Cincinnati should enjoy the next few days of rest and relaxation through the Major League Baseball All-Star break. That is due to the Reds possessing the most challenging start to the second half of the season of any of the five Midwest franchises.
First on the docket is a battle with the surprise team of 2013, Pittsburgh.
The Pirates will visit Great American Ballpark, which for Cincinnati, will be followed by a three-game road series against another surprise team (not in a good way), defending world champion San Francisco.
The Reds will then veer south for four games at Dodger Stadium. They have struggled on the road most of this season, and have little room to slide considering the red-hot race for the top of the National League Central Division.
Time to be tested
Like Cincinnati, the Cubs also have a tough road ahead.
Chicago opens the second half with a series at Colorado, which is perhaps a series pitting a pair of “sellers” in the upcoming MLB trade market.
The Cubs have already been somewhat busy in that regard and very well may trade pitcher Matt Garza soon.
The Rockies are likely trying to unload ex-Fort Wayne Wizard Michael Cuddyer, who is one of the most prized possessions on the aforementioned market.
A bright spot in an otherwise dismal year (there is always next year, Cub fan), is that Chicago has a 12-6 record in interleague games as of last week.
Following the Colorado series, the Cubs must play four games in Arizona before traveling to San Francisco.
Another piece of good news on the North Side was that the Cubs recently signed 2013 top draft pick (pitcher Kris Bryant) before Friday’s signing deadline.
Players, get your players here!
As for the White Sox, they too, are in a selling mood due to a summer of disenchantment.
Chicago has already unloaded Matt Thornton, an excellent lefty reliever, to Boston for a minor-league prospect.
Like the Cubs, the ChiSox are playing better of late. However, they too face a tough post-All Star break schedule by hosting the first-place Braves for three games this weekend, before facing Detroit and Kansas City.
Tigers in need of relief
The Tigers aren’t selling assets this month, but are buying. Detroit is looking for bullpen help, although closer Joaquin Benoit had a legitimate shot at being elected to the All-Star Game, if not for former Fort Wayne Wizard Steve Delabar being voted in.
The Tigers open on the road with three in Kansas City following the break, which will be followed by a four-game series in Chicago with Sox, and then they’ll head back to Comerica Park next weekend for three games with Philadelphia.
The Tigers topped Cleveland last Monday with All-Star Max Scherzer starting. However, the Tiger pitcher suffered his first defeat against 13 victories this season on Saturday against Texas. Scherzer is the front -runner for American League Cy Young Award so far, but if Detroit can’t expect him to repeat his superb first half.
Talking baseball (still) in Cleveland
Speaking of playing above expectations, that’s what Cleveland has been doing this season.
When the Tribe lost Monday to the Tigers in Cleveland that was the first extra-inning game they had lost all season. Up until that point, the Indians were a perfect 5-0 in extra inning games, while Detroit was 2-9.
A shaky bullpen has plagued Cleveland even more than Detroit’s has. Inconsistent relief pitching will typically sink a team, so it is amazing that the Tribe is still within 1 1/2 games of the Tigers.
A big question is just how Cleveland manages to lead the AL in shutouts with 11, while dealing with what had been a patchwork starting pitching staff. Is Terry Francona a magician?
If the first-year Cleveland manager keeps the Tribe in the Central Division race, which Tigers manager Jim Leyland has predicted he will, then Francona deserves the Manager of the Year honor in the American League.
Cleveland, like the Tigers, is a buyer in the trade market right now, which hasn’t been the case since Fort Wayne’s Eric Wedge was manager in 2007.
Making deals didn’t do all that much to improve the Indians that season, so Wedge ultimately was fired two years later. Francona better not get too comfortable, because expectations are now high in Cleveland - or at least as high as they’ve been for awhile.
After the All-Star break, the Tribe will play in Minnesota this Friday through Sunday, then move on to Seattle for three games, before coming home for a series against Texas.