By Gary Hill
The second half of the Major League Baseball season starts tonight for the Seattle Mariners as they amble down to the Lone Star State to tangle with the Houston Astros. The Mariners have raised the bar of excitement thanks to an 8-5 July. They took series from the Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. There are plenty of storylines as the second half begins:
Felix Hernandez and the Cy Young
If a Cy Young Award vote were held at the All-Star break, Felix would finish either first or second. Max Scherzer earned the All-Star game start with a 13-1 record and 3.19 ERA. He is second in the AL with 152 K's. Meanwhile Felix is first in the American League in ERA (2.53), first in innings pitched (138 2/3), third in K's (140) and sixth in WHIP (1.10).
Felix was sensational in the second half of 2010, when he locked-up his first Cy Young Award -- 6-7, 1.53 ERA, 112 IP, 101 K. Another big run for Felix could land him another prestigious award.
Raul Ibanez and History
Raul Ibanez has already set a number of age-specific records in the first half of the season, and he is closing in on many more. The most impressive record of them all involves one of the greatest hitters of all-time.
Homers in an age 41 season or over:
1. Ted Williams: 29, 1960 (41)
2. Barry Bonds: 28, 2007 (42)
3. Barry Bonds: 26, 2006 (41)
4. Raul Ibanez: 24, 2013 (41)
4. Darrell Evans: 22, 1988 (41)
6. Dave Winfield: 21, 1993 (41)
7. Stan Musial: 19, 1962 (41)
8. Carlton Fisk: 18, 1991 (43)
8. Carlton Fisk: 18, 1990 (42)
10. Carl Yastrzemski: 16, 1982 (42)
10. Graig Nettles: 16, 1986 (41)
12. Reggie Jackson: 15, 1987 (41)
12. Willie McCovey: 15, 1979 (41)
Ibanez also has a chance to catch Darrell Evans (34) for the most homers for a player in their age 40 season or over.
The Seattle Mariners have homered in 22 straight games, which is a franchise record. They are closing in on the MLB record.
2002 Texas Rangers- 27 games in a row
1998 Atlanta Braves- 25
1994 Detroit Tigers- 25
1941 New York Yankees- 25
1953 Brooklyn Dodgers- 24
2006 Atlanta Braves- 23
2000 Toronto Blue Jays- 23
1996 Oakland A's- 23
2013 Seattle Mariners- 22
2000 Arizona Diamondbacks- 22
1956- Milwaukee Braves- 22
The Mariners have hit 115 homers on the season, which is second in all of baseball. Will they reach the 200 mark?
The numbers are off the charts for the Mariners in the month of July:
On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage -- .853, first
Slugging Percentage -- .499, first
On-Base Percentage -- .355, third
Batting Average -- .289, second
Home Runs -- 22, first
Runs -- 76, second
It is not likely they will finish the season with the best OPS in baseball, but the M's will look to build from their July success. Will the offense find a high level of consistency in the second half of the season?
The Mariners are dead last in batting average with runners in scoring position in baseball -- .225.
Seager rolls into the second half of the season with a 14-game hitting streak, which is the longest in baseball. He is hitting .458 in July with four homers. He is at .293, 15 homers and 44 RBI for the season. What will his final numbers look like?
The trade deadline
Oliver Perez, Raul Ibanez, Kendrys Morales and Joe Saunders all hold value for teams making a run to the postseason. What will the market be for their services and will the offers for them be too good to refuse?
Since April 22 he is hitting .306 with a .920 OPS. His slash line in July is .386/.460/.659. Looking over the last 365 days he is .266/.359/.427/.786 with 14 HR and 35 RBI in 449 PA. Smoak is just .193 with RISP this season. Will he improve on hitting with RISP and can he continue to build from his success over the previous season?
The infield of the future
Seager and Smoak have been covered above. Brad Miller is hitting .268 with three doubles, six RBI and five walks as the leadoff man. The M's are 6-4 with him at the top spot. Nick Franklin maintains the second best in OPS (.788) for all AL rookies. Mike Zunino has been a tactician behind home plate, and he seems to have quickly established a solid rapport with the pitching staff. He went 7-22 (.318) with three RBI during the homestand. Will Justin Smoak, Nick Franklin, Brad Miller, Kyle Seager and Mike Zunino establish themselves as the starting infield heading into 2014?
The strong start for Saunders gave way to a May and June swoon. He took a step forward with a solid season in 2012, but his status has again been thrown into question due to his struggles. He is blistering in July with his .297 batting average. Keep these numbers in mind for the second half of the season:
In M's wins, Saunders is hitting .280 with five HR, 16 RBI, nine SB and 28 runs scored.
In M's losses Saunders is hitting .183 with one HR, eight RBI, one SB and six runs scored.
There are questions offensively and defensively with Ackley. He is transitioning to the outfield for the Mariners with Nick Franklin establishing himself at second base. He is also trying to recapture his hitting stroke. He stung the ball in his short stint in Tacoma, but has yet to transform the success to the big leagues this season. Ackley is .216/.293/.297 in July. What will his second half look like?
Walker is 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA in 3 starts for the Tacoma Rainiers. His performance has pushed him into serious consideration for a call up. The question is now when and not if.
Pryor was lights out to start the season -- 0.00 ERA, three hits and seven K's in seven games. There are two questions: When will he come back healthy? Can he help stabilize a sometimes shaky pen?