Heading into the final weekend of action before the MLB All-Star break, ESPN commentators shared insights about the first half of the MLB season, predictions for the second half and their favorite moments of the season to date.
ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball closes the first half of the season this weekend when the St. Louis Cardinals face the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field at 8 p.m. ET with Dan Shulman, analysts Orel Hershiser, John Kruk and reporter Buster Olney providing commentary. Full details on ESPN’s coverage of the 2013 Chevrolet Home Run Derby and the 84th MLB All-Star Game are available on ESPN MediaZone.
ESPN MLB analyst Aaron Boone on the biggest surprises of the first half:
I think the Pirates and the A’s have been the biggest surprises. Josh Donaldson has become the most impactful player on one of the best teams in baseball. His offense and defense have been outstanding. With the Pirates, will the amount of innings thrown by one of the best bullpens in the first half show in the second half and down the stretch? Will the rotation still be strong in September?
ESPN MLB analyst Rick Sutcliffe on the Tampa Bay Rays:
I think the biggest surprise has been Tampa Bay – the magic of Joe Maddon. Not only is it like high school in that the seniors are going to leave every year and they are going to lose free agents, but David Price has not done a whole lot the first half of the year and yet they are still right there. I see them getting into the postseason and it’s just sometimes hard to figure out how they do it.
ESPN MLB Insider Tim Kurkjian on the Pittsburgh Pirates:
The biggest surprise is the Pirates. I did not see them being this good and I am convinced that not only are they going to finish over .500, they are going to make the playoffs. Their pitching is the best in the National League right now. I was just there for Wednesday Night Baseball and the attitude in that room is completely different than the last two years when this team stumbled. They are not going to stumble this year, not with that pitching staff.
ESPN MLB Insider Jim Bowden on the Pirates pitching:
I predicted that the Pittsburgh Pirates would win more than they would lose for the first time in two decades, but I did not realize they would be as good as the Cardinals and Reds. This team should be able to sustain their first half success because of the legitimacy of their deep and strong bullpen led by [Jason] Grilli, [Mark] Melancon, [Justin] Wilson and [Bryan] Morris added to a strong rotation with depth and the emergence of rookie Gerrit Cole. The key to sustaining the success is as simple as staying healthy.
ESPN MLB commentator Karl Ravech on the game’s young stars:
Calling the Pirates-A’s game on Wednesday Night Baseball, I was reminded how the game this season, seemingly more than any other, is being impacted by young players, very young players. Matt Harvey may well start the All-Star game but the season will be determined not only by Harvey, but by Cole in Pittsburgh, Sonny Gray in Oakland and Shelby Miller in St. Louis. It’s amazing how one season later Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have only aged a year but feel in a strange way like old news. Youth is served every season in the major leagues. This season it’s super-sized and the impact the kids are having is undeniable.
ESPN MLB analyst Doug Glanville on the Oakland Athletics:
The A’s came out of the gate with excellence. They wear teams down with patience at the plate. They have strong young arms with little experience in the rotation. Donaldson has been huge. He needs to keep it going and set the offensive tone.
Boone on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and San Francisco Giants:
Many people could have pictured Angels and Giants as a Fall Classic matchup but both teams have struggled in the first half. Pitching has simply let both teams down.
ESPN MLB analyst Alex Cora on the Giants:
We’ve been talking about the Dodgers and Angels but the Giants being in last place and ten games below .500, that’s certainly a big disappointment. We thought the pitching staff was a lot better than what they’ve shown. For me, they are the biggest disappointment in baseball. But the Giants are struggling in the right division. It doesn’t seem like there is a great team in that division though the Dodgers are playing better. So, they still have a shot. They need to pitch better. They are capable of scoring runs, but the pitching staff has been the main reason they’ve been good in the past.
Kurkjian on the Giants needing to make a move:
The Giants have to make a move at the deadline more than any other team. They are in need of another quality starting pitcher. And they also need a productive hitter from somewhere or else they are not going back to the playoffs. They are ten games under .500, with their offensive shortage and their struggles in the rotation, it is so unusual to see the Giants struggle, but their only hope is to go out and get some help by trading for somebody.
ESPN MLB analyst Chris Singleton on the NL West:
The big surprise is that the NL West has one team that is over .500 at this point with the Angels so far out. The Giants must get healthy and have quality starts through the rotation to turn it around. And for the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw could have a huge impact in the second half.
Boone on Yasiel Puig:
I’ve been a little caught up in “Puig mania.” We went to Los Angeles for Monday Night Baseball and really discussed Puig and then he delivered – an opposite field homer his first at-bat and a game-winning single late in the game.
Kurkjian on Bryce Harper:
It is unmistakable what Bryce Harper means to the Nationals and especially to their lineup. Even though they are in trouble right now in a lot of ways, I think Harper is going to get hot. He’s going to ignite that offense and the Nationals are going to make a really strong run toward the division title or the Wild Card. There is something really special about that kid. His intensity is unlike any 20-year old I’ve ever seen. I think he’s good enough to get the Nationals in serious contention the rest of the way.
Bowden on Chris Davis:
Chris Davis is developing into the best power hitter in baseball and he should be able to sustain this success because of his ability to cover both sides of the plate with little preliminary movement, a straight path to the ball and the ability to let the ball travel and drop the barrel head regardless of velocity, rotation and elevation.
Cora on Manny Machado:
It seems like every time Manny Machado makes a great play I get excited. The play he made the other day – you keep seeing it on SportsCenter and obviously, it was amazing. For me personally, it’s fun to watch the Orioles play and to see Manny and Chris Davis. Manny hits a double and Davis hits a home run. That play Manny made is the one that I’m still in awe over right now.
Glanville on the health of the New York Yankees:
The Yankees have found ways to win with so many injuries and now they start getting their big names back. They need to get healthy and stay that way. They will need starters like Nova to get hot and carry the middle or backend of rotation.
Cora on the return of Jeter, Rodriguez and Granderson:
The combination of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson will have a huge impact on the second half. There are 29 teams out there that would love to have those three guys coming into the situation the Yankees are in. That’s like pulling a trade for three impact players.
Kurkjian on Matt Harvey:
I think my favorite moment was Matt Harvey’s start in Philadelphia against Roy Halladay on Monday Night Baseball. Harvey was an up-and-coming star at the time. He threw a great game that night and Terry Collins told us before the game of this playful bet he had with Harvey that the fine that Harvey was levied for being late to the ballpark would be dropped if Harvey threw seven shutout innings. Harvey gave up one run in seven and Terry Collins still dropped the fine saying he pitched really well. Harvey would have nothing of it. He paid the fine because he didn’t follow through with seven shutout innings. That’s when I knew Matt Harvey was for real and that he was here to stay.