The All-Star break, even though it now technically occurs after half of the year's games have been played, has long been considered the midpoint of the season, and is a natural point for both review and prediction. And it's not just fans and observers that are taking stock of where teams stand -- with the trade deadline about two weeks away, clubs themselves need to take stock of where they are, what they need, and whether they should clear inventory. For at least two NL East squads, it's time to look towards next year (or, more accurately, a couple years from now); Philadelphia claims to be in solid buy mode, and Washington may choose to add a piece or two as well. And the Braves? The Braves are looking good.
Atlanta Braves (54-41)
The Braves have had about as quiet a first half as you will find from a team that has lead their division for almost the entire season so far, and that was reflected in the All-Star selections, as only closer Craig Kimbrel made the initial squad (first baseman Freddie Freeman won the MLB.com FInal Vote, and was replaced by catcher Brian McCann because of injury). Justin Upton set the world on fire in the opening month, clubbing 12 home runs and batting .298, but once the calendar flipped it's as if he said 'that's enough' -- he's hit just .238 with four homers since. Outfield mates B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward have scuffled all season long, neither producing anywhere near their capabilities or showing any signs of life going forward. Despite all that, Atlanta enjoys a division lead (6 games) that is more than twice as large as the next most comfortable margin (2.5 games in the NL West and AL East).
So what do you do to a team that is chugging along, albeit with a few notable weak points? The answer here is not much -- the outfield is set for the next couple of years, at least (depending on how insistent B.J. is on hitting below .200), Andrelton Simmons is growing into his role at shortstop, and the rotation has been impressive and deep -- and will receive a deadline-esque upgrade whenever Brandon Beachy is able to return at full strength. The only area that could stand an upgrade is the bullpen, and that could be said of any team in every year. If the Braves do anything, they may add an arm here, but even if they don't, they look to be in great shape to return to the playoffs as division champs.
First Half MVP: Freeman, 1B: 49 R, 9 HR, 61 RBI, .308 AVG, .386 OBP
Miami Marlins (35-58)
Rickey Nolasco has finally changed shirts, and the easy money is on many of Miami's remaining veterans following him out the door. However, few others have shown, as Nolasco did, that they had much left to give to a contender. They may have held too long on Kevin Slowey, who started well but whose performances of late have regressed his season to below-average. Beyond that is a laundry list of failed prospects and burnt-out contributors doing little more than cashing checks at this point: Placido Polanco, Austin Kearns, Greg Dobbs, Jeff Mathis, Juan Pierre, Casey Kotchman, etc. The only real trade chips that Miami may hold are relievers Mike Dunn, Chad Qualls, and Steve Cishek, none of whom are likely to be difference-makers but could upgrade the front end of a bullpen.
If it feels like Miami is constantly building for the future, it's because they are -- and so there are no shortage of promising youngsters who have begun to contribute. Jose Fernandez has had a spectacular first half; it's a crime that his record stands at just 5-5, as with any run support at all he could just as easily have eight or so wins. Fellow rookie hurlers Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi have impressed as well, with each sporting ERAs under 3.00 and combining for a 5-1 record in 13 total starts. Marcell Ozuna has more than held his own in the outfield, Derek Dietrich looks like the second coming of Dan Uggla (for better and for worse), and of course Giancarlo Stanton is greatness personified when healthy (and interested). They won't move him, and they shouldn't.
First Half MVP: Fernandez, SP: 5-5, 104.2 IP, 103 K, 1.08 WHIP, 2.75 ERA
New York Mets (41-50)
Ah, the Mets. I'm not sure what Mets brass expected this year, but the roster has played about how you would expect: the journeymen have been largely average, the younger contributors have experienced growing pains but have shown promise, and David Wright has been typically spectacular. Only Matt Harvey, who will start on the mound tonight for the National League All-Star team, and Ike Davis, who has been banished to Triple-A with Pedro Cerrano Syndrome, have exceeded or fallen short of expectations. To paraphrase Dennis Green, the Mets really are who we thought they were.
The All-Star festivities have provided a possible glimpse into the future for the hometown fans, though, as both starting pitchers in the Futures Game (the minor league All-Star showcase) hailed from the Mets organization. Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero impressed for the U.S. and World team, respectively; Syndergaard, obtained from Toronto in the R. A. Dickey trade, is closer to the majors, and could one day slot in after Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler to form a potentially lethal three-headed monster atop the Mets' rotation. As for the rest of the roster, Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy, and Marlon Byrd could all represent useful offensive bats to a team in the playoff hunt and return decent rebuilding materials. Like an apartment with no furniture and a huge HD TV, a closer on a bad team is the ultimate unnecessary luxury; thus, Bobby Parnell should step into an 8th inning role on a contending team and bring a decent prospect back to New York.
First Half MVP: Wright, 3B: 50 R, 13 HR, 44 RBI, 15 SB, .304 AVG, .396 OBP
Philadelphia Phillies (48-48)
The boys in Philly can't quite decide what they are this year. Down one Roy Halladay and with Cole Hamels pitching anything like Cole Hamels, the Phillies haven't been the dominant pitching team that they usually are, though Cliff Lee continues to dazzle. Likewise, age and injury have taken a toll on the run-scoring ability of the lineup, as Chase Utley missed a good chunk of time, Ryan Howard is out at least another month following knee surgery, and Ben Revere will miss the next six to eight weeks with a broken leg -- an injury that will likely continue to affect him once he returns, as speed is a gigantic part of his game. Revere's injury is the most painful, and should represent the nail in Philly's coffin, as the young center fielder was on a tear, raising his average to .306.
Despite all of this, Philadelphia sits right at .500, just a half-game behind the Nationals for second place and a not-unreasonable six games behind Atlanta. Considering all they've gone through, and who they will be missing for the foreseeable future, a run to the playoffs seems unlikely -- especially considering the fact that Washington could put it all together at any time and give the Braves a more realistic run for their money. With that in mind, adding pieces at the expense of an already depleted farm system would be counterproductive -- the argument that they should trade Utley and Michael Young, who each figure to have fairly significant value at the deadline, makes more sense to their overall fortunes. Whatever the Phils decide to do, Domonic Brown has finally proven that he's going to be a part of it for a long time; if he can keep his average and on-base percentage at about where they are now (.273 and .320, respectively) then left field at Citizens Bank will be occupied for a while.
First Half MVP: Brown, LF: 49 R, 23 HR, 67 RBI, 8 SB, .273 AVG, .320 OBP