For me, the All-Star break has always represented the “far turn” in the horse race that is the Major League Baseball season. This is the point when general managers acting as jockeys must decide whether they are contenders or pretenders; whether to go to the whip (trade for talent to augment a “stretch run”) or “wait for next year” (have a fire sale). Not to mention, this another great opportunity to see how wrong we really were from the pre-season predictions. And let’s be honest…we were wrong on a lot of stuff.
1) Pittsburgh Pirates ↑ 15
What We Said:
Even though the Bucs just missed out on a .500 record, it had to be considered a successful campaign because their farm system took a big leap forward. Pirates fans need to be patient because I really think the turnaround is coming.
I get that it is hard to ask fans of a team that has sucked swamp water to two decades to be patient, especially in the light of two straight second-half collapses. Breakout superstar Andrew McCutchen needs to lead an offense featuring Russell Martin, Gaby Sanchez, Travis Snider, and promoted prospect Starling Marte. The starting rotation has potential with a top three of A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald, but that three still has some questions. Beyond there’s more :what ifs,” such as Francisco Liriano Jonathan Sanchez. Boil it all down and I see the Pirates as an even bet to reach .500 for the first time in two decades.
Pitching wins, and the Pirates lead the National League in team ERA. The question is after two straight post All-Star Game folds, is this the year the Bucs finally can make a run all the way to they way.
2) Boston Red Sox ↑ 16
What We Said:
For the second year in a row, the mantra is Boston is as follows: The Red Sox are not nearly as bad as their record last year would indicate, it was just a storm of everything falling apart at exactly the same time.
The difference is that they seem to have grasped what the really need to do to rebuild over the long haul. Namely, they needed to not make the same mistakes when it comes to giant money, long-term contracts. This past off-season, the Red Sox only signed free-agents who were willing to accept contracts of three years or fewer, who wouldn’t cost them a compensatory draft pick and who aren’t pains-in-the-ass. Having said that, third-place is the upside for this team.
Remember what I just said about pitching? Well, Boston is second in the American League in team ERA. Top that off with the fact the Red Sox are also second in the AL in team batting average, and their #2 ranking, while surprising to me given what I though of this team at the beginning of the season, really shouldn’t be surprising.