Baseball bell lap has begun, with just one month remaining in the season.  As baseball winds down, there are several story lines to watch.

Teams I’ll Be Watching

Joel Hanrahan

Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan

Pittsburgh Pirates – The last time the Pirates has a winning season, I was still in high school.  Barring a complete collapse down the stretch, the Pirates should at least get to 82 wins.  Pittsburgh is currently 2 1/2 games out of the final National League wild card spot.  Although I also like the Cardinals (who currently hold the final spot), I’m definitely pulling for the Pirates to make the playoffs.  I think it would be great for the fan base to have a playoff appearance.  Although an entire generate of young fans doesn’t realize it, this is a franchise with a proud and successful past.

Jim Johnson

Orioles closer Jim Johnson

Baltimore Orioles – Through Monday, the Orioles were 15 games over .500 (74-59) with a run differential of -31.  Of all the other teams with a run differential worse than -25, the next best record is the Mets at 64-71 (7 games under .500).  The Orioles bullpen has been great, allowing them to win close games (which allows a team winning percentage to exceed the projected based on run differential).  It remains to be seen whether they can make a playoff run … but through Monday, they were just one game behind the Yankees. 

Players I’ll Be Watching

Mike Trout

Mike Trout

Mike Trout – At this point, Trout has the American League Rookie of the Year award in the bag and is making a strong case for MVP.  Although Ichiro won the MVP in his “rookie” season, he was already a well established professional player at that point.  The only “true” rookie to win the MVP was Fred Lynn in 1975.  Through Monday, Trout was hitting .336 with 25 homers and 43 steals (caught 4 times) and 108 runs scored in 112 games.  If the Angels managed to make the playoffs, it will be due to Trout.  Trout spent the first month in the minors.  However, it’s hard to blame the Angels for sending him down to start the year, as he was sick during much of spring training.  Trout’s season is going be one for the ages.  He has a shot to win a batting title, hit 30 homers, and steal 50 bases (in an abbreviated season) all while providing signficant defensive value in the outfield … in his age 20 season. 

The real challenge may be in trying to match his 2012 output in future season.  Trout could conceivably have a Hall of Fame caliber career while never touching those numbers again.  A .290 career batting average with 450 homers and 500 steals would almost certainly get him into Cooperstown – something he could do by averaging 23 homers and 25 steals over a 20 year career.

Albert Pujols – After signing a monster contract with the Angels in the off-season, Pujols struggled mightily in April.  He has righted the ship in recent months.  Through Monday, Pujols was hitting .287 with 29 homers and 92 RBI.  He’s still a tick below his career numbers, but that will happen when you basically throw a month away.  I think we need to be a little slower to judge players who switch leagues.  Some guys take a bit longer to adjust, but do just fine once they get locked in.  Matt Holliday was the same way in Oakland – after his initial struggles, he really hit well before being traded to St. Louis.

Stephen Straburg – Strasburg’s season will likely come to an end September 12.  The Nationals have an innings cap and will shut him down once he reaches that number.  This means that Strasburg will not be a part of the post-season for the Nationals.  I personally think this is a wise move for the Nationals.  Putting 220+ innings of work on a recently Tommy Johned elbow seems to be a risky proposition.  This is a team that is built to contend over the long run.  Don’t blow out a young arm.

KANSAS CITY, MO - JULY 10:  National League Al...

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper – Harper gets overshadowed on his own team by the Strasburg talk and doesn’t fare well in comparisons to Mike Trout.  To be fair, no rookies will ever fare well in a comparison to Trout.  However, Harper has actually been a slightly above average hitter this year.  That’s actually an incredible achievement for a 19 year old.  Most 19 year olds in professional baseball are playing in cities like Grand Junction, Cedar Rapids, and Delmarva.  Harper’s career is still 100% on track.

Plenty more to watch

These definitely aren’t the only story lines to watch.  The Nationals are looking to make their first playoff appearance and do it with the best record in baseball.  The Angel, despite the heroics of Trout and Pujols, are still outside the playoff picture.  The Devil Rays are knocking on the playoff door … and could the backsliding Yankees fall out of the playoffs?  Those stories and more as the regular season winds down.

Congrats to Kevin Goldstein

Kevin Goldstein @ Saber Seminar 2011

Kevin Goldstein

On Friday, it was announced that Kevin Goldstein would become the professional scouting director for the Astros (professional scouting pertains to minor league and Major League players, as opposed to scouting of unsigned amateurs).  A lot of scouting directors work their way through the scouting ranks of an organization before being promoted to an executive role.  Goldstein moves into the job after writing (and podcasting) about prospectus, mostly for Baseball Prospectus.  His expertise is very well respected, but it’s still a somewhat out of the box hire.  The move also resulted in the death of my favorite baseball podcast, Up and In.

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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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