After baseball’s intermission, the fat lady has hummed the first few bars of what she’ll ultimately sing in October. Fans have had roughly 98 games to evaluate their teams and their chances of bringing glory back to their city. The second half of the season kicked off Friday like a delicious Act II of a great drama.
The Red Sox improbable come back year continued with a 4-2 win over the Yankees in their first action after the break, vaulting them to the best record in baseball and retention of first place in the AL East just 2.5 games ahead of still surging Tampa Bay (9 wins in a row).
Red Sox Nation will have plenty to talk about as Boston plays out what could be a riveting must watch season. When will Buchholz come back and can he be the same? Will Jose Iglesias continue to impress? Will Brandon Workman blossom into a regular rotation pitcher after his very strong first outing? Will a resurgent John Lackey continue to anchor the Boston pitching staff while Jon Lester continues to both try to get his head on straight and use a second pitch with some consistency so batters aren’t simply sitting on his cutter?
The other story fans have been following, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ strong play centered on an excellent pitching staff, has become a bit less storybook of late.
The Pirates dropped out of first place in the NL Central, two games off the pace predictably set by the St. Louis Cardinals. Pittsburgh now finds itself on the verge a question that’s plagued them the past two years; as they face challenges from perennial foes, can a strong run now grow some legs and get them over the finish line and into the playoffs for the first time since 1992, an effort that resulted in 4-2 series loss to the Atlanta Braves.
Two questions remain about the Dodgers Yasiel Puig. Can he keep posting the phenomenal numbers he has to date produced in an admittedly small sample size? Can the media stop fawning over him as if he’s the second coming? My guess is no on both counts. There’s no question that Puig has a lot of tools. After going on an incredible tear since being called up, Puig’s numbers are now starting to settle as his games pile up and pitchers are taking him seriously.
After hovering at or near .400 since his call up, Puig’s batting average has dropped to .327 in the last 30 days and has plummeted to .143 over the last week. He has a penchant for ignoring the cut off man, opting instead to attempt a spectacular play every time he fields the ball, especially with runners going first to third. His current fielding percentage of .961 would rank him 19th among MLB right fielders if he qualified, just ahead of Josh Hamilton. This is not great company in which to be.
In short, I believe Puig is and will be a talent for years to come but is rough around the edges and needs to understand how the game is played at the Major League level. His numbers will continue to level off and he’ll learn a lot this year. He’s a smart guy. He’d do best not read anything written about him at this point and stay in a baseball zone.
As Puig’s baseball accolades pile up and he gets far too much attention, a stain may be appearing on the his marketing veneer. A man imprisoned in Cuba, Miguel Angel Corbacho Daudinot, is suing Puig for $12 million, alleging that Puig knowingly made false statements that resulted in his seven-year prison sentence. Puig’s lawyers have predictably issued a strong rebuttal. I would too if I had that much potential to protect.
Miguel Cabrera will again be irresistibly watchable as he looks to improve on his spectacular 2012 Triple Crown numbers. Miggy is killing it again this year, leading the majors in both average (.362) and RBI (95). He’s got some work to do in the homers category to catch the Orioles’ Chris Davis, who smacked a league leading 37 dingers before the All-Star break. Cabrera is in second place with 30 homers and we’ve got a long way to go so it’s entirely conceivable that Cabrera can catch and surpass Davis. Staying healthy and remaining hot will be key to both players’ success as they turn the corner in September.
Buckle up kids. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. This is why we watch.