In the half century I’ve been following baseball, I’ve never ceased to be amazed by the ups and downs of a l-o-n- g baseball season. Through 81 games in the NBA, 16 in the NFL, nothing compares to the stretch of 162 games played over six months.
Some would say that’s exactly why I don’t follow baseball – the season is too long and the games are even longer. Well to each his own I guess, but let the naysayers be reminded that when you sit down for a 1:00 game in the NFL – that game takes longer to play than the average (under 3 hours now) ballgame.
And don’t even talk to me about about the last two minutes of a NBA game!
But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about the ups and downs of a baseball season and how that lends itself to continued fan interest over a season. Open a NFL season at 0-5 and you’re done – prepare for the draft and for ESPN solemnly admitting that it made a mistake in scheduling you for the 12th game of the season on Sunday night.
So what are these ups and downs we’ve witnessed so far at the halfway point in the 2016 season and what might be coming in the second half as baseball accelerates to the playoffs and an eventual World Series title……
The intrigue to the second half lies more in questions than it does answers because answers remarkably won’t be known until October – so why bother to even pretent to KNOW what nobody really knows.
So, here’s what I will be watching…..
Can the Nationals withstand the charge of the Mets and how much of last year’s under showing still lurk in their minds? And what the hell is wrong with Bryce Harper and is the “old man” Dusty Baker the right man for this still to be proven (over the long haul) team? And, can the Mets juggle their tender arms and beef up their offense with another Cespedes type deal that is sorely needed for a team that still ranks next to last in runs scored?
Can the Orioles masquerade their way to a division title without adding to their starting pitching woes? Same for the Red Sox – all the hitting in the world but how many times can they expect to run Clay Bucholtz out there and expect to win anything? Forget the Yankees and why aren’t they sellers? Blue Jays – you’re guess is as good as mine.
The Cubs have no real competition in their division this year although Pittsburgh is showing signs of walking up. Can Joe Maddon, arguably the best manager in the game today, keep his young and talented studs motivated and injury free as they march to the playoffs? And will the beleaguered Cub fans be able to cope with the possibility of winning it all when the entire culture of the team has been marketed based on losing – not winning?
But perhaps the least interesting race this year is in the AL West where the Rangers continue to gain speed and distance from everyone. Houston started so poorly and even though they are playing well, do they really have a chance at anything but a Wild Card spot? So with pitching being ever dominant in the playoffs, do the Rangers have enough of it (especially in the bullpen) – and if they don’t – how and from where are they going to acquire it?
Madison Bumgarner has emerged as a master in the playoffs – sort of the Whitey Ford of today – and maybe that’s all the Giants will need again as in 2014 when they took it all. If they stay pat, they’ll still win the division easily over the Dodgers – but then is the lineup strong enough to hold the fort against the likes of Arrieta, Syndergaard, Strasburgh, Lester, Scherzer, DeGrom, etc – and if it isn’t where are the bats coming from (Ryan Braun, Carlos Beltran)?
Like most seasons, this one has produced a Cinderella team. Last year it was the Astros, this time it’s the Indians. And, like always, the question is can they hold on to what they have? They’re facing a seasoned Royal’s team so they’ll be battle tested if they move into the playoffs as division winners. Without a bona fide impact player on their team as constructed (can you name even three players in their lineup), is simply making the playoffs this year good enough?
So there it is – 81 down and 81 to go and where she stops nobody (really) knows………….and that’s the fun of it all…….