The First Half Of This MLB Season
Sports |  Source: L. Smith, Sporting News

The First Half Of This MLB Season

All the swings and all the misses.

The first half of the Major League Baseball season is in the books and, well, no one could predict this outcome back in March. The World Champions Chicago Cubs are below .500 with only a single All-Star player, while the Brewers are seemingly more and more like the biggest threat in the NL Central. The Houston Astros are scoring more runs than their basketball neighbors. The Mets' only positive headline is that Tim Tebow is advancing the Minors. Baseballs are flying out of the ball park at record pace.

Here are some takeaways from MLB's first three and a half months of baseball:

The Judge and Kid Cody.

Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge have taken their massive media markets of Los Angeles and New York and has put a stranglehold on them with their performances at the plate. Judge, who last season looked as lost as a child, stormed into 2017 with his 6'7, 275 lbs frame that would be commonly found on a NBA court, and has tied Mark McGwire for 30 home runs by the All Star break for a rookie. Cody, who came up at the end of April, was suppose to be a quick call up for the Dodgers. Well, whoever took the day off or was injured and replaced by Cody just got Wally Pipped and won't be seeing the LA's outfield for a while. In 70 games, he's already hit 25 home runs and pushed the Dodgers to the best record in the game.

via GIPHY

Chicago's erosion.

Remember last season when Chicago had a historically great team with absolutely no weaknesses and won the World Series? Pepperidge Farms remembers. Today, that team seems to have had their talents sucked out. The once feared lineup is in the bottom half of the National League in runs scored and next to last in hits. The pitching staff that could hold teams to a few runs per game now give out runs like Oprah. With the NL West featuring teams like the Rockies and Diamondbacks that don't seem to be falling off post-break, the Cubs chances to repeat as champs comes down to their ability to catch the Milwaukee Brewers in their division while also staving off the St. Louis Cardinals at the same time.

via GIPHY

Washington's problem.

The Washington Nationals are the National League's version of the Detroit Tigers from the early 2010s. The bullpen is outstandingly bad! The teams that win in October are the teams that can score runs in the late innings and that do not allow runs in the late innings. For a team that plays in the weakest division in baseball, a deep starting staff and three MVP candidates in Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy, their success in October relies on what they can do with their bullpen at the trade deadline.

The American League Wild Card picture.

Wild Cards don't really become that important until after the trade deadline, but it is an eyeful to look at the AL's Wild Card picture. The Yankees and Rays currently head the two WC positions, with another seven teams within five games of one of those spots! In fact, there isn't a team in the American League that is more than eight games out from the two WCs. Comparatively speaking, the National League Wild Cards positions seem in hand at this, very early, moment. The Rockies and Diamondbacks hold the position with the Cubs and Cardinals, the two closest teams, 7.5 games out. The Oakland Athletics and Chicago White Soxs are 7.5 games out in the AL Wild Card. They are also in last place in the American League! Again, the first day after the trade deadline will be a very interesting day in the American League to see what teams decide to push their cards in the middle of the table, and what teams decide to back out.

via GIPHY

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Sports |  Source: desmoinesregister.com

Nationals and Cubs Provide Another Thrilling Night of Baseball

The best player taking on the best team? Yes, please.

Bryce Harper. Kris Bryant. Albert Almora Jr. Ryan Zimmerman. Joe Maddon. Dusty Baker.

If this isn't what you would call an entertaining night of baseball, I'm not sure what you would.

Out of all the games the Cubs and Nationals play this season, the seven games between the teams have the most hype. Why?

Well for starters, the manager of the Nationals, Dusty Baker, is a former Cubs manager.

There is also an incredible amount of offense on the team. The Nationals have Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, and Ryan Zimmerman, who bat third, fourth and fifth in their lineup that create a crazy amount offense. On the Cubs side, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist hit in those same spots who also can create also get hot and stay that way.

The last time the Nationals and Cubs met, the Cubs swept the Nationals in a four game series. Bryce Harper was walked a record number of times.

Last night, the Nationals took game one, but tonight, the Cubs came back to win all thanks to Albert Almora Jr.

Lets rundown the game:

First, before the game, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant put on a show.

Then John Lackey put down his mitt and put his bat to work in the 3rd.

This inning also included an intentional Kris Bryant 2-out walk, which would eventually end the inning on Anthony Rizzo strikeout.

Then Jayson Werth and his hair got the Nationals on the board in the bottom of the 3rd.

But David Ross decided to hit a few minutes later and stretched the Cubs lead to two runs.

The Nationals came back and tied it in the 8th on a Bryce Harper walk that eventually scored.

But then in the top of the 9th, some magic happened on the field. Albert Almora Jr., the outfielder who came up from Triple A Iowa Cubs to replace Jorge Soler, scored Addison Russell on a base hit.

It was pretty exciting:

To some, this was just another night of baseball. To the Cubs, it was a win. And to Albert Almora, it was his first Major League game-winning hit. What a way to wrap up his first week in the Major Leagues.

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Sports |  Source: masslive.com

The Red Sox Need Some Balance

You can only win so many games with just offense.

Hitting, fielding and pitching.

