2012 saw a revival of sorts for the Pittsburgh Pirates, with the franchise playing competitive, meaningful baseball all the way into the final month of the season after two decades of incompetence. The 79 wins the Pirates piled up represent the most games they’ve won in a calender year since 1997, and the expectation for 2013 to be the first winning season since 1992 has reached a fevered pitch. The fast starts in 2011 and 2012, along with Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, and a promising cadre of young pitchers give fans a reason to believe again. But Pittsburgh has some foundational problems to address at the core of their roster. Shortstop Clint Barmes would struggle to hit water if he fell out of a boat, the corner outfielders are woefully inadequate for a true contender, and the pitching staff is in need of a true ace. But none of those issues are as glaring as the Pirate’s ongoing comedy at the catching position, where Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry received a majority of the playing time.
If we’re going to talk about the Brewers, the most appropriate place to start would be with Ryan Braun. The defending NL MVP has been tearing up National League pitching over his last 25 games, hitting .356/.421/.6 with 6 homers, 7 doubles, 18 RBI, while going 7 for 8 in steals. Braun now leads the NL in homers, slugging percentage, OPS, total bases, while ranking 2nd in WAR and RBI. This type of production has vaulted the Milwaukee offense to the top of the National League in runs scored and back into the playoff hunt, which is going to present what may perhaps be the season’s most interesting scenario: What happens with the NL MVP award if Ryan Braun continues his tear for the next two weeks and the Brewers sneak into the playoffs?
A week and a half ago I previewed the month of September and attempted to divide teams up into Contenders or Pretenders. The National League in particular, had a bunch of teams withing reasonable striking distance of a playoff berth, particularly if everything broke right. Well so far so good, because damn near every team at the top of the running for the NL Wild Card spot is slumping, which means that teams like Arizona, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee have been reawakened from the dead. St. Louis has lost 5 of their last 6, while Los Angeles has lost 6 of 9 since acquiring Adrian Gonzalez in the blockbuster trade with the Red Sox, and don’t even get me started on the nasty slide the Pirates are in. The wheels have fallen off in the Steel City, as Pittsburgh is just 13-25 since the start of August while winning just 2 of their past 10 games. Atlanta is still looking good at the top, so the question is worth asking: does anybody want to win the win the 2nd Wild Card spot? And could one of the long-shot teams entering the month of September (Philadelphia, Arizona, and Milwaukee) sneak in there?
With one month of the 2012 regular season left things have gotten absolutely chaotic in the chase for the NL MVP award. The frontrunner for the award has fluctuated throughout the 2012 season, so much so that baseball fans might feel like they’re riding a roller coaster due to all the ups and downs on the leader board. First up was Joey Votto, who was in the midst of a potentially historic season before succumbing to an injury that’s had him riding the pine since mid-July. Next up was Andrew McCutchen who, much like his team, has been mired in a nasty slump of late. The Pirate centerfielder is hitting just .245/.324/.316 with 1 homer, 4 doubles, and 13 RBI in his last 111 plate appearances (28 games). He’s firmly entrenched in this race however, because even with the slump McCutchen still leads all NL hitters in OPS+, runs scored, and hits. But his struggles of late have opened the door to a new crop of potential MVP candidates, all of whom boast strong numbers and nearly every player is on a competitive team. Let’s take a look at the field of candidates and break down their odds of taking home the hardware at the end of the season. Bold numbers indicate the player leads the league in the statistic
Derek Jeter is having his best season of baseball since 2009 when he finished 3rd in AL MVP voting behind Joe Mauer and Mark Teixeira. The 38-year-old shortstop comes into today hitting .324/.365/.446 (118 OPS+) with 12 homers and 27 doubles, which puts him on pace for his best season since that 2009 World Series campaign. He’s accrued more hits than any other MLB player this season, racking up 168 total, which puts the Yankee captain on pace for the 8th 200 hit season of his career. In yesterday’s game against the White Sox, Jeter hit a lead-off homerun, which moved him into 12th on the all-time hits list, just 59 hits outside of the top-10 in baseball history. Jeter has blown past 8 hitters on the all-time hit list this season, passing legends like Craig Biggio, Cal Ripken Jr., George Brett, and Paul Warner. Barring a massive hitting binge out of the Yankee captain, we’re talking a month-and-a-half of .450+ hitting, Jeter probably won’t make it to the top 10 this season, but with 2 more years left on his contract, he’s a mortal lock to make it by next year. All of this prompts the question, how high up the list will Jeter climb?
No player in the National League is hitting the ball with more authority right now than Andrew McCutchen is for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Same goes for Robinson Cano in the American League. Both players are on an absolute tear and have taken pole position in their respective MVP races.
With the season just over halfway complete, it’s a perfect opportunity to take a look at some of the most pressing questions in baseball leading into what is sure to be an exciting push to October. With 21 teams in contention at the midway point, parity is at an all-time high in baseball. Teams from every sort of market and every sort of financial background are competing with each other, and the extra Wild Card spot has made contenders out of just about everybody excluding the Cubbies. Here we go: