Sure, you’ve got players like Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger; rookie phenoms who are taking the league by storm by hitting (numerous) home runs, making ASG appearances, and being serious contenders in the ROTY and MVP races (Judge even leads the MLB in SLG and OPS and ranks third in OBP and fourth in R). And yeah, you’ve got players like Paul Goldschmidt and Bryce Harper; veterans who are said to be having the best seasons of their lives, leading their respective teams to potential playoff runs. Don’t forget about Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer; lights-out, Cy Young level pitchers who are continuing their superlative forms by leading the MLB in Strikeouts, Wins, and ERA. And of course, who can forget teams like the Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks; underdog squads who have risen up after several years of turmoil to have breakout seasons, become poised for deep postseason runs and have fans raving (the Astros being 65-33 and the D-backs 56-42).
On the contrary, you’ve got players and teams that have been struggling, or performing at a mediocre level throughout the first half of the season. Examples include Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles and Jake Arrieta along with his Chicago Cubs.
Don’t count these players and teams out just yet, though. As the second half of the 2017 season gets underway, some of these players and teams are set to break out and finish 2017 in grand fashion.
These players and teams are called sleepers. In essence, a ‘sleeper’ is a player or team that succeeds when no one thought they/it would. Oftentimes in sports, sleepers begin seasons quite sluggishly, without really impacting either the stat sheet or the fans. By the end of that same season, however, these sleepers have defied the odds and the critics by performing tremendously well. Listed below are the sleepers of the MLB in 2017–watch out for these players/teams in the second half of the season as they are projected to bounce back!
Which Players/Teams Are We Not Talking About?
Jake Arrieta (CHC)
Despite posting an ordinary 9-7 record and 4.11 ERA thus far, Arrieta still looks like he will finish 2017 well and lead the Cubs to a good place at the end of the season. You’ve got to remember: both the Cubs and Arrieta have struggled before finding success (the Cubs, well, for 108 years before winning the World Series, and Arrieta’s three poor seasons with the Orioles before going 40-14 in his past two seasons with the Cubs). Arrieta is experienced and has his SO and IP up (he has struck out 111 over 114 IP), so with the likes of Joe Maddon, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Arrieta should end the year near 14 wins and 10 losses and under a 4.00 ERA if he sticks to his natural fastball-12/6 curve game and keeps racking up the Ks and IP.
43-45. Yeah, the defending champions weren’t too hot to start the year. They’ve been sidetracked with the injuries of Bryant, Hendricks and Zobrist, and that spark from 2016 hasn’t just clicked yet. But again, they are the defending champs, and they’ve retained most of that hardworking and passionate roster that won the World Series last year. They won’t give up on their season just yet, and they’re already back at 51-46. And they shouldn’t give up, either, with Kris Bryant projected to have another solid 35 HR season, Anthony Rizzo to have another dominating 38 HR, 105 RBI year, Jake Arrieta to end about 14-10 from that 8-7 (if my prediction is correct) record he started with, and the hard-work and experience of manager Joe Maddon (Jon Lester is also expected to break out). Whenever I think of today’s Chicago Cubs, I think about 90+ wins, and a definite playoff berth in the weak NL Central.
Josh Donaldson (TOR)
=At the moment, Donaldson, is hitting a mediocre .238 with 9 HR and 29 RBI, mainly because he has been out with knee and calf injuries. However, the 31-year old former MVP is experienced enough to know how to come back after a tough first half and finish strong; all he has to do is somewhat replicate the seasons he’s been having since 2013. Plus, someone’s got to perform on the struggling 2017 Blue Jays. I see Donaldson ending 2017 batting .270 with 25 HR and 80 RBI, with a bit more SO than he prefers (106).
Kyle Freeland (COL)
Before anybody knew about the rampage that Cody Bellinger would go on, Kyle Freeland was a starting pitcher that was expected to be in serious contention for NL ROTY. However, the stat sheets have portrayed something else for the 24-year old. At the end of the first half of the year, Freeland is 10-7 and has given up a LOT of home runs. Despite this, he has kept his ERA down to a mere 3.64, and even took a no-no into the ninth inning in the last game before the All Star Break. Freeland definitely has the talent and the stuff to be successful. With some development and some encouragement from senior players like Nolan Arenado, I see the southpaw finishing 15-10 with around a 3.90 ERA.
Manny Machado (BAL)
.238 AVG. 18 HR. 50 RBI. The O’s star third baseman has been struggling this year. In previous years, Machado has averaged .270 with 20 HR and 60 RBI at this point in the year. Don’t count Manny out just yet, though. Someone has got to perform on this struggling Orioles squad, and if anyone will, it will definitely be the vivacious and passionate Machado. Also, his fantasy projections show him finishing with 35 HR and 100 RBI, so you’ve got to expect that he’ll wake up for the second half of the year.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Rays have secretly been doing extremely well as of late. After starting off slowly, the Rays finished 45-43 at the end of the first half of the season, and currently stand at 51-48. If the season were to end today, they’d be tied with the Royals to face the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card. I expect the Rays (behind Kevin Cash, Logan Morrison and Chris Archer) to get well ahead of the Yanks in the AL East (the Yankees, I feel, will suffer despair this season behind poor management, poor pitching, and tons of injuries to their offense. They over-performed in the first half.) and secure themselves a playoff spot for the 2017 postseason.
Gary Sanchez (NYY)
Gary Sanchez will be one of the few Yankees that will shine to end the rest of 2017. Despite being out for a month early in the year with a strained abductor muscle, Gary Sanchez ended the first half of the season well, batting .265 with 14 HR and 46 RBI. Although the rest of the Yankees will suffer demise behind poor management and pitching (I feel that Tanaka, Pineda and Sabathia will not finish well this year), and although the rest of the Yankees’ offense and bullpen won’t click as well as they did back in May (they may not even have a winning record this year, let alone a playoff berth), Sanchez’s powerful swing and ability to hit strikes will carry him onto a continuation of his rookie season: batting .273 with 27 HR and about 80 RBI.
AL Central (Minnesota Twins/Kansas City Royals)
Everything is up in air for the AL Central. With the Cleveland Indians not performing as well as they’d hoped, opportunity arises for both the Twins and the Royals, teams that ended the first half of the year with mediocre results. If either of these teams is going to stun anyone, they both must play behind their veterans (Joe Mauer, Ervin Santana, Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas, etc.), win the crucial inter-division games, and the Royals especially must play like they did in 2015. All of this, in my opinion, is more than possible.
NL West (Arizona Diamondbacks/Colorado Rockies)
Just like the AL Central, a lot is still pending in the NL West. Sure, the Dodgers should run away with the division title, but both the Rockies and the D-backs have ended the first half of the year with very good records, and are serious contenders for playoff berths. Not to mention Clayton Kershaw’s recent injury. I feel that both teams will make it to at least a wild card berth this year; all they have to do is (much like the teams in the AL Central) play behind their senior players (Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado) and not lose their way either due to inexperience or unfortunate events. One way they can do this is by taking the rest of their season game by game, and correcting the mistakes that they make from every single game.
Are You Awake Yet?