Those are what a baseball team needs to be successful. Undoubtedly, the Boston Red Sox are the best hitting team in baseball. And defensively, they're one of the better teams. It's just their presence on the mound that's hurting them.

At 39-30 through 69 games, they're just a game out of first in the American League East. Their team batting average and OPS are tough to match and they don't make many errors. On the mound, however, it's a little different.

The Red Sox pitching staff is about average. But they have a knuckleballer named Steven Wright in the running for the American League Cy Young Award and two of the game's highest paid pitchers: David Price and Rick Porcello. The back end of their rotation (and part of their bullpen), in contrast, has been dreadful.

In 26 starts pitched by guys not named Wright, Price or Porcello, the Red Sox have surrendered 100 earned runs 126.1 innings (7.12 ERA).

(Math on that (9*(40+21+16+7+9+7)/(56.66+22.34+20.66+12.34+10.33+4)))

College students know the struggle of balance and being a well-rounded person: between school, sleep and their social life. To borrow an idiom, the Red Sox would truly be hitting it out of the park in the classroom. David Ortiz has the highest OPS in baseball, Xander Bogaerts could win MVP, Mookie Betts is on pace for over 30 home runs, Dustin Pedroia is hitting about .300, and Jackie Bradley Jr., one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, has established himself as one of the best hitters too.

If you think of fielding as social life then the Red Sox are the life of the party. Pedroia, Bogaerts, Betts and Bradley Jr. are sharp defensively. Behind the plate, Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon are elite - they just don't hit well. And Hanley Ramirez shocked everyone by becoming a great defensive first baseman. All he used to be able to do was hit and while he's not a bad hitter, he's only about average now. His defense is where he at least is kind of earning his $22 million this year.

Now what about sleep? The Red Sox would be sleeping for about four to five hours per night as opposed to the seven to eight needed for a healthy life. There's a saying about pitching winning championships. And when people don't sleep enough, they're bound to break down after awhile. If the Red Sox don't upgrade the back half of their pitching staff, there could be a breakdown.

If there's a breakdown, they won't have to worry about the postseason - even if they're supposed to meet the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.

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Sports |  Source: truebluela.com

MLB Divisional Power Rankings: Summer Edition

Which MLB divisions stand above the rest as a whole as summer begins?

Having one great team can boost how good an MLB division is, even if the division itself isn't that great from top to bottom. With just eight teams in the MLB currently sitting at more than three games above .500, it was not easy to decide which divisions are currently the best from top to bottom.

These rankings are based on the entire division and not just who the best and worst teams are in each; all teams factored into these rankings in some way. All records and team rankings within divisions referenced are from ESPN's MLB Standings page.

6. National League East
The NL East is by far the worst division in baseball. Aside of the Washington Nationals leading the way like usual, this division has no contenders. As of this moment, the second best team in the division, the Atlanta Braves, are the only second place team with a losing record. The third place Miami Marlins and the fifth place Philadelphia Phillies, who have the worst record in baseball by far, also have the worst winning percentages in the league among teams in third and fifth place in their divisions, respectively. 80 percent of this division is a complete disaster.

5. National League Central
The NL Central is the division that has the leader with the worst record. The Milwaukee Brewers are leading the way at just three games above .500, and the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs haven't quite hit their stride yet either. What saves this division from being ranked last on this list is the fact that all five teams are hanging around with the Brewers and no team is completely out of it, even the Cincinnati Reds in last place...that, and the fact that the NL East exists.

4. American League Central
The AL Central is like the NL Central in that the division leader isn't too far above .500. But from top to bottom, the AL Central is the better division. The Cleveland Indians, the division leader, are hotter than the Brewers and they have a better record than them as well. Also, the AL Central's last place team, the Chicago White Sox, are closer to Cleveland in the standings than Cincinnati is to Milwaukee and they have a better record than the Reds do to go along with it. The AL Central takes the #4 spot by a nose.

3. American League West
Some may consider the AL West a one-team division like the NL East, as only the Houston Astros have a winning record. However, they do have the best record in the MLB, and three more teams, the Los Angeles Angels, Texas Ranges and Seattle Mariners, are all hovering around .500. The #3 spot in these rankings may make this division seem a bit overrated, but even with only one team over .500, the AL West deserves the #3 spot. The #2 spot is pretty far ahead of this division, though.

2. American League East
The AL East is a solid #2 and has a nice gap on #3, but it's not as close to being #1 as you may think. Sure, the New York Yankees were hot out of the gate and the Boston Red Sox have been a solid team all season so far, and those teams do have two of the top three records in the American League. But neither is truly an elite team right now. However, with the Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles following the Yankees and Red Sox all within two games of .500, this division's depth seals them the #2 spot.

1. National League West
The NL West is the #1 division in baseball, and it isn't even close. While the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants are bringing up the rear with two of the three worst records in the entire MLB, the NL West also happens to have the teams with the best three records in the entire National League as well as three of the top four records in baseball. All three of those teams, the Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks, have been streaking as of late and have three of the top six run differentials in the sport, with the Dodgers sitting at #1.

