Just when you thought that no, this time it’s different, this time the Chicago Cubs are for real, they appear to have hit the skids. Will it continue or will they snap out of it and resume domination of the National League Central? A lot will depend on whether or not Jake Arrieta has really returned to being just an ordinary pitcher. The lineup still is solid, with Justin Heyward joining the youth corps of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell in continuing to wreak havoc. However, the pitching has now become suspect, with starters Jon Lester and John Lackey looking less than stellar lately and the bullpen showing strain. The first few games after the All Star break will be worth observing.
Just when you thought that injuries and a wobbly bullpen were going to cause the San Francisco Giants to be reduced to a .500 team they rip off 40 wins in 55 games to hit the break with the best record in the major leagues. Can they continue, or will the imminent return of right fielder Hunter Pence, second baseman Joe Panik and third baseman Matt Duffy as well as one time ace pitcher Matt Cain throw a wrench in the works and cause them to sputter? We shall see.
Just when you thought that Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, and the rest of the Toronto Blue Jays were going to slump their way through the entire season they came alive and looked hot as the break approached, winning 8 out of ten. Baltimore and Boston have strength but it’s starting to look again like it did in the second half of 2015, that is, the Blue Jays have more.
There are, as always, many other interesting stories to consider as the television cools in preparation for the rest of the season. Dusty Baker‘s rejuvenated Nationals, thought in this corner to be over rated as the season began, look like a good balance of young and old as well as pitching and power. Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa have been key ingredients there. The Phillies, hot early, faltered but now seem to have found a second wind and threaten to become contenders by the time 2017 rolls around. The Marlins, with a suddenly awakened Giancarlo Stanton and their bald hitting coach, seemed geared up for winning. The Dodgers, despite an apparent plague on their pitching staff and the continuing flop of Yasiel Puig, are not going away. The Texas Rangers stumbled a bit coming into the break while Houston got back into the race, so it looks like a battle in the Land That Time Forgot. Oddly, the hosts of the All Star game, the Padres, are not nearly as awful as we thought they might be back in April. It’s good to see Melvin Upton performing up to the old expectations. They’re not good, but not awful either. I hope it has nothing to do with the Steinbrennerisms of their owner.
Finally, there are two guys having just the kind of season we wanted them to have as they head for baseball’s version of social security: Ichiro and A-Rod.