By Pat O'Rourke @patorourke_29 on June 15, 2014
The midway point of the 2014 MLB season is fast approaching, and like most years, this campaign is not short on storylines. Of those countless storylines, here are 15 takeaways from the 2014 season to date.
The big leagues are once again riddled with mediocrity in 2014. Through roughly 70 games, there are just four teams on pace for 90 wins in San Francisco, Milwaukee, Oakland and Toronto. Win five/lose five has been the theme of the season, making it appear as if the World Series will once again go to the team that gets hot last, as opposed to the best overall team.
Since the second Wild Card was implemented in both leagues in 2012, it's done what it was meant to do, incorporate more markets in the pennant race. That mission, however, has come at the expense of the July 31 trade deadline, as teams are gun-shy to sell off, as they now remain in the race at the time of the deadline.
The question a few years ago was how the game of the young Cuban stars would translate to the majors. The transition has appeared pretty smooth, as these Cuban players are making a huge impact on the big leagues. Leading the charge in 2014 has been rookie slugger Jose Abreu, who is top five in the AL in home runs (19) and RBI (51), playing for the Chicago White Sox.
The New York Yankees turned heads in January by committing 5 million to Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. The 24 year old is making Brian Cashman look pretty smart through 13 starts, going 10-1 with a 2.02 ERA. How those numbers hold up as major league hitters adjust to Tanaka, who knows. But if the season ended today, he would be the MVP, Cy Young winner and Rookie of the Year in the AL.
Of the top eight teams in ERA in the majors, seven hold playoffs spots as of Saturday. The other team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, are tied with the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card spot. The Oakland Athletics -- led by the revival of Scott Kazmir -- lead the world with a team ERA of 2.89. The A's have been the best and most consistent team in the American League in 2014, and hold down the league's best record at 41-27.
The trend of young pitchers either having to miss starts, or even seasons, due to arm injuries continues to snowball in the world of baseball. NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez highlights the trend in 2014, undergoing Tommy John surgery in May. The young Miami Marlins star will be sidelined for 12-18 months.
The latest baseball innovation has been defensive shifts. Introduced by Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon in 2006, it was originally designed to keep pull-happy lefties in check. But now, they're being utilized on all types of hitters with all types of strengths.
Introduced in 2012, the qualifying offer is a one-year deal at the average salary of the top 125 player salaries in the majors. The most recent qualify offer was valued at one-year, .1 million. All 13 players who were given the offer rejected it in 2013. Two of those 13 players -- Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales -- would likely take a do-over after rejecting the qualifying offer, as neither found work until June.
Give Alex Anthopoulos credit. When the Toronto Blue Jays went 74-88 in 2013 after being preseason favorites to win the AL pennant, he didn't pull the plug and blow it all up. Instead, he stayed the course and made minor changes in the 2013-14 offseason. It's paying off in 2014, as the Jays lead the AL East at 40-30, and look poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
Instituted for the first time in 2014, the MLB replay system showed its kinks and glitches in the opening months of the season, as any system usually does. As time has gone on, those kinks and glitches have been slowly worked out, as managers are learning more about how the system works. It's imperfect, but it's certainly here to stay, as it should. The technology is available -- might as well get it right.
The pitching staff maligned with injuries, the Tampa Bay Rays have fallen back to the basement of the American League. The inability to replace the arms of Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb in the rotation are indications that the well has run dry in the minor league system that has gained a reputation of being a pipeline of quality arms over the past few years. The lineup is just a disaster from top to bottom.
The Biogenesis scandal rocked the MLB in 2013, resulting in suspensions of 13 players. The players of prominence suspended for the role -- Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta -- have picked up where they left off. Cruz, who signed a one-year, million deal with Baltimore in February, leads the American League in home runs (21) and runs batted in (55).
The young prospects are beginning to break into the major leagues for the Houston Astros, and the impact the youth has had is showing in the standings. The Astros have won 14 of their last 20, with a energy injected into the team that hasn't been seen in quite some time. Houston hasn't avoided the 100-loss mark since 2010, when they went 76-86. This could be the year.
The back-to-back AL pennants in 2010-11 seem like a distant memory for the Texas Rangers, a franchise at a crossroads due to questionable decisions by GM Jon Daniels. Texas missed the playoffs in 2013 after Daniels didn't go out and get a bat to replace Nelson Cruz, when it was inevitable he would be suspended. He then took on Prince Fielder's awful contract before committing 6 million over six years to Shin-Soo Choo in the offseason.
Max Scherzer turned down 4 million from the Detroit Tigers in the offseason, appearing to be on a mission to prove his Cy Young campaign in 2013 was no fluke. The 29-year-old righty is proving just that in 2014, going 8-2 with 3.05 ERA and 106 strikeouts over 94 1-3 innings in 13 starts, taking the role of the Tigers ace as Justin Verlander struggles. If he keeps it up, Scherzer will be in line for an even bigger payday.
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