Who has been the MLB’s most impressive team thus far?

BY DI STAFF | JULY 15, 2014 5:00 AM

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San Francisco Giants

So far this season the Giants have been the most impressive team in Major League Baseball.

Entering the All-Star break, the Giants are sitting just one game behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have recently had a surge of success.

San Francisco has sat at the top of the NL West for the majority of the first half, holding the best record in baseball for four-consecutive weeks during the month of June. The team’s success thus far has included excellent pitching, timely, clutch hitting, and fundamental play.

Madison Bumgarner, Tim Hudson, and Tim Lincecum have given the Giants great outings on the mound so far this season.

Lincecum’s recent success is sure to push the Giants back into first place once the regular season resumes. Since his no-hitter on June 25, the two-time Cy Young award winner has been 4-0 with an ERA of 0.30 in his last four starts.

Names in the lineup such as Joe Panik, Gregor Blanco, Michael Morse may only faintly ring a bell, but they combine to produce a gritty, versatile team that continues winning despite the loss of such key players as Angel Pagan and Brandon Belt to injuries.

Hunter Pence and Morse have both been key contributors to San Francisco’s run production thus far.

Outfielder Pence is having an outstanding year at the plate for San Francisco, hitting .303 with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs. He has scored 66 runs, which is tied for second in the National League. The right fielder has been incredible this year, hitting .272 in April, and then hitting above .300 in every month since. In July, he is batting .378 in his first 11 games. 

Even without key starters, the Giants have continued to remain as a top team in the league. Once the team is healthy again, it is guaranteed to have similar success to its dominant month of June.

San Francisco has won two championships in the past four seasons, in 2010 and 2012, both times with similarly constructed teams. If the Giants continue to improve, they are sure to be major contenders in this year’s fall classic.

—by Erin Erickson

Milwaukee Brewers

Some teams just don’t get the attention they deserve, and the Milwaukee Brewers are one of those teams.

Last season, the Brewers went through their share of turmoil. The team struggled, and face-of-the-franchise Ryan Braun was suspended 65 games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Nothing much was expected from the Brewers before this season, but at the All-Star break, they stand as the league’s most impressive team.

In a league with no salary cap, baseball is a sport in which the rich get richer. In recent years CC Sabathia, Zach Greinke, and Prince Fielder have bolted from Milwaukee to teams with bigger payrolls, forcing the organization to build from within. The strategy has paid off.

The Brewers are leading baseball’s deepest division. Behind the batting of Carlos Gómez, Jonathan Lucroy, and Braun, the team has stunned the league in the first half of the season.

But pitching is the most important part of a winning team, and the Brewers’ starting pitching has been as good as any in the majors. Led by ace Yovani Gallardo, four of Milwaukee’s five starters have an ERA under 4.00.

The Brewers have struggled lately, going 2-8 in their last 10 games. But their combination of impressive hitting and pitching, along with their disadvantage in attracting free agents, has made them the most impressive team of the 2014 season.

— by Charles Green

Oakland Athletics

The Athletics are the top team in baseball right now, and they have been in ESPN’s No. 1 spot in the power rankings for the past two weeks.

The Athletics have the best record in baseball at 59-36 and are 1.5 ahead of division rival Los Angeles Angels (57-37).

The Athletics have a young but talented pitcher, Sonny Gray, who allowed only 6 hits and 1 unearned run in Sunday’s game against the Seattle Mariners.

This was Gray’s 10th win in the MLB. He has pitched exceptionally in July, going 3-0 with a 0.83 earned run average in his three starts.

Gray is a unique pitcher; he gets batters to chase after around 40 percent of his curve balls out of the strike zone, which ranks second in the bigs.

Even with Gray and his talent, Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane is making some interesting moves to stay at No. 1.

Beane shocked fans when he traded top prospects Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, and Dan Straily to the Cubs for Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija. He made the trade to stay ahead of the Angels.

Another notable Athletics’ player is Brandon Moss, who hit his 21st home run this season during Sunday’s game.

The A’s will play the Baltimore Orioles (52-42) on Friday. They have climbed to ESPN’s No. 6 ranking after sitting at No. 10 last week.

— by Nick Steffen

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