Special to GreensboroSports.com from Stuart Barefoot, UNCG-grad and part of a sports facilitated/inclined ‘Barefoot Family'(Claiborne, Richard, Penny, and more.)
Technically the season has been half over for a while now, but now that the All-Star game is over marking the unofficial end of the first half of the season, that seems to be a good place to stop and evaluate the season so far. So here’s a few tidbits that partially sum up the first half of 2014.
The AL Downs the NL 5-3 in Mid-Summer Classic:Jeter’s Last One
While The Grasshoppers were busy destroying Lakewood 11-3, the best players across the Major Leagues wee duking it out in Minneapolis, and it was the American League who emerged victorious 5-3, winning their 13th All-Star Game in 17 years.
Derek Jeter received a standing ovation that lasted more than a minute before swatting an opposite filed double off Adam Wainwright to lead off the bottom of the first. He came around to score the game’s first run when Mike Trout smacked a triple.
The two all-Star squads would trade runs before Glen Perkins closed the game out for the AL in the Top of the Ninth. The real story here is of course, Derek Jeter, who played in his 14th and final All-Star Game. The Captain received two standing ovations, one before his first at bat and another upon subbing out for Alexi Ramirez. While it wasn’t as cool as when Cal Ripken Jr. hit a home run in his last All-Star Game in 2001, it’s always great when a future hall of famer gets the credit they deserve.
The game was not without controversy, however. NL Starter Adam Wainwright commented that he threw Jeter a few “pipe shots.” While Wainwright claims he was only joking, many people think that he indeed lofted a pitch in the strike zone so Jeter could easily get a hit. If he did, then he may have done himself and his team a disservice since the AL won and earned whichever team wins the AL home field advantage in the World Series. Wainwright might be rethinking his generosity if the Cardinals make it to the Fall Classic.
Hoppers at the All-Star Game
Giancarlo Stanton appeared in his second All-Star Game and represented the NL in the Home Run Derby. Stanton smashed six home runs in the first round, including one that almost left Target Field completely. Advancing to the third round, the former Greensboro Grasshopper lost to Todd Frazier who proceeded to lose to Yoenis Cespedes in the final round. On the season, Stanton is hitting a solid .295 with 21 homers. He also boasts a hot .538 slugging percentage and an .OPS of .933.
Other Hoppers in the Majors
Marcel Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Tom Koehler also graced us with their presence in Greensboro and are now, along with their teammate Stanton, helping the Miami Marlins try to compete in the NL East.
The trio of Ozuna, Yelich and Stanton make up Miami’s outfield and have started a combined 244 games. Pitcher Tom Koehler has made 19 starts and posts a respectable 3.99 ERA. Jose Fernandez who was a standout for the Hoppers in 2012 was on his way to another All-Star selection, and possibly Cy Young contention before he went down with an elbow injury and will miss the whole season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. The Cuban hurler made eight starts, winning four times and posting an ERA of .244.
Seven Grains of Pain: The Passing of Tony Gwynn
Tony Gwynn nicknamed his bat “Seven Grains of Pain.” For 20 seasons he was a pain in the neck for every pitcher he faced. During his career, Gwynn amassed 3,141 hits, stole 319 bases, and hit an astonishing .338 career batting average. He never struck out more than 40 times in the same season, and only batted under .300 once, and that was when he hit .289 during his rookie season. His abilities at the plate earned the lefty seven silver sluggers and eight batting titles.
In addition to his hitting prowess, Gwyn notched five gold gloves as an outfielder and appeared in 15 All-Star Games.
On June 16th the Hall of Famer passed away after a tough battle with Salivary Gland Cancer. The legacy he leaves behind is more than that of one of the greatest hitters of all time.
Gwynn played in an era where players took steroids to get ahead. Not once did Number 19 take any kind of performance enhancing drug. While Conseco, McGwire, Bonds and Sosa (to name a few) were juicing up and swatting 50 home runs a season, Gwynn quietly batted over .300 for 19 consecutive seasons, and led his team to the World Series in 1998. If they ever remake Field of Dreams, Tony Gwynn really should be included.
The Dominance of Clayton Kershaw
He’s already won two Cy Young awards and if he keeps it up, he’ll win his third this year. Through 14 starts, Clayton Kershaw is 11-2 with a MLB best 1.82 ERA. On June 18th the left-hander had one of the best pitching performances of all time when he no-hit the Rockies and struck out 15 batters in the process. His perfect game bid was ruined thanks to a fielding error. Kershaw also pitched 41 consecutive scoreless innings, which is the 15h longest scoreless streak in MLB history.
The AL Best
The American League West currently possesses the two best teams in the Majors. Ordinarily, the Oakland Athletics would feel very comfortable sporting a 59-36 record at the break. But the Los Angeles Angels are hot on their trail with a nifty 57-37 record and trail by 1.5 games in the AL West.
This ought to be the most exciting division race to watch in 2014. The A’s bolstered their rotation by acquiring Jeff Samardzja and Jason Hammel from the Cubs. But the Angels have the game’s best rising star in Mike Trout and two of best veterans in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Of course whichever team falls short will likely nab one of two Wild Card spots in the AL.
The Tommy John Epidemic
Former Hopper Jose Fernandez went down on May 12 with an elbow injury and subsequently underwent Tommy John Surgery (otherwise known as UCL surgery) that will cause him to miss the rest of the season.
Fernandez isn’t the only one, though. According to MLB Daily Dish, 31 MLB players have undergone this operation so far in 2014 and several marquee players are in that group. To name a few: Kris Medlen, Jarrod Parker, A.J Griffin, Josh Johnson, Ian Nova and the Yankees are hoping and praying that Masahiro Tanaka isn’t the next. On July 8, the Yankees discovered a torn ligament in his right elbow, and they eagerly await a medical opinion.
Tanaka was well on his way to winning the AL rookie of the year award, posting a 12-4 record with a 2.51 ERA. There is no clear reason why so many pitchers are injuring their elbows these days, but the outbreak has sparked a lot of debate about the workloads and innings pitched.