Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, July 14, 2018 at 12:00 AM
HERE'S OUR JIM SEZ ALL STAR BREAK REPORT CARD GRADES
The Major-League Baseball All-Star Game is right around the bend - it's here on Tuesday night from Washington D.C. (you might have heard!) - and so that means it's time for our annual Jim Sez Report Card Grades for the unofficial first half of this 2018 season.
THE NATIONAL LEAGUE REPORT CARD GRADES
MILWAUKEE (55-39) - The Brew Crew has yet to take its foot off the gas pedal this year while staying just above the archrival Chicago Cubs in the NL Central race for first place. You can thank manager Craig Counsell - right now the leader in terms of NL Manager of the Year honors - for making lots of savvy moves and for adroitly utilizing his bench/bullpen and how about a round of applause for 1B Jesus Aguilar (23 HR, 67 RBI, .307 average - all team highs) who finally landed on the All-Star roster.
ATLANTA (51-40) - The "over" wins projection for this here-and-now Braves team was 75.5 back in spring training and so this NL East crew figures to smash that mark sometime in the month of August. No doubt the infusion of young every-day talent - read 2B Ozzie Albies and OF Ronald Acuna to go along with current NL batting average leader Nick Markakis (.322) - has been a boon for the Braves who are making things happen with an average pitching staff that ranks eighth in the league in team ERA.
PHILADELPHIA (52-40) - Consider that the Phillies had one of the weirdest starts to a season (see opening day meltdown by rookie manager Gabe Kapler, etc.) and still they're double-digit games over the .500 mark and they really have not gotten all that much from free-agent/big-bucks RHP Jake Arrieta ... maybe it's time folks tossed some bouquets Kapler's way, right?
CHICAGO CUBS (52-38) - The Cubbies have a far-and-away NL-best + 105 mark in terms of runs differential and no question 2B Javy Baez (team-highs 18 HR, 66 RBI) is right there at the top of the league's MVP race but closer Brandon Morrow (20 saves) has given Joe Maddon's squad some end-of-the-game stability and LHP starters Jon Lester and Jose Quintana have been sharp. Right now, the Cubs are even in the all-important loss column with the Brewers but don't be surprised if Chitown passes 'em by in the standings by the break.
ARIZONA (51-43) - One of the streakiest teams we've seen in MLB, this Diamondbacks crew managed to win even when All-Star 1B Paul Goldschmidt struggled and yet lost a batch of games when "Goldy" heated up ... go figure. The bottom line: 'Zona is slightly ahead of schedule when it comes to the "over" projection of 85.5 wins and LHP Patrick Corbin (1.05 WHIP) has been a blessing while regaining his health.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS (50-42) - Maybe we're being a bit kind to the Dodgers who were slated to win 97 games this year but consider the shabby/post-World Series hangover start to this year and the fact key 3B Justin Turner missed the first couple of months and LHP Clayton Kershaw has not been in the rotation all that much from start to now. Give oft-criticized manager Dave Roberts some kudos for keeping the LA gang afloat and a tip of the hat to lefty stick Max Muncy (21 HRs) who's headed to next week's Home Run Hitting Contest.
SAN FRANCISCO (49-46) - The Giants rank 12th in the league in home runs, 12th in runs scored and 9th in team ERA and yet here they are in the thick of the NL West race thanks in large part to being 13 games over .500 at home ... the Bruce Bochy effect (again!). No LHP Madison Bumgarner for most of this current campaign hasn't shaken the Jints' overall confidence.
ST. LOUIS (47-44) - Folks, we keep waiting for the Cardinals to get on some sort of winning streak but the Redbirds remain stop-and-start (e.g., split last 10 games) and it's troubling that St. Loo is only 23-22 at home. The groin-area injury to C Yadier Molina kept him sidelined for a batch of games but All-Star INF Matt Carpenter (17 HR, .372 on-base percentage) has been a star for a team that ranks a so-so eighth in the league in runs scored. Hey, thank goodness for All-Star RHP Miles Mikolas who entered the year a major question mark (and #4 or #5 starter) and has 10 wins and a nifty 1.01 WHIP.
MIAMI (39-56) - Gotta admit that the stripped-down Marlins have been more competitive on a game-by-game basis than we originally thought and truth is the Fish is slightly ahead of schedule in terms of their 64.5 wins total at season's start. Too bad that underrated LHP Caleb Smith went down for the year recently - his 88 Ks and 5 wins still leads this rather no-name staff.
COLORADO (48-45) - The Rockies are right around where you'd expect 'em to be but consider that they're 20-23 at Coors Field and that 3B Nolan Arenado (23 HR, 66 RBI) is an unhappy camper these days.
CINCINNATI (41-52) - Give the Reds some credit for a recent hot stretch (remember that Cincy started off the year at 3-17!) as underrated 3B Eugenio Suarez (19 HR, 69 RBI - both team highs) has been a great complement to lefty winger 1B Joey Votto (.424 on-base pct) this year.
PITTSBURGH (44-49) - Hey, the Pirates are right around where the "experts" thought they'd be with a .467 winning percentage (a .456 winning rate will get 'em the over 73.5 wins) but the pitching's been real bad (12th in the league in ERA at 4.41) and only closer LHP Felipe Vazquez (20 saves) has looked good.
WASHINGTON (47-46) - Quite frankly, we're getting tired of answering the question, "What's wrong with the Nationals" on a seemingly annual basis. Rookie manager Davey Martinez hasn't pushed many of the right buttons and - yes, we know star 2B Daniel Murphy has missed a gazillion games - but this offense ranks just 9th in the league in batting average and runs scored and even All-Star Game starter RF Bryce Harper's been sub-par.
