Five to keep an eye on

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Okay, so we’ve taken a look at some first-half
standouts and disappointments, now on to some players to watch for the
second-half.

Howie Kendrick: I’m gonna go
out on a limb and say that Kendrick will hit better than .231 in the
second half. He did nothing but rake after being demoted to Triple-A
Salt Lake on June 13, compiling a .346/.414/.526 line with two homers,
six doubles and 11 RBI in 78 at-bats on the farm. While you can usually
count his walks on two hands, remember that Kendrick was a .306 career
hitter entering the 2009 season. It wasn’t too long ago that people
were touting him as a future batting champion. He’s one of the better
bounce-back candidates for the second half.

Jorge De La Rosa: Dan Haren has
been robbed of several wins already, but De La Rosa is among the
unluckiest pitchers in the sport right now. On the surface his 5-7
record, 5.14 ERA and 1.44 WHIP offers little hope for rebound, but if
you take a closer look you’ll see that his FIP (Fielder Independant
Pitching) is a more-palatable 3.81. Only two starters (Cole Hamels and
Carl Pavano) have a bigger disparity between their ERA and FIP.
Remember, De La Rosa averages 9.37 K/9 — only six pitchers are better
— while he has allowed three runs or less in four of his last six
starts, highlighted by a season-best eight shutout innings against the
Diamondbacks on Friday night.

Franklin Gutierrez: Watching
Adam Jones make his first All-Star team as a member of the Orioles is a
little less painful knowing that Gutierrez is showing signs of a
breakout season of his own. When the Mariners acquired him as part the
J.J. Putz trade over the winter, they knew they were getting an
excellent glove-man, but he’s been so much more than that. In addition
to the +12.0 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) to lead all center-fielders,
Gutierrez has a solid .300/.362/.447 line with seven homers and 22 RBI
since a poor .230/.299/.328 showing in April. He’s even hit
right-handers at a .274 clip. Maybe this guy can hit after all.

Joel Hanrahan: Hanrahan was in
the midst of a nightmare season for the Nationals (7.71 ERA and 1.96
WHIP in 24 appearances) before being dealt to the Pirates as part of
the Nyjer Morgan trade last week. The 27-year-old right-hander already
has a shaky appearance under his belt as a Bucco (two runs on three
hits and a walk on Friday night against the Marlins) but he stands to
benefit if the club decides to trade Matt Capps, as rumored. Keep in
mind that the hard-throwing Hanrahan is among the bullpen elite with a
9.21 K/9 in his career. He’s also gotten incredibly unlucky with a
64.1% strand rate and a 4.34 gap between his ERA (7.79) and FIP (3.44)
— the largest such disparity in the majors this season.

Bud Norris: This might be a
selfish choice considering I own him in my Scoresheet league, but the
2006 sixth-round pick from Cal Poly has absolutely picked apart the
hitter-friendly PCL this season, leading the league in ERA (2.52) and
all of Triple-A in strikeouts (92). He recently jumped Tommy Hanson,
who struck out 90 in just 66 2/3 innings with Triple-A Gwinnett. The
strong first half has earned the 24-year-old a start for the PCL
All-Star team on July 15. Norris, who was named second-best prospect in
the Astros system by Baseball America over the winter, features a
plus-fastball, slider and developing change-up. He’s just biding his
time in the minors.

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

Eric O'Flaherty
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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.

Mariano Rivera to get his plaque in Monument Park on August 14

Mariano Rivera
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The greatest closer in history is going to get the ultimate honor the New York Yankees bestow on August 14. That’s when Mariano Rivera will get his plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium before a game against the Rays.

There was some chatter in the last year or two about whether the Yankees were somehow lowering their standards out there, what with guys like Tino Martinez getting honored. But if that’s something you care about it won’t matter in this instance. Rivera would’ve been worthy even if the old snobby ways had held and only inner-circle types got a plaque, what with him being a key member of five World Series-winning teams and his status as the all-time saves leader in the regular season and the postseason.

The Yankees retired Rivera’s No. 42 in 2013. He’ll get his plaque in August. Then, on the first ballot for which he is eligible, he’ll be voted into the Hall of Fame, likely with a percentage in the mid-to-high 90s.

Dodgers “trying to trade” Alex Guerrero

Alex Guerrero
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Alex Guerrero is a potentially good right-handed bat without a position to play in Los Angeles, so Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reporting that the Dodgers are “trying to trade” him makes sense.

Guerrero, who signed with the Dodgers out of Cuba for $28 million in October of 2013, spent last season in the majors hitting .233 with 11 homers and a .695 OPS in a part-time role that generated 230 plate appearances. He logged a total of just 355 innings defensively, mostly as a left fielder and third baseman.

Guerrero could be intriguing–particularly to an American League team for whom his defense isn’t much of an issue–because he hit .329 with 15 homers and a 1.113 OPS in 65 games at Triple-A in 2014 and was consistently a .300 hitter with an OPS around 1.000 in Cuba. He’s also 29 years old, so Guerrero is no doubt looking to play regularly.

The New Zealand World Baseball Classic team performs the Haka

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It’s World Baseball Classic time again. Just the qualifying rounds. The actual tournament happens in 2017. Qualifiers will happen in Sydney, Australia, Mexicali, Mexico, Panama City, Panama and Brooklyn, N.Y., periodically, between now and September.

The Sydney round just got underway yesterday, so yes, some actual baseball is going on. As I’ve written and ranted before, the WBC is not my favorite thing that happens in baseball and certainly not the most important thing, but it’s pretty fun. Especially when there are displays of enthusiasm and pageantry and the like.

Such as the Haka, which basically every New Zealand sports team does and which never gets old:

 

Down in Sydney, the Australia, New Zealand, Philippines and South Africa teams are competing in a six-game, modified double-elimination format. In the other three qualifying rounds, Mexico, Czech Republic, Germany, Nicaragua, Colombia, France, Panama, Spain, Brazil, Great Britain, Israel and Pakistan will compete. Each qualifying round puts one representative in the WBC.

Those four qualifiers will compete in the WBC itself against countries that performed well enough in the past that they need not submit to qualifying: Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, United States and Venezuela.

Someone make sure Jon Morosi is well-hyrdrated. It’s gonna be a long year.