MINNEAPOLIS -- Parity has been one of the biggest stories of baseball's first half, with almost everyone still in the wild-card hunt.
"Parity is good," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said recently. "More people are in it. Hope is always good."
Easy for him to say. Ventura's team is below .500 but still within earshot of the second American League wild-card spot.
One veteran coach of a National League contender is no fan of parity, calling it "horse (bleep)." He said the idea of a handful of sub-.500 teams still being in the race in late August would be a joke for baseball, but is something he's expecting at this point.
"Anyone can look great one week and horse (bleep) the next," he said.
The A's have been the only consistently dominant team in the majors, and they fortified themselves with last week's acquisitions of starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs.
The AL West is the strongest division at the top with the A's, Angels and Mariners all looking like playoff teams, while the once-proud AL East continues to get plenty of national TV exposure despite rampant mediocrity.
Which teams will survive into October is anyone's guess. Most of the teams with the best records in the first half have gone through at least one prolonged cold streak:
The Brewers have been in first place in the NL Central since April 5 and were 19 games above .500 with a 6 1/2-game division lead on June 29 before losing nine of 10, letting the Cardinals pull to within two games entering the weekend. Since starting out 18-6, they have been playing below .500 since April 27.
The Giants were 42-21 with a 9 1/2-game NL West lead over the Dodgers on June 9, conjuring daydreams of another Bay Bridge World Series against the A's to replicate the "Earthquake Series" of 1989. But they haven't won three straight since, going 8-21 entering the weekend to fall behind the Dodgers.
The Blue Jays were 38-24 with a six-game lead in the AL East on June 7, but no one outside Canada had seen them because ESPN and Fox conveniently had left them off their first-half TV schedules. That decision turned out to be prescient. The Jays suddenly went on a 10-21 stretch entering the weekend, falling out of first-place behind the Orioles in the AL East.
The Tigers seemingly were running away with the AL Central on May 18 with a 27-12 record and seven-game lead. One month later, the Royals swept them in a three-game series that capped a 9-20 stretch as they fell 1 1/2 games behind Kansas City. They have gone 15-5 since then, entering the weekend, to regain the lead and are pulling away again ... maybe.
The injury-plagued Braves started out 17-7, lost eight of nine, played around .500 the next two months and then won 11 of 12 to regain their bearings in the NL East. But heading into the weekend, they had lost four of five to the lowly D'backs and Mets.
Will anyone take off in the second half and put themselves in the "elite" category with the A's, who have swept nine series?
Or are they all just poseurs, opening the doors for a mediocre first-half team to get hot at the right time and sneak into the postseason?
Contrary to Ventura's opinion, hope isn't always good, at least not for fans of the game.
Along with parity, the other big first-half trend has been all the injuries, particularly season-ending elbow injuries.
Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson threw caution to the wind in March after being asked about the proliferation of pitchers undergoing elbow surgery.
"There are guys who have pitched for a long time and never had a problem," Gibson told reporters. "Look at (Bronson) Arroyo. I mean, he's throwing the ball from all over. If anyone should have it, it should be him."
Gibson then knocked on wood.
Oops. Arroyo announced last week he would undergo reconstructive elbow surgery for an ulnar collateral ligament that was torn "completely off the bone."
That continued a trend that has been called an epidemic, with several pitchers undergoing season-ending surgery, including Patrick Corbin, Jose Fernandez, Pedro Figueroa, Peter Moylan, Kris Medlin, Bobby Parnell, A.J. Griffin, Brandon Beachy and Jarrod Parker as well as catcher Matt Wieters.
The least surprising elbow injury may be the one to the Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka, who lasted 18 starts before going on the DL this week with a partially torn UCL.
Tanaka signed a seven-year, $155 million deal that also cost the Yankees another $20 million in posting fees.
Last December, Yahoo Sports baseball writer Jeff Passan quoted anonymous MLB executives as being concerned over Tanaka's high pitch counts in Japan, which included a 160-pitch outing in Game 6 of the Japan Series, followed by a 15-pitch relief performance the next day. According to Yahoo, Tanaka had 31 starts of 125-plus-pitches in Japan, while the major league pitcher closest to that before this season was the Tigers' Justin Verlander, with 18.
And if the pitching injuries weren't bad enough, some prominent players have been sidelined by thumb injuries, including Josh Hamilton, Bryce Harper, Yadier Molina and Brandon Phillips. It's more of a freak occurrence than an epidemic, but is factoring into the playoff races nonetheless.
As the price of talent continues to rise, the ability to keep those stars on the field is becoming more difficult by the day.
(c)2014 Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services