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.

Wade Davis? Greg Holland? Who needs ’em?

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 21: Joakim Soria #48 of the Kansas City Royals throws in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on August 21, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The story of the two-time defending AL champion and current defending World Series champ Kansas City Royals cannot be told without talking at length about their bullpen.

In 2014, Wade Davis, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera formed a shutdown brigade that not only made it next to impossible for the opposition to mount late rallies, but managed something which seemed utterly impossible before 2014: they turned Ned Yost into a tactical genius. Indeed, the only time Yost got criticism at all that fall was when he messed with the autopilot formula that had that three-headed monster handling the 7th, 8th and 9th innings.

Much the same happened in 2015, of course, despite Holland’s sharp decline and eventual injury. Davis and Herrera continued their dominance. They were joined by Ryan Madson and a cast of other effective relievers who, along with timely hitting, great defense and good health, helped propel the Royals to the title.

This year had not been quite the same story. Holland has been out all year and Davis, while effective when he’s pitched, has missed time due to injury. As has longtime contributor and presumptive next-man-up Luke Hochevar. Herrera is basically still Herrera, but Ned Yost has been presented with a decidedly different set of choices. Lots of choices and Ned Yost don’t always go together well, but lately that hasn’t mattered.

Last night the Royals’ bullpen came in to a close game and tossed three scoreless innings. That set a franchise record with 32 straight scoreless frames, besting the previous record set back in the club’s inaugural season in 1969. The streak is a huge part of why the Royals have won nine games in a row.

Unlike the success of 2014-15, the streak is not a three-man show. As Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star notes, eight different relievers have appeared for Kansas City during the streak, with Joakim Soria and Matt Strahm leading the crew with five and a third innings pitched. Herrera has tossed five scoreless. Otherwise it’s been a group effort with even Peter Moylan offering a couple of scoreless frames. And here you thought Moylan was, I dunno, gearing up for the upcoming Brisbane Bandits season. Nope.

The Royals are still not, in my view anyway, a lock to make the postseason. It’s a a crowded field right now. They’re seven and a half back in the AL Central and four back in the Wild Card with a bunch of teams in front of them. But they’re certainly playing themselves back into the conversation. They’re interesting. And they’re doing it in much the same way they’ve done it the past two years. Only with different dudes doing the do.

Video: Mookie Betts made a ridiculous throw last night

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Mookie Betts was an infielder once upon a time and the knock on him both then and since his move to the outfield was that maybe his arm was not fantastic. As an infielder there was talk that he was better suited to the right side than the left. As an outfielder people were saying that, with work, his arm could be average and/or serviceable. Not bad, of course, but not anything to write home about.

Maybe we need to reassess that, because last night he uncorked one from right field that would make Dwight Evans says “dang, man.”

 

And the throw mattered, as Kiermaier represented the tying run in a game that, at the time, the Sox were leading 2-1.

Betts is a dangerous middle-of-the-order bat at age 23. And now he shows that he’ll nail a fast runner with a frozen rope if he has to. The guy is going to win an MVP award some day. And maybe not just one.