SAN DIEGO (40-55) - Sorry, we realize the "over" wins projection was 73 W's for this Padres team but we expected more oomph after the signing of 1B Eric Hosmer but this SD squad is 14th (or next-to-last) in the league in both home runs and runs scored.
NEW YORK METS (37-54) - To be fair, the Mets were supposed to be a .500-type team in 2018 even though they made some significant off-season free-agent signings (see OF Jay Bruce, 3B Todd Frazier and reliver Anthony Swarzak) but the bottom fell out soon after that electric/unexpected 11-1 start and first-year manager Mickey Callaway has been a gigantic bust ... what was then-GM Sandy Alderson thinking when he hired this dude? If it wasn't for RHP Jacob deGrom (MLB-best 1.68 ERA) then this season would remind Mets fans of 1962!
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THE AMERICAN LEAGUE REPORT CARD GRADES
BOSTON (66-30) - It's been an epic season so far for the Red Sox (playing .688 ball while heading into Saturday's game against Toronto) and whether it's the + 156 in runs differential (second-best to Houston in MLB) or the 32-13 home / 34-17 road marks that just boggle the mind or the fact the Bosox rank 1st in the AL in runs scored (512), second in home runs (131) and third in team ERA (3.53) the fact remains this is special stuff for the Fenway Park crew ... and how about the fact there's two legit MVP candidates on board in DH J.D. Martinez (28 HR, 79 RBI) and OF Mookie Betts (.352 batting average with 76 runs scored). Need we say more?
OAKLAND (53-42) - Baseball's biggest "feel-good story" as most MLB fans couldn't name three players on this squad and yet they're headed to the All-Star Game break very much in the hunt for a wild card spot. Did you know Khris Davis has 21 HR, 63 RBI and has scored 51 runs - all team highs?
SEATTLE (58-37) - All/most of the personnel moves by re-inked GM Jerry DiPoto have worked and the Mariners get extra credit for winning big without suspended 2B Robinson Cano ... how about different offensive leaders in batting average, HR, RBI and stolen bases and closer RHP Edwin Diaz has 36 saves and is a top three Cy Young contender at this very moment.
HOUSTON (63-34) - Last year's World Series champs were "challenged" in the spring and there's been zero hangover effect for a club that leads baseball with a + 183 runs differential, sports a half-dozen true offensive stars (how about DH Evan Gattis with 62 RBI?) and the single-best pitching staff in the bigs now starring the likes of 2017 post-season hero RHP Justin Verlander (2.05 ERA) and neat import RHP Gerrit Cole (team-high 169 Ks).
TAMPA BAY (48-46) - Gotta admit we don't love this "opener" business where a reliever starts and goes an inning or two but overall the stress/strain on TB's starting rotation has been eased (3rd best in team ERA in AL right now) plus LHP Blake Snell - finally named an All-Star with 12 wins and 2.27 ERA - has been Cy Young-like in his club's first 90-plus games.
NEW YORK YANKEES (61-32) - Hats off to first-year manager Aaron Boone who was feeling some early heat after the Yankees' 9-9 start but this pinstriped crew has roared back and is an almost automatic "W" when starting RHP Luis Severino (14-2, 1.01 WHIP). And just think where the Yanks might be if overpaid OF/DH Giancarlo Stanton wasn't striking out so much (126 Ks)? Top to bottom, this lineup's a killer and it'll only get better when 2B Gleyber Torres returns from the DL.
CLEVELAND (51-42) - If anything, we're cutting the Tribe some slack with this grade 'cause they have not been very good outside the crummy AL Central (see 23-29) despite the fact there's two legitimate MVP guys here in our spring training pick of SS Francisco Lindor and RBI machine Jose Ramirez (69 ribbies).
LOS ANGELES ANGELS (48-47) - The Halos should be a whole lot better than a single game over .500 with rankings in the top six in runs/home runs/team ERA and gotta say veteran manager Mike Scioscia has not done a very good job.
TORONTO (43-50) - The Blue Jays were expected to be a .500-type team (projected wins at 81.5 prior to start of '18 season) but not much to like thus far with league's 11th-best ERA and "ace" J.A. Happ slumping badly in recent starts ... rotten offensive team that just doesn't produce much traffic on the bases.
MINNESOTA (43-49) - It would be nice to see some consistency from this Twins' team that wins just one-third of its road games (see 15-28) but there's little pop on this attack (95 dingers ranks 12th in the AL) and who's the stopper in this rotation? True, Minny's won eight of its last 10 at press time but we've waited 90-plus games into this season to see some life!
DETROIT (40-56) - A couple of weeks ago we were gonna hail manager Ron Gardenhir for a job well done but then the bottom fell out and Motowners have dropped five in a row at last check with ace RHP Michael Fulmer scuffling and 1B/DH Miguel Cabrera (biceps) out for the year.
TEXAS (41-54) - The master plan of building back the Rangers has not worked and the club's 12th-ranked pitching staff has been a mess with trade bait LHP Cole Hamels way too inconsistent for our tastes.
BALTIMORE (26-69) - How about being 39.5 games back of Boston in the AL East standings?
CHICAGO WHITE SOX (32-61) - Hey, don't let the Orioles be the only team to take a shot to the mid-section from us here as this Chisox club is awful and eaily headed for 100-plus loss campaign.
KANSAS CITY (26-67) - Sure, the Royals let lots of that 2015 World Series champion talent go but did anyone think KC would fall off the map like this?