The Major League Baseball All-Star break is upon us, which typically serves as the marker for the halfway point of the season. This is the time of year where the standings provide a pretty clear picture of the 2018 season and whom the real contenders are.
The trade deadline is also on the horizon. Teams across the league have July 31st marked on their calendars for a variety of reasons. Many teams will be looking to sell off their marketable talent in order to continue rebuilding while contending teams will be looking to add more talent to prepare for a potential postseason run. However, these contending teams also know that just adding more players does not guarantee playoff success. The current star players that these division leaders are built around must also continue to produce and, in some cases, strive to play much better in the second half of the season.
Each of the six division leaders in the league has a key player that will be relied upon to elevate his level of play as the postseason approaches, and these are the players in question.
Boston Red Sox – David Price
David Price has been the subject of much controversy during his short tenure so far in Boston. From injury problems to inconsistent performances, to a childish and embarrassing squabble with the Red Sox hall-of-fame broadcaster, Dennis Eckersley. Price has been the most polarizing figure in Boston sports over the past several years, and 2018 has been no exception. Price has been nicknamed, “The Fortnite Kid” by the ever-maniacal Red Sox fan base for his public admittance that he missed a start due to carpal tunnel syndrome that was brought on by playing too much of that video game.
Despite all of Price’s shortcomings he still remains a crucial part of the 2018 Boston Red Sox. It has, thus far, been another rollercoaster season for Price, whom currently holds a 9-6 record with an uninspiring 4.44 ERA in 18 starts. That being said a healthy David Price can still be a valuable weapon for the Red Sox in the postseason, though it may not be from the starting rotation.
Price was forced to pitch out of the bullpen in the playoffs last season due mostly to his injured elbow and he was effective, albeit in a small sample size. He did not allow a run in 6.2 innings during the ALDS against the Houston Astros last season. Should Price continue to flounder as a starter the Red Sox may consider moving him back to the bullpen as a flex option going forward.\These key players on the three AL division leaders will have to step it up for their teams to succeed in the playoffs, writes @ColouroftheIris.Click To Tweet
Price has shown flashes of brilliance this season, but his inability to string together consistent, strong starts is a major concern for the Red Sox at the moment. He will need to prove that he can be relied upon as a starter in the playoffs, otherwise, he may find himself back in the bullpen while Boston’s more reliable starters such as Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, and Eduardo Rodriguez lead the way.
Cleveland Indians – Andrew Miller
Ever since being converted to a reliever in 2012 Andrew Miller has quickly established himself as one of the most dominant bullpen arms in the league. Miller’s prowess out of the bullpen was put on full display during the 2016 ALCS between the Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays. Miller struck out 14 batters, issued no walks, and allowed just 3 hits in 7 innings pitched during that series. He was instrumental in helping to send the Indians to the World Series that year, and his performance earned him the distinction of being named the ALCS MVP.
The 2018 season has, unfortunately, been marred with injuries thus far for Miller, whom currently sits on the disabled list with inflammation in his right knee. Luckily for fans of the Tribe, it appears as though Miller may be close to returning as he begins throwing off a mound during his rehab. Cleveland’s starting pitching has been inconsistent throughout the first half of the 2018 season which makes Miller’s return that much more important.
A healthy Andrew Miller can completely transform the entire pitching staff of the Cleveland Indians. He provides late-inning assurance as well as flexibility if he is needed to go more than just one inning. A big part of winning in the postseason is being able to win close games, and having a force like Andrew Miller at the back end of the bullpen is exactly what the Indians need as they head into the second half of the season.
Houston Astros – Dallas Keuchel
The Houston Astros have had a strong first half of the 2018 season, putting to bed any ideas that they may fall into a post-World Series slump. The addition of Gerrit Cole has made their starting rotation one of the most formidable around the league, and it is one of Cole’s counterparts whom must step things up in the second half.
Dallas Keuchel won the American League Cy Young Award back in 2015 after a dominant 20-win season. At the time Keuchel was the ace of the Houston Astros rotation as the team was still slowly rounding into championship form.
That championship form was realized last season when the Astros rose to the top of the mountain to win the 2017 World Series. A large factor in their success was the addition of Justin Verlander, one of the American League’s best pitchers over the last decade. Verlander still anchors the rotation here in 2018 but now he is joined by the emerging young Lance McCullers Jr., a revitalized veteran, Charlie Morton, and prized offseason acquisition, Gerrit Cole. The evolution of Houston’s starting rotation has resulted in Keuchel not only losing his spot as the team’s ace but now seeing himself labeled as the #5 starter.
Keuchel pitched well in his first-half overture on July 13th against Detroit, bringing his record to 7-8 while sporting 3.75 ERA through his first 23 starts. The numbers are certainly not horrible but it is also fair to say that they are a far cry from his impressive 2015 and 2017 totals.
Repeating a championship is the most challenging thing to do in all sports, but the Houston Astros have a legitimate chance to do just that with the talent on their roster. Keuchel will have to quickly sharpen up once the second half kicks off in order to help the Astros reach that goal. A return to dominant form for Keuchel would make the Astros’ rotation nearly invincible and would strike fear into their American League counterparts heading into the postseason.