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Submitted by Jim Feist on Tuesday, July 4, 2017 at 12:00 AM

by Jim Feist

The first half of the 2017 baseball season is in the books. There were surprising winners, such as the Astros, Yankees and Nationals, a lack of hitting league-wide again, and several teams decent at home and lousy on the road (Mariners, Rays, Cubs, Giants, A's, Royals).  With the surprises out of the way, here's a look at some teams that might be active at the trading deadline and primed to make a second half surge.

Astros: Wow! A bold pick to win the 2017 World Series a few years ago by Sports Illustrated, Houston has been way ahead of schedule. The offense is terrific at getting on base while the pitching staff is one of the best in baseball. Diminutive 27-year old 2B Jose Altuve is having another great season with the bat while stealing bases with his legs.  The Houston pitching staff has an ace in Dallas Keuchel and a deep pen. If any team already has it all, this is the one.

Dodgers: Los Angeles has a terrific balance of pitching and offense. Having an ace like Clayton Kershaw prevents losing streaks while veteran Brandon McCarthy has been a big plus after battling arm injuries the last two years. The Dodgers continue to be a strong on-base percentage offense behind Adrian Gonzalez, SS Corey Seager and 3B Justin Turner. They are dominant at home, though last year the Dodgers won 91 games and the division despite a 38-43 road mark.

Cubs: The defending champs are not going to fade away, but we're still waiting for consistency and the offense to get going. Las Vegas native 3B Kris Bryant (age 25), 1B Anthony Rizzo (27) and Jason Heyward (27) are all in the prime while the pitching staff has talent, Top 10 in team ERA. 33-year old lefty Jon Lester shows no signs of slowing down, while Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey all know how to throw strikes and take pressure off the pen. And general manager Theo Epstein is astute at identifying team weaknesses and adding help before the trade deadline.

Red Sox:  Boston's pitching is even better than a year ago when they were ninth in team ERA after adding ace southpaw Chris Sale. Sale, Rick Porcello, David Price give the team an outstanding trio.  It's the offense that has disappointed, with home run numbers plummeting since the retirement of David Ortiz.
  One player even mentioned that the offense misses him, one of several signs that the club lacks the kind of mature leadership Big Papi provided. Still, the talent is deep, particularly defensively in the field. A second half surge wouldn't be a surprise.

Orioles: Baltimore won the AL East in 2014 and 89 games last season. Their 2017 stats haven't been overwhelming, but the Orioles have some talent. Baltimore is leaning on 24-year old righty Dylan Bundy to anchor the staff, but could use some improvement from veterans Ubaldo Jimenez or Kevin Gausman. Otherwise they will be in the market for a starter later this month.

Cardinals: St. Louis started slow in early April with a struggling offense, but then began to get it together. You need pitching to make a second half run and the Cardinals are stocked behind 25-year old Carlos Martinez, 26-year old Mike Wacha, Lance Lynn and big surprise Mike Leake. They will probably be looking to add a bat and a leadoff hitter with speed. Rumors are they have Vince Coleman on speed-dial.

Nationals: Washington's offense is impressive, clogging the bases for sluggers like Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, catcher Matt Wieters and Jason Werth.  And the pitching is built for the long haul with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark. It's the middle relief and the role of closer that needs an upgrade, so don't be surprised if they are aggressive to add some short relief arms this month. They really have everything else.


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