MLB

Five MLB stars who must step up in second half

Albert Pujols and other MLB stars need to step up
Written by Travis Pulver

The 2017 All-Star Game has come and gone, and the break is almost over. Aaron Judge gave fans a show at the Home Run Derby, and Robison Cano proved that you are never too old to hit a clutch home run. While the game was won thanks to a veteran hitting a clutch home run, the game itself was about the young talent of the day showing off their skills.

What happened to the veteran guys? Well, there were a few who showed up, but many of the ones fans are accustomed to seeing in the All-Star game simply haven’t been playing like All-Stars. For their teams to make the postseason, they are going to need to get it together, sooner rather than later.

The following five stars need to start shining again if their team is going to have a shot at overcoming the current division leader or winning a wild-card spot.

Albert Pujols, designated hitter, Los Angeles Angeles

At one time, Pujols was a home run hitting, RBI machine. He could be counted on to hit .300 or better with 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBI a season. But those days have been over for a few years.

Like most sluggers, he doesn’t play the field very much anymore. This season he has only seen five starts at first base. He ended up making two errors and turning in a dismal fielding percentage (.944).

While he is not the hitter he was back in St. Louis, in recent years his power numbers have picked back up. After seeing his home run numbers dip to just 17 in 2013, he has had 28, 40, and 31 the last three seasons. But this year he only has 12 after 79 games. At that rate, he’ll finish the season with 24 home runs.

That would still be better than many Major Leaguers and good enough to rank third for the Angels last season (behind his team-leading 31 home runs and Mike Trout’s 29). But if the Angels are going to have any chance at overcoming the 16-game lead the Houston Astros have in the division or the two games they need to win a wild-card spot, they need their designated hitter to start hitting.

Miguel Cabrera, first baseman, Detroit Tigers

Miguel Cabrerra Detroit Tigers

It wasn’t that long ago that Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown (2012) and the MVP (2012 and 2013). Last season his power was a key factor in the Tiger nearly making it back to the postseason after a disastrous 2015 season.

After more than a decade of knocking in over 100 runs a season, he only managed 77 RBI in 2015. The dip in production was due in large part to a career low in home runs (18, except for his rookie season where he only played in 87 games).

But last season he picked it back up (38 home runs and 108 RBI) and the Tigers got within 2.5 games of making it back to the postseason. This season his numbers are in the tank again at the All-Star break (.263 batting average, 11 home runs and 38 RBI), and the Tigers are seven games out of first in the AL Central.

Maybe all the trade rumors really are getting to Miggy?

It will be hard for the Tigers to catch the Indians or close the 6.5 game deficit on the Royals for the second wild card spot. But if they are going to have a shot, they need the team’s biggest star to start hitting like a star again.

Manny Machado, third baseman, Baltimore Orioles

Manny Machado wasn’t always a power hitter, but in 2015 he found his sweet spot and started hitting for the fences more than he his previous three seasons with the Orioles (35 home runs last year and 33 home runs the last three). His batting average jumped, his RBI jumped and his slugging percentage did, too.

Of course, whenever a player has a breakout season there is a fear he will revert to his old ways the following year. But Machado hit even better in 2016 — so well that he was named to his second consecutive All-Star team (third overall).

Manny MachadoThis year, he’s been known more for his beef with Boston Red Sox pitcher Mile Sale than for his hitting.

Coming into this season, fans expected him to play just as well if not better, but he’s been a huge disappointment. His batting average is a dreadful .215 and his slugging percentage is down 112 points from last season’s career high (.533).

The Orioles are 8.5 games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox, but they are only four games back for the second wild-card spot. Whether they can close the gap may depend on if guys like him can get their groove back.

Ian Kinsler, second baseman, Detroit Tigers

Kinsler is not a power guy like Miguel Cabrera, but he has been known for getting on base, scoring a lot of runs, and for a respectable number of RBI. This season, it just isn’t working. He’s only played in 66 games, so health could be part of the problem. He is ahead of his usual pace for walks (29 this year, while last season had 45), and not striking out nearly as much (36 so far, compared to 115 last season).

His batting average is down almost 50 points from last season and his slugging percentage is down 86 points. To be fair, his power numbers were better last season than they had been since his early days with the Texas Rangers. It would be unrealistic to expect him to be as good this season as well.

Kinsler is expected to get on base. This season, he is not doing a great job of that (.327 on-base percentage). For the Tigers to climb out of the hole they are in, they will need Cabrera to start hitting like his old self. But they will also need Kinsler to be on base when he does.

It will be a lot easier to win games if Cabrera’s home runs are two-run shots instead of the solo variety.

Kyle Schwarber, outfielder, Chicago Cubs

It may seem unfair to list a guy here who is currently in the minors. But Schwarber’s inclusion is a microcosm of the Cubs’ shortcomings as a whole. As for Schwarber, he has never hit for average during his short professional career. But when he does connect with the ball, he hits it far.

Schwarber had 16 home runs in just 232 at-bats during the 2015 season. His power was a big reason the Cubs were able to make a deep run into the postseason that year. It was a crushing blow when he was lost early in the 2016 season to an injury. But then craziest thing happened — everyone started hitting well.

Last season the team hit .256 and was led by a pair of players hitting .292 (Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo). This season the Cubs are one of the worst-hitting teams in baseball (No. 28) with a cumulative batting average of .239. Rizzo and Bryant are still leading the team, but their averages are 29 points lower than last season.

Cubs fans were hoping to see their team defend their World Series title. But at this point, they may be happy to win the NL Central, currently led by the surprising Milwaukee Brewers. However, the Cubs are only 3.5 games back. If Schwarber can find his power swing again and the rest of the lineup can wake up, the Cubs may still have a shot.

About the author

Travis Pulver