July 11, 2012 by kujhawk
As the 2012 MLB All Star festivities come to an end, the road to the 2012 World Series begins to really heat up. With the addition of the new wild-card spot in each league, there are 16 teams within 2 games of the playoffs at the start of the second half of the season. Here are 3 storylines from the AL and NL that will be crucial in determining the playoff teams down the stretch:
1. Can the Angels and Tigers continue their pushes? Both teams made big offseason acquisitions (Albert Pujols to the Angels and Prince Fielder to the Tigers were the most notable) but began the season by under-performing and falling behind in the AL West and Central division races. But, going into the All Star break both teams have winning streaks, and both have crawled back into contention. The Tigers are 3 1/2 games back and the Angels are 4 games back. With Pujols rounding into his usual dominant form and the Tigers pitching getting more consistent, both teams look primed to make second half runs and fulfill the lofty expectations placed upon them at the start of the season.
2. Can Balitmore hold on to the last wild card spot? The Orioles started the 2012 season with average expectations, but after a torrid April and May, the O’s, perrenial bottom-feeders in the always-stacked AL East limped into the break with a 45-40 record and sole possession of the last playoff spot. Their pitching (30 Saves) and wins in close games (9 extra-inning wins) have kept them afloat, because Baltimore’s hitting has been average at best (.240/.302/.402).
3. Will the Yankees maintain their level of play and best record? The Bronx bombers had been steamrolling the competition coming into the break, compiling a MLB best 52-33 record and winning 6 of their last 10 games. However, many Yankees have caught the injury bug, which is cause for concern. C.C Sabbathia, Andy Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain, Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner and Michael Pineda have all suffered injuries this season, no Yankee seems safe from this epidemic, not even during batting practice, where Rivera tore ligaments in his knee while shagging fly balls before a game early in the season.
1. Will the Pirates wake up? Pittsburgh showed signs of progress last year, contending until the middle of the year before fading and finishing towards the bottom of the NL Central. This year they are in the same situation. Only this time, the Bucs have a 1 game lead at the break. The outstanding pitching (29 saves, 3.48 team ERA) and the stellar play of All Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen have gotten them this far, seeing them make the playoffs for the first time in 20 years will be another story.
2. What is wrong with Tim Lincecum? The two-time Cy Young winner for the San Francisco giants has been out of sorts during the first half of 2012. His usually dominant stuff and wild wind up have been ineffective, and his 6.42 ERA is the worst among starting pitchers this year, and his inability to get ahead in counts has lead to shocking numbers against him. Batters are batting 345/.538/.605 when they get ahead in the count compared to .269/.457/.446. a year ago. With the Giants only a half game out in the NL West, Lincecum needs to get back on track to help his team down the stretch.
3. Who is going to take the last playoff spot? Although every division race in the NL is close, the drama, as it usually does every year, will come down to the wild card spots. With spot becoming spots for the first time this year, the drama should be bigger than ever with Cincinnati, New York, San Francisco, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Atlanta all within 2 games of each other in the loss column. The Braves, who were the odd team out last year, will hope to take advantage of this newly added wild card spot, while the Cardinals, who beat out the Braves, will look to defend their World Series championship
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