Finally, after four days with no baseball, and two days with pretty much no sports at all, games return tonight. The Jays host the Tampa Bay Rays hoping to get the second half of their season off on the right foot. Toronto is going to need an absolutely massive second half to get back into contention, which means they need pretty much everybody on the roster to step up.
But there are other things to look out for in the second half as well. Here are ten storylines to watch – five focused on the Blue Jays, and five on the rest of baseball.
1. Salvage Mode
It seems like forever ago that Toronto was considered the World Series favourite. So much has gone wrong this year that it’s not even worth repeating it again.
But that doesn’t mean the season is over. Yes the team is well back of a playoff spot, but there are still 68 games left. If 95 wins will be good enough for the postseason, that means the Jays will have to go 50-18 to get there. Likely? No. But impossible? Not really, especially if the players that were supposed to lead the team finally start playing to their abilities.
2. Josh Johnson – Stay or Go?
Johnson is a free agent at the conclusion of the 2013 season, and that fact was always in the back of everyone’s mind. The school of thought was that he would lead the Jays to the playoffs, and then re-sign after the year. Or else, worst case, was that the Jays struggled and traded JJ at the deadline.
Not many expected for both parties to struggle. Johnson has been terrible, so bad that his trade value might be at an all time low. So what will Alex Anthopoulos do as we approach July 31? Trade him for something? Keep him? I have no idea, but we’ll find out in the next 11 days.
3. Second and Third
When Brett Lawrie returned from the DL last week, a somewhat surprising decision was made to move him across the diamond to second base. The move brought with it a whole slew of questions: is it temporary? Permanent? Does that open the door for Jose Bautista to return to 3B? Are the Jays in the trade market for a new third baseman? Outfielder? Second baseman?
Of course, virtually all of these questions will go away if Lawrie starts to play like the Lawrie we saw at the end of 2011. He has been incredibly inconsistent all year long, and the breakout year that many people expected simply hasn’t materialized. If he starts to hit, nobody will care if he hits as a 2B or 3B.
4. The Bullpen
One of the lone bright spots has been Toronto’s bullpen. Janssen, Cecil, Delabar, Oliver, Loup, Wagner, and the rest have been terrific, game in and game out. However, one of the biggest truisms in baseball is that a bullpen can fluctuate wildly. Typically these fluctuations happen season to season, but they can also happen within a season. With the rotation so up and down (mostly down), the bullpen will be just as important in the second half. Can they keep up this insane level of production?
5. Rise of Reassumes
In his brief time as a Blue Jay, Colby Rasmus has been maddening. He has shown flashes of brilliance, stretches where he obliterates pitching, plays amazing defense, and looks like a team leader. More often than not, however, he follows those stretches up with weeks of nothingness, horrendous slumps that see him strike out a ton, and appear to leave him mentally checked out.
2013 has been different so far. Rasmus, despite his terrible haircut, looks mature and calm. The result has been consistent production, and great offensive stats. He has 16 HR, 48 RBI, a .263 average, and an .816 OPS, and has turned into one of baseball’s best CF. Many thought he would be traded this year to make room for Anthony Gose, but if he keeps this up, he isn’t going anywhere.
Now for the rest of baseball:
1. Party in Pittsburgh?
The Pirates have been so bad for so long, that it still really hasn’t sunk in that they were one of the best teams in baseball in the first half. With solid offense from McCutchen and Alvarez, and a great rotation led by former Jay A.J. Burnett, the Pirates look like the real deal. Will they have enough staying power to win the division and make the playoffs? We’ll see, but it looks like a lock that they’ll finally finish above .500.
2. Chris “Home Run” Davis
With 37 HR before the All-Star break, Davis took the baseball world by storm and is threatening to break Roger Maris’ all-time “clean” home run record of 61. Say what you want about Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and the rest of those from the tainted era, many consider the 61 mark to be baseball’s true mark. It won’t be easy, what with the Orioles in contention and playing an AL East heavy schedule down the stretch, but he showed no signs of slowing down in the first half, so why would he in the second?
3. Triple Crown Part Two
One person who will be very interested in whether Davis slows down is Miguel Cabrera. The Tigers 3B currently has a slight lead over Davis in RBI, and a massive lead over Mike Trout in average, meaning he’s 2/3 of the way there already. He trails Davis by 7 in the home run chase, but would anybody really bet against him? If he does it, Cabrera would be the first player in history to win back-to-back triple crowns. Very impressive.
4. The Woeful West
The NL West has been a terrible division so far in 2013. Only one team is over .500, and every team still has a chance, even the awful San Diego Padres. So what will happen? Arizona continues to lead despite one of the worst bullpens in baseball. The defending champion Giants have had a first half to forget, but might have a second half run in them. Then there are the Dodgers, the big money, huge spending Dodgers. After suffering through an awful start to the
season, they called up Yasiel Puig and have taken off. It will be battle to the finish.
5. The Fall of the Red Sox
This is definitely wishful thinking, but Boston has to fall. With Jon Lester falling apart, Clay Buchholz injured, and the rest of the rag-tag roster playing way above their heads, can they really keep up this pace? David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are good players, but Mike Carp? Stephen Drew? Jose Iglesias? Boston shocked the baseball world with a 58-39 first half, but Tampa and Baltimore are charging, and it’s only a matter of time until the Red Sox drop down the ladder.
At least I hope so.