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Big League Stew

Ten players who need a great start to second half

Kevin Kaduk
Big League Stew

The past few days in Kansas City provided baseball a chance to celebrate those who earned All-Star status by posting great starts to their seasons. But for other former All-Stars, the week provided the chance to take a break and look back on what went wrong in their own first halves. In no particular order, here are 10 big leaguers (approx.) who struggled early and could use a great start coming out of the All-Star break.

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(AP)

1. Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox
.283/.329/.416, 6 HR 45 RBI, 97 OPS+

Gonzalez's streak of four straight All-Star trips came to an end this summer after a disappointing first half. His current OPS of .745 ranks well below his career average of .877 and he's on pace for a homer total in the low 'tweens, which would be his worst by far. (Gonzalez's previous low for homers in a full season was 24 in 2006.)

If Gonzalez wants to turn around his season and help the Red Sox surge into the playoffs, returning to his roots of good plate discipline would be the place to start. His walk rate in 2012 is only 6.2 percent, a huge decrease from his career average of 10.9 percent

2. Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks
.273/.353/.401, 7 HR 37 RBI, 100 OPS+

The 24-year-old outfielder has been the very definition of league average, just one season after leading Arizona to a NL West title and earning a fourth-place finish in the NL MVP voting. The slow start led to Upton being publicly questioned by D-backs owner Ken Kendrick, who really only voiced what many fans were already thinking. The good news for Upton is that the D-backs are still close enough in the standings — four games in each the NL West and NL wild card race — for Upton to make a real impact with an improvement in the second half.

3. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
3-10, 6.42 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 55 ERA+

No one's first half was picked apart more than Tiny Tim. And no matter what his dear old day says, it was for good reason. After recording four incredible seasons to start his career, Lincecum hasn't looked anything like a two-time Cy Young award winner. The 69 earned runs he's already surrendered are more than he allowed in three of the previous four seasons and he's almost certain to post career worst numbers in hits, homers and walks allowed. He didn't make it out of the fourth inning in either of his final two starts before the All-Star break and one wonders which route the Giants will take if his struggles continue in the second half. As Tony Olivero of the Wall Street Journal writes, there's a chance that Lincecum could have the worst pitching season of all time if he remains in the rotation.

4. Michael Young, Texas Rangers
.270/.303/.353, 3 HR 35 RBI, 73 OPS+

As Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas notes, it was a bit strange that the Texas Rangers sent eight players to the All-Star game without one of them being Michael Young, But the 35-year-old vet and seven-time All-Star did nothing to earn a spot, instead posting numbers that don't look anything like his notable 2011 stats. While the Rangers lineup is powerful enough to absorb diminished numbers from Young, it does nothing to help their consistency if Young is struggling to produce from the lineup's No. 6 spot.

5. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
While the other members of this list earned their spots with uncharacteristic starts, the cornerstones of the Phillies offense are included because they're finally on the active roster after being limited by injury to start the season. (The pair combined for just 12 games played in the first half.)

It may be too late for either vet to make a real impact on the team's playoff chances — the Phils trail the first-place Nationals by 14 games and the wild card lead by 10 — but Howard and Utley can definitely give us a better idea if they can help prop the franchise's window open again with a healthy 2013.

6. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
.243/.308/.386, 8 HR 40 RBI, 89 OPS+

It's really kind of incredible that the Nationals have been able to stage their great start without the services of a fully-healthy Ryan Zimmerman, but that's exactly what they've done. Still, they're going to need him sooner or later as they pursue their first division title (and maybe more) since moving to Washington. The third baseman is hoping that cortisone shots will help his right shoulder get through the season and he's looked a lot like his usual self lately, hitting .321/.387/.696 with five home runs and 17 RBI over the two weeks that led into the break.

7. Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland Indians
8-7, 4.50 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 86 ERA+

The Tribe traded two of their top young pitchers to Colorado last summer in hopes that Jimenez could serve as the staff ace for the playoff push ahead. That didn't happen as Jimenez struggled and the Indians quickly faded behind the Detroit Tigers. Perhaps it's now a pipe dream to think that Jimenez can regain his early 2010 form, but the middling Indians rotation needs something — anything — from him if they want to stick with the White Sox and Tigers atop the AL Central.

8. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
7-8, 4.56 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 85 ERA+

Here's some welcome news for Waino: He appears to fit the profile of the next pitcher to throw a no-hitter in 2012. But while he says he would relish the chance to make history, he'd probably also be content just to return near the lofty territory he inhabited in 2009 and 2010 with two top-three finishes in the NL Cy Young voting. While the success of other pitchers in the Cardinals rotation has given Wainwright more leeway to regain his mojo after Tommy John surgery, the defending world champions will need a better version of Wainwright down the stretch in the race for the NL Central.

9. Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers
.199/.314/.343, 8 HR 29 RBI, 76 OPS+

One year after leading off for the National League at the All-Star game, Weeks is leading the league in strikeouts with 100 and inhabiting the wrong side of the Mendoza line. He's not the only reason the Brewers trail the first-place Pirates by eight games, but he's definitely one of the biggest.

10. Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners
.261/.288/.351, 4 HR 27 RBI, 83 OPS+

Ichiro's numbers look awfully familiar to the ones he posted in the first half of 2011, the first year that he collected less than 200 hits. Unless he puts together a great start to the second half of 2012, it seems that the decline of the 38-year-old right fielder will continue.

Also in this series: The top 10 rookie starts of 2012, The 10 best MVP-caliber starts of 2012

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