BY BOB BEHLER
If you are a fan of a National League team, the second half of the baseball season is going to be a wild ride. If you are a fan of an American League team, your fate has already been decided. Eleven of the 15 teams in the NL are within six games of a playoff spot. Only five of the 15 teams in the AL are within six games of a playoff spot … only five teams make the playoffs. The Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, Astros, and Mariners will be jockeying for playoff position. Right now, the Braves, Brewers, D-Backs, Cubs and Phillies are in the playoffs in the senior circuit. It is a real possibility that none of those five will make the postseason. The two leagues scenarios couldn’t be any more different than one league playing with a DH and the other not.
That will make the trade deadline interesting, as only a handful of teams in the NL will waive the white flag, while two-thirds of the AL is looking to 2019 or beyond.
As a fan of the Giants, one of the 11 contenders in the NL, I have become more hopeful as the season has moved along. The Giants have battled a lot of injuries and have hung in the race. They have won seven of their last eight (including sweeping a road series at Arizona) to come within 2 ½ games of the D-Backs’ NL West lead and a game-and-a-half out of the wild card. It has been an interesting season with guys like Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Joe Panik, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, and Hunter Strickland all out for at least two weeks.
For the Giants to contend in the second half of the season, two things have to get better. Number one is right handed relief pitching. It is has been inconsistent at best. Awful at worst. Strickland imploded, breaking his hand. Sam Dyson has been a roll of the dice. Mark Melancon is starting to get healthy and might be the answer. My favorite righty has been the rookie Reyes Moronta. Relievers are usually available at the trade deadline and this might be where the Giants go. With Cueto and Samardzija back soon, it is possible that pitcher could come from the starting rotation. Could Chris Stratton or Dereck Rodriguez be capable of pitching out of the bullpen? That to me is the biggest question that management has to answer.
The starting pitching has actually been good. Rookies Andy Suarez and Rodriguez have been solid. Bumgarner has been outstanding in his last two starts. I thought this was going to be the problem, but as of now it looks good, especially if Cueto comes back to pre-injury form.
The second area to address is left field. This has been an adventure the last several years. This is a position that most teams get a lot of production from…but not the Giants. They have tried many out there the last three years. Hunter Pence and/or Mac Williamson were supposed to be the answer. They’ve tried Gregor Blanco and Gorkys Hernandez, too. Hernandez ended up being the answer in center field. Austin Jackson, who was signed as a free agent, has been a bust. They need more out of LF. I can see this be the trade area, although I don’t think it is as important as shoring up the bullpen.
I keep waiting for the Dodgers to take off. They had a big June, but they are tied right now with the Giants for second behind Arizona. There are rumblings that the Dodgers will make the big splash and trade for Manny Machado from Baltimore. Arizona has been rumored as well. If either team gets him, that will be a big difference maker placed right in the middle of the lineup. LA seems afraid of the luxury tax and that would appear to be its stumbling block in making it happen.
One thing this season might bring us is a pennant race between the Giants and Dodgers. The last time the teams finished the season within three games of each other, with one winning the division was 2004.
Baseball, unlike the NBA, always seems to provide a lot of surprises in both the regular season and the postseason. Things change on dime. The National League is wide open. It is an even year. I can hope that the second half of the National League season clicks by the Bay.
Bob Behler, the Voice of the Broncos, co-hosts Idaho Sports Talk with Bob & Chris weekdays from 1-3 p.m. on KTIK 93.1 FM The Ticket. He can be found @BSUBob (Twitter).