the well-moneyed Yankees, who are five games worse than them. This might not get them to the Wild Card this year, but they’ll continue to look like improving. If things improve, perhaps they’ll have the money to give the team a new ballpark – I’m not a big fan of the dome that is Tropicana Field.

C-

Toronto (39-38)

The Blue Jays were a dark horse for the AL East this year, but thanks to injuries to pitching star AJ Burnett and doubles-hitting specialist Lyle Overbay, the Jays haven’t been the frightening contender the Red Sox would have expected (the Yankees have their own problems). Although they are second in a drastically underperforming AL East, the Jays have a long way before they can indicate that they will battle for the postseason this year.

Oakland Athletics (40-37)

Like the Twins, the whole “small team, small money” situation doesn’t fly with me anymore when it comes to talking about the Oakland As. Injuries to pitching stars Rich Harden, Kiko Calero hasn’t helped, but starting batters Bobby Kielty and Travis Buck makes their line-up look increasingly threadbare. Don’t get us wrong- Huston Street’s a fantastic closing pitcher (watch for the Yankees/Angels/Mets fork out a lot for him come his free agency), but is his bullpen good enough to get him there? The 40-37 – including losing eight out of the last eleven games – doesn’t indicate so.

Kansas City Royals (33-46)

Again, the Royals aren’t as bad as everyone thought they’d be this season. Rather like the Royals themselves, much-heralded Alex Gordon is a work in progress, and the pitching’s not wonderful. We like the work of David DeJesus so far this season (88 hits), as well as Gil Meche, who wound back the years with a wonderful performance against the Angels a couple of days ago.

D

Chicago White Sox (32-42)

World Series champions to AL Central joke, the White Sox were recently swept by their Chicago neighbours the Cubs and have been awful over the last few weeks. Woeful in interleague play (4-14), the White Sox have been one of baseball’s worst teams in the last three weeks. If this continues, doing be surprised if Ozzie Guillen gets the boot…and if Mark Buerhle – who threw a no-hitter for the Sox this season – goes to pastures anew (New York is rumoured).

E

Texas Rangers (32-45)

As usual, the Rangers haven’t had a brilliant start to the year. They overpaid for free agent closer Eric Gagne, who produced nothing but one long medical bill until the start of May, and now their first baseman Mark Texeira, who was awful at the start of this year – is also hurt. Although Ian Kinsler’s hitting and the renaissance of Sammy Sosa’s making Rangers hitters fun to watch, it’s hard to see how a team with a 6-15 record against its fellow AL West teams will continue to be anywhere but awful. Get some good pitching, Mr Hicks.

Baltimore Orioles (34-43)

Last year they were pretty woeful, and this year Baltimore have had a pretty similar start to the year. The Orioles – who used to have a tremendous batting line-up in the mid 1990s – aren’t scaring anybody anymore. Miguel Tejada, who’s out for a month, is going to make matters worse for the team. Oh well, at least they can still beat the Yankees.

F

New York Yankees (36-39)

Sure, you can say that the injuries at the start of the year didn’t help the team ever settle, but while watching the Yankees has never been a more taxing experience for fans of the Bronx bombers. If it’s not the pitching that’s the problem, the hitting is terrible. If the  the hitters score eight runs, it’ll be no surprise that pitchers let in nine. The arrival of Roger Clemens has helped to reignite the pitching staff, but Alex Rodriguez’ prodigious batting this year hasn’t helped to be a sparkplug for the rest of the order. And to make matters worse, Mariano Rivera, their closer and soon-to-be Hall of Famer, has been less than wonderful on a contract year, Still, the Yanks are still only seven games out of the Wild Card – despite being dreadful most of the year. But if this carries on, don’t be surprised if manager Joe Torre is sacked by August.

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