Jul 07, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
No-hitters, solo and combined, two perfect games, a player hits for the cycle twice in as many weeks – some of the oddities of Major League Baseball as it heads to the All-Star break.
Yet they aren’t as surprising as what’s happened on the team front. Two blinding stories of long-awaited diamond redemption highlight our mid-season tours through the divisions.
NL East – Does 1933 mean anything to you? Aside from the first year of the FDR presidency, it was also the last time the nation’s capital hosted a post-season baseball game. The Washington Nationals, fueled by the scary young talent of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, might end that long, long wait in D.C.
With the once-powerful Phillies floundering amid a torrent of injuries, the Nats have seized control, also exploiting the inconsistency that has kept both Atlanta and Miami from threatening.
Alas, it may be the Mets that are the Nats’ spoilers, with David Wright putting together an MVP campaign and R.A. Dickey baffling one and all with the best knuckler since Phil Niekro.
NL Central –Every baseball fan with a heart wants to see the Pittsburgh Pirates stay in this to the end, or at least end that streak of 19 straight losing seasons.
There’s Andrew McCutchen to do everything, A.J. Burnett to serve the ace role (funny how he did better after leaving the Yankees) and Baldwinsville native Jason Grilli having a career year leading a strong bullpen.
Cincinnati, led again by Joey Votto, stand in the Bucs’ way, and the champs from St. Louis lurk, having played nowhere close to its best baseball yet. Milwaukee found out that life without Prince Fielder is less successful. Houston is taking baby steps, while the Cubs’ 104-year rebuilding project is at least honest about its intentions this time around.
NL West – This looked to be a Dodgers cakewalk until Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier went out on the DL, gutting the heart of the order.
Suddenly rendered punchless, L.A. surrendered the edge by the end of June as pitching-rich San Francisco, also getting a big year from a revived Melky Cabrera, caught up with, among other things, four straight shutouts, setting the stage for another great chapter in the eternal Dodgers-Giants rivalry.
Arizona is trying to hang around, too, relying on its bats and home-field advantage in a way Colorado used to do. The current Rockies are a mess, though, having gambled and lost on an aging roster – a contrast to San Diego’s plan to build for tomorrow, whatever the short-term pain.
AL East – The Yankee inevitability is setting in, New York having ably survived the loss of Mariano Rivera, and the hitting, top to bottom, is so lethal that the Yanks should get by even without Andy Pettite or CC Sabathia for a while.
There are signs that Baltimore’s magnificent start is waning, but any sort of post-season contention is a plus for the once-dormant Orioles. Tampa Bay need its pitching to be great until Evan Longoria returns to have any chance.
Buried by a terrible April, the Red Sox were quite good in May and June, but still have catching up to do. Toronto is, if nothing else, a headache and spoiler as long as Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion keep mashing like this.
AL Central – Welcome to the “Someone Has to Win This Division” portion of our program. In the best position are the White Sox from the South Side, with added pop from Kevin Youkilis to join a revived Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko.
That differentiates Chicago from Cleveland, as the Tribe simply hasn’t scored enough runs to make anyone believe they’re long-term viable. Detroit simply hasn’t fired, but any second-half revival gives the Tigers a good chance in this bastion of mediocrity.
There are signs of hope in All-Star host Kansas City, but not enough to contend this year. And things have bottomed out in Minnesota, where the Twins face some difficult long-term decisions.
AL West – Except for a so-so May, Texas has looked like baseball’s best team in the first half. Everything is there – quality pitching, lots of production across the board, and no reliance on a single player to keep it going.
The Rangers will continue to push, though, because the Angels have shaken off a nightmarish start and are cooking now, with Albert Pujols out of his slump and Mike Trout an everyday revelation out in center field.
Give credit to Oakland for hanging near the .500 mark as the A’s are making every opponent work hard despite a shoestring budget. Seattle has the same problems that it’s faced for years – strong pitching and zero run production.
Okay, now it’s time to revisit that fearless projection from back in April, the one that said the Angels and Braves would end up with each other late in October for the big prize.
Well, such a matchup is plausible, but not likely. Instead, I’m hunching for a 2010 World Series rematch, Texas against San Francisco. But I’m rooting for Washington or Pittsburgh to go as far as possible. In both places, they’ve suffered long enough.