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Sports |  Source: L. Smith, Sports Fan Journal

The MLB Playoff Format Is Extremely Stupid

The 2017 season has provided more proof that the MLB playoffs need an overhaul.

In the 2015 MLB season, the teams with the top three records in the MLB happened to be in the same division, the National League Central.

Broken down, that means that the second best team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, in the entire MLB didn't even win their division, and it means that the third best team in baseball, the Chicago Cubs, were smack in the middle of their own division ahead of only the two teams at the bottom of the barrel of the entire MLB.

But after all, that isn't a big deal, right? It's only the regular season anyways!

Wrong.

It was and is a big deal. Why? Because of how stupid MLB's playoff format is.

The MLB's playoff format ensures that the three division champions in each league are locked into the divisional round, while the non-division winners with the best two records in each league face off in the Wild Card round for the right to advance into the Division Series, the round that kicked off the playoffs up until 2012.

Now, the MLB did take a step in the right direction in the 2012 season when they added that one-game Wild Card playoff. In each league, instead of the division winners and the top non-division champion team making the playoffs, the division winners and the top two non-division champion teams make it into the playoffs.

Without this rule, the 2015 Cubs, who had the third best record in the MLB, would not have even made it into the playoffs.

But even still, there are flaws. The 2015 season showed it. Because the Wild Card theoretically features the non-division champions, which are the two lowest seeds, this pinned the Pirates and the Cubs, the second and third best teams in the MLB, against each other.

This meant that only one of them could even advance to the Division Series, which features eight teams. Why should they be penalized simply because of the division they are in, especially when their division was the toughest in baseball?

So the Pirates, who owned the second best record in baseball, didn't even get to advance to the traditional playoffs because they lost the one-game Wild Card playoff.

And despite having the third best record in the MLB (tied for second after beating the Pirates), the fact that the Cubs were the lowest seed pinned them up against the St. Louis Cardinals, the NL Central champions with the best record in baseball.

This meant that only one of the top two teams in baseball even had a chance at advancing to the NLCS as one of the MLB's final four teams.

When it was all said and done, the NL Central could only advance one team to the MLB's semifinal despite having the teams with the best three records in baseball. Seems fair, doesn't it?

The 2015 season showed these flaws, and as much as that seemed like a one-in-a-million gig, we're seeing it again now.

This season has illustrated once again that the playoff format needs an overhaul, and simply adding an extra playoff spot in each league will not cut it. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies have taken the league by storm this season, and all three are in the NL West. For a while, they owned the top three records in the National League.

Now, they own three of the top four records in the National League, but it took an eight game Rockies losing streak for even that to happen!

As bad as it would be, maybe we should root for the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies to finish as the top three teams in baseball, or at the very least, the National League.

Why? Because maybe the MLB will respond with a change that can actually fix their broken playoff system.

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Sports |  Source: heavy.com

Why Madison Bumgarner is the Best Pitcher In the League

He may not be the flashiest, but he's the best.

When you really think about it, the fact Babe Ruth became the Hall-of-Fame-worthy home run hitter he was is insane. Not because of the numbers or the fact he almost single-handedly ended the dead-ball era, but because he had spent four years as the top left-handed pitcher in the American League.

During a four-season period (1915-1918), the Boston southpaw went 68-40 with 17 shutouts, and 2.11 earned runs average. Playing only 95 games in 1918, Ruth led the league in home runs with eleven and slugging at .555. I bring this up because San Francisco Giants ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner has the potential to join an exclusive club occupied by George Herman Ruth as the best pitcher and hitter at the same time in the league.

From 2013-2015, the North Carolina native has made three straight All-Star teams, finished in the top ten in Cy Young voting each year, and has put on one of the greatest postseason pitching performances throughout the 2014 Playoffs, culminating in pitching a complete game shutout in Game 5 to give the Giants a 3-2 series lead and five scoreless, two-hit baseball on two days rest in the deciding seventh game of the World Series.

Despite the impressive numbers in both the regular season and postseason, Bumgarner has taken a backseat to his division and state rival, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, for the top pitcher in baseball. Also coming up for that title are the Marlins' Jose Fernandez and the Chicago Cubs' Jake Arrieta. Number-wise, Kershaw, Arrieta, and Fernandez lead the National League in at least one pitching category while Bumgarner does not.

However, for a pitcher, like a quarterback in football, when the statistics are close, it comes down to what the players do on the biggest stage. Unfortunately, we haven't seen what Jose Fernandez can do in the postseason. Jake Arrieta began last year's postseason with an eleven strikeout shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates, only to follow it up with back-to-back poor starts against the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets, giving up eight runs in 10.2 innings. Then there is Kershaw.

In seven postseason series, Kershaw has gone 2-6 with a 4.59 ERA and 23 walks in 10 starts and three relief appearances. Head-to-head in nine starts, Bumgarner has a one game advantage over Kershaw and more importantly, has hit two home runs off him. This is the equivalent of Aaron Rodgers intercepting a pass when he plays Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

At the end of the day, I judge the best athlete in a sport like this: I have a gun to my head and I need to win this game. Who do I want taking the final shot? Who do I want to lead the last drive? And in whose hand do I want to ball in? Madison Bumgarner is my